Sub-Saharan Africa during the Post-Classical Age

Kingdoms, Diffusion, and Change
 Not
just physically, but also culturally and
politically, Africa is divided by the Sahara desert
 The Sahara is the world’s largest desert
 During the Post-Classical age, almost all of
Saharan Africa and the northern continent had
fallen into the orbit of the Islamic world
 But the story of sub-Saharan Africa is much
more complex
The Sahel is
fringe of the
 In
sub-Saharan Africa, the
development of strong, sizable
political units occurred later
and more slowly than in many
other parts of the world
 Much of this had to do with the
tremendous varieties of
ethnicity and language in subSaharan Africa
 For example, more than 2,000
languages and dialects are
spoken in the region
 One
of the few common threads
shared by many – but not all –
peoples of sub-Saharan Africa is
descent from the Bantu tribes
 Around 1000 B.C.E., the Bantu
began to move out of their
homelands in west central Africa
 By 1000 C.E., descendants of the
Bantu tribes had settled in almost
all parts of the continent south of
the Sahara
 With the passage of time, however,
each smaller group developed its
own distinct language and cultural
 Another
factor limiting the growth
of major states was environmental
 The fluctuating climate of subSaharan Africa and human
susceptibility to various insect- and
animal-borne diseases in subSaharan regions were both
obstacles to increasing the size of
local populations and the number
of workers available to cultivate
the land
 Most
sub-Saharan communities were small
 Social life revolved around the village
 Food was provided by means of a
combination of hunting, herding, and
limited agriculture
 It appears that most African societies
gained the skill of metalworking on their
own, rather than having it taught to them
by outsiders, as was commonly thought
until recently
 Women
in sub-Saharan Africa tended to be treated
as subservient to men
 However, women were often valued for their labor
as fieldworkers (while men tended cattle) and for
producing heirs
 Women were also respected for their storytelling
abilities and their role in educating young people
about moral values and religious beliefs
 Interestingly, unlike in most other societies, in
Africa, lineage was sometimes matrilinear, rather
than patrilinear
 Women often inherited property and the husband
was required to move into his wife’s house
 African
tribes possess a high degree of skill
in carving and sculpture, especially in wood
and ivory
 Metal sculptures became more common
over time
 By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries,
West African artists were creating
masterpieces out of bronze and ivory
 In Ife, in present-day Nigeria, metal
workers formed bronze and iron statues by
designing molds with melted wax
 These
sculptures may have influenced the
work of metalworkers from the West African
state of Benin
 Such artists are famous for their
sophisticated and detailed bronze, brass, and
copper sculptures of heads, ornaments,
animal figures, and reliefs depicting court
 Architecture
in Africa varied across regions
due to diverse cultural influences
 In sub-Saharan Africa, Greater Zimbabwe
stood out for its impressive stone buildings
and walls
 The stones had been carefully cut and
then set in place without mortar
 In Mali, fourteenth-century builders used
timber as skeletons in reinforcing mud
mosques that still stand today
 African
literature of this period was
preserved less by the written
language than by oral tradition
 In their narratives, professional
storytellers chronicled history and
social custom
 They also acted as entertainers and
served as advisers to kings
 The most famous epic of sub-Saharan
Africa from these years is Son-Jara
(or Sundiata) from Mali
griot was a West African storyteller
 A griot perpetuated the oral traditions of a family
or village
 The griot carries the cultural knowledge and
identity of each people
 The griot legacy stretches back for hundreds, and
in some cases, thousands of years
 The griot is a chronicler of history – keeping track
of the history and developments of his people over
 The griot is also guardian of the knowledge of his
people’s ancestry, or genealogy
 As
time passed, there was increased interaction
between North Africa and the sub-Saharan part
of the continent
 This included trade
 Unfortunately, it also included slavery: for
hundreds of years, Arab slavers from the Middle
East penetrated to the south, capturing Africans
and forcing them into bondage
 To
a good extent, Islam became part of subSaharan life
 In West Africa, the state of Mali, with its
great city of Timbuktu, was an important
part of the Islamic world
 Muslims also brought their religion to the
cities of the eastern coast
 The spread of Islam brought trade to
previously isolated parts of southern Africa
 Still, in comparison to North Africa, which
became almost completely Muslim, Islam’s
presence in sub-Saharan Africa was not as
 The
greatest of early Sudanic (a region in North
Africa, South of the Sahara and Libyan deserts,
extending from the Atlantic to the Red Sea)
civilizations was Ghana
 Ghana was founded in the fourth century C.E.
on the main caravan route to north Africa
 At its height in the tenth century, Ghana
controlled an area extending from the Atlantic
Ocean almost to Timbuktu
 Ghana
controlled the prosperous salt for
gold trade
 This trade connected North Africa and West
 North African salt was exchanged for West
African gold
 While Ghana did not control the salt or
gold deposits, its location allowed it to tax
traders entering the region
 As such, Ghana was called “the land of
gold” though it owned no gold fields
 Ghana’s capital of Koumbi Saleh hosted a
prosperous Muslim community of
merchants linked to the Trans-Saharan
trade routes
 Over
time, Ghana’s ecological and demographic
conditions weakened its society
 As its population grew, its food production
failed to meet demand in what was by then an
extremely arid environment
 All of this left Ghana vulnerable to Muslim
conquest, the immediate cause of Ghana’s
 Berbers from the desert moved against Ghana in
1062, but not until 1076 were they able to
capture the capital
 Yet the nomads were unable to benefit from
their conquest, for they soon began fighting
among themselves, and Ghana became
independent once again
 However,
the kingdom was never able to
recover its trade or repair the damage done
to its agriculture, and the empire began to
break up into tribal units
 With
the decline of Ghana, Mali (which
probably had been a subject nation) grew,
and the Mali empire was firmly established
in the upper Niger River valley by Sundiata
 Sundiata adopted Islam and Mali became a
Muslim kingdom
 By the fourteenth century Mali controlled
the upper Niger west to the Atlantic and all
the land north of the forest and east along
the Niger to Hausaland
 Sundiata
Keita rose to power by defeating the
king of the Sosso - Soumaoro (Sumanguru),
known as the Sorcerer King, in 1235
 He then brought all the Mandinke clans rulers
(or Mansas) under his leadership, declaring
himself overall Mansa
 He took Timbuktu from the Tuareg, transforming
it into a substantial city, a focus for trade and
 A significant portion of the wealth of the Empire
derived from the Bure goldfields
 The first capital, Niani, was built close to this
mining area
 Gold
was not its only mainstay
 Mali also acquired control over the salt trade
 The capital of Niani was situated on the
agriculturally rich floodplain of upper Niger,
with good grazing land further north
 A class of professional traders emerged in
 In the 14th century, cowrie shells were
established as a form of currency for trading
and taxation purposes
 Mali reached its peak in the 14th century
 Mansa
Musa was a significant king of Mali during
its height
 Mansa Musa (1312-1337) was immortalized in
the descriptions of Arab writers, when he made
his magnificent pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324
 “It is said that he brought with him 14,000 slave
girls for his personal service. The members of
his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish and
Ethiopia slave girls, singing girls and garments,
so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six
dirhams. Having presented his gift he set off
with the caravan." - Cairo born historian alMaqurizi
 Mansa
Musa also spent his wealth to more
permanent effect
 He commissioned the design and construction
of a number of stunning buildings, for
example, the building of the mosques at Gao
and Jenne
 Timbuktu became a place of great learning
with young men linked to Fez in the north
 The
court of Mali converted to Islam after
 As in Ghana, Muslim scribes played an
important role in government and
 But traditional religion persisted
 Arab historians make much of the Islamic
influence in Mali, whereas oral historians
place little emphasis on Islam in their
 Ibn
Battuta visited Mali
 This great medieval writer of
travel literature rivals the
significance of his contemporary
Marco Polo
 Setting out from his native
Morocco in the 14th century he
travelled – or claims to have
travelled – the important regions
of the medieval world stretching
from west Africa to China
combination of weak and ineffective rulers
and increasingly aggressive raids by Mossi
neighbors and Tuareg Berbers gradually reduced
the power of Mali
 In the east, Gao began its ascendancy while
remaining part of the Mali Empire
 In the early 1400's, Tuareg launched a number of
successful raids on Timbuktu
 They did not disrupt scholastic life or
commercial activity, but fatally undermined the
government by appropriating taxes for
 Mali
collapsed when one of its vassals, the
King of Songhai, broke away in the fifteenth
century and eventually captured Mali
territory, ending up with an empire even
greater than Mali
 The capital of Songhai was Goa, and its
wealth was based on control of the salt
 King Mohammed Askia’s reign (1493-1528)
was exceptional
 The
city of Timbuktu became his center of
learning, a university was built, and clerics,
judges, and scholars flourished under his
 Songhai fell to the Moroccans in1591
 Muslims
had little influence in east Africa
until the thirteenth century
 Although they occupied the coastline and
most of the land along the eastern
frontier of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and
although by the tenth century a series of
Muslim trading states had been built,
Christian Abyssinia was able to dominate
them and force them to pay tribute
 Ethiopia became Christian during the
fourth century A.D.
 This
domination eventually led, in the
fifteenth century, to religious wars between
Abyssinia and the Muslims
 From
the 1250s to the 1450s, the
most powerful of the central
African states was the one that
emerged around the cities of
Mutapa and Great Zimbabwe
 Politically linked, Mutapa and
Great Zimbabwe controlled seven
hundred miles of the Zambezi
river basin
 The larger and more important of
the two cities was Great
Zimbabwe (ca. 1000-1400)
 Its name means “sacred graves of
the chiefs”
 Great
Zimbabwe was crucial as both a
political and religious center
 Zimbabwe was a great walled city,
encircling 193 acres
 It is clear that the people of Great
Zimbabwe were skilled builders
 Great Zimbabwe was reputed to be
immensely wealthy, thanks to large
deposits of gold and diamonds
 The city gained its wealth from the gold
 Gold was shipped east to Sofala, where it
became part of the East African-Indian
Ocean coastal trade complex
 Rumors
of Great Zimbabwe’s wealth – and
lost treasures and hidden mines – persisted
for hundreds of years, long after the city
itself collapsed in the mid-to-late 1400s
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