Why the Name: Johannesburg ?

Johannesburg_South_Africa_in_1896
Johannesburg in 1896

If you are like me, you have probably thought that the city of Johannesburg, the largest city of South Africa, was named after some dude named Johannes, and that Johannesburg translates to something like “the town or city of Johannes.” How far are we from the truth?

 

Johannesburg-c1910 Pritchard St
Pritchard St in Johannesburg, ca 1910

Not too far actually! There are some controversies around the naming, i.e. whose name it was. After all, the name Johannes was quite common in the Dutch community in the 19th century, and simply translates to ‘John’ in English; in this day and age, think of how many Johns there are…, then think about 19th century: numerous, not to say ubiquitous!  To get back to Johannesburg, there were quite a few people with the name ‘Johannes‘ involved in the early history of the city. Among them was Christiaan Johannes Joubert who was a member of the Volksraad and was Republic’s chief of mining. Another was Stephanus Johannes Paulus Kruger (better known as Paul Kruger), president of the South African Republic (ZAR) from 18831900. Johannes Meyer, the first government official in the area is another possibility. Precise records for the choice of the name for the city have been ‘conveniently’ lost. Most likely it came from Johannes Rissik and Christiaan Johannes Joubert who were members of a delegation sent to England to obtain mining rights for the area. Joubert had a park in the city named after him and Rissik had his name on one of the main streets in the city. So it was probably a joint appeal between these 2 Johanneses, Joubert and Rissik, that gave rise to the name of the city of Johannesburg.

 

San (Basarwa/Bushmen) hunters
San (Basarwa/Bushmen) hunters

The region surrounding Johannesburg was originally inhabited by San people. By the 13th century, groups of Bantu-speaking people started moving southwards from central Africa and encroached on the indigenous San population. By the mid-18th century, the broader region was largely settled by various Sotho–Tswana communities, whose villages, towns and kingdoms stretched from what is now Botswana in the west, to present day Lesotho in the south, to the present day Pedi areas of the Northern Province. More specifically, the stone-walled ruins of Sotho–Tswana towns and villages are scattered around the parts of the former Transvaal province in which Johannesburg is situated.

Johannesburg 1911
Aerial view of Johannesburg in 1911

The Witwatersrand Gold Rush triggered the founding of Johannesburg in 1886. As everywhere in the world, the discovery of gold rapidly attracted people to the area. Within ten years, the city of Johannesburg included 100,000 people; in that sense, it is quite similar to the California gold rush which saw the boom of the city of San Francisco. In 1917, Johannesburg became the headquarters of the Anglo-American Corporation, which ultimately became one of the world’s largest corporations, dominating both gold-mining and diamond-mining in South Africa. Major building developments took place in the 1930s, after South Africa went off the gold standard. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the apartheid government constructed the massive agglomeration of townships that became known as Soweto to house their cheap black labor.

 

Johannesburg 2008
Aerial view of Johannesburg in 2008

Locals have several names for their city: Jozi, Joburg, and eGoli (“the city of gold” in Zulu). Located in the Witwatersrand (“white waters ridge” in Afrikaans) hills at the center of the large-scale gold and diamond trade, Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa and one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. It is the capital city of South Africa’s wealthiest province, Gauteng. So as you visit Johannesburg, and enjoy its popular museums, theme parks, and rich history. Enjoy the gold hills, or rather those mounds covered with gold dusts scattered around the city. Enjoy eGoli!

 

Why the Name: Seychelles?

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Flag of Seychelles

Have you ever wondered about the meaning for the name of the country Seychelles? Somehow to me, it has always felt like it should be a derivative of ‘sea shells’, especially given that it is an island country located in the middle of the Indian ocean. I picture sandy beaches, blue waters, coconuts, and then ‘sea shells‘ seems like a perfect name for such a beautiful place. How far am I from the truth?

 

Seychelles_Victoria_1900s
Victoria, capital of Seychelles, in the 1900s

Well, it turns out that the Seychelles islands were named after Jean Moreau de Séchelles, Louis XV‘s Minister of Finance, in 1756 when the French set a Stone of Possession on the islands Mahé. Before then, it was a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia. The first visitors to the island were probably Arab traders, but the earliest recorded sighting by Europeans took place in 1502 by the Portuguese Admiral Vasco da Gama, who passed through the Amirantes and named them after himself (islands of the Admiral). The earliest recorded landing was in January 1609, by the crew of the “Ascension” under Captain Alexander Sharpeigh during the fourth voyage of the British East India Company.

 

The islands went under British control in 1814 after the Napoleonic wars. Seychelles became a crown colony separate from Mauritius in 1903. In 1976, Seychelles became independent from the United Kingdom as a republic within the Commonwealth.

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Seychelles national bird: The Seychelles black parrot

Seychelles is located in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar and about 1,600 km (994 mi) east of Kenya. The capital of the 115island countryVictoria, lies 1,500 km (932 mi) east of mainland East Africa. The majority of its islands are uninhabited with many dedicated as nature reserves. With a population of roughly 94,228, it has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.  Its population is a melting pot of African, French, Indian, and Chinese, where the largest group is of African descent. The food and music duly reflect this fusion of cultures.

 

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Victoria, Seychelles, today

After proclamation of independence from the United Kingdom in 1976, Seychelles has developed from a largely agricultural society (main exports were cinnamon, vanilla, and copra) to a market-based diversified economy, with agriculture being supplanted by rapidly rising service and public sectors as well as tourism. Seychelles is among the world’s leading countries to protect lands for threatened species, allocating 42% of its territory for conservation. Seychelles today is known for success stories in protecting its flora and fauna.

 

Thus, if you visit Seychelles today, be amazed by its ‘sea shells’, sandy beaches, beautiful fauna, and flora. Enjoy!

 

Why the Name: Morocco?

Morocco
Flag of Morocco

If you are like me, there are many countries whose name you have pondered upon. One of them is Morocco! I have wondered about the name Morocco and its origin: was it a Portuguese or Spanish adaptation? did the French version ‘Maroc‘ derive from a Berber word or Almoravid name? Or was it a European name given to an African land? How did the initial inhabitants call their land?

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Map of Africa and Morocco

Well, the word ‘Morocco‘ derives from the Berber Ameṛṛuk, the shortened version of « Amurakuc », the original name « Marrakesh», itself arising from the Berber « amur n ukuc » meaning «land of God» or «sacred land». The full Arabic name al-Mamlakah al-Maghribiyyah translates to “Kingdom of the West” or the “Kingdom where the sun sets.” For historical references, medieval Arab historians and geographers sometimes referred to Morocco as al-Maghrib al-Aqṣá (meaning “The Farthest West“) to distinguish it from neighboring historical regions called al-Maghrib al-Awsaṭ (meaning “The Middle West“) and al-Maghrib al-Adná (meaning “The Nearest West“). Marrakesh was Morocco’s capital under the Almoravid dynasty and Almohad Caliphate. In Turkish, Morocco is known as Fas, a name derived from its ancient capital of Fes. However, this was not the case in other parts of the Islamic world: until the middle of the 20th century, the common name of Morocco in Egyptian and Middle Eastern Arabic literature was Marrakesh; name still used in some languages such as PersianUrdu and Punjabi. The English name Morocco is an anglicisation of the Spanish and Portuguese Marruecos and Marrocos respectively; which all derived from Marrakesh.

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Morocco’s capital, Rabat (Source: visitMorocco.com)

Morocco was known as the Kingdom of Marrakesh under the three dynasties that made Marrakesh their capital. Then, it was known as the Kingdom of Fes, after the dynasties which had Fez as their capital. In the 19th century, European cartographers still mentioned a “Kingdom of Morocco“, indicating the ancient capital “Morocco” (for Marrakesh). Under the Alaouite dynasty, the country moved from the appellation to the Empire of Sharif in the 19th century, to that of Kingdom of Morocco.

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King Mohammed VI of Morocco

Morocco is a monarchy, and is governed today by the King of Morocco, Mohammed VI, who holds executive and legislative powers, especially over the military, foreign policy and religious affairs.

Morocco has a coast by the Atlantic Ocean that reaches past the Strait of Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Spain to the north (a water border through the Strait and land borders with three small Spanish-controlled exclavesCeutaMelilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera), Algeria to the east, and the annexed Western Sahara to the south. Since Morocco controls most of Western Sahara, its de facto southern boundary is with Mauritania.

Marrakesh
Marrakesh

The capital of Morocco is Rabat; and its largest city is its main port, Casablanca. Other major Moroccan cities are FesMarrakeshMeknesSalé and Tangier. Morocco has become a major player in African economic affairs, and is the 5th African economy by GDP (PPP). Tourism accounts for a big part of its economy. Morocco is an ethnically diverse country with a rich culture and civilisation; and this diversity can be seen in its architecture, and cuisine as well.

Next time you visit Morocco, do not forget to enjoy its rich culture, cuisine, beautiful scenery, and remember that its name stands for the Land of God or the Sacred land, and enjoy its sacred treasures.

Proverbe sur la patience et la discrétion / Proverb on Patience and discretion

haircut5On ne conduit pas chez le coiffeur un enfant qui n’est pas encore né (Proverbe Dogon – Mali). – Ne vendez pas la peau de l’ours avant de l’avoir tué.

We do not take a child who is not yet born to the hairdresser (Dogon proverb – Mali).- Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched.

Why the Name: Ouagadougou?

Ouagadougou in 1930_Mittelholzer
Ouagadougou in 1930

I always loved the sound of the name Ouagadougou as it rolled off my tongue: it felt like a mouthful, but like a happy mouthful, the one you say with love: OUA-GA-DOU-GOU (WA-GA-DU-GU). Remember this is the capital of the land of upright people, the land of this proud son of Africa, Thomas Sankara. Yes, you know, the capital of Burkina Faso.

Originally, the city was called Kombemtinga, or the “land of princes.” It was founded on the 11th century by the Nyonyonse people.

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West Africa in 1530, with Mossi kingdom on the bottom right (Wikipedia)

The name Ouagadougou dates back to the 15th century when the Ninsi tribes inhabited the area. According to the Larlé Naba, the holder of the Mossi Empire‘s secrets, the city founders were in constant conflict with neighboring people until 1441, when they were forced to seek the protection of the Mossi Emperor Zoungrana, who was then living in Tenkodogo. In 1441Wubri, Zoungrana‘s son, and an important figure in Burkina Faso‘s history, led his tribe to victory. He then renamed the area from “KombemtingaorKumbee-Tenga“, as the Ninsi had called it, to “Wogdgo” which meant “Come honor me“.

Mossi Cavalry
Mossi cavalry, ca 1800s

It is this appellation which has evolved to “Woghodogo,” then Ouagadougou from the French. Others say that the name was changed by Wubri from “Kombemtinga” to “Wage sabre soba koumbem tenga“, meaning “head war chief’s village“.  The city then became the capital of the Mossi Empire in 1441 and the permanent residence of the Mossi emperors (Moro-Naba, Mogho Naaba) starting in 1681 with Naba Sanem. The Moro-Naba Ceremony is still performed every Friday by the Moro-Naba and his court to this day. The French made Ouagadougou the capital of the Upper Volta territory (basically the same area as contemporary independent Burkina Faso) in 1919.

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The Mogho Naba, king of the Mossi people at court in Ouagadougou, ca 1910 (Source: AdireAfricanTextiles.blogspot.com)

The name was originally « Woogrtenga » and « Wogodogo » to mean « where we receive honors, respect».  Ouagadougou grew around the imperial palace of the Mogho Naaba. Being an administrative center of colonial rule, it became an important urban center in the post-colonial era. First the capital of the Mossi Kingdoms and later of Upper Volta and then Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou became a veritable communal center in 1995. Affectionately called Ouaga by most, it is the center of the African film festival, FESPACO.

Ouaga2000 Memorial
Ouaga2000 Memorial – Ouagadougou today

So if you visit Ouagadougou, remember that you are visiting the original land of the princes, and the place where we receive honors and respect. Isn’t it a name worthy of the capital of the land of the upright people (Burkina Faso)? Enjoy the video below about Ouagadougou.

 

Why the Name: Huambo?

Angola
Map of Angola

As you travel around Africa, have you ever wondered about the name of the second largest city of Angola, Huambo ?

Previously called Nova Lisboa (New Lisbon) after the capital of Portugal, Huambo got its name from Wambu, one of the 14 old Ovimbundu kingdoms of the central Angolan plateau. The Ovimbundu, an old tribe of Angola, which originally arrived from Eastern Africa, had founded their central kingdom of Bailundu as early as the 15th century. Wambu was one of the smaller kingdoms and was hierarchically under the King of Bailundu, though it enjoyed, as the other kingdoms, a considerable degree of independence.

Angola_Huambo,_Palácio_do_Governador
The House of the Governor in Huambo (Source: Wikipedia)

Situated in the Angolan central highlands, Huambo is located near the headwaters of the Kunene River. It was founded in 1912 by Portuguese colons and was called Nova Lisboa until 1975, when it resumed its name of Huambo. It is located 600 km southeast of the capital Luanda, and 220 km east of Benguela; it is at high altitude, on a plateau 1800 m above sea level. Huambo is a main hub on the Caminho de Ferro de Benguela (CFB) (the Benguela Railway), which runs from the port of Lobito in Angola, to the Democratic Republic of the Congo‘s southernmost province, Katanga. It is the second industrial city of the country, and a big agricultural center.

If you ever visit Huambo, as you tour its neighborhoods, and get on the Caminho de Ferro de Benguela, remember that it was once an old Ovimbundu kingdom, Wambu, and reconnect with the feel of this ancient kingdom!

Why the Name: Mbabane?

Mbabane1
Flag of Swaziland

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of Mbabane, the name of the capital of Swaziland? Have you ever wondered what the local people called their land, before the arrival of European settlers?  Well, I have. It sounds so off, to be called Swaziland, or the land of the Swazi people. Very often in world history, it seems as if a place or people gets its name from foreigners, rather than the indigenous people, i.e how could a place be called Léopoldville (Kinshasa), when the locals do not call it? How could a place be called Cote d’Ivoire? Was there not a local name for that area? After digressing a bit, I wondered about the name Swaziland, or the land of the Swazi people. How do the Swazi know themselves? Or how do they call their land? How do they call their capital?

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King Mswati III of Swaziland (Source: News24.com)

The city of Mbabane gets its name from a local king, Mbabane Kunene, who lived in the region when the British colonizers first arrived there.  It is the capital of Swaziland, and the country’s largest city. It is located on the Mbabane River and its tributary the Polinjane River in the Mdzimba Mountains. It is located in the Hhohho Region, of which it is also the capital. The average elevation of the city is 1243 meters. Swaziland is a monarchy headed by King Mswati III, who was crowned King on 25 April 1986 and Ingwenyama of Swaziland. He reigns with his mother, Queen Mother Ntfombi Tfwala, the Ndlovukati and Joint Head of State of Swaziland since 1986. The country, Swaziland, gets its name from King Mswati II who helped expand and unify the area in the 19th-century.  Today, most people belong to the Swazi tribe, and the country is also known as kaNgwane, after King Ngwane III.

Whenever you find your way in Swaziland, do not forget to visit Mbabane, King Mswati III’s capital, and enjoy Swazi culture.

Why the Name: Comoros?

Comoros_flag
Flag of the Comoros

How many people know the country of Comoros? Have you ever heard about it? Have you ever wondered where the name Comoros come from? Well, I have… At first I wondered if it was like Cameroon, whose name comes from Rio dos Camarões, and so since Comoros seems to rime with Camarões, will Comoros mean Shrimp?

Well, my previous assumption was forgetting the fact that the Comoros, or rather the Union of the Comoros, had once seen the influence of Arabic sailors. So, the name Comoros comes from the Arabic word qamar, meaning moon! He he he… Comoros essentially means Moon.

Comoros_Map of the Comores 1747
Map of the Comoros, 1747

The Comoros is a sovereign archipelago island nation in the Indian Ocean located at the northern end of the Mozambique Channel off the eastern coast of Africa between northeastern Mozambique and northwestern Madagascar. Other countries near the Comoros are Tanzania to the northwest and the Seychelles to the northeast. Its capital is Moroni, on Grande Comore. The Union of the Comoros has three official languagesShikomori (Comorian), Arabic and French. The religion of the majority of the population is Islam.

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The Comoros with the map of Africa (Countryreports.org)

Comoros is a nation formed at the crossroads of different civilizations; it is almost like Madagascar in its cultural diversity: it was first inhabited by Bantu speakers from East Africa, and later its population was supplemented by Arab and Austronesian immigration. Islam was introduced around after the 650s AD. It was a major hub of trade and an important location in a network of trading towns that included Kilwa, in present-day Tanzania, Sofala (an outlet for Zimbabwean gold), in Mozambique, and Mombasa in Kenya. The country became part of the French colonial empire in the 19th century before becoming independent in 1975.

Comoros_Port of Moroni 1908
Port of Moroni, Comoros (1908)

The Comoros is formed by Ngazidja (Grande Comore), Mwali (Mohéli) and Nzwani (Anjouan), three major islands in the Comoros Archipelago, as well as many minor islets. The capital and largest city, Moroni, is located on Ngazidja. The archipelago is situated in the Indian Ocean, in the Mozambique Channel, between the African coast (nearest to Mozambique and Tanzania) and Madagascar, with no land borders.  In addition, the country has a claim on a fourth major island, southeastern-most Mayotte (Maore), though Mayotte voted against independence from France in 1974, has never been administered by an independent Comoros government, and continues to be administered by France (currently as an overseas department). France has vetoed United Nations Security Council resolutions that would affirm Comorian sovereignty over the island.

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Cloves

The main export of the islands are vanilla, ylang-ylang, and clove. The Comoros are the world’s largest producer of ylang-ylang.

So, if you ever visit the Comoros, imagine the moon! Enjoy its sandy beaches, and its lovely people!

Why the Name: Khartoum?

Khartoum_from_air_with_Nile_1936
Aerial view of Khartoum in 1936

What comes to mind as you say the name of the capital of Sudan, Khartoum? Well, for me, I imagine the great Nubian Empire with its queen Amanishakheto or King Taharqa; I imagine big sand dunes, and of course history… so much history, the history of one of the greatest African kingdoms, one which dominated ancient Egypt for centuries. So how far am I from the real meaning of the name Khartoum?

The origin of the word, “Khartoum“, is uncertain. There are many interpretations. One of them states that the name khartoum is derived from the Arabic khurṭūm (tuskstrunk or hose) for elephant tusks, or it could be referring to the narrow strip of land extending between the Blue and White Niles [not sure how trunk or hose could be thought to be a strip of land].

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia (Wikipedia)

Captain J.A. Grant, who reached Khartoum in 1863 with Captain Speke‘s expedition, thought the name was most probably from the Arabic qurtum (قرطم safflower, i.e., Carthamus tinctorius), which was cultivated extensively in Egypt for its oil to be used as fuel [not sure why a city in Sudan will be named for a plant which is cultivated in its neighbor’s country]. Some scholars speculate that the word may be derived from the Nubian word, Agartum (“the abode of Atum“), the Nubian and Egyptian god of creation. Other Beja scholars suggest “Khartoum” is derived from the Beja word, Hartoom (“meeting“). Additionally, the dream interpreting magicians in Genesis 41:8 are referred to as חַרְטֻמֵּ֥י (Khartoumei) [as you can see Black Africans are in the Bible everywhere].

So, which one of these interpretations is the most accurate?

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Khartoum, today (Source:Wikipedia)

The city as it is known today was established in 1821, 24 kilometers north of the ancient city of Soba, by Ibrahim Pasha, the son of Egypt‘s ruler, Muhammad Ali Pasha, who had just incorporated Sudan into his realm. Originally, Khartoum served as an outpost for the Egyptian Army, but the settlement quickly grew into a regional center of trade. It also became a focal point for the slave trade. Later, it became the administrative center of Sudan and official capital.

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

Khartoum is located in the middle of the populated areas in Sudan, and is part of the tri-cities composed of Khartoum proper, and linked by bridges to Khartoum North and Omdurman to the west, with an overall population of 5 million inhabitants. Khartoum and Sudan as whole, were the home of several ancient flourishing civilizations, such as Nubia, the Kingdom of Kush, Kerma, Nobatia, Alodia, Makuria, Meroë and others, most of which flourished along the Nile. During the pre-dynastic period Nubia and Nagadan Upper Egypt were identical, simultaneously evolved systems of Pharaonic kingship by 3300 BC. Khartoum is home to amazing museums, including the largest museum of Sudan,  the National Museum of Sudan, where one can be immersed in the rich culture of Sudan and the different eras of its history. Among the exhibits are two Egyptian temples of Buhen and Semna, originally built by Queen Hatshepsut and Pharaoh Tuthmosis III, respectively, but relocated to Khartoum upon the flooding of Lake Nasser.

Well, if you visit Khartoum, don’t forget to visit the National Museum of Sudan, and learn of the great African civilizations that flourish there, reclaim your history, African history, and above all enjoy the warmth and hospitality of the people of Khartoum!