History of Central Africa

Even less is known about the history and prehistory of Central Africa than the rest of the “Dark Continent”. It was at around 1000 BCE (Before our Common Era) that the Bantu-speaking immigrants first started to establish their homes and societies around the Great Lakes situated in the east of Africa. It only took another 500 years (approximately) for the Bantu to extend their borders into the Congo savannah and Angola, as we know them today. It was the Bantu speakers of this first century that are believed to have been considered Stone Age people as a group. Further on down the annals of history, these Bantu people were called the Karanga, and then the Shona culture of today.

The Shona people began to establish many significant rulerships or governments during the 11th century. The most notable of these was Zimbabwe. The ancient stone walls of the city of Great Zimbabwe remain for modern man to admire to this day. The Shona also established the Mutapa Empire, which rose to success and peaked in political power in the 1500’s. Its success was due largely to the productive gold mining in the area. The Mutapa Empire’s influence stretched from the Zambezi River to the Kalahari.

One of the most significant developments of the time was the founding of the Kanem Empire in 700 CE (Common Era). This society began taking shape due to the nomadic people that migrated from the northeast of Africa into the Chad and Libya areas in search of more fertile areas in which to live and farm. The people who migrated into these areas were the Zaghawa and those already inhabiting the fertile plains were called the So. Although the Zaghawa people eventually dominated, many of the So customs and traditions were incorporated into their culture, creating a community of hybrid doctrines and customs. Despite this integration, there continued to be warfare between these two civilisations well into the 1500’s. The Kanem Empire enjoyed a strong presence in what is now Chad, and laid the foundation for future civilisations in this Sahel area.

In the 14th century, the Kongo Kingdom came into power and dominated Angola. This forced the Kongo society to establish a defined system of rulership. Political leaders and smaller chiefdoms were established to accomplish this. However, although the theory was strong, the implementation was ineffective. This led to breakaways of chiefdoms as well as internal conflict. One of the major offshoots of this empire was the Lunda Empire. This too disintegrated and formed even smaller kingdoms (e.g. Kasanje and Kazembe). Kazembe eventually rose above the others and, between 1750 and 1850, ruled southern Katanga and some of Zimbabwe.

While this area of the great continent of Africa remains fairly elusive to travellers, researchers and scientists, the discovery of fossils and architectural remains holds the promise of further insight to be gained as research and findings continue.