Early Civilization In Africa


If no one wrote anything down about the ancient people, how can we know anything about them? There is a limit to the accuracy and time-depth of even the most carefully preserved oral tradition; and in some cases even these are entirely absent. Will not anything we say about these times, then be pure speculation? At one time this was the case-and all short of conjectures and theories, myths and legends, were told concerning man’s preliterate period, including those contained in parts of the Old Testament of the Bible. Some of these guesses may have been inspired guesses as for as their factual content is concerned, even if, as in the case of the Bible, some of them were made the vehicles of what can still be regarded as spiritual truths.

However, in the course of the last hundred years or so there has been developed the science of archaeology, which is able to discover large parts of the story of man’s unwritten past by studying the material objects he had left behind him. Of course it cannot be pretended that scientific achaeology can give as complete an account of a period of the past as can a written history. But it can reconstruct large parts of the story with far greater accuracy then mere continuing, so that gaps are continually briefly filled and greater accuracy be achieved.

Archaeologists work rather like a detective who collects his data from a large number of different clues and then, putting them together, reasons out certain deductions and conclusions from them, e.g the murderer must have been a left handed man. The archaeologist work in just the same kind of way, using both common-sense, observation and a whole battery of scientific laboratory techniques. Just as the detective may not be able to name the murderer but is able to narrow down the hunt to left handed men, so archaeology may be unable to name a king or a chief or a people in the past but it can nevertheless give a lot of information about them; how they were dressed, how they got their food, how they made things, what sort of homes they lined in, how they buried their dead, what sort of trade or warfare they engaged in and how long ago they lived.


East Africa today is one of the fdocal points of all those concerned with the study of the evolution of man and his stoned age cultures. The deep Olduvai George lies some sixty kilometers west of the great Ngorongoron crater, in Northern. Tanzania. Here remains of early man skulls 1,750,000 years old have been uncovered near hundreds of stone tools, and the bones of kinds of animals which no longer exist. Other sites have been found in East Africa, among others kenya and uganda. Although the first reports of evidence relating to stone age tools go back to the closing stages of last century, which the late professor, J.W. Gregory found evidence of what, he called “Neolithic” tools on an ancient beach near lake Naivasha, and in lake deposited near Gilgil, the story does not really start until 1911, when two important events took place. Professor Kattwinkel of Berlin discovered Olduvai George in what was German East Africa and Dr Felix Oswald explored the Eastern shores of lake victoria in kenya and found and mapped important fossil tools.

Kattwinkel’s discovery was in a sense accidental. He has been collecting insects. One day, as he chased a rare butterfly across the South East corner of the serengeti plains, he almost fell to his death over a sheer 100m cliff. The butterfly escape and he climb down the cliff face to explore. Almost at once he found fossil bones sticking out of the rock. Although he was a paleontologist, he realized that his colleagues in Berlin would be interested and he took specimens. Thus was Olduvai Gorge now world famous discovered. In East Africa the position is different. However, for the reason that in these very ancient deposits we have abundant evidence of the primitive primate stocked from which we believedman eventually envolved. Nearly all the leading students of human evolution look today to the Reconsulsiva-pithecus, stock which was living in the lower miocene in East Africa, for the stock from which man originated, as well as to so-called “near man” of the Australapithecines. As stated above remains of very many fossil ape-like creatures and, in particular the general procosul and Sivapithecus, which are considered to stand in the line which eventually envolved into man among the fossils that have been discovered at fort ternan are remains of a pri-mate which has been named Kenyapithecus Wickeri. This most interesting creature is now usually regarded as a true representative of the family “Hominidae” to which belongs rather than of the pondigae or apes-kenya can thus claim a very early representative of the family of man, dating back to about 12-14 million year ago. Those at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania are still more important, because they have yielded the earliest yet discovered remains of the genus Homa mas as well as of his near cousins Zinjanthropus who is an Austrabpithecine.

Formerly, we used to define man as starting at “that stage of primate evolution where there creatures begin to make tools to set and regular pattern”. This definition has recently had to be abandoned because Jan Goodall has shown that wild chimpanzee’s living under natural conditions regularly make and use simple tools. Nevertheless, the ability to make and use sharp cutting tools of stone still remains as one of the things that man alone do. At Olduvai in what is called B1, the lowest part of the geological sequence of the special co-existence of hominid. One of these is Australopithecus or “near-man”, and the other is Homo Habilis, which is a new species of true man. Homo Habilis had a larger brain than Zinjanthropus, and also a very human looking hand and foot.

It is exceedingly likely therefore that it was Homo Habalis who made the primitive Olduvai culture which we find at Olduvai. It is not however, impossible that Zinyanthropus was making and using simple stone tools. These very early hominid at Olduvai have been dated by the potassiumargon dating technique as belonging to a period about 1,750 to 2,000,000 years ago. Situated higher up in the sequence of Olduvai are other deposits which have yielded hominid remains. Olduvai Gorge has given us for example, remains of an African representative of Homo erectus (Pithecanthropus from high up in bed II). At a site some 80 kilometers North of Olduvai known as penning a jaw of Zinjanthropus type has been recovered. Part of Olduvai George Bed II and Bed IV are very rich in stone Age remains of the great Hand Axe or Archaulean culture but it is not at present, possible to say, which of the early Hominid type was responsible for making it possibly the Africa form of Homoerectus or perhaps, the descendants of Homo-habilis.


THE NILE VALLEY; On the Eastern side of the continent the river Nile, starting from two sources, one in the highlands of Ethiopia (the Blue Nile) and the other in lake region of East Africa (the White Nile) threads its way across the desert to reach the seas through the many mouth of its Delta in Egypt. Every year the rains in Ethiopia and East Africa Cause the river to over flow its banks and as the water subsides it leaves behind a layer of fertile mud which it has brought from the highlands. Along the banks of the Nile there is a narrow cultivable strip containing some of the riches agricultural land in the world. Though, it is often no more than a few miles wide it can support a dense population and it gave rise to elaborate civilizations. Navigation is possible along great stretches of the river, and the winding thread of water and the vivid strips f green besides it form one of the strongest likes binding the history of the peoples north and south of the sahara.

It is often impossible to explain fully why certain events happened in history. This is true of the early civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia. But we can nevertheless think of many reasons why civilization grew up in these places before others. In the case of Egypt the reasons are closely connected with the geography of the country. Although the Egyptians must have been very clever to have taken advantage of them. If we look at a map of Egypt we will see that the country consists of a long strip of land of both sides of River Nile. This strip of land is only about 20 or 30 miles wide, but it had certain very important advantages in early times. These are connected mainly with fertility and defense. It is not enough to be able to grow food; You must be sure that you can protect your fields and crops from invaders before you settle down and erect buildings and study the arts of peace. Egypt was and still is very fertile because of the River Nile. The result is that every summer the Nile over flows its banks providing water for the surrounding fields and also a new layer of rich fertile mud which will grow crops for the following year. This occurs year after year, although occasionally, the Nile does not over flow so much, and then Egypt might suffer from famine. This happened in the time of the early Isrealites, as the story of Joseph and pharaoh’s remind us. We shall find that the River Nile was worshipped as a God, so important was it to the Egyptians.


Egypt is excellently situated in this respect. On the East and West are deserts. In the South is the country of Nubia which was some source of danger, but not so much as it is also largely desert. Lastly in the North, where the nile reaches the sea through its huge delta, is the Mediterranean Sea. In ancient times this was a bigger barrier than it would be in our own time. The only good land route to Egypt is by the peninsula of Sinai. At first, the people of Egypt were far from United. They lived on separate tribes, often making war upon one another. Gradually, the different cities and states drew together until two kingdoms were formed. Known as Lower Egypt and Upper Egypt. The Lower Egypt was situated round the Nile Delta, Which is in the lower reaches of the Nile. Upper Egypt was first South of the Delta and was so called because it was in the upper reaches of the Nile. Lower Egypt was sometimes called the Red Kingdom, because its king wore a red crown, his sign was a lee. Upper Egypt was sometimes known as the white kingdom its king wore white lily and its sign was a lily. It is very important that man should have some way of reckoning the day. As soon as man began to live together, to lend and borrow goods among themselves, to pay taxes to their rulers, and to hold religious festivals at fixed times, they had to have some common methods of counting how many days has passed, perhaps the earliest way. All this was by means of the moon for the moon comes and goes in about every thirty days. This method is still used by certain native races and this was the way used by earlier Egyptians. But the soon found out that it was not the best possible method. The moon periods do not equally fit into the year, and the Egyptians realized that the ought to make the year the basis of their reckoning. This is the lenght of time(365 days) they thought that it takes. The earth to go completely round the sun after it is finished, the season begin all over again.

It was people of the red kingdom, or lower Egypt who work out the first calender. The divided the year into twelve months of their thirty days each. This gave them 360 days. Then in order to make it up to 365 days, they added five extra days for feast and hollidays, which belong to no month at all. This arrangement was in some ways more convenient than our own, because all the months were of equal length. The Egyptians did not know that a year is really 3651/2 days, so that every four years an extra day ought to be added. This Egyptians calender was introduced in the year 4241 BC, and is the first event in the world that can be given a definite date. The modern calender, with its thousand years ago was believed to be established by the Egyptians.

The Egyptian civilization was strongly influenced by the natural conditions of the Nile valley and the dependence of man on the river and its floods. For the large population to support itself it was essential to make the best use of every drop of the flood waters and the rich mud which the spread over the land. This could only be done successfully if irrigation and land used up and down the valley were carefully controlled. Thus from about 3000 BC, a very powerful state system grew up which exercised close control over the use of water and the lands and the crops derived from them. As these were the matters of fundamental importance to the Egyptians peasants, the state virtually controlled all the most important aspects of their lives. One of the Worlds earliest known system of writing, the hieroglyphic script, was developed, and an elaborate civil service of scribes grew to perform the complex task of administration. The king, or pharaoh, was, at least in theory, all-powerful and the owner of all the land, in Egypt. It was believed that he was divine and that he and his ancestors in the spirit World influence the fertility of the land. He was thus a central figure in an elaborate religeous figure with a complicated order of gods served by powerful priests. Though the standard of living of the ordinary peasant was always low, the king, the civil servants and the priest were able to live in great luxury and splendor. The mighty pyramids which have fascinated all subsequent generations were built as tombs for some of the kings while others were buried in vast chambers cut out of the rock of moutain sides and decorated with paintings of rich and almost unbelievable beauty. Palaces too were built and splendid temples of the great size. Arts and crafts of many different kinds were developed to a high pitch of perfection. Though Egypt traded widely with mediterranean lands and competed with the mesopotamian civilization for control for the middle East, it was to be of less interest in its African neighbours higher up the Nile in the Northern parts of the modern Sudan. This part of Africa was inhabited from very early times by Negro people and Egypt was always a multi-racial state or rather a state in which people of different race lives together without attaching much importance to racial differences.

These are, true pictures of pharaohs conquering the Negroes of the upper Nile and capturing them as slaves, but status of important officers shows that Negroes could rise to high position in the state. As a result of Egyptian influence in the Nile valley, a civilization grew up thus based largely on the Egyptian pattern though modified by local tradition. Its rulers become very powerful and about 730 BC the great Nubian warrior king,pinnkhy conquered Egypt and established a new dynasty generally known as the Ethiopian dynasty, on the throne of the pharaohs. After being defeated by an Assyrian attack in 663 BC, however, the Nubians severed their connection with Egypt and established an independent kingdom on the lapper Nile known as the kingdom of Kush. The first capital of the kingdom was at Napata. Later it was moved further up the Nile from Napata to Meroe and there the kings and queens of Kush continued or keep alive a form of Egyptian civilization along after the Old religion and way of life had died out in Egypt ittself. Gradually the state was weakened, probably by the decline of agriculture cause by soil exhaustion, about AD 350 king Ezana of Axum stormed the capital and the kingdom came to an end.

Missionaries from Egypt, then under the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire, introduced Christianity into Nubian and a number of Christian kingdoms grew up where beautifully decorated churches and Monasteries were built, these kingdoms too felt into decline and muslim merchants and missionaries from Egypt converted many of the people to Islam. Then in 16th century a brilliant leader, Amara dunkas, in alliance with the Abdullah, the most important of the Arab sheikhs who had penetrated the upper Nile valley, conquered the whole area of the previously Christian Kingdom and united them into a muslim sultanate known as the Funj kingdom with its capital at Sennar on the Blue Nile. This kingdom survived untile the nineteenth century, though it was by this time in the last stages of decline.

Ghana Empire is one of the earliest known Negro empires in recorded history. It was first mentioned by an Arab geographer, Al-Fazari, in AD 773, in his book A1-Musudi, where, he referred to it as “a land of gold. Ghana is also found on the first Islamic world Map produced by a persian geographer, Muharnmed Khwarizmi, in the nineth century. The Arab traveler Al-Bakri, writing on AD 1067, tells us that the name “Ghana” was the title of the Soninke kingdom called Aoukar. The title means war chief”. It was visiting Arab and people from other parts of the Sudan who referred to the kingdom by the ninth century, Aoukar was popularly known as “Ghana”.

It was not yet certain how and when Ghana was founded. But from Arab sources, particularly the Tarikh Al-Sudan. It appears to have been founded by a Soninke dynasty between AD 300-400. The Ghana kingdom was situated on the grasslands North of the headwaters of the Senegal and Niger. Its capital Kumbi Saleh, it said to have been founded by Kaya meghan who was reported to have over-thrown the immigrant minority ruling class of “white” (products of intermarriage between berbar settlers and Negro indigenes) about AD 770 and established a pure Soninke dynasty. By AD1000 the Soninke kingdom had extended its territory west to the berber town of Audoghost on the Southern edge of Sahara desert. By the middle of the eleventh century when Ghana was at the Zenith of its imperial expansion, it controlled the area covering most of the mordern state of senegal, Mali and Mauritania a territory of roughly 650,000 square kilometers with a population of several million people

It is believed that people of the Ghana Empire did not develop a system of writing for no records of theirs have as yet been discovered. All that we have of Ghana has come from the writing of Arab scholars and travelers. One of the best of such written account is that of Al-Bakri, an Arab Scholar of Cordoba in Southern Spain. In his book kitabul Masulik wa’l Mamalik, written in 1067, Al-Bakri has left extremely interesting and useful information on the emperor and the taxation and the trade. Al-Bakri never visited the wrestern Sudan himself but collected his information from muslim merchants of North Africa engage in the trans-Saharan trade. AI-Bakri potrays vivdly the pomp and pageantry of the Ghana Emperor. The king adores himself like a woman with necklaces and bracelets, and when he sits before the people, he puts on a high cap decorated with gold and wrapped in turbans of fine cloth. The court of appeal is held in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses with gold, and on his right are sons of the subordinate kings all wearing splendid garments and with their hair mixed with gold. On the ground around him are seated his ministers, whilst the governor of the city sits before him. On guard at the door dogs of fine pedigree, wearing collars of gold and silver adorned with knobs. The royal audience is announced by beating of a drum-when the people have gathered; his coreligionist drew near upon their knees sprinkling dust upon their heads as a sign of respect while muslims claps hands as their form of greeting.

At the time Al-Bakri was writing Ghana’s emperors were pagans and live in the pagan section of Kumbi saleh. Some of the emperor’s names have come down to us, Kayan Maghan was the black soninke ruler, who overthrows the minority white Berbar dynasty and established a pure soninke kingdom under his leadership. It is believed that he founded Kumbi Saleh and his capital. His successors extended the empire eastwards and westwards. Basi ruled Ghana in the 11th Century. He is said to have been a wise ruler who encouraged the muslims who lived in or visited Ghana even though he remained a pagan. Tenkaminen in Al-Bakri’s book, “the king who governs them at present is called Tenkaminen, he came to throne in AD 455 (AD 1012-73). Tenkaminen is the master of a large empire and formidable power. However, it was under him that Kumbi Saleh was lost to the Almoravids in 1076.


Mali empire originated from the little Malinke kingdom called Kangaba. This kingdom evolved from the unification of small villages known as dugu and ruled by chieftains called Dugutigi. The unification which appears to have completed long before the end of the 12th Century was the work of a chief of the Keita clan who thus established the Keita dynasty of Kangata. It is likely that the fusion of the village was motivated by the desire to present united fronts against external attack and to participate more profitably in the trans-Saharan trade. It was perhaps for administrtive convenience and commercial advantages that Sundiata moved the capital of the kingdom from Jeriba to Niana near modern Bamako. Arab travelers called the new capital Mali, meaning the place where the king lives and the empire bacame popularly known by that name. The early kings of Kangaba are not known to history. However, according to sheikh Uthman, a muslim writer, the first king of Kangaba to be converted to Islam about the middle of the 11th century was Baramendana (AD 1050). He is said to have made a pilgrimage to Mecca and he practiced Islam Faithfully followed by his successors. Unlike Ghana, Mali became muslim state from a very stage of its existence as a kingdom.

Following the unification of the villages, the small kingdom of kangaba grew steadily more powerful, by the early decades of the 13th century. Its growing influence aroused the jealousy and hostility of kaniaga. In about 1200, the Susu nation came under the rule of Sumanguru, a great war-leader. He consolidated susu dominance over Diara and subdued the small Mandingo state to the south. Thus after capturing Ghana in 1203 AD, he turned his attention to Kangaba in 1224, he conquered and annexed it. He drove Na Famaghan, the reigning Keita king into exile and killed all the sons of the royal family sparing only two the cripple Mari Jata, later know as Sundiata, and his half brother Dankaran Touman who was installed king of the vassal state. Above the age of seven, however, Sundiata recovered the use of his legs and developed into a courageous youth remarkable as a great soldier and athlete his popularity among the people earned him the jealousy of Dankaran Touman, who began to plan to assassinate him. Sundiata Consequentlyfled into exile with his mother sogolam. Meanwhile, Sumanguru’s brutal and oppresive rule and resulted in rebellions among the kangaba people. In a terrible reprisal, Sumanguru once again overran kangaba and the reigning king, Dankaran Touman, fled into exile. In 1230, Sundiata was recalled by his people and ascended the throne of kangaba a true founder of Mali empire. Sundiata made important contributions to its rise to empire.


According to joseph E. Harris, the empire of Mweno Mutapa emerged between the Zambezi and limpopo rivers and centered around the impressive stone buildings of Zimbabwe. Of the several structures, now in ruins, the main ones are known as Acropolis and the Temple or Great Enclosure, names given by the first Europeans who saw the buildings in the nineteenth century and did not believe Africans had built them. Indeed, while today is generally agreed that Africans constructed the buildings, the government of Rhodesia still maintain that non-Africans were the builders, though there is no evidence to support that claim. The buildings appear to be the work of the Shona people in the fourteenth century. The Shona, a Bantu group, seems to have migrated from the Congo region during the early years of the fourteenth century and rose to power under kings of the Rozwi clan from about 1420.

King Mutota embarked on a military campaign which brought large stretched of territory under his power and earned him the title of Mwene Mutapa (master soldier), a tittle passed on to his successors. Before the end of the century, Mwene Mutapa had extended his authority from the Zambezi to the limpopo rivers and over wide stretches between the kalahari desert and the indean ocean.

The vigorous trade between the East African coast and Asia brought Zimbabwe into the great mercantile network. It was a major source of ivory, and rich in gold and copper. This trade was expanded and the caravan routes made more secure with the establishment of a more highly centralized regime under the Shona. While there is some questions over how United the Kingdom became, there is little question about certain cohesive forces at work. One was, the Shona belief that only the Mwene Mutapa could communicate with the spirits; thus he had ultimate religious authority and ruled by divine right. Second, cohesion was symbolized by the royal fire, which burned continually at court throughout a king’s reign. Each subordinate ruler carried a flame to his district and kept a light as a symbol of unity. Each year the district’s flame was relit from the royal fire to demonstrate continued loyalty. On the ascension of a new king, the royal fire was extinguished, a new one ignited, and the procedure repeated. Thirdly, subordinate rulers annually dispatched emissaries with tribute for the king who organized a ceremony for the occasion. Clearly, therefore, the Mwene Mutapa with his advisers and officials were consciously pursuing a policy of unification and state building. Interval rivalries seriously threatened these developments and along with European interference, led to the eventual disruption of the kingdom.