A blog about African history, and heritage, through audio and video files.
Author: Dr. Y.
I am an African in love with the history of the world, and particularly that of Africa. I am a child of love, an artist, a scientist, a lover, a friend, a human.
I am in love with nature and beautiful things, art, history, geography, travel, dance, food, science, and technology, and much more.
Below are accounts from Al-Bakri, the 11th century geographer, who described the court of the Ghana Empire: Great and Magnificent Ancient Kingdom of Africa. As you read, notice that this was a very wealthy state, and also very well organized with great hierarchy. Enjoy! This is from the Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa, Levtzion, N., Cambridge Press (1981).
“The king has a palace and a number of domed dwellings all surrounded with an enclosure like a city wall. Around the king’s town are domed buildings and groves …”
“The King adorns himself like a woman wearing necklaces round his neck and bracelets on his forearms and he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in a turban of fine cotton. He holds an audience in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials…and on his right, are the sons of the vassal kings of his country, wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold.”
“He sits in audience or to hear grievances against officials in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before the king and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree that hardly ever leave the place where the king is, guarding him. Around their necks they wear collars of gold and silver studded with a number of balls of the same metals.”
Let me tell you about one of the greatest Ancient kingdoms of Africa, the Ghana Empire, a place known to its northern neighbors as the “Land of Gold“. No, I am not talking about the modern-day country of Ghana, which used to be called the Gold Coast and was named in honor of the great long-gone Ghana Empire by its first president, Kwame Nkrumah.
The Ghana Empire predates the modern-day country of Ghana by almost a millennium; it went from ca 300 to 1100 AD. It was a West African empire located in the area of present-day southeastern Mauritania, and western Mali. As you can see today, the Ghana Empire was actually located about 400 miles northwest of current Ghana, and was significantly bigger.
Its real name was Wagadou, but is known mostly by the title given to its ruler, the Ghana. It is not clear when the Ghana Empire ruling dynasty started, but explorer Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī gave us the first written records in 830, while in the 11th century the Cordoban scholar Al-Bakri traveled to the region and gave a detailed description of the kingdom. According to contemporary accounts such as those by al-Yakqubi (872 AD) al-Masudi (c. 944 AD), Ibn Hawqal (c. 977 AD), al-Biruni (c. 1036 AD), as well as Abu-Ubayd al-Bakri, the empire was a purely African kingdom, founded, and ruled by Africans, Soninke people. Ghana was said to be a sophisticated state with advanced methods of administration and taxation, large armies, large population, and lots of gold.
Its capital was Koumbi-Saleh, on the edge of the Sahara desert (when the Sahara was not as arid as today). According to the description of the town left by Al-Bakri in 1067/1068, the capital was actually two cities 10 kilometres (6 miles) apart from each other but, “between these two towns are continuous habitations“, so that they might be said to have merged into one. The king’s residence, known as El-Ghaba, was the major part of the city. It was protected by a stone wall; very similar to the Tata of Sikasso: an African Fortifying Wall. Like in many African states today, the city contained a sacred grove of trees where the priests lived. The king’s palace was the grandest structure in the city, surrounded by “domed buildings.” The other section of the city, which was the primary business district, was surrounded by wells with fresh water, where vegetables were grown. It was inhabited almost entirely by Muslims along with twelve mosques. During the time span of the Ghana Empire, Islam was introduced to the area. The king of the Soninke people who founded Ghana never fully embraced Islam, but had very good relations with Muslims.
The economy of the empire was based around gold, salt, copper, and other goods. The imports included textiles, ornaments, and other materials. Many of the handcrafted leather goods found in old Morocco also had their origins in the Ghana empire. As expected, the main center of trade was Koumbi Saleh. The introduction of the camel to the region around the 3rd centuryAD opened the way to increased and more efficient trans-Saharan trade. Today, Koumbi Saleh is being excavated, and many cities that were part of the Ghana Empire, such as Ouadane, Chinguetti,or Oualata, are also on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The empire’s wealth and power made for a rich and stable economy which lasted several centuries. The Ghana Empire was very populated and had many people from outside the kingdom travel through in order to trade with those from the Kingdom of Ghana or to trade with other outsiders, making Ghana a focal point trading center. The Empire of Ghana had many trade routes, and a very well-trained military to protect them, which encouraged further safe commerce and exchanges in the region. Ghana was essentially a melting pot, spreading ideas, culture, technology and other aspects of what makes different societies what they were.
The Moorish nobleman who visited the empire in the 11th century, Al-Bakri, wrote of the king: “He sits in audience or to hear grievances against officials in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before the king and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree that hardly ever leave the place where the king is, guarding him. Around their necks they wear collars of gold and silver studded with a number of balls of the same metals.”
Ghana appears to have had a central core region and was surrounded by vassal states. One of the earliest sources to describe Ghana, Al-Ya’qubi, writing in 889/90 (276 AH) says that “under his authority are a number of kings” which included Sama and ‘Am and so extended at least to the Niger valley. These “kings” were presumably the rulers of the territorial units often called kafuin Mandinka.
Al-Bakri mentioned that the king had officials (mazalim) who surrounded his throne when he gave justice, and these included the sons of the “kings of his country” which are presumably the same kings that al-Ya’qubi mentioned in his account nearly two hundred years earlier. Al-Bakri‘s detailed geography of the region shows that in his day, or 1067/1068, Ghana was surrounded by independent kingdoms, and Sila, one of them located on the Senegal River, was “almost a match for the king of Ghana.” Sama is the only such entity mentioned as a province, as it was in al-Ya’qubi’s day.
Eventually the Ghana Empire’s power declined. It was attacked by other kingdoms in need of their resources. The Ghana Empire eventually merged with the Mali Empire, which became one of the largest empires in African history and one of the richest as well.
On October 4th, 1984, Thomas Sankara addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. It was a historical speech, as only he, the great orator, could speak. It was moving, it was strong, and it was good. Below is an extract of his speech. For the whole speech, go to thomassankara.net. Enjoy!!!
“I speak on behalf of the millions of human beings … thrown out of work by a system that is structurally unjust and periodically unhinged, who are reduced to only glimpsing in life a reflection of the lives of the affluent. I speak on behalf of women the world over, who suffer from a male-imposed system of exploitation. … Women who struggle and who proclaim with us that the slave who is not able to take charge of his own revolt deserves no pity for his lot. This harbors…
I recently watched a documentary made by René Vautier, Afrique 50. This documentary is the first French anti-colonization movie ever made. Vautier was assigned to French West Africa to make an educational film, but upon arrival he witnessed the appalling conditions of the Africans and the crimes committed against them by the French troops. The result was Afrique 50. For making this documentary, he was thrown in jail, and the documentary was banned for 40 years.
I loved Afrique 50 because it showed West Africa in 1950, a different side of it, and the African society with some of its strong culture and identity. It was a society of togetherness. Vautier tried to show different aspects of a normal day: artisans, farmers, weavers, women cooking, a hairdressing for both boys and girls, men called for prayers, fishermen, boat makers, herders, just normal life under the African sun.
He also showed colonization and its nefarious effects on African cultures and the fact that colonization did not help, but rather empoverished the Africans. He says, “a school is opened when the big companies need an accountant” (On ouvre une école quand les grosses companies ont besoin de comptables), or “a doctor is sent, when the big colonial companies risk running out of manpower” (on envoie un médécin quand les grosses compagnies coloniales risquent de manquer de main d’oeuvre).
In his documentary, Vautier shows how the French destroyed entire villages, killed people, women, kids, pregnant women, etc, because the people were not able to bring in a quota of bananas, or cocoa, or rubber, i.e. to pay the tax which was the penny sum of 3700F.
Vautier says, “colonization is the reign of the vultures,” and these vultures are the big multinationals. He cites, Société Commerciale de l’Ouest Africain (650 millions F of profit in 1949), Compagnie française de l’Afrique occidentale (actuelle CFAO) (365 millions of profit in 1949), Dabom (180 millions of profit), L’Africaine Française, le Niger Français, La Compagnie Française de la Côte d’Ivoire, Unilever who made 11 billions 500 millions of profit in a year / 40 millions a day. Not much has changed today!
It also shows why Africa always looks underdeveloped. Isn’t it surprising to notice that today, lots of large-scale agriculture is not industrialized in sub-saharan Africa? Well because it costs less to these multinationals to have Africans labor fields with hoes, machetes, and more, than buying and maintaining turbines, or tractors. This is cheap labor!
Vautier says “A machine will do the job of 20 Blacks of course, but 20 blacks for 50F a day cost less to the company than the machine, so let’s use the Black” (Une machine ferait le travail de 20 noirs bien sûr, mais 20 noirs à 50F par jour reviennent moins cher qu’une machine, alors usons le noir).
To this day, 70 years later, not much has changed in the rubber plantations of Liberia, or the cocoa plantations of Côte d’Ivoire, or the banana plantations of Cameroon, or in the forests of Gabon.
Africans are still asking for their lands which were taken by the multinationals (Did You Know about the 999-year Lease granted to Europeans in Kenya ?), and to this day the reply is always brutal and violent; when in the past they had the French administrator and police burn down villages, today they have their puppet governments installed everywhere on the continent crushing the people.
What I also liked in Afrique 50, was that in 1950, the architecture in Africa was still that of our ancestors. One can see Séguéla, Dimbokro, Kétékre, Daloa, Bouaflé, Palaka, etc… it still looks like the great architecture of Timbuktu and Djenné, sublime, and upstanding. The French came, destroyed, and burnt down those villages, and kingdoms. In the Bamiléké highlands of Cameroon, some kingdoms have no real palaces anymore, or the king’s house is made of zinc roofing, because the colonizers had them burnt down (such as the Bazou royal palace) in the 1950s during the maquis years (French President Acknowledges French Genocide in Cameroon) and before. The mud huts seen today across Africa are a result of years of being crushed and under constant attack by foreigners. When you are constantly attacked, you barely have time to rebuild the old ways, and also with time those with the architectural know-how pass away without passing on their knowledge, and more, we are told that building like the Europeans is sign of modernism even if it not adapted to our environment!
Please enjoy this documentary… It is a real eye-opener! Very little has changed in 70 years, the name has morphed from colonization to neo-colonization, to globalization, to cheap labor, and more!
“In 1844 Merrick found King William more accommodating. The following year, Merrick initiated work along the coast, opening a station among the Isubu of Bimbia and two stations at Aqua Town and Bell Town along the Wouri River estuary. Unaware of difficulties that made the river largely unnavigable, he hoped that the system of creeks might ultimately provide access to the interior. However, Merrick´s first task was to “prepare the way for the preaching of the gospel among the Isubu and the Dualas.” This he did by forming churches and schools and learning the Isubu and Duala [Douala] languages. A gifted linguist, he soon was able to preach in both tongues. He arranged to print some texts and scripture.” Memoir of Joseph Merrick, Missionary to Africa by J. Clarke, London: Benjamin L. Green.
n.d. Journals. BMS Archives A/2. 1850.
“The Rev. Joseph Merrick was a native of Jamaica, and of African descent. He was educated in the Society’s schools, and as a youth began in 1837 to preach. He was soon after associated with his father in the pastorate of the church at Jericho. He entered on mission work in Africa in 1843, and laboured most diligently among the Isubu tribe on the Bimbia river. He quickly learned to speak their language with great readiness and precision, and translated a portion of the New Testament into the Isubu tongue. It was partially printed by himself, but was completed at press by Mr. Saker. He died on the 22nd October, 1849, on his passage to England.” Alfred Saker, Missionary to Africa: A Biography, by E.B. Underhill, Baptist Missionary Society, UK, 1884 p.52
“Having set” in order the things wanting in the church “at Clarence [Malabo], Mr. Saker paid a brief visit to Bimbia, where he collected the manuscripts and Isubu translations of the lamented Merrick. Leaving directions for their printing with Joseph Fuller,… ” Alfred Saker, Missionary to Africa: A Biography, by E.B. Underhill, Baptist Missionary Society, UK, 1884 p.52
“On the mainland, north from Fernando Po [Bioko], towered the volcanic mountain of Cameroons [Mount Cameroon]. Its highest peak-then unexplored-lifted itself 13,700 feet into the blue. Its spurs and outlying hills reached to the sea frontage. On one of its headlands Mr. Merrick was even now at work reducing the language of that particular people – the Isubus – to writing.” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.42
“The time which had been spent in Bimbia had not been wasted. Earnestly had Mr. Saker co-operated with Mr. Merrick in labour for the welfare of the Bimbians. Inland villages had been visited with the glad tidings of great joy ; chiefs had been seen and taught ; the idlers in the market-places, the fishermen by the seashore, … ” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.44
“Mr. Saker was detained in Bimbia for some weeks owing to storms. During his detention he printed at the press some Isubu manuscripts left by the late Mr. Merrick.” Alfred Saker Pioneer of the Cameroon by Emily M. Saker, 2nd Edition London: The Carey Press, 1929, p.119
“On the Friday I made my way to the home of our excellent brother Duckett, about seven miles distant. You will remember him as one of the band who sailed with Mr Clarke in the Chilmark from Jamaica to Africa; he was the most able and devoted of the number. My dear wife knew him well as a faithful co-worker with the sainted Merrick.” The Missionary Herald: Containing Intelligence, at Large, of the Proceedings, The Native Pastors of Jamaica, p. 52 1882
Below are excerpts from an article posted on Pambazuka by Akyaaba Addai-Sebo, where the author compares the obstables faced by the regimes of presidents Kwame Nkrumah and Robert Mugabe almost 40 years later. As you read on, you can see that the British used the same tactics to destroy both economies, when they could not destabilize both men. Such similitudes! Enjoy! For the full article, go to Pambazuka.
Despite some shortcomings in his policies, Mugabecould not be pushed to betray the people of Zimbabwe and Africa in general.
Tony Blair’s New Labour purposefully undermined and sabotaged the political economy of Zimbabwe from late 1997. The double-face and double-crossing British politicians therefore crippled the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) Red Cockrell in the same manner as Harold Wilson undermined and sabotaged the Nkrumahregime and the Convention People’s Party (CPP) Red Cockrell from 1964.
Harold Wilson was the Labour Party prime minister then. Rhodesia was then at the heart of the conflict between Ghana and Britain. Harold Wilson fought President Kwame Nkrumahtomaintain and sustain white supremacist stranglehold as Tony Blair fought Mugabeto maintain and sustain white supremacist stranglehold on Zimbabwean land and finance capital, itself created by the land and the labour of the people.
It must be stated clearly that there can be no capital without land and labour. Capital has no existence of its own. Apartheid and settler colonialism are a politico-military act of land appropriation and enslavement of labour for the crafted purpose of capital accumulation.
Tony Blair’s New Labour party funded and created the opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai, a trade union leader. Harold Wilson’s Labour Party aided Kofi Busia, Komla Gbedemah and JWK Harlley to overthrow Nkrumah.
Whereas Tony Blair and subsequent British prime ministers could not overthrow Mugabe, they destroyed the Zimbabwean economy and created a quicksand underneath the ZANU-PF regime…as did the Wilson government to the CPP regime.
We take drawing for granted, and we know that our ancestors, ancient humans thought of drawings as a very good communication tool, as depicted in petroglyphs found in a thousand places on the African continent, in Europe, Asia, and the Americas.
This may be old news to some, but the earliest evidence of a drawing made by humans has been found in the Blombos Cave in the southern Cape province of South Africa. Blombos Cave contains material dating from 100,000—70,000 years ago.
The drawing, which consists of three red lines cross-hatched with six separate lines, was intentionally drawn on a smooth silcrete flake about 73,000 years ago. This predates previous drawing from Africa, Europe and Southeast Asia.
Excavations at the world-famous archeological Blombos Cave site, have yielded many important riches. These include delicately crafted stones and bone implements preceding comparable European artifacts by more than 80,000 years, and at least 8,000 pieces of ochre, used as colour pigment by early humans. This indicates that our ancestors already had an acute sense of colors, and the different properties of these oxidizing colors (ferrous oxide), suggesting a strong understanding of the chemistry behind the colors’ composition.
… the drawings were made with an ochre crayon, with a tip of between 1 and 3 millimetres thick. Further, the abrupt termination of the lines at the edge of the flake also suggested that the pattern originally extended over a larger surface, and may have been more complex in its entirety.
“Before this discovery, Palaeolithic archaeologists have for a long time been convinced that unambiguous symbols first appeared when Homo sapiens entered Europe, about 40,000 years ago, and later replaced local Neanderthals,” says Pr. Christopher Henshilwood from the University of Witswatersrand. “Recent archaeological discoveries in Africa, Europe and Asia, in which members of our team have often participated, support a much earlier emergence for the production and use of symbols.”
The archaeological layer in which the Blombos drawing was found also yielded other indicators of symbolic thinking, such as shell beads covered with ochre, and, more importantly, pieces of ochres engraved with abstract patterns. Some of these engravings closely resemble the one drawn on the silcrete flake.
“This demonstrates that early Homo sapiens in the southern Cape used different techniques to produce similar signs on different media,” says Henshilwood. “This observation supports the hypothesis that these signs were symbolic in nature and represented an inherent aspect of the behaviorally modern world of these African Homo sapiens, the ancestors of all of us today.“
To find out more, please read this article written by Christopher Henshilwood and his team in Nature, as well as this article in the National Geographic.