Before the Europeans moved into Africa and colonised its traditional tribes and empires, there were numerous states already in existence. These are thought to have numbered to approximately 10 000, some of which were large polities, while others were smaller cultures of hunter-gatherers.
The large groups included the Bantu speakers who moved through and colonised much of southern Africa and eventually established themselves in modern-day Zimbabwe. Another significant culture at the time was the Yoruba and Igbo communities in West Africa and the Swahilis on the east coast of the continent. The hunter-gatherer communities included the Bushmen or San who traversed the southern African plains in search of food and safe lodging. Generally, the larger civilisations (such as the Bantu people) were more structured in terms of family roles than those that moved around constantly in smaller numbers.
By the early 800’s of our Common Era (CE), there were several politically influential states throughout the African continent. The Hausa states extended from the west, across the sub-sahara and into central Sudan. These states included key players like the Ghana and Gao empires. This Ghanaian empire is not to be confused with modern-day Ghana, and its empire was conquered in the 11th century, when the Mali Empire succeeded it. This meant that western Sudan was, largely, under one rulership during the 1200’s. The Kanem-Bornu Empire, another Hausa state, had become Muslim by the 11th century. Soon, most of North Africa was under Muslim influence or control.
The coastal region of West Africa did not have this Arab influence, and encouraged the uprising of small, independent kingdoms. The Igbo people established the Nri Kingdom in the 9th century. This date has been established from findings of bronze items in the Nigerian archaeological town of Igbo Ukwu. Ife has been acknowledged as being the first Yoruba state to have been established in Africa and was considered to be the religious and cultural centre of the entire continent. The kings of the Ifa controlled many of the non Yoruba states.
The Berbers dynasty under Islamic rule, the Almoravids, originated in the Sahara and spread upwards and westwards. Some of the Arab Bedouin tribes went across Egypt and into the west between the 11th and 13th centuries. These tribes encountered the Berbers, who then adopted many of their practices and cultures.
As the Mali Empire disintegrated, the Shonghai Empire rose to power under the leadership of Sonni Ali, and was situated in the Niger / Sudan area. Ali and his successor managed to seize Timbuktu, Jenne, and suchlike states, introducing the Muslim religion and enforcing its doctrines in schools and mosques all over the area.
It was also during this time that the slave trade hit an all-time peak in popularity and commercial success. In fact, during this time, in excess of 15 000 000 slaves were exported from Africa to other countries. This had an enormous effect on the strength of African civilisations as families, tribes and villages were torn apart. Slaves lost their kinship upon being taken away, so these individuals became anonymous members of an unspecified origin. It was only in the 19th century, when this slave trade lost its credibility and appeal that Africa’s economic system began to change.
Ancient African Civilizations
As the Cradle of Mankind, as ancient Africa is believed to be, this continent would have experienced the human race’s first civilisations. These civilisations demanded organisation and a political hierarchy, despite the fact that the human beings of the time were not as technologically or socially advanced as the current population is thought to be.
The dominant civilisation was not elected to be in power. Rather, it was successful as a result of victorious wars, forcing inferior or weaker nations out of a specific area or migrations. As each society dominated at any given time, they developed their own military, social and technological systems. These fortified a foundation for each successive power from which to build and grow further. This led to the development of the countries and cultures that exist to this day.
These civilizations comprise:
Ancient Egypt – This civilisation was significant in terms of the entire history of the world and Christianity. Many Biblical accounts were based in Ancient Egypt and the political powers of the day remain notable and relevant amongst historians and politicians. This civilisation existed along the Nile River, which sustained it and held religious significance for these people.
Carthage – This civilisation was based in what is today known as Tunisia. This empire was one of the largest and longest of the Mediterranean region.
Numidia – This civilisation extended between 201 BCE (Before our Common Era) and 46 BCE; that is, for over 150 years. Eventually, it was placed under Roman rule.
Nubia – This Empire was also situated in North Africa, just south of Egypt. It comprised the kingdoms of Kush, Kerma and Meroe.
While many other societies of people lived in and moved around the vast continent of Africa, it was these that occupied its largest territories for long enough and with enough power to make their mark on the annals of African history.
Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations
Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.
In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.
Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.
As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.
These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterized by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.
Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…
When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.
These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.
Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.