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Thursday, June 29, 2017

History of Africa

Africa and the Americas
The civilizations of Europe, Southwest Asia, and East Asia were all in contact with each other. Consequently, developments in one often found their way to the others and often had great influence. In Sub-Saharan Africa and especially the Americas, however, such early contact with other regions of the world was minimal or non-existent. Consequently, these civilizations developed in unique ways.

Africa's early history. Scholars rely on many methods to understand the history of Africa. Linguists study the development and spread of language groups like Bantu, for example, to understand the spread of African peoples throughout the continent. Oral traditions  poems, songs, or stories passed from one generation to the next have also been a major source of information about specific African clans, villages, and dynasties. Scholars believe that most Africans lived in small, independent villages and were farmers, herders, or fishers. Relationships established by kinship and age provided the ties that bound the different societies together. Religion was an important part of life in many African societies. Elders usually exercised authority over the village. Life in African villages was closely bound to the agricultural cycles of planting and harvesting. Through the rise and fall of numerous kingdoms, the village survived as the basic unit of society and the economy.

African city-states and kingdoms. While some African peoples lived happily without developing state structures, others came together to establish small city-states, kingdoms, and even empires. These states were as diverse as the African geography and peoples that created them.

Along the Nile River, south of the major centers of ancient Egypt, arose a powerful kingdom known as Kush. At first, Kush maintained close cultural and economic ties with Egypt. Beginning in about 1300 B.C., however, Kush started to become more independent. Then in about 710 B.C. it conquered Upper Egypt. For about 40 years a Kush dynasty ruled a unified Egypt. Then the Assyrians, who were armed with iron weapons, invaded in 671 B.C. With the Assyrian invasion the kingdom of Kush weakened. Later, the kingdom of Aksum arose in the Ethiopian Highlands. As Kush declined, Aksum became a major competitor for control of trade in this area.

No large kingdoms such as Kush and Aksum emerged on the coast of East Africa. Instead, a series of city-states emerged and dominated coastal trade in the Indian Ocean. The growth of Indian Ocean trade after the A.D. 900s dramatically increased the demand for gold. The Shona people, who immigrated onto the plateau land of what is today Zimbabwe, achieved control over local peoples and mining activities. The spread of Islam also created favorable conditions for trade and gave rise to a new society along the coast that merged African, Arabic, and even Persian elements as the language it produced, Swahili, testifies.

In West Africa, between Lake Chad and the Atlantic Ocean, several important African societies and empires flourished. They included the empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. The wealth and strength of these kingdoms depended on control of the trade routes across the Sahara Desert. At the desert’s edge, traders exchanged gold, extracted from mines south of the desert region, for salt, which was mined in the Sahara itself. The spread of Islam in the region was often an important factor in the creation of great empires. Mali and Songhay both, for example, were Muslim states.


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