Monarchs governed nearly all the lands in Africa, especially in the West and Central areas, and acted as the supreme power/head of state over the people. Reigns usually did not end until the Ruler’s death or the destruction of the empire in its entirety. Since communities varied in size depending on their development, monarchs also ranged from governing dozens of villagers to thousands of subjects. Africans established operational, distinguished societies within a short time period, which set the bar for monarchs in Europe. Egyptian civilization was over 2000 years old before the city of Rome, let alone the Roman Empire, was even built. In West Africa, The Kingdom of Ghana was a tremendous empire that spread to be the size of modern-day Western Europe, and among the most prosperous in the world; the empire was so rich that dogs were known to wear gold collars, and horses slept on plush carpets and were adorned with silken rope halters. Strategic governing coupled with a prime location led to a rapid emergence of an expanding empire of wealth. At one point, the Ghanian Ruler had an army of over 200,000 men.
The Kingdoms of Benin and Ife were led by the Yoruba people and sprang up between the 11th and 12th centuries. The Ife civilization goes back as far as 500BC and their people commonly made objects from bronze, brass, copper, and wood. Studies of the Benin (who were located in modern-day Southern Nigeria) show that they were highly skilled in ivory carving, pottery, rope, and gum production, and had vast resources of rubber and oil. Their peoples developed an advanced artistic culture, especially when utilizing artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory; the Benin would create bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze heads depicting the Obas of Benin.
From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, the Kingdom of Mali spread across much of West and North-East Africa. At it's largest, the Kingdom was 2000 kilometres wide and there was an organized trading system - gold dust and agricultural produce was exported North. Mali reached it's height in the 14th century. Cowrie shells were used as a form of currency, while gold, salt, and copper were traded as high-commodity items. The wealth of the Empire derived from the Bure goldfields, but they also dominated the salt trade for years. The Jenne people of Mali were strong craftsmen in jewelry making, pottery, and iron-work; they were also strong traders of iron, stone, beads, and precious gems. Between 1450-1550, the Songhay Kingdom in Mali grew very powerful and prosperous. It had a strong system of government, developed currency, and frequently imported fabrics from Europe to sell. Libraries and universities were built in Mali to provide a central meeting place for poets, scholars and artists from other parts of Africa and the Middle East. Timbuktu, located in West Mali, was (and is) one of the most well-known and most-visited places in the world.
The Mali Empire at one point was the 3rd largest in the world, and their Mansa (or Emperor) ruled over 400 towns, cities, and villages, ultimately controlling a population over 20 million. Only the Mongol Empire of China exceeded their military size during this time. The Songhai Empire, which succeeded the Mali Empire, at it’s peak was one of the largest in African history and dominated the trade market. It became one of the first Empires in Africa to be ruled by a devout Muslim, and he steadily opened mosques, religious schools, and enforced Islamic practices, which paved the way for the massive expansion of Islam in the continent. He was very tolerant of other religious beliefs and although he enforced Muslim practices, he never forced conversion to Islam of his people. There was generally an understanding and overall respect between the different monarchs in Africa when it came to their cultures and religious beliefs. The majority of wars between the Empires were stemmed from territorial gain.
Most empires had their own full-time armies, with kingdoms such as Kongo (now Republic of Congo), Ndongo (now Angola), Benin (now Nigeria) having small military presences, while the Mali armies reached hundreds of thousands. But the military was rarely used, and were just formed for protection. Smaller and weaker villages who didn’t have political systems in place simply relied on a “hand-shake” agreement between the peoples.
Africa was and is the hottest continent in the world. It has records for the longest sunshine duration, having the hottest year-round extended region, authenticating it as a“sunshine” continent. Prior to their enslavement in the Americas, Africans who lived in desert areas knew rain as a rarity, and even though water shortages existed in those regions, there was minimal devastation and effect on the peoples. Central regions in Africa were tropical and offered humid climates, that were detrimental in crop production and for wood. The rich soil and surroundings enabled Africans to easily build reliable structures, create tools, weapons, forms of transportation, grow their own food, and trade their own goods for profit.
Men were responsible for building "compounds" to accommodate a growing family, which consisted of several buildings within one large complex; homes were typically built out of a stick framework or painted mud, natal fig bark was used as tying material, and roofs were normally covered with layers of thatched grass or palm leaves. Home floors were made of beaten mud or dried dung, and the interior walls were covered with artwork throughout, created by local wives. Wives (if there more than one in the household) had their own individual rooms and kitchens, and lived with their daughters, while males lived in separate houses of their own; young African boys lived in their own houses after they hit puberty. Incense has always been popular among the Africans, both for spirituality and aroma, and were normally burning in homes when wives were home performing daily duties. Because being part of a community was such a focal point of African culture, traditional huts were laid out in a circular position to form or be a part of one. The compounds were almost always separated from neighbors by gardens because Africans were herbalists, and the flowers, plants, as well as the medicines they produced, were extremely valuable for their survival. Men often worked in the African mines that produce the top desired minerals in the world, and partook in selling - or trading - gold, diamonds, and bronze. African men were also well-versed in making objects from copper, bronze, brass, ivory, and wood, and their items were highly demanded from Europeans who otherwise had no access to some of these materials. African men were highly skilled at carving or manipulating difficult materials to new shapes, as well as pottery, and weapons.
African women had the highest amounts of work and responsibility, tending to the family crop fields, gathering firewood, cooking, cleaning, making clothes, and raising children. Women were highly skilled in sewing, and made all of the clothing worn by the household. Their intricate designs and accessibility to jewels and other precious stones, made their garments unique and sought after by royal monarchs around the world. African women also had a keen ability for crop production, manufacturing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, coffee, cotton, maize, medicines and more. They even found how to produce their own resilient to the pests that would grow around their crops, such as the egusi plant. In addition, taking care of elderly or sick family members fell on the women in the household; girls as young as 6 were taught how to care for sick relatives, including how to manufacture medicine, how to relieve pain using medicinal instruments, how to administer wound-care, and more. "Childcare" facilities consisted of an average-sized hut where elderly women (who were unable to work the fields or perform household duties) would teach the young children etiquette and manners, history, spirituality, and prepare them for their future responsibilities.
Men and women shared responsibility in small politics in their communities, with the latter directly overseeing the matters that effected their daily lives (like policies around selling crops or home-made goods). Because there was an emphasis on peace within the communities, equality and unification amongst villagers was a must.
Religion and spirituality varied amongst the pre-enslaved Africans, but there was a consistent, united belief of a peaceful and harmonious balance that the Africans sought in the natural and spiritual worlds. Most Africans practiced the tribal religions of their villages, many which derived from African mythology (known as traditional African religion), while others had participated in established Abrahamic religions (such as Christianity and Islam) for centuries. There were and are more similarities in African religions than there are differences. Despite actual spiritual beliefs and the ways in practicing them, shared commonalities between the religions included the acknowledgement of a Supreme Creator and a chief deity among lesser gods, to whom they would pray and offer sacrifices, as well as maintaining a close community. Religion, regardless of belief, established a code of African ethics to define their communities.
Generally, traditional African religions are more orally based, passed from wise elders to incoming generations, and includes belief in a supreme Ruler, spirits, veneration of the dead (praise/worship of ancestors), use of herbal medicines, and/or magic. Followers of the traditional African religions would pray to their ancestors and other spirits, in hopes that they would serve as intermediaries between humans and the primary God. Most pre-slaved Africans believed in a single Supreme Creator, while some recognized a dual God and Goddess. Music and dance were vital amongst nearly all tribes for praise and were at the core of worship practices. The music usually consisted in a call-and-response format, with improvisation from other members; music reflected the beliefs of the community. It was believed that music could send prayers closer to gods or to the Supreme Ruler, and was also used to call on spirits to influence actions. Masks were a focal point in most spiritual and religious practices of those who practiced traditional African religions. Mask-makers carried a special elite status, and the making of masks was an art passed on from father to son, as well as the knowledge of the symbolic meaning conveyed by the masks. Masks were used in ritual dances and religious events, and the person wearing it would "lose their identity" and turn into the spirit represented in the mask itself. The mask wearer would become a sort of medium that allowed for dialogue between the community and the spirits (usually the dead). The masked dances were an essential part of most traditional African ceremonies, including initiations, weddings, and funerals. As religion developed and expanded in Africa, many brought the traditions of African spiritual masks with them.
All of the Abrahamic bibles - Quran for Islam, Hebrew Bible for Judaism, Old/New Testaments for Christians - have examples of monumental events that took place in Africa. Moses, a favorable prophet throughout all Abrahamic religions, and arguably the most important prophet in Judaism, was born and educated in Egypt. He performed several miracles there, including the split of the Nile River, and wrote the first 5 books of the Hebrew bible there (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers). The Sinai desert, where Moses and the Israelites wandered for 40 years was and is still part of Egypt. Egypt was the first world power of bible history, and it’s shadow formed the nation of Israel.
For Islam, Africa was the first continent that Islam spread to, and currently makes up one-third of the world’s Muslim population. Islam first came to Africa with Muslim refugees fleeing persecutions from Arabs. The presence increased when traders from the Middle East visited North Africa and settled in the area. Tensions were initially high between the Muslims and other traders, but a slow and peaceful process began because of the need for trade. Muslims began working with other religious groups even more during the export process - goods were passed through a chain of Muslim traders, then were purchased by non-Muslims at the end of the route. Many West Africans Rulers and merchants who wanted to do more business with Muslim traders adapted themselves to Muslim cultures, and also converted to Islam. The transition was easy for most, since Islam had a reputation of absorbing local customs, and also allowed for polygamy, so men could continue carrying multiple wives (as done in many traditional African religions). Islam imposed order among different African societies, bridging the gap between their unique cultures and languages, which eliminated ethnic loyalties, and strengthened the powers of government. Power gain in Africa had been largely dependent on selling natural resources (gold and diamonds) and trade. Muslims created and controlled the trade routes throughout Northern Africa and regions connecting to Europe and Asia. Muslims typically favored working and trading with other Muslims, which further influenced its presence in Africa. Islam has become one of the top 2 most popular religions in Africa.
The Christian communities in North Africa were among the earliest in the world, and early missionaries brought various forms of education, literacy, and a new way of life for those deemed "disadvantaged". Unfortunately, when European missionaries spread Christianity throughout Africa, they denied many of the African peoples of their traditions, pride in their cultures, or their ceremonies. Before the European colonization of Africa, only 5% were Christians; after the colonization of Africa, there would be more than 50%. Ethiopians were among the first adopters of Christianity, after Eunich was baptized by Phillip the Evangelist - this was recorded in the New Testament Bible (Acts 8:26 - 38). Once King Ezana the Great of the Kingdom of Axum declared Christianity a state religion, it took a strong foothold, and even with the emergence of Islam in the countries surrounding, Ethiopia remained unitedly Christian. Christianity would vastly expand after the start of trans-atlantic slave trade. The Europeans would falsely spread that pre-slaved Africans had no religious or spiritual beliefs, to justify viewing them as property and subsequently enslaving them, but in reality Africans were among the first adopters of organized religion.
The mineral industry in Africa is the largest in the world. Every continent relies in some way or another on the minerals produced in Africa to survive. It is home to 7 out of the 10 top precious metals in the world, including gold and diamonds, with a high economic value that once enabled the continent to financially sustain itself. Even currently, Africa is well-endowed with mineral reserves, and leads the ranks (either first or second) in quantity world reserves for phosphate rock, bauxite (aluminum), copper, platinum, chrome, cobalt, and many more. In addition, some of the largest reserves for petroleum oil and natural gas, which are the driving forces behind most world economies, are also found in Africa.
Crude oil is undeniably the most important natural resource of industrialized nations. It can generate heat, drive machinery, and fuels the way peoples are transported - whether by airplane, bus, boat, or car. In addition, the components in oil are used to manufacture nearly all chemical products, including plastic, paint, and medicines. Exporting oil has been the main stay for many successful economies, and the basis of advancing industrialization for growing ones. Nigeria is one of the world's largest oil reserves and Africa's largest oil producer; the country has capabilities of producing 3.2 million barrels per day. There are more than dozens of countries within Africa that produce oil, making it the the second largest producer of oil in the world, only behind the Middle East - a transcontinental region centered on Western Asia and Africa.
Throughout history, salt has been one of the most difficult items to obtain in many parts of the world. Salt shortages caused detriment to societies, and could drastically effect the health of populations that were without it. Salt was important enough in some nations (like Rome) to use as currency, because it was vital to the preservation of society, by preserving their food. Since food crops grown were a necessity for many traders, when they were mass produced, they had no way to keep it from spoiling as it embarked travel across the continent, or into others. Once cultures around the world started relying on vegetables, grain, and boiled meats - as opposed to eating roasted meat - adding salt became vital to maintaining its longevity. Some areas of Africa were neglected of salt, like those living in the forests of West Africa and were limited of natural resources, but were accessible to gold. Particularly the Akan lived in the forests, and were so reserved in gold, that they could easily find tiny grains in the rivers after a rainfall, and sold it to buy items they lacked. Whereas the peoples in the deserts of North Africa had tremendous accessibility to salt, but had no gold. Many countries in Africa, Europe, and Asia had similar shortages of salt, making Africa the reliable source to keep their societies going.
Gold even as a metal proved valuable early in discovery: it became the most anciently administered medicine, was generally resistant to oxidation and corrosion, and even lacked toxicity. It became a precious and prestigious metal, to be adorned by people of wealth and power, acted as a medium for artistic expression, and was the basis for general currency. Gold was (and still is) the most mined resource in Africa, accounting for more than 20% of the worlds total. Among those, South Africa, Ghana, and Mali are the top producers. South Africa in itself would dominate global gold production in the 20th Century, and in one year – 1970 – accounted for 79% of the entire world’s gold production; estimates are that South Africa produced some 40,000 tonnes of gold since the start of when gold mining was first recorded – roughly 1/3 of the total amount of gold in the world.
Diamonds are commercially the most popular mineral in the world. Africa is responsible for 46% of the global production of natural diamonds. South Africa, similar to being a top gold producer, is also know for their source of diamonds. Lesotho, a country with a population of 2 million and completely surrounded by South Africa, is also a key exporter of the gem; the Letseng mine has a reputation for housing mammoth diamonds. The Star of Africa (also known as the Cullinan I) and the Golden Jubilee Diamond, were both mined in South Africa and are still currently the largest diamonds in the world. But due to the exploits of European settlers who colonized the countries producing diamonds, the monopoly over the incumbent mines, and the enslavements of the residents who lived there, Africans have never been able to financially benefit from the wealth produced by their minerals.
RELIGION & SPIRITUALITY
The first human beings recorded to exist in the world were Africans. Scientists have consistently concluded throughout history that the birth of human existence was in East Africa, while human civilization also began in Africa, in Egypt. Prior to their arrival as slaves in the Americas, Africans played a critical role in the development of mankind, and their technologies, innovations, building structures, cultures, traditions, and dynasties have helped pave the way for most of the advancements we see in society today.
A lifestyle and culture that was full of wealth, spirituality, and self-sufficiency, was irreversibly destroyed later with the institutionalism of slavery in the Americas.
PEOPLE & SOCIETY
African Americans have a robust culture that has been idolized and mimicked by other ethnic groups and societies since their arrival in the Americas, but this flattery is something that Africans have been dealing with for centuries. The Africans were well-known and envied inventors, but their accomplishments - versus the Europeans who took claim for many of their inventions or created similar ones following - have been debated for thousands of years. Kemet is known for its architecture, in particular the planning and construction of pyramids, and still leaves scientists stumped on how they originated.
There are over 100 pyramids in Egypt alone. Most pyramids in Egypt were built as tombs for the country's pharaohs and their consorts. The pyramids, and the way they were constructed were very important to Egyptians, and each component to it's production represented something significant. The shape of Egyptian pyramids were thought to represent the primordial mound from which the Egyptians believed the earth was created, and also represented the descending rays of the sun; most pyramids had polishes of highly reflective white limestone, to give a glowing appearance when viewed from a distance. The names of the pyramids were also often named in ways that referred to their brightness and luminescence. The Egyptians believed that within the darkest area of the night sky, if the stars revolved from center point of the pyramid, then it would serve as a physical gateway into the heavens; a narrow shaft that bridges the main burial chamber through the entire Great Pyramid points directly towards the center of this part of the sky. With the sun being the most vital source of energy and life to Africans, all Egyptian pyramids were built on the west bank of the Nile River, where the site of the sunset was associated with the realm of the dead in Egyptian mythology. Western teachings falsely suggest pyramids were just burial monuments, but they were actually designed as a machine for resurrection.
The tombs within the pyramid, along with the belongings of those buried, always included valuables (e.g. gems, gold, money), and other items that would make the dead more comfortable when they became alive again. Kings and Queens had their own chambers, and their own set of artwork and materials surrounding to ease their transition once resurrected. The most famous pyramids in Egypt are the pyramids of Giza. After the end of Egypt's infamous pyramid building period, and under the rule of the Kings of Napata, which eliminated the power of the pharaohs, a burst of building similar pyramids occurred in what is now Sudan. There are more than 250 "Nubian Pyramids" that were constructed over a few hundred year period to serve as tombs for the King and Queens of Napata and Meroë. The full content and complexity within the pyramids is still unknown, because archeologists are not allowed to disrupt - or potentially destroy - the interiors, as it would be seen as disrespectful, like opening a coffin years after they are buried to see the contents within. Many jealous rulers of other prestigious nations have traveled throughout the regions attempting to destroy them, particularly the facial features of those depicted - like the Sphinx of Giza - to remove the ethnic identifiers and their traces to Africans. Al-Aziz Uthman - a Kurdish Muslim leader - tried to destroy the pyramids at Giza, but gave up after damaging the Pyramid of Menkaure, because the task was too large.
In addition to their innovations in architecture, the Egyptians have been credited to a list of inventions, including paper and ramps for transporting, as well as developing the calendar. The Egyptians also contributed to various areas of mathematics - introducing algebra and geometry - and the inventors of the use of "zero". Greek scholars such as Archimedes and Pythagoras studied in Africa, and the work of other esteemed philosophers Aristotle and Plato were largely based on earlier Egyptian scholarship.
African tribes had their own individual rituals, forms of entertainment, and artistic expressions. Musical instruments such as the drum, banjo, and harp were developed in Africa. Because of the intricacy of the design of the instruments, the carvers, especially of the drums, were held with high regard. The modern-day violin, was conceptualized from the African goje. The goje is a one string fiddle that was invented in Nigeria; snakeskin covers a gourd bowl - creating a "membrane" head - while horsehair strings were suspended on a bridge, and it was played with a bow. Similar inventions were seen throughout Ethiopia and Eritrea. The Moors brought the instruments to the Europeans, and fiddles became a popular instrument amongst them, and used to greet royalty. Also in Ethiopia, one of the earliest forms of guitar was invented, known as the krar harm - the other earliest form of guitar was in India, called the sitar. The Africans developed the krar harm, along with variations of it in the "guitarro" (the predecessor to guitar), and was adopted and used widely in North Africa (particularly in Maghreb and Guinea). The Moors would bring the guitarro to the Europeans, where its unique sound enthralled them, and it was spread across the continent. The guitarro was was widely played in the Spanish colonies because it was the Spaniards and the Portugese that conquered and shared the Moorish lands.
Smaller scale Africans societies were occupied with farming, herding, carpentry, and their respective communities were reliant on agriculture to survive. It was through their own production that they could trade for other needed goods, pay debts, and become a part of larger empires. The growth of the smaller communities was entirely at the control of their monarchs: those who wanted to join a larger society had opportunity, whereas those that wanted to maintain a small village presence could do so. The Igbo people, who still live in modern-day Nigeria, are an example of a society that never joined or became a centralized state, maintaining their original traditions.
African societies were capable of solving difficult agricultural problems, developed mass industries for selling their crops, and engaged in various trading networks. The most common crops grown in the African regions before the trans-atlantic slave trade are the same as they are presently: egusi plant, yams, palm products, maize, bananas, peas, beans, rice, and cotton. But because of Africa’s warm weather throughout the year, and central regions with rich tropical heat conditions, African societies enjoyed freedom to grow nearly any fruit, vegetable, flower, or medicine.
ECONOMY & PRODUCTION
GEOGRAPHY & CONDITIONS
CULTURE & LIFESTYLE