- Category: History 103 Week 5
- Published on Saturday, 29 December 2012 04:49
- Written by Dr. Eric Mayer
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Some 5 million years ago a type of hominid, a close evolutionary ancestor of present-day humans, inhabited southern and eastern Africa. More than 1.5 million years ago this toolmaking hominid developed into the more advanced forms Homo habilis and Homo erectus. The earliest true human being in Africa, Homo sapiens, dates from more than 200,000 years ago. A hunter-gatherer capable of making crude stone tools, Homo sapiens banded together with others to form nomadic groups; eventually these nomadic San peoples spread throughout the African continent. Distinct races date from approximately 10,000 BC. Gradually a growing Negroid population, which had mastered animal domestication and agriculture, forced the San groups into the less hospitable areas. In the 1st century AD the Bantu, one group of this dominant people, began a migration that lasted some 2000 years, settling most of central and southern Africa. Negroid societies typically depended on subsistence agriculture or, in the savannas, pastoral pursuits. Political organization was normally local, although large kingdoms would later develop in western and central Africa.
The first great civilization in Africa began in the Nile Valley about 5000 BC. Dependent on agriculture, these settlements benefited from the Nile’s flooding as a source of irrigation and new soils. The need to control the Nile floodwaters eventually resulted in a well-ordered, complex state with elaborate political and religious systems. The kingdom of Egypt flourished, influencing Mediterranean and African societies for thousands of years. Iron making was brought south from Egypt about 800 BC, and spread into tropical Africa. Ideas of royal kingship and state organization were also exported, particularly to adjacent areas such as Kush and Punt. The east Kushite state, Meroë, was supplanted in the 4th century AD by Aksum, which evolved into Ethiopia (see Aksum, Kingdom of).
During the period from the late 3rd century BC to the early 1st century AD, Rome had conquered Egypt, Carthage, and other North African areas; these became the granaries of the Roman Empire. The empire was divided into two parts in the 4th century. All lands west of modern Libya remained territories of the Western Empire, ruled by Rome, and lands to the east, including Egypt, became part of the Eastern or Byzantine Empire, ruled from Constantinople (present-day Istanbul). By this time the majority of the population had been converted to Christianity. In the 5th century the Vandals, a Germanic tribe, conquered much of North Africa. Vandal kings ruled there until the 6th century, when they were defeated by Byzantine forces, and the area was absorbed by the Eastern Empire.
The Era of Empires and City-States
Islamic armies invaded Africa within a decade of Muhammad’s death in 632 and quickly overcame Byzantine resistance in Egypt.
From bases in Egypt, Arabs raided the Berber states to the west; in the 8th century they conquered Morocco. While the coastal Berbers began converting to Islam, many others retreated into the Atlas Mountains and beyond into the Sahara. Arab minorities established autocratic polities in Algeria and Morocco. The Christian states of Alwa and Makuria in the Sudan were conquered; only the Christian kingdom of Nobatia was strong enough to resist the invaders, forcing the conclusion of a treaty that maintained its independence for 600 years. Along the coast the Arab conquerors remained a small ruling minority for several centuries.
Trade across the Sahara became commonplace by the 8th century. Caravan leaders and religious teachers spread political, religious, and societal values to the people along the trade routes. Even earlier, Muslim invaders from Yemen forced the peoples of coastal Aksum into the interior and established a series of city-states such as Adal and Harer. The Red Sea belonged to the Muslim traders.
Several rival dynasties emerged on the North African coast. In the 8th century North African Muslims conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula, and they continued raids and expeditions of conquest against Christian Europe for centuries. By the time of the Crusades a few highly advanced Islamic states dominated the southern and eastern Mediterranean. In the 14th century Christian Sudan fell to the armies of Mameluke Egypt. The Ottoman Turks conquered Egypt in 1517 and within 50 years had established nominal control of the North African coast (see Ottoman Empire). The real power, however, remained in the hands of the Mamelukes, who ruled Egypt until their defeat by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1798. The Ethiopians were overrun by the armies of the sultanate of Adal, but they defeated the Muslims with the aid of Portugal in 1542.
West African Kingdoms
In western Africa a number of black kingdoms emerged whose economic base lay in their control of trans-Saharan trade routes. Gold, kola nuts, and slaves were sent north in exchange for cloth, utensils, and salt.
The earliest of these states, Ghana, came into being by the 5th century AD in what is now southeastern Mauritania (see Ghana, Kingdom of). Its capital, Kumbi Saleh (Koumbi Saleh), has been excavated in modern times. By the 11th century, the armies of Ghana, equipped with iron weapons, made it master of the trade routes extending from present-day Morocco in the north to the coastal forests of western Africa in the south. Nomadic Berbers of the Sanhaja Confederation (in present-day central Mauritania) formed the main link between Ghana and the north. Once Arabs gained control of the northwestern coasts, they began to exploit these trade routes. By the early 11th century Muslim advisers were at the court of Ghana, and Muslim merchants lived in large foreign quarters from which they conducted lucrative large-scale trade. Late in the 11th century, Ghana was destroyed by the Almoravids, a militant Muslim movement founded among the Sanhaja Berbers. In the early 11th century they raised a jihad (holy war) and controlled the caravan routes of the Sahara. The movement then split; one group pushed north to conquer Morocco and Spain, while the other moved south to raze the capital of Ghana in about 1076. During the next century the Susu people of the Fouta Djallon, formerly vassals of Ghana, gained control of the area, but they in turn were conquered by the people of Mali about 1240.
Mali and Songhai
Centered on the upper reaches of the Sénégal and Niger rivers, Mali evolved by the early 11th century from a group of Mande chieftaincies. In the mid-13th century, the state began a period of expansion under the vigorous ruler Sundiata Keita. Soon afterward the rulers of Mali appear to have converted to Islam. The high point of the Mali Empire was reached under Mansa (king) Musa, who conducted a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 and 1325, opened diplomatic relations with Tunis and Egypt, and brought a number of Muslim scholars and artisans to the empire; from the time of Mansa Musa onward, Mali appeared on the maps of Europe. After 1400 the empire declined, and Songhai emerged as the leading state in the western Sudan. Although Songhai dates from before the 9th century, its greatest period of expansion occurred under Sunni Ali and Askia Muhammad. During the latter’s rule Islam flourished at the court, and Tombouctou became a major center of Muslim learning, renowned for its university and its book trade. Attracted by its wealth, the armies of al-Mansur of Morocco overran the Songhai capital of Gao in 1591. Following the collapse of Songhai, a number of small kingdoms—Macina, Gonja, Ségou, Kaarta—strove to dominate the western Sudan, but continual strife and economic decline were the only results.
East African Kingdoms
The first records of East African history appear in the Periplus of the Erythræan Sea (AD 100?), which described the commercial life of the region and its ties to the world beyond Africa. Indonesian immigrants reached Madagascar during the 1st millennium AD bringing new foodstuffs, notably bananas, which soon spread throughout the continent. Bantu-speaking peoples settled in the immediate interior in clan-oriented polities, absorbing the San people; and Nilotic peoples occupied the interlake areas further inland. Arab settlers colonized the coast and established trading towns. Ivory, gold, and slaves were the main exports. By the 13th century a number of significant city-states had been established. Among these Zenj states were Mogadishu, Malindi, Lamu, Mombasa, Kilwa, Pate, and Sofala. An urban Swahili culture developed through mutual assimilation of Bantu and Arabic speakers. The ruling classes were of mixed Arab-African ancestry; the populace was Bantu, many of them slaves. These mercantile city-states were oriented toward the sea, and their political impact on inland peoples was virtually nonexistent until the 19th century.
The complex, advanced lake states first developed in the 14th century. Little is known of their early history. One theory is that more advanced Kushite peoples from the Ethiopian highlands came to dominate the indigenous Bantu. Other Kushites are believed to be ancestors of the Tutsi peoples of modern Tanzania, Rwanda, and Burundi. Located between Lakes Victoria and Edward, the early kingdoms ruled by the Bachwezi flourished before 1500, when they were supplanted by an early wave of Luo peoples migrating from the Sudan. The new immigrants adopted local Bantu languages in Bunyoro country, but in Acholiland, Alurland, and in the Lango country (all in present-day Uganda) they retained their own separate language. New states were founded later, among them Bunyoro, Ankole, Buganda, and Karagwe. Of these states, Bunyoro was the most powerful until the second half of the 18th century. Then Buganda began to expand, and its armies raided throughout wide areas. An elaborate centralized bureaucracy was founded, with most district and subdistrict chiefs appointed by the kabaka ("king"). Farther to the south, in Rwanda, a cattle-raising pastoral aristocracy founded by the Bachwezi (alternatively called Bututsi, or Bahima, in this area) ruled over settled Bantu peoples from the 16th century onward.
Central African Kingdoms
History of the states formed in central Africa is less documented than that of the lake states. In the Congo savanna, south of the tropical rain forests, Bantu-speaking peoples established agricultural communities by the beginning of the 9th century. In some places, long-distance trade to the east coast developed, with copper and ivory among the main exports. During the 14th century the Kongo Kingdom was established, dominating an area in present-day Angola between the Congo and Loge rivers and from the Kwango River to the Atlantic. An elaborate political system developed, with provincial governors and a king elected from among the descendants of the founding king Wene. In the area between the upper Kasai and Lake Tanganyika, various small chiefdoms were organized, about 1500, into the Luba Empire. Its founding figure, Kongolo, subdued several small villages in one area and then used this as a base for wider conquest. No adequate centralizing mechanisms were developed, however, so dynastic struggles and breakaway states were a continual problem. About 1600 one of the younger sons of the dynasty left the kingdom and founded the Lunda Empire. The Lunda state itself soon split, with members of the royal dynasty leaving to found such new states as the Bemba Kingdom, Kasanje, and Kazembe. Kazembe became the largest and most powerful of the Luba-Lunda states, and between 1750 and 1850 it dominated southern Katanga and parts of the Rhodesian plateau.
Bantu-speaking peoples moving east from the Congo region during the 1st millennium AD are thought to have assimilated local Stone Age peoples. Later Bantu immigrants, called the Karanga, were the ancestors of the present-day Shona people. The Karanga began constructing the Great Zimbabwe, an impressive stone compound housing the royal court. They also formed the Mwene Mutapa Empire, which derived its wealth from large-scale gold mining. At its height in the 15th century, its sphere of influence stretched from the Zambezi River to the Kalahari to the Indian Ocean and to the Limpopo River.