Early African Societies

Early African Societies and the Bantu Migrations

For almost 3000 years the Egyptians preserved bodies through mummification. Mummification is a process in which all organs are taken out of the body, the inside of the body is then cleaned and filled with spices and aromatics. Next, all moisture from the body is removed and they cover it with linen. Along with the body preservation methods the Egyptians’ funerary rituals show that they believed in some sort of afterlife. People were sometimes buried in expensive tombs filled with furniture, tools, weapons, and ornaments that they would need in the afterlife. (JB)

Early Agriculture Society in Africa

Near the beginning of African society, the people began to practice agriculture and domesticate animals. The geographic condition allowed the Egyptians to build a very strong agricultural state, while places like Nubia became less prosperous but still sophisticated. Now that societies began to take shape, they could begin to trade and form relationships with other states.(JB)
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Climatic Change and the Development of Agriculture in Africa

After the last ice age ended part of northern Africa became a grassy land with many lakes, rivers, and streams. Grasses flourished in this region which led to an increase in the population of cows. City states there became very prosperous because the people were wealthy from hunting wild cattle and collecting grains. Then, after 5000 BCE, northern Africa began experiencing a climate change that influenced agriculture. The weather became hotter and drier which caused a difficulty to support human, animal, and plant life in the region. Most people then moved south to an area around the Nile River. The Nile provided rich, fertile land that the people used for agriculture and they created another productive agricultural society.(JB)

images.jpgEgypt and Nubia: “Gifts of the Nile”

The Nile River valley completely changed once agriculture was introduced. Many people began settling along the river near Egypt and Nubia because of the agricultural success. Egypt and Nubia are considered gifts of the Nile because of their extremely fertile land. Many migrants from around the region came to Egypt and Nubia to introduce new practices (collecting grains, growing gourds and watermelons) and a new language from Coptic. Because the floods from the Nile could sometimes be massive, the Nubians and Egyptians had to begin growing crops on higher ground that required plowing and more attention. As the agriculture became more advanced so did the government of these two states. They began to trade regularly with other states to receive a steady income of wealth. Later on they developed smaller kingdoms within the states to organize public life.(JB)

sdfdsf.jpgThe Unification of Egypt

Around 3500 BCE, competition between states along the Nile started small wars. Some kingdoms became powerful while others didn’t. Egypt became a prosperous state with very fertile land and it supported large populations compared to Nubian kingdoms. Egyptian rulers began to expand their empire until they had much of the Nile River valley under their rule. Menes, an Egyptian ruler, founded the city of Memphis which became the capital and later the cultural and political center of Egypt. Menes and later rulers built a centralized government led by a pharaoh. The pharaohs were seen as gods in human form. The pharaohs’ power became the strongest during the Archaic Period and the Old Kingdom. When the pharaohs were in power the people still traded with people of the Nubian kingdoms. Later on tensions developed between Egypt and Nubia which led to violence. Egyptian forces destroyed Nubian kingdoms and they took most of their land.(JB)
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Turmoil and Empire

At the end of the Old Kingdom successful agriculture led to a decrece in the power of the pharaohs. Then the middle kingdom started so that pharaohs could have powers, but with limits. Eventually, horse riding nomads called Hyksos took over and ruled Egypt. During their rule they introduced horses to the Egyptian people. Egyptian nobles didn’t like being ruled ty the Hyksos so they began to build up bronze weapons and they then started the New Kingdom. The New Kingdom’s population was about 4 million and it had an army and politics. Tuthmosis III was one of the strongest pharaohs of the New Kingdom and he made the state more prosperous. Because the New Kingdom was so prosperous, Egypt began to enter political and military decline. (JB)

Bantu migrations and early agricultural societies of sub-saharan Africa

Bantu was a language group from west-central Africa. The Bantu people lived along banks of rivers and used canoes to travel. They cultivated yams and oul palms and lived in clan-based villages. They traded with the forest people. The settling along banks of rivers and use of canoes began to spread. The agriculture surplus caused the Bantu people to move inland from the rivers which involved them more in trade. The Bantu migration rate increased after 1000 BCE dur to the appearance of iron. Many other societies migrated besides the Bantu. The spread of Agriculture to most of sub-saharan Africa by 1000 BCE. Bantu societies were mostly small communities leb by chiefs with "age sets" or chores and duties you must fufill depending on your age. There were a lot of religious differences by area. Some people worshipped a single impersonal god, while others prayed to their ancestors.

Agriculture and Population Growth

The goal for Bantu and other migrations was to spread agriculture and herding across all parts of Africa, except the deserts and the equatorial rainforests. After about 500 B.C.E, most Bantu peoples possessed iron metallurgy, which allowed them to make axes, adzes, and hoes. By the early centuries C.E., cultivation and herding had spread to southern parts of Africa. The introduction of bananas to Africa encourage a fresh migratory serge. Malay seafarers from the islands that make up modern day Indonesia sailed west beyond India, and by the early centuries C.E. they were exploring the eastern coasts of Africa. Between 300 and 500 C.E. they settled on the island of Madagascar, where they established banana cultivation. The bananas provided nutritious supplement of Bantu diets and enabled the Bantu to expand into heavily forested regions. By 500 C.E. there were several varieties of bananas. T.D.

African Political Organization

By 1000 C.E. they Bantu had reached their limits for spreading due to regions already being used. Instead of migrating to new lands they created forms of government. Bantu usually settled in villages of about 100 people. In the village the men were the head of the households and controlled what the family did. Above them was the chief who made the decision for the village. By the nineteenth century, the Tiv people of Nigeria had a population of about one million people and adopted the kin based society which was built off of family and clan groups. After about 1000 C.E. the kin based societies faced the challenges of population growth limiting resources, and that few lands were available for portions of the population to migrate. Increased conflict made the Bantu organize a military force both for attacking and defensive purposes. Many districts fell under chiefs who would often conquer neighboring and make them into small kingdoms. One of the most active areas for political development was the Congo River Basin. The Kingdom of Kongo participated in trade networks involving copper, raffia cloth, and nzimbu shells. The center government of the Kongo included the king and officials who oversaw military, judicial, and financial affair. Kin based societies did not disapear with the emergence of formal states, and survived into the nineteenth century in much of sub-Saharan Africa. T.D.

Trans-Saharan Trade and Islamic States in West Africa

The Sahara Desert was never a barrier to communication between human societies, because nomadic peoples have lived in the desert. The nomads often would travel and make deals with societies on the edge of the Sahara. The introduction of the camel make communication and transportation faster and easier. Ghana emerged at an unknown but early date. The agricultural peoples wanted to protect against camel riding raiders coming out of the Sahara. As trade traffic across the Sahara grew, Ghana underwent dramatic changes. By about the tenth century, the kings of Ghana converted to Islam. The kings of Ghana made no effort to force the religion onto their people. As the kingdom spread to the north, it made them more vulnerable to attack from Saharan raids. The Lion prince Sundiata reigned from 1230-1255. He established the Mali empire during the first half of the thirteenth century. Mali controlled and taxed almost all trade through west Africa. The capital city of Niani attracted merchants seeking to enter the gold trade. Mali benefited more than Ghana did in the trans-Saharan trade. Sundiata's grand newphew Mansa Musa ruled Mali at the higher part of the empire, from 1312-1337. During his reign, the significance of trade and Islam for west Africa became the clearest. He observed the Islamic tradition by making his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-1325. He took thousands of soldiers, attendants, subjects, slaves, and hundreds of camels that carried satchels of gold. Anyone who would house him on his journey would be rewarded by being given gifts. He distributed so much gold while he was in Cairo that the value of gold went down about 25 percent in the local markets. He took great inspiration from the expedition and when he returned, he took religion more seriously than he had before. He built mosques mainly in trading cities than Muslim merchants would travel through. By the late fifteenth century, Mali was taken over by the Songhay empire. The central government that Mansa Musa and other Mali rulers had developed was carried on by the Songhay empire. T.D.

The Indian Ocean Trade and Islamic States in East Africa Map%20of%20Indian%20Ocean%20Trade%20Routes%201906.jpg

While trans-saharan caravan traffic linked west Africa to the larger trading world of the eastern hemisphere, merchant mariners sailing across the Indian ocean performed similar services. By the 2nd century C.E., Bantu peoples had populated much of east Africa. They introduced agriculture, cattle herding, and iron metallurgy to the region.
The Bantus settling along the coasts commenced in maritime trade as well as agricultural production and were the builders of the Swahili society. The Swahili were a sea faring people who traded actively and developed many different dialects.They gained the interest of merchants from india, China, and other parts of Asia because of their valuable natural resources, and by the 11th and 12th centuries, had become extremely wealthy. Gradually, trade concentrated at several convenient coastal port cities. These cities transformed into powerful city states governed by a king. From 1200 to 1500 C.E., Swahili towns and villages turned into very wealthy cities and Swahili merchants wore fine silk and clothes imported from other countries. Most of these city-states used copper coins to facilitate economic transactions. The increase in trade and the wealth that it brought, helped establish large and powerful kingdoms in east and central Africa. The best known of these kingdoms was Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was a well-organized and complex society that had abundant resources. It invested much of its resources in expensive construction projects such as Great Zimbabwe which was a huge stone complex ( 16ft thick walls and 32 feet high ). Just like trans-saharan trade encouraged the building of states and empires in west Africa, the Indian ocean trade generated wealth that financed the organization of city-states on the coast and large kingdoms in the interior regions of east and central Africa. East African elites continued to observe cultural and traditional African ways, but adopted the Islamic faith for close cooperation with Muslim merchants trading in the Indian Ocean basin. They also gained legitimacy in their rule and political alliances with Muslim leaders. (T.B.)

African Society and Cultural Development

By the eleventh century century C.E., Africa was a land of enormous diversity. There were over eight hundred different languages and dialects. Also had many different societies and economies such as: Hunters and gatherers, fishing peoples, nomadic herders, and others. Although there was much diversity in Africa, certain social reforms and cultural patterns appeared widely throughout this region. (T.B.)

Social Classes

In kingdoms, empires, and city-states, such as Kongo, Mali, and Kilwa, African peoples developed complex societies with defined social classes: Ruling elites, military nobles, administrative officials religious authorities, wealthy merchants, artisans, entrepreneurs, common people, peasants, and slaves. However, in small states and kin-based societies they mainly recognized the ruling elite and religious leaders. Extended families and clans served as the main foundation of social and economic organization in small agricultural societies. Unlike most of Eurasia, sub-Saharan Africa did no have privately owned property, instead, communities claimed rights over land for communal use. Sex and gender relations also influenced the roles individuals played in society. Workers with "special skills" were mostly men and worked as leather tanners and blacksmiths. Because these jobs were very technical , knowledge was passed down by the father to his heirs. Blacksmiths were very useful to society so they were often community leaders. Women on the other hand worked with pottery and took responsibility of child upbringing and domestic chores. Sub-Saharan Africa was largely a patriarchal society but women had more opportunities than women in many other lands. They could be merchants, participate in long and short distance trade, and even engage in combat. African societies in the past, grouped individuals by age grades. Members of age grades performed task suitable for their level of development. These age grades had the affect of establishing social ties that crossed the lines of family and kinship. The slave class in Africa was made up of captives of war or debtors. They usually worked jobs including construction, and mining. Because there was no privately owned property, the accumulation of slaves brought higher status in African families. This need for slaves brought about slave-trading. Large cities waged war with small societies to capture the people as slaves, which they would then trade or keep.The Zanj revolt a 14 year revolt by slaves against Mesopotamian leaders. The number of slaves in Africa may have exceeded ten million. The large demand led to the creation of slave networks later used in the Atlantic slave-trade. (T.B.)3KCAXJ6S8DCAB6P5JECADGC9Y8CASNENKFCA6HAMMBCACET5ULCAYNFDEYCAZP7VN5CA0I03RYCACQLV5FCA07TY8JCA7E2MPACA2II8DECAMCTP8LCA4CX6Z0CA0XDOYSCA1JBP6XCAL5YQ1PCA5UECK6.jpg

African Religion

Many African peoples had held monotheistic beliefs from the early days of Sudanic agriculture but they underwent many changes when they heard about other deities in other societies. Nevertheless many peoples recognized a single all-powerful male god who was both omnipotent and omniscient. Apart from the creator god, Africans also believed in lesser gods and spirits that were associated with natural features like wind, trees, rain, and the sun. They also thought that ancestors intervened with their descendants' lives. Much of the ritual of African religions focused on honoring of deities, spirits, or ancestor's souls to win their favor or regain their goodwill. Rituals included prayers, animal sacrifices, birth, life , and death. Africans would often consult diviners- who were mediators between humanity and supernatural beings, on what to do about their various misfortunes. The African religion strongly emphasized and enforced morality and proper behavior as essential to the maintenance of an orderly world. (T.B.)

The Arrival of Christianity and Islam

Many sub-saharan Africans converted to religions of salvation ( mainly Christianity and Islam). Christianity reached sub-saharan Africa and couple hundred years after its introduction to the Mediterranean basin which was in the 1st century C.E.. About the middle of the fourth century C.E., Christianity established a foothold in the Ethiopian kingdom of Axum. Missionaries from Rome established monasteries in Ethiopia, and worked to popularize Christianity throughout the kingdom. When the Axum rulers decTFCA2GVU09CAAV9T25CA3J6FVKCAF1FZXDCAR4QUUXCAR0B73ZCAGZO10VCAXOS8OZCAPLTN12CAH7X1E8CAAULCN4CABZBNB5CAYK4N9ICA0CH4FPCABWN074CAE14XBNCA9JCEVNCAJ7Z850CAF8ER7Q.jpglined, Islam dominated Ethiopia until the 12th century C.E.. At this time a new ruling dynasty took control and promoted Christianity in order to unite Ethiopia. During the centuries after the Islamic conquests, Ethiopian Christianity was untouched by other Christian societies therefor it retained its original values and traditions. Not until the late 16th century did Portuguese mariners visit Ethiopia, and Ethiopia opened up relations with other Christian societies. Meanwhile, Islam had a wide appeal to ruling elites and merchants in sub-saharan African as it allowed them to have business relationships with Muslim merchants from different regions. African converts to Islam and Christianity still strongly belieO0CAK4H2X0CA538RU1CABKWEVYCA8VVFZSCAURF9O1CACJROWSCA01CADQCAM2V3B4CAPO0OVXCAN5CIJ5CA7VQ6G8CAFXG9K0CA7TAQX2CAXDSIB5CA54W8T8CAMIMIN4CA7A24S2CAG46UD2CA539OYW.jpgved in performing rituals to ward of evil spirits and to please nature deities and ancestors. Although many Africans converted to Islam, they still retained ancestral and cultural traditions. Some African merchants used Islam simply as a tool to facilitate trade with Muslim merchants. Ruling elites often used Islam to improve relations with Muslim peoples and formed many city-states in coastal Africa. These city-states provided a reliable flow of trade goods- like gold, ivory , and slaves to sub-saharan societies. (T.B.)


Origins of Sudanic herding
Origins of Sudanic cultivation
Unification of Egypt
Archaic period of Egyptian history
Egyptian Old Kingdom
Era of pyramid building in Egypt
Early kingdom of Kush with capital at Kerma
Egyptian Middle Kingdom
Beginnings of Bantu migrations
Egyptian New Kingdom
Reign of Pharaoh Tuthmosis III
Reign of Queen Hatshepsut ( co-ruler with Tuthmosis III)
Reign of Pharaoh Amenhotep IV (Akhenaten)
Invention of iron metallurgy in sub-Saharan Africa
Conquest of Egypt by King Kashta of Kush

Introduction of bananas to Africa
Kingdom of Ghana
Swahili cities
Kingdom of Great Zimbabwe
Christian kingdom of Axum
Mali empire
Reign of Sundiata
Kingdom of Kongo
Reign of Mansa Musa
Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca


Traditions & Encounters

Matty Merritt
Thomas Byrne
Justin Brinkman
Tyler Dirksen