Map of Mapungubwe

Map of the area including the Kingdom of Mapungubwe and Great Zimbabwe to the north- and the whole Kingdom of Zimbabwe (sahistory.org.za)

After talking about the origin of the name of the country Zimbabwe, named after Great Zimbabwe, the capital of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe which flourished in southern Africa from the 13th to 17th century, I thought it only wise to talk about some of the kingdoms that flourished in that area, starting with the Kingdom of Mapungubwe, a predecessor to the Kingdom of Zimbabwe. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe was a rich iron age civilization that flourished in the area of modern-day Zimbabwe, Botswana, and South Africa, from the 10th to the 13th century AD. It was a pre-colonial state located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers. The kingdom’s development culminated in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century, as a normal evolution of itself, and with gold trading links to Rhapta and Kilwa Kisiwani on the African east coast.

Mapungubwe Hill (Wikipedia)

Mapungubwe Hill (Wikipedia)

From archaeological searches, the people of Mapungubwe were of the Khoi/San people ancestry, and were attracted to the Shashe-Limpopo area because of its fertile soils for agriculture, and also because it was an area rich with elephants, thus rich with ivory. The area of Mapungubwe was also rich in gold, and the people traded in gold and ivory, snail shells, pottery, wood, and ostriches’ eggs (eggshells), with places as far as Egypt, Persia, India, and China.

An artist impression of Mapungubwe (Source: newhistory.co.za)

An artist impression of Mapungubwe (Source: newhistory.co.za)

Stone walls were used to demarcate important areas, and important residences were built with stone and wood. Life in Mapungubwe was centered around family and farming. The kingdom, as well as the way people lived, was divided into a three-tiered hierarchy, with the commoners inhabiting low-lying sites, district leaders occupying small hilltops, and the kingdom’s elites residing at the capital at Mapungubwe hill as the supreme authority. Important men maintained prestigious homes on the outskirts of the capital.

Bateleur Eagle on the flag of Zimbabwe

Bateleur Eagle on the flag of Zimbabwe

The kingdom was named after its capital city, the city of Mapungubwe. Several theories have been put forward for the meaning of the name itself. For some, Mapungubwe means “place of Jackals,” or “place where jackals eat,” or “hill of jackals.” In Shona, the language spoken by the majority of people in Zimbabwe, Mapungubwe means “rocks of the Bateleur eagle,” a bird which has deep spiritual connotations in the Shona culture (ma = many; pungu =suffix for chapungu = bateleur eagle, the massive bird which once graced the entrance of the royal complex of Great Zimbabwe; bwe = diminutive for ibwe = stone).

Mapungubwe's famous gold foil rhinoceros (Source: Univ. of Pretoria)

Mapungubwe’s famous gold foil rhinoceros (Source: Univ. of Pretoria)

The site was rediscovered in 1932. At the top of Mapungubwe, they found many golden objects: bangles, beads, nails, miniature buffalo, rhino, a skeleton, and gold anklets, about 2.2 kg of gold and many other clay and glass artifacts. Between 1933 and 1998, the remains of about 147 individuals were excavated from the Mapungubwe Cultural LandscapeThese findings were kept quiet for a long time, as they provided contrary evidence to the racist ideology of black inferiority underpinning apartheid.

Golden bowl found at Mapungubwe (golimpopo.com)

Golden bowl found at Mapungubwe (golimpopo.com)

So any time you think about southern Africa only being populated by pastoralists, nomadic peoples, think again. There were very rich, and strong empires, such as the kingdom of Mapungubwe which was the first major iron age kingdom in Southern African, and traded with places as far as Egypt, Persia, India and China. For more information, check out the very rich Mapungubwe National Park website, South Africa.info, the Metropolitan Museum (MET) article, South African History Online, the Mapungubwe Kingdom website, and the UNESCO World Heritage website as Mapungubwe is listed. Enjoy the video below!

 

Posted by: Dr. Y. | April 13, 2015

Proverbe sur le Riche / Proverb on the Rich

African tree at dusk

African tree at dusk

On jette des pierres dans l’arbre s’il porte des fruits (Proverbe Bakongo – République du Congo, République Démocratique du Congo, Angola). – Plus on est riche ou au pouvoir, plus on est importuné et critiqué.

We throw stones in the tree if it bears fruits (Bakongo proverb – Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola). – The richer or more powerful one is, the more one is bothered and criticized.

Posted by: Dr. Y. | April 8, 2015

Why the name: Zimbabwe?

Zimbabwe2One of my very first articles on this blog was on Great Zimbabwe, the capital city of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe, a kingdom which flourished from approximately 1220 to about 1420 in Southern Africa. The modern-day country of Zimbabwe is named after this great kingdom, and it is only befitting that we explore together the origin of its name. Why would a country which was named Southern Rhodesia change its name to Zimbabwe? Why bother changing names?

Flag of Zimbabwe

Flag of Zimbabwe

Well, for starters, I find it a bit sad for a country to only be known as ‘Southern something’ without no real name of its own… I know, … things happen (like countries splitting apart). Secondly, Rhodesia was named after Cecil Rhodes, the British man who committed the greatest atrocities in Southern Africa, while establishing British rule over the different African countries in the late 19th century. Therefore, once the people of Southern Rhodesia became independent from British rule, it was only normal to claim a name that was theirs, and not the name of some foreign oppressor who committed the worst atrocities in their country. It’s like seeing yourself through someone else’s lens; you only become free once you can look through your own lens, and appreciate and value yourself.

Great Zimbabwe ruins

Great Zimbabwe ruins

Thus the name Zimbabwe was chosen. The name “Zimbabwe” is a Shona term for Great Zimbabwe, an ancient ruined city in the country’s south-east whose remains are now a protected site, in the modern-day province of Masvingo. There are two theories on the origin of the word. The first theory holds that the word is derived from dzimbadzamabwe, translated from the Karanga dialect of Shona as “large houses of stone” (dzimba = plural of imba, “house“; mabwe = plural of bwe, “stone“).  The second theory claims that “Zimbabwe” is a contracted form of dzimba-hwe which means “venerated houses” in the Zezuru dialect of Shona, and is usually applied to chiefs’ houses or graves. In your opinion, which of these two theories is closer to the truth?

A Conical tower

A Conical tower

Zimbabwe was formerly known as Southern Rhodesia (1898), Rhodesia (1965), and Zimbabwe Rhodesia (1979). The first recorded use of the name “Zimbabwe” as a term of national reference was in 1960, when it was coined by the black nationalist Michael Mawema, whose Zimbabwe National Party became the first to officially use the name in 1961. According to Mawema, black nationalists held a meeting in 1960 to choose an alternative name for the country, and the names Machobana and Monomotapa were proposed before his suggestion, Zimbabwe, prevailed. I am so glad the name Zimbabwe was chosen. Enjoy this video about Zimbabwe, the country which held the great civilization of stones. I will talk about the different great kingdoms and civilizations that flourished in the area in later posts.

Elephant

Elephant

L’éléphant meurt, mais ses défenses demeurent (Proverbe Bamfinu – Republique Démocratique du Congo (RDC)). – Les parents meurent, mais leurs enfants restent.

The elephant dies, but its tusks remain (Bamfinu Proverb – Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)).- Parents pass away, but their children remain.

Posted by: Dr. Y. | April 2, 2015

Hibiscus Flower – To a Peaceful Day

Not too long ago, I took a picture of a white hibiscus flower. It reminded me so much of the concept of purity, and peace. Like the white doves often sent away to symbolize peace, I wanted to send you this white hibiscus as a reminder to have a peaceful day. This made me wonder about the many time the word ‘peace’ is used in languages around the world, like the Arabic greeting As-salamu alaykum which means peace be upon you. Or the name of the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam which means ‘the abode of peace’ or ‘the house of peace’To all of you out there, I send you my dove of peace, in the form of a white hibiscus flower. May your day be peaceful!

20150402_hibiscus

Posted by: Dr. Y. | March 31, 2015

Elephant and Tortoise

Elephant

Elephant

TWO powers, Elephant and Rain, had a dispute. Elephant said, “If you say that you nourish me, in what way is it that you do so?” Rain answered, “If you say that I do not nourish you, when I go away, will you not die?” And Rain then departed.

Elephant said, “Vulture! cast lots to make rain for me.”

Vulture said, “I will not cast lots.”

Then Elephant said to Crow, “Cast lots!” who answered, “Give the things with which I may cast lots.” Crow cast lots and rain fell. It rained at the lagoons, but they dried up, and only one lagoon remained.

Tortue

Tortoise

Elephant went a-hunting. There was, however, Tortoise, to whom Elephant said, “Tortoise, remain at the water!” Thus Tortoise was left behind when Elephant went a-hunting.

There came Giraffe, and said to Tortoise, “Give me water!” Tortoise answered, “The water belongs to Elephant.”

There came Zebra, who said to Tortoise, “Give me water!” Tortoise answered, “The water belongs to Elephant.” Read More…

Posted by: Dr. Y. | March 27, 2015

‘My Africa’ by Michael Dei Anang

Africa

Africa

Today I stumbled upon a poem by Ghanaian author Michael Dei Anang which made me think a lot about Cheikh Anta Diop‘s work of re-educating the world about the place of Africa in history as the cradle of humanity. Michael Dei-Anang was a member of President Kwame Nkrumah‘s (Ghana’s first president) main secretariat and was concerned with the liberation of the rest of Africa still under colonial rule, at the time. Enjoy!

 

 

My Africa

by

Michael Dei-Anang

When vision was short

and knowledge scant,

Men called me Dark Africa

Dark Africa?

I, who raised the regal pyramids

and held the fortunes of Conquering Caesars

In my tempting grasp.

Dark Africa?

Who nursed the doubtful child

Of civilization

On the wand’ring banks of the life-giving Nile,

And gave to the teeming nations

Of the West a Grecian gift.

Une Chevre / A Goat

Une Chevre / A Goat

La chèvre broute l’herbe là où on l’attache (Proverbe Bamoun – Cameroun). Il faut être bien avec l’autorité.

The goat grazes where it is tied (Bamun Proverb – Cameroon). You need to be in good terms with the authority.

Posted by: Dr. Y. | March 20, 2015

Kankan Musa: The Richest Man in World History

Kankan Musa (Source: Atlas Catalan, 1375)

Kankan Musa (Source: Atlas Catalan, 1375)

Today, I would like to talk about the richest man planet earth has ever seen… yes, you heard me right, the richest man whose fortune was estimated to be over 400 billion dollars, or 310 billion euros. Did you guess who that was ? If you thought Bill Gates, I am sorry to disappoint you. It is the great Emperor of Mali, Kankan Musa, also written Kankan Moussa, or Mansa Musa, or Mansa Moussa, or Kankou Moussa.

Kankan Musa was the tenth Mansa, King of Kings, or Emperor of the great Empire of Mali from 1312 to 1337. At the time of Musa’s accession to the throne, the Empire of Mali consisted of territories which had belonged to the Empire of Ghana and Melle, and surrounding areas.

Emperor Kankan Musa

Emperor Kankan Musa

His name, Kankan Musa or Kanga Musa meant « Musa, son of Kankou Hamidou », in reference to his mother (In those days, the Mandinka people were a matriarcal society). Kankan Musa is often referred to, in literature, as Mali-koy Kankan Musa, Gonga Musa, and Lion of Mali. He had lots of titles, including Emir of Melle, Lord of the Mines of Wangara, Conqueror of Ghanata, Fouta Djallon (also written Futa Jallon), and at least a dozen other areas.

Empire of Mali (Wikipedia)

Empire of Mali (Wikipedia)

He took the Empire of Mali to its peak, from the Fouta Djallon to Agadez (in northern Niger), including the ancient Ghana, and Songhai Empires. He established diplomatic relationships with Portugal, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt. His reign corresponds to the golden era of the Malian Empire.

Assemblée constitutive de l'empire du Mandé (Source: Wikipedia.fr)

Assemblée constitutive de l’empire du Mandé (Source: Wikipedia.fr)

Kankan Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca made him popular in North Africa, and in the Middle East. Musa made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, with a procession of 60,000 men, 12,000 servants who each carried four pounds of gold bars, heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses and handled bags. Also in the train, were 80 camels, which carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust each (Gold was the currency in Mali). He gave away gold to the poor along his route. Musa not only gave gold to the cities he passed on his way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but he also traded gold for souvenirs. Moreover, he would also build a new mosque every Friday in any city he so happened to pass by. Musa’s journey was documented by several eyewitnesses along his route, who were in awe of his wealth and extensive procession, and records exist in a variety of sources, including journals, oral accounts and histories. Musa’s visit with the Mamluk sultan Al-Nasir Muhammad of Egypt in July 1324 is well-recorded.

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

Sankore Mosque in Timbuktu

Musa’s generosity, however, inadvertently devastated the economy of the region. In the cities of Cairo, Medina and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade. Prices on goods and wares greatly inflated. To rectify the gold market, Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean. Imagine a single man controlling the economy of not only one country, but of an entire region!

Sankore University in Timbuktu

Sankore University in Timbuktu

Mansa Musa was a great builder. He had several mosques and madrasas built in Timbuktu and Gao. The most important of its constructions is the University of Sankore. In Niani, his capital, he built an Audience Hall, a building communicating directly with the royal palace through an interior door.  It was “an admirable Monument” surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colours. The windows of the upper floor were plated with wood and framed with silver, while those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold. This palace no longer exists. Like the Great Mosque, the Hall was built in cut stone. The Italian art and architecture scholar Sergio Domian said: “At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated.” Can you imagine that? In this day and age, how many countries in this world can boast 400 densely populated cities? Yet, the Mali of Kankan Musa claimed it all.

Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l'astronomie et mathematique

Manuscripts a Tombouctou (Mali) montrant de l’astronomie et mathematique

At the end of his life, in 1332 or 1337, the Empire of Mali limits were from the Atlantic Ocean to the Eastern shores of the Niger River, and to the forests of Taghaza in the middle of the Sahara. Kankan Musa was not only a rich man who gave to all, built mosques, and great places of worship, he was also a just conqueror, and a great builder. He took the Empire Mali to its peak, and made it the talk of places as far as the Middle East and Europe. Many Europeans and Middle Easterns would send delegations of architects, merchants, writers, astronomers, mathematicians and teachers, to study in his great university at Timbuktu. So next time someone asks you who was the richest man on planet earth, remember to tell them that before Bill Gates, there was Kankan Musa!

Posted by: Dr. Y. | March 17, 2015

Why the name: Kampala?

Kasubi Tombs (aboutuganda.com)

Kasubi Tombs (aboutuganda.com)

In college, I was always fascinated by my Ugandan friend’s account of the Kabaka of Buganda, of his palace located in Kampala, and of the rich tradition of the Buganda Kingdom. I started wondering what the capital of Uganda‘s name meant. After all, its name is beautiful, Kampala, resonant with grace, peace, and radiance. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that Kampala indeed was named after the graceful impala antelope.

Impala antelope

Impala antelope

Yes, indeed, before the arrival of the British in the area, the Kabaka (King) of Buganda had chosen the area as his favorite hunting ground because of its numerous rolling hills, and wetlands. This area was also home to several species of antelopes, and particularly the impala.

When the British arrived in the region, they renamed it ‘Hills of the Impala’. The translation in Luganda, the language of the Buganda people, yielded Kasozi Ka Empala (Kasozi Ka meaning hill of), and Empala being the plural for impala. To the listening ear, Ka Empala sounded like one word Ka’Mpala. When the king would go hunting, the Buganda people would say Kabaka a’genze e Ka’mpala (the Kabaka has gone to Ka’mpala). Thus was born the name of the city Kampala.

Map of Uganda

Map of Uganda

Kampala then grew to be the capital of the Buganda Kingdom. A lot of cultural heritage buildings can still be found there, such as the Kasubi Tombs, built in 1881, to house the tombs of previous Kabakas. The Kasubi Tombs have been recognized as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Kampala is also home to Lubiri Palace (the royal house of the Kabaka), the Buganda parliament, and the Buganda court of justice.

In 1962, Kampala replaced Entebbe as the capital of Uganda. A big part of the city was destroyed during the war with Tanzania in 1978, which culminated with the removal of Idi Amin Dada from power in 1979, and the civil war. The city has since then been rebuilt.

Kampala is surrounded by hills to the north, papyrus wetlands, and Lake Victoria to the south. Like many cities around the world (including Yaoundé), Kampala also claims to have been built on 7 hills, although it is not quite true. The 7 historical hills of Kampala are:

Lubiri Palace seen at the top of the hill, 1875

Lubiri Palace seen at the top of the hill, 1875

Kasubi Hill: the first hill in historical importance, and home to the  Kasubi Tombs, burial ground of the previous Kabakas of Buganda;

Mengo Hill: where Lubiri Palace is located, as well as the Buganda court of justice, and the Lukiiko, Buganda parliament;

Kibuli Hill: home to the Kibuli Mosque. Interestingly enough, Islam was brought to Uganda before Christianity by Muslim slave traders;

Namirembe Hill: home to the Namirembe Anglican Cathedral. The first Christians in the area were protestants;

Lubaga Hill: site of the Rubaga Catholic Cathedral, and the ‘white fathers’ neighborhood;

Nsambya Hill: home to the Nsambya Hospital;

Kampala Hill: the hill of the impala which hosts the ruins of Fort Lugard. This hill gave its name to the city.

Kampala today (enjoyuganda.info)

Kampala today (enjoyuganda.info)

With time, the city spread to Nakasero Hill where the administrative centre and the wealthiest residential area are, Tank Hill, where the water storage tanks that supply the city are located. Mulago Hill is the site of Mulago Hospital, the largest hospital in Uganda. The city is now rapidly expanding to include Makindye Hill and Konge Hill.  Kololo Hill to the east of Nakasero hill, is the highest hill in the city, at 1,300 metres above sea level, and is home to the Uganda Museum. As one can see, Kampala is truly a city of hills. Maybe it should be nicknamed the city with the thousand hills or hundred hills. Today, Kampala is a vibrant city, full of history, and modernism. Enjoy this video of Kampala.

 

 

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