The word ‘magic’ makes us think of sleight of hand, tricks and illusion, but historically African magic was a way to achieve goals by harnessing the creative powers of nature, which were regarded and revered as supernatural entities. The concept of magic in Africa is ancient and has a 70,000-year old legacy.
“I can see” open mind to African Magic. ( Fotolia)
Skeptics Cannot See with an Open Mind
The reigning paradigm causes modern minds to grapple with the concept of equating magical solutions with scientific facts, but it would be far from the truth to think of the old ways as a miss-understanding of nature made by primitive thinkers. Rather than describing the principles that organize and animate the material universe as quarks and electrons, animism simply refers to such elements as ‘supernatural powers’ and ‘energies’. To actively learn about systems of ancient magic, is not to automatically declare a belief in supernatural agencies, but to embark on a quest for a richer understanding of how our ancestors saw the world and their place in it.
Overview of African Magic
Today the word magic is used all over the world in its widest sense, but in Africa it was customary to discern the difference between magic and the disciplines of medicine, divination, witchcraft and sorcery, which were not all placed under the collective umbrella of magic. It is very difficult to define the word magic as it was perceived differently in every region, but in 1937 esoteric scholar E.K. Bongmba said: “Witchcraft, oracles, and magic among the Azande is responsible for a reduction in appreciation of the value of magic as a definite subject of study.”
Sangoma and Inyanga, Baba Sylveste r prepares and dries out freshly gathered muti’s for use in traditional medicines. Medical work was not regarded as magic. .
The book Methodology and African Prehistory (1990) provides an insight into the psychological aspects of magic: “the word magic might simply be understood as denoting management of forces, which, as an activity, is not weighted morally and is accordingly a neutral activity from the start of a magical practice, but by the will of the magician, is thought to become and to have an outcome which represents either good or bad”.
These academic approaches are valuable objective insights as to how magic might be compartmentalized and summarized from the outside by observers.
Why don’t we think of north Africa as part of Africa?
W hen a Guardian article stated that Chigozie Obioma was the “sole African writer” to be longlisted for the 2015 Booker prize, the journalist in question had clearly forgotten there was life north of the Sahara. Thankfully, the Moroccan-born writer Laila Lalami, who was also longlisted, was quick to remind him, tweeting: “I am African. It’s an identity I’m often denied but that I will always insist upon”.
I know Lalami’s frustration well. Every time I have to declare my ethnicity I am reminded that “black African” is seemingly the only category that exists. Being both Algerian and British, I am constantly explaining why I identify as European and African – as though I’m “choosing” to be African, rather than it simply being a fact.
In politics and academia, north African countries are commonly grouped with the Middle East under the umbrella of MENA. In conferences I have been to on “African” issues, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt have often had tokenistic representation, if any at all.
But the identity equation isn’t as simple as Arabic speakers equal Arab people. There are still communities across the Maghreb that speak Berber or Amazigh and a dialect called darija that heavily features French and Spanish phrases. Besides, being Arab isn’t an alternative to being African, or even black. Mauritanians and Sudanese can identify as all three at once.
The religion argument isn’t watertight either. Islam is the dominant religion in parts of east Africa and the Sahel, with notably large communities in Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Ethiopia and Eritrea. Perhaps then, it simply boils down to colour. Could it be that to be African is to be black? And if so, what shade will do? Are the South Sudanese, with a pigment that is dark, rich and beautiful, more African than their neighbours to the north, of lighter skin? Surely a categorisation based on race is too reductive and ignores the continent’s great diversity in nations, cultures and ethnicities.
That leaves the question of culture. At a party a Nigerian quizzed me about Algeria: “Is it conservative like Saudi Arabia?”, he asked. “No,” I replied. “It’s conservative like Nigeria.”
Whether through football, music or film, Algerians have more in common with Nigerians than Saudis. Ivorian coupé-décalé legends Magic System have joined forces with rai heavyweights Cheb Khaled and 113 as well as a number of lesser-known Maghrebi artists. During the African Cup of Nations, crowds cluster around televisions across the continent to see their national teams play, in an event that brings every corner of Africa together.
The migrant experience also unifies the continent. In France’s banlieues, immigrants from the former African colonies – north and south of the Sahara – share cramped conditions, as well as a sense of isolation and discrimination. The Arabs driving sports cars or shopping on the Champs Elysées are more likely to be from the Gulf states than from the Maghreb.
The town square of Beni Isguen, Algeria. Photograph: Robert Hardin/Rex Shutterstock
Certainly there is something to be said about north Africans trying to distance themselves from “black Africa”. This is as much about sources of influence and power (after independence, countries like Egypt and Algeria looked to the Middle East for a model of an Islamic nation, or north to Europe for economic partnerships) as it is about the racism that exists here as it does everywhere else in the world.
A Brief History of Africa
Scientists believe that Africa was the birthplace of mankind. By 100,000 BC modern humans lived by hunting and gathering with stone tools. From Africa, they spread to Europe.
By 5,000 farming had spread to North Africa. People herded cattle and they grew crops. At that time the Sahara Desert was not a desert. It was a green and fertile area. Gradually it grew drier and became a desert.
Meanwhile about 3,200 BC writing was invented in Egypt. The Egyptians made tools and weapons of bronze. However by the time Egyptian civilization arose most of Africa was cut off from Egypt and other early civilizations by the Sahara Desert. Sub-Saharan Africa was also hampered by its lack of good harbors, which made transport by sea difficult.
Farmers in Africa continued to use stone tools and weapons however about 600 BC the use of iron spread in North Africa. It gradually spread south and by 500 AD iron tools and weapons had reached what is now South Africa.
About 480 BC the Phoenicians from what is now Lebanon founded the city of Carthage in Tunisia. Carthage later fought wars with Rome and in 202 BC the Romans defeated the Carthaginians at the battle of Zama. In 146 BC Rome destroyed the city of Carthage and made its territory part of their empire.
Meanwhile, Egyptian influence spread along the Nile and the kingdoms of Nubia and Kush arose in what is now Sudan. By 100 AD the kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia was highly civilized. Axum traded with Rome, Arabia, and India. Axum became Christian in the 4th century AD.
Meanwhile the Roman Empire continued to expand. In 30 BC Egypt became a province of Rome. Morocco was absorbed in 42 AD. However, the rest of Africa was cut off from Rome by the Sahara Desert.
In 642 the Arabs conquered Egypt. In 698-700, they took Tunis and Carthage and soon they controlled all of the coasts of North Africa. The Arabs were Muslims, of course, and soon the whole coast of North Africa converted to Islam. Ethiopia remained Christian but it was cut off from Europe by the Muslims.
After 800 AD organized kingdoms emerged in northern Africa. They traded with the Arabs further north. (Trade with the Arabs led to the spread of Islam to other parts of Africa). Arab merchants brought luxury goods and salt. In return, they purchased gold and slaves from the Africans.
One of the earliest African kingdoms was Ghana (It included parts of Mali and Mauritania as well as the modern country of Ghana). By the 9th century, Ghana was called the land of gold. However, Ghana was destroyed in the 11th century by Africans from further north.
By the 11th century, the city of Ife in Southwest Nigeria was the capital of a great kingdom. From the 12th century craftsmen from Ife made terracotta sculptures and bronze heads. However, by the 16th century, Ife was declining.
Another African state was Benin. (The medieval kingdom of Benin was bigger than the modern country). From the 13th century, Benin was rich and powerful.
Meanwhile, the kingdom of Mali was founded in the 13th century. By the 14th century, Mali was rich and powerful. Its cities included Timbuktu, which was a busy trading center where salt, horses, gold, and slaves were sold.
However, the kingdom of Mali was destroyed by Songhai in the 16th century. Songhai was a kingdom situated east of Mali on the River Niger from the 14th century to the 16th century. Songhai reached a peak of about 1500 AD. However, in 1591 they were defeated by the Moroccans and their kingdom broke up.
Another great North African state was Kanem-Bornu, located near Lake Chad. Kanem-Bornu rose to prominence in the 9th century and it remained independent till the 19th century.
Meanwhile, the Arabs also sailed down the east coast of Africa. Some of them settled there and they founded states such as Mogadishu. They also settled on Zanzibar.
Inland some people in southern Africa formed organized kingdoms. About 1430 impressive stone buildings were erected at Great Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile in the Middle Ages Ethiopia flourished. The famous church of St George was built about 1200.
Meanwhile, the Portuguese were exploring the coast of Africa. In 1431 they reached the Azores. Then in 1445, they reached the mouth of the River Congo. Finally, in 1488 the Portuguese sailed around the Cape of Good Hope.
In the 16th century, Europeans began to transport African slaves across the Atlantic. However, slavery was nothing new in Africa. For centuries Africans had sold other Africans to the Arabs as slaves.
However, the trans-Atlantic slave trade grew until it was huge. In the 18th-century ships from Britain took manufactured goods to Africa. They took slaves from there to the West Indies and took sugar back to Britain. This was called the Triangular Trade. (Many other European countries were involved in the slave trade).
Some Africans were sold into slavery because they had committed a crime. However many slaves were captured in raids by other Africans. Europeans were not allowed to travel inland to find slaves. Instead, Africans brought slaves to the coast. Any slaves who were not sold were either killed or used as slaves by other Africans. The slave trade would have been impossible without the co-operation of Africans many of whom grew rich on the slave trade.
Meanwhile, from the 16th to the 18th centuries Barbary pirates from the North African coast robbed Spanish and Portuguese ships. They also took slaves from the coasts of Europe.
In the 16th century, a people called the Turks conquered most of the North African coast. In 1517 they captured Egypt and by 1556 most of the coast was in their hands.
Further south Africans continued to build powerful kingdoms. The empire of Kanem-Bornu expanded in the 16th century using guns bought from the Turks. However, in the 16th century, Ethiopia declined in power and importance although it survived.
Meanwhile the Europeans founded their first colonies in Africa. In the 16th century, the Portuguese settled in Angola and Mozambique while in 1652 the Dutch founded a colony in South Africa.
In the 19th century European states tried to stop the slave trade. Britain banned the slave trade in 1807. On the other hand in the late 19th century Europeans colonized most of Africa!
In 1814 the British took the Dutch colony in South Africa. In 1830 the French invaded northern Algeria. However, colonization only became serious in the late 19th century when Europeans ‘carved up’ Africa.
In 1884 the Germans took Namibia, Togo, and Cameroon and in 1885 they took Tanzania. In 1885 Belgium took over what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo. The French took Madagascar in 1896. They also expanded their empire in northern Africa. In 1912 they took Morocco and Italy took Libya.
In 1914 the British took control of Egypt. By then all of Africa was in European hands except Liberia and Ethiopia. (The Italians invaded Ethiopia in 1896 but they were defeated by the Ethiopians).
Further south the British took Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Uganda, and Kenya. The British also took control of Egypt. Angola and Mozambique remained Portuguese.
However, in the early 20th century attitudes to imperialism began to change in Europe. Furthermore in Africa churches provided schools and increasing numbers of Africans became educated. They became impatient for independence. The movement for African independence became unstoppable and in the late 1950s and 1960s, most African countries became independent.
In 1960 alone 17 countries gained their independence. However, Mozambique and Angola did not become independent until 1975.
In the early 21st century Africa began to boom. Today the economies of most African countries are growing rapidly. Tourism in Africa is booming and investment is pouring into the continent. Africa is developing rapidly and there is every reason to be optimistic.
How Africa Became Black
Despite all Iɽ read about Africa, my first impressions upon being there were overwhelming. As I walked the streets of Windhoek, the capital of newly independent Namibia, I saw black Herero people and black Ovambo I saw Nama, a group quite unlike the blacks in appearance I saw whites, descendants of recent European immigrants and outside Windhoek I saw the last of the formerly widespread Kalahari Bushmen struggling for survival. These people were no longer pictures in a textbook they were living humans, right in front of me. But what most surprised me was a street sign on one of downtown Windhoek's main roads. It read GOERING STREET.
Surely, I thought, no country could be so dominated by unrepentant Nazis that it would name a street after Hermann Goering, the notorious head of the Luftwaffe. As it turned out, the street actually commemorates Hermann's father, Heinrich, founding Reichskommissar of the German colony of South-West Africa, which would later be renamed Namibia. But Heinrich is no less a problematic figure than his son: his legacy includes one of the most vicious attacks ever carried out by European colonists on Africans, Germany's 1904 War of Extermination against the Herero. Today, while events in neighboring South Africa command the world's attention, Namibia, too, struggles to deal with its colonial history and establish a multiracial society. Namibia illustrated for me how inseparable Africa's past is from its present.
Most Americans think of native Africans as black and of white Africans as recent intruders and when they think of Africa's racial history they think of European colonialism and slave trading. But very different types of peoples occupied much of Africa until as recently as a few thousand years ago. Even before the arrival of white colonialists, the continent harbored five of what many consider to be the world's six major divisions of humanity, the so-called human races, three of which are native to Africa. To this day nearly 30 percent of the world's languages are spoken only in Africa. No other continent even approaches this human diversity, and no other continent can rival Africa in the complexity of its human past.
The diversity of Africa's peoples results from its diverse geography and long prehistory. Africa is the only continent to extend from the northern to the southern temperate zone it encompasses some of the world's driest deserts, largest tropical rain forests, and highest equatorial mountains. Humans have lived in Africa far longer than anywhere else: our remote ancestors originated there some 7 million years ago. With so much time, Africa's peoples have woven a complex, fascinating story of human interaction, a story that includes two of the most dramatic population movements of the past 5,000 years: the Bantu expansion and the Indonesian colonization of Madagascar. All those interactions are now tangled up in politics because the details of who arrived where before whom are shaping Africa today.
How did the five divisions of humanity in Africa get to be where they are today? Why did blacks come to be so widespread, instead of one or more of the four other groups whose existence Americans tend to forget? How can we ever hope to wrest the answers to these questions from Africa's past without written evidence of the sort that taught us about the spread of the Roman Empire?
African prehistory is a detective story on a grand scale, still only partly solved. Clues can be derived from the present: from the peoples living today in Africa, the languages they speak, and their plant crops and domestic animals. Clues can also be dug up from the past, from the bones and artifacts of long-dead peoples. By examining these clues one at a time and then combining all of them, we can begin to reconstruct who moved where at what time in Africa, and what let them move — with enormous consequences for the modern continent.
As I mentioned, the Africa encountered by the first European explorers in the fifteenth century was already home to five human races: blacks, whites, Pygmies, Khoisan, and Asians. The only race not found in Africa is the aboriginal Australians and their relatives.
Now, I know that classifying people into arbitrary races is stereotyping. Each of these groups is actually very diverse, and lumping people as different as the Zulu, Masai, and Ibo under the single heading "blacks" ignores the differences between them. So does lumping Africa's Egyptians and Berbers with each other and with Europe's Swedes under the single heading "whites." The divisions between blacks, whites, and the other major groups are arbitrary anyway because each group shades into the others. All the human groups on Earth have mated with humans of every other group they've encountered. Nevertheless, recognizing these major groups and calling them by these inexact names is a shorthand that makes it easier to understand history. By analogy, it's also useful to divide classical music into periods like "baroque," "classical," and "romantic," even though each period is diverse and shades into other periods.
By the time European colonialists arrived, most of Africa's major population movements had already taken place (see map on next page). Blacks occupied the largest area, from the southern Sahara to most of sub-Saharan Africa. The ancestors of most African Americans came from Africa's western coastal zone, but similar peoples occupied East Africa as well, north to the Sudan and south to the southeast coast of South Africa. They were mostly farmers or herders, as were the native African whites, who occupied Africa's northern coastal zone and the northern Sahara. (Few of those northern Africans — the Egyptians, Libyans, and Moroccans, for instance — would be confused with a blond, blue-eyed Swede, but they're often considered white because they have lighter skin and straighter hair than the peoples to the south.)
At the same time, the Pygmies were already living in groups widely scattered through the central African rain forest. Although they were traditionally hunter-gatherers, they also traded with or worked for neighboring black farmers. Like their neighbors, the Pygmies are dark- skinned and have tightly curled hair, but that hair is more thickly distributed over their body and face. They also are much smaller in size and have more prominent foreheads, eyes, and teeth.
The Khoisan (pronounced COY-san) are perhaps the group least familiar to Americans today. In the 1400s they were actually two groups, found over much of southern Africa: large-statured Khoi herders, pejoratively known as Hottentots, and smaller San hunter-gatherers, pejoratively called Bushmen. Most of the Khoi populations no longer exist European colonists shot, displaced, or infected many of them, and the survivors interbred with Europeans. Though the San hunter-gatherers were similarly shot, displaced, and infected, a dwindling number managed to preserve their distinctness in Namibian desert areas unsuitable for agriculture. (They're the people depicted some years ago in the widely seen film The Gods Must Be Crazy.) The Khoisan today look quite unlike African blacks: they have light brown skin sometimes described as yellow, and their hair is even more tightly coiled.
Of these population distributions, that of North Africa's whites is the least surprising because physically similar peoples live in adjacent areas of the Middle East and Europe. Throughout recorded history people have been moving back and forth between Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. But the puzzling placements of blacks, Pygmies, and Khoisan hint at past population upheavals. Today there are just 200,000 Pygmies scattered amid 120 million blacks. This fragmentation suggests that Pygmy hunters lived throughout the equatorial forests until they were displaced and isolated into small groups by the arrival of black farmers. Similarly, the Khoisan area of southern Africa is surprisingly small for a people so distinct in anatomy and language. Could the Khoisan as well have been originally more widespread until their more northerly populations were somehow eliminated?
Perhaps the greatest puzzle, however, involves the island of Madagascar, which lies just 250 miles off the coast of southeastern Africa, much closer to Africa than to any other continent. It's in Madagascar that the fifth African race is found. Madagascar's people prove to be a mixture of two elements: African blacks and — surprisingly, given the separation seemingly dictated by the whole expanse of the Indian Ocean — Southeast Asians, specifically Indonesians. As it happens, the language of the Malagasy people is very close to the Maɺnyan language spoken on the Indonesian island of Borneo, over 4,000 miles away. No one even remotely resembling the Borneans lives within thousands of miles of Madagascar.
These Indonesians, their language, and their modified culture were already established on Madagascar by the time it was first visited by Europeans in 1500. To me this is the single most astonishing fact of human geography in the whole world. It's as if Columbus, on reaching Cuba, had found it occupied by blue-eyed, towheaded Scandinavians speaking a language close to Swedish, even though the nearby North American continent was inhabited by Indians speaking Indian languages. How on earth could prehistoric people of Borneo, presumably voyaging in boats without maps or compasses, have ended up in Madagascar?
The case of Madagascar shows how peoples' languages, as well as their physical appearance, can yield important clues to their origins. Similarly, there's much to be learned from African languages that can't be gleaned from African faces. In 1963 the mind-boggling complexities of Africa's 1,500 languages were simplified by the great linguist Joseph Greenberg of Stanford. Greenberg recognized that all those languages can be divided into just four broad families. And, because languages of a given language family tend to be spoken by distinct peoples, in Africa there are some rough correspondences between the language families and the anatomically defined human groups (see map at right). For instance, Nilo-Saharan and Niger-Congo speakers are black, and Khoisan speakers are Khoisan. Afro-Asiatic languages, however, are spoken by a wide variety of both whites and blacks. The language of Madagascar belongs to yet another, non-African category, the Austronesian language family.
What about the Pygmies? They're the only one of Africa's five races that lacks a distinct language: each band of Pygmies speaks the language of its neighboring black farmers. If you compare a given language as spoken by Pygmies with the same language as spoken by blacks, however, the Pygmy version contains unique words and, sometimes, distinctive sounds. That makes sense, of course: originally the Pygmies, living in a place as distinctive as the equatorial African rain forest, must have been sufficiently isolated to develop their own language family. Today, however, those languages' disappearance and the Pygmies' highly fragmented distribution both suggest that the Pygmy homeland was engulfed by invading black farmers. The remaining small bands of Pygmies adopted the invaders' languages, with only traces of their original languages surviving in a few words and sounds.
The distribution of Khoisan languages testifies to an even more dramatic engulfing. Those languages are famously unique — they're the ones that use clicks as consonants. All the existing Khoisan languages are confined to southern Africa, with two exceptions: the click-laden Hadza and Sandawe languages spoken in Tanzania, some 1,500 miles from their nearest linguistic kin.
In addition, clicks have made it into a few of the Niger-Congo languages of southern Africa, such as Zulu and Xhosa (which is the language of Nelson Mandela). Clicks or Khoisan words also appear in two Afro-Asiatic languages spoken by blacks in Kenya, stranded even farther from the Khoisan peoples of today than are the Hadza and Sandawe speakers of Tanzania. All this suggests that Khoisan languages and peoples formerly extended far north into Africa until the Khoisan, like the Pygmies, were engulfed by the blacks, leaving behind only a linguistic legacy to testify to their former presence.
Perhaps the most important discovery from linguistic sleuthing, however, involves the Niger-Congo language family, which today is spread all over West Africa and most of subequatorial Africa. Its current enormous range seems to give no clue as to precisely where the family originated. However, Greenberg has pointed out that the Bantu languages of subequatorial Africa, once thought to be their own language family, are actually a subfamily of the Niger-Congo language family. (Technically they're a sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-sub-subfamily.) These Bantu languages today account for nearly half of the 1,032 Niger-Congo languages, and Bantu speakers account for more than half (nearly 200 million) of the Niger-Congo speakers. Yet all 494 Bantu languages are so similar to one another that they've been facetiously described as 494 dialects of a single language.
There are some 170 other such Niger-Congo subfamilies, most of which are crammed into West Africa, a small fraction of the entire Niger- Congo range. Even the most distinctive Bantu languages, as well as the Niger-Congo languages most closely related to Bantu, are concentrated there, in a tiny area of Cameroon and adjacent east and central Nigeria.
From Greenberg's evidence it seems obvious that the Niger-Congo language family arose in West Africa, while the Bantu subfamily arose at the east end of that range, in Cameroon and Nigeria, and then spread out over most of subequatorial Africa. That spread must have begun sufficiently long ago that the ancestral Bantu language had time to split into 494 daughter languages, but nevertheless recently enough that all those daughter languages are still very similar to one another. Since all Niger- Congo speakers — including the Bantu speakers — are black, it would be nearly impossible to infer who migrated in which direction just from the evidence of physical anthropology.
To make this type of linguistic reasoning clear, let me give you an example: the geographic origins of the English language. Today the largest number of people whose first language is English live in North America, with others scattered over the globe in Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries. If we knew nothing else about language distribution and history, we might have guessed that the English language arose in North America and was carried overseas by colonists.
But we know better: we know that each of those countries has its own English dialect and that all those English dialects make up just one subgroup of the Germanic language family. The other subgroups — the various Scandinavian, German, and Dutch languages — are crammed into northwestern Europe. Frisian, the Germanic language most closely related to English, is stuck in a tiny coastal area of Holland and western Germany. Hence a linguist would immediately deduce — correctly — that the English language arose on the northwestern coast of Europe and spread around the world from there.
Essentially the same reasoning tells us that the nearly 200 million Bantu-speaking people now flung over much of the map of Africa arose in Cameroon and Nigeria. Thus linguistics tells us not only that the Pygmies and the Khoisan, who formerly ranged widely over the continent, were engulfed by blacks it also tells us that the blacks who did the engulfing were Bantu speakers. But what it can't tell us is what allowed the Bantu speakers to displace the Pygmies and Khoisan.
To answer that question we need to look at a different type of surviving evidence, that of domesticated plants and animals. Why is this evidence so crucial? Because farming and herding yield far more calories per acre than does hunting wild animals or gathering wild plants. As a result, population densities of farmers and herders are typically at least ten times those of hunter-gatherers. That's not to say that farmers are happier, healthier, or in any way superior to hunter-gatherers. They are, however, more numerous. And that alone is enough to allow them to kill or displace the hunter-gatherers.
In addition, human diseases such as smallpox and measles developed from diseases plaguing domestic animals. The farmers eventually become resistant to those diseases, but hunter-gatherers don't have the opportunity. So when hunter-gatherers first come into contact with farmers, they tend to die in droves from the farmers' diseases (see "The Arrow of Disease," October 1992).
Finally, only in a farming society — with its stored food surpluses and concentrated villages — do people have the chance to specialize, to become full-time metalworkers, soldiers, kings, and bureaucrats. Hence the farmers, and not the hunter-gatherers, are the ones who develop swords and guns, standing armies, and political organization. Add that to their sheer numbers and their germs, and it's easy to see how the farmers in Africa were able to push the hunter-gatherers aside.
But where in Africa did domesticated plants and animals first appear? What peoples, by accident of their geographic location, inherited those plants and animals and thereby the means to engulf their geographically less-endowed neighbors?
When Europeans reached sub-Saharan Africa in the 1400s, Africans were growing five sets of crops. The first set was grown only in North Africa, extending as far as the highlands of Ethiopia. North Africa's rain falls mostly in the winter months — the region enjoys a Mediterranean climate — so all its original crops are adapted to germinating and growing with winter rains. Archeological evidence tells us that such crops — wheat, barley, peas, beans, and grapes, to name a few — were first domesticated in the Middle East around 10,000 years ago. So it makes sense that they would have spread into climatically similar and adjacent areas of North Africa, laying the foundation for the rise of ancient Egyptian civilization. Indeed, these crops are familiar to us precisely because they also spread into climatically similar and adjacent areas of Europe — and from there to America and Australia — and became some of the staple crops of temperate-zone agriculture around the world.
There's little rain and little agriculture in the Sahara, but just south of the desert, in the Sahel zone, the rain returns. The Sahel rains, however, fall in the summer. So even if winter-rain-adapted Middle Eastern crops could somehow have crossed the Sahara, it would still have been hard to grow them in the summer-rain Sahel zone. Instead, here the Europeans found the second and third sets of African crops, both of which are adapted to summer rains and the area's less variable day length.
Set number two is made up of plants whose ancestors were widely distributed from west to east across the Sahel zone and were probably domesticated there as well. They include sorghum and pearl millet, which became the staple cereals of much of sub-Saharan Africa, as well as cotton, sesame, watermelon, and black-eyed peas. Sorghum proved so valuable that it is now grown in hot, dry areas on all the continents.
The wild ancestors of the third set of African crops are found only in Ethiopia and were probably domesticated there. Indeed, most of them are still grown only there: few Americans have ever tasted Ethiopia's finger millet beer, its oily noog, its narcotic chat, or its national bread, which is made from a tiny-seeded cereal called teff. But we all have the ancient Ethiopian farmers to thank for the domestication of a plant we know exceedingly well: the coffee plant, which remained confined to Ethiopia until it caught on in Arabia and then spread around the globe.
The fourth set of African crops was domesticated from wild ancestors in the wet climate of West Africa. Some of them, including African rice, have remained virtually confined there others, such as African yams, eventually spread throughout much of sub-Saharan Africa and two, the oil palm and the kola nut, spread to other continents. West Africans were chewing the caffeine-containing kola nut as a stimulant long before the Coca-Cola Company enticed Americans to drink its extracts.
The plants in the last batch of African crops are also adapted to wet climates. Bananas, Asian yams, and taro were widespread in sub-Saharan Africa when the Europeans arrived, and Asian rice was well established on the coast of East Africa. But these crops didn't come from Africa. They came from Southeast Asia, and their presence in Africa would be astonishing if the presence of Indonesians in Madagascar hadn't already alerted us to Africa's prehistoric Asian connection.
Let's consider the four indigenous groups of crops. All four — from North Africa, the Sahel, Ethiopia, and West Africa — came from north of the equator. No wonder the Niger-Congo speakers, people who also came from north of the equator, were able to displace Africa's equatorial Pygmies and subequatorial Khoisan peoples. The Khoisan and the Pygmies weren't unsuited for the farming life it was just that southern Africa's wild plants were unsuitable for domestication. Even the Bantu and the white farmers, heirs to thousands of years of farming experience, have rarely been able to develop southern Africa's native plants into food crops.
Because there are so few of them, summarizing Africa's domesticated animal species is much easier than summarizing its plants. The list doesn't include even one of the big wild mammals for which Africa is famous — its zebras and wildebeests, its rhinos and hippos, its giraffes and Cape buffalo. The wild ancestors of domestic cattle, pigs, dogs, and house cats were native to North Africa but also to western Asia, so we can't be sure where they were first domesticated. The rest of Africa's domestic mammals must have been domesticated somewhere else because their wild ancestors occur only in Eurasia. Africa's sheep and goats were domesticated in western Asia, its chickens in Southeast Asia, its horses in southern Russia, and its camels probably in Arabia. The one exception is the donkey, which is widely believed to have been domesticated in North Africa.
Many of Africa's food staples and domesticated animals thus had to travel a long way from their point of origin, both inside and outside Africa. Some people were just luckier than others, inheriting suites of domesticable wild plant and animal species. We have to suspect that some of the "lucky" Africans parlayed their advantage into an engulfing of their neighbors.
But all the evidence I've presented thus far — evidence from modern human and language distributions and from modern crops and domestic animals — is only an indirect means to reconstruct the past. To get direct evidence about who was living where when, and what they were eating or growing, we need to turn to archeology and the things it turns up: the bones of people and their domestic animals, the remains of the pottery and the stone and iron tools they made, and the remains of the buildings they constructed.
This evidence can help explain at least some of the mystery of Madagascar. Archeologists exploring the island report that Indonesians arrived before A.D. 800, possibly as early as 300, and in a full-fledged expedition: the earliest human settlements on Madagascar include the remains of iron tools, livestock, and crops. This was no small canoeload of fishermen blown off course.
Clues to how this expedition came about can be found in an ancient book of sailors' directions, the Periplus of the Erythrean Sea, which was written by an anonymous merchant living in Egypt around A.D. 100. The merchant describes an already thriving sea trade connecting India and Egypt with the coast of East Africa. When Islam began to spread after the beginning of the ninth century, Indian Ocean trade became well documented archeologically by copious quantities of Middle Eastern and occasionally even Chinese products such as pottery, glass, and porcelain found in East African coastal settlements. The traders waited for favorable winds to let them cross the Indian Ocean directly between East Africa and India.
But there was an equally vigorous sea trade from India eastward, to Indonesia. Perhaps the Indonesian colonists of Madagascar reached India by that route, then fell in with the westward trade route to East Africa, where they joined with Africans and discovered Madagascar. The union of Indonesians and East Africans appears to live on today in Madagascar's basically Indonesian language, which contains loan words from coastal Kenyan Bantu languages. But there's a problem: there are no corresponding Indonesian loan words in Kenyan languages. Indeed, there are few Indonesian traces in East Africa besides some musical instruments like the xylophone and the zither and the Indonesian crops discussed earlier. Is it possible that the Indonesians, instead of taking the easier route to Madagascar via India and East Africa, somehow — incredibly — sailed straight across the Indian Ocean, discovered Madagascar, and only later got plugged into East African trade routes? We still don't know the answer.
The same sorts of archeological evidence found in Madagascar can be found on the African continent itself. In some cases they can help prove hypotheses that the other evidence could never fully resolve. For instance, linguistic and population distribution evidence merely suggests that the Khoisan were once widespread in the drier parts of subequatorial Africa. But archeologists in Zambia, to the north of the modern Khoisan range, have in fact found skulls of people resembling the modern Khoisan, as well as stone tools resembling those the Khoisan peoples were making in southern Africa when the Europeans arrived.
There are, of course, cases in which archeology can't help. We assume from indirect evidence that Pygmies were once widespread in the wet rain forest of central Africa, but it's difficult for archeologists to test this assumption: although they've found artifacts to show that people were there, they have yet to discover ancient human skeletons.
Archeology also helps us determine the actual dates and places for the rise of farming and herding in Africa, which, as I've said, is the key to understanding how one group of people was able to conquer the whole continent. Any reader steeped in the history of Western civilization would be forgiven for assuming that African food production began in ancient Egypt's Nile Valley, land of pharaohs and pyramids. After all, by 3000 B.C., Egypt was undoubtedly the site of Africa's most complex society. Yet the earliest evidence for food production in Africa comes not from the Nile Valley but from, believe it or not, the Sahara.
Archeologists are able to say this because they have become expert at identifying and dating plants from remains as fragmentary as charred seeds recognizable only under a microscope. Although today much of the Sahara is so dry that it can't even support grass, archeologists have found evidence that between 9000 and 4000 B.C. the Sahara was more humid there were numerous lakes, and the desert teemed with game. The Saharans tended cattle and made pottery, then began to keep sheep and goats they may even have started to domesticate sorghum and millet. This Saharan pastoralism began well before food production got its start in Egypt, in 5200 B.C., when a full package of western Asian winter crops and livestock arrived. Farming then spread to West Africa and Ethiopia. By around 2500 B.C. cattle herders had already crossed the modern border of Ethiopia into northern Kenya.
Linguistics offers another way to date the arrival of crops: by comparing words for crops in related modern languages that diverged from each other at various times in the past. It thus becomes clear, for instance, that the people who were domesticating sorghum and millet in the Sahara thousands of years ago spoke languages ancestral to modern Nilo- Saharan languages. Similarly, the people who first domesticated the wet- country crops of West Africa spoke languages ancestral to the modern Niger-Congo languages. The people who spoke ancestral Afro-Asiatic languages were certainly involved in the introduction of Middle Eastern crops into North Africa and may have been responsible for the domestication of crops native to Ethiopia.
Analyzing the names of crops leaves us with evidence that there were at least three ancestral languages spoken in Africa thousands of years ago: ancestral Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, and Afro-Asiatic. And other linguistic evidence points to an ancestral Khoisan language (that evidence, however, doesn't come from crop names, since the ancestral Khoisan people didn't domesticate any crops). Surely, since Africa harbors 1,500 languages today, it was big enough to harbor more than four ancestral languages in the past. But all those other languages must have disappeared, either because the peoples speaking them lost their original languages, as the Pygmies did, or because the peoples themselves disappeared.
Africa 500 BCE
Bantu farmers from West Africa are beginning to spread out across the continent.
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What is happening in Africa in 500BCE
In North Africa, the Phoenician colony of Carthage has become the center of a powerful maritime empire which dominates the western Mediterranean.
In the Nile Valley, the foreign power of Persia now rules Egypt. To its south, however, the civilization of Nubia continues to develop independently, becoming less “Egyptian” in its expression, and more “African”.
In sub-Saharan Africa, farming has taken root amongst the Bantu peoples of the West African rain forest region. This transition has given them the edge over their hunter-gatherer neighbors, and, starting from present-day Nigeria and Cameroon, they are expanding outwards. One branch is moving into the northern Congo region, while another is skirting the rain forests and heading towards the Great Lakes. These are stone-using peoples but to the north, in present-day central Nigeria, an iron-using society, known to modern scholars as the Nok culture, has appeared. Already their art is highly developed, showing clear affinities with the later artistic traditions in the region.
The Explosion of Christianity in Africa
In the twentieth century, Christianity in Africa exploded from an estimated population of eight or nine million in 1900 (8 to 9%) to some 335 million in 2000 (45%), marking a shift in the &ldquocenter of gravity of Christianity&rdquo from the West to Latin America, parts of Asia and Africa. We thank the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC) for the information and material used in this issue. Statistical information provided by David Barrett.
At the turn of the 20th century, Christianity was virtually nonexistent in many parts of Africa but is now the faith of the majority, as the following figures demonstrate:
Congo-Zaire Angola Swaziland Zambia Kenya Malawi
% Christians in 1900 1.4% 0.6% 1.0% 0.3% 0.2% 1.8%
% Christians in 2000 95.4% 94.1% 86.9% 82.4% 79.3% 76.8%
Other African countries with a significant Christian population are:
Saint Helena 96.2%
Sao Tomé & Principe 95.8%
Cape Verde Islands 95.1%
South Africa 83.1%
Spanish North Africa 80.3%
Equatorial Guinea 76.6%
Central African Republic 67.8%
The African Story: Amazing Growth, Unthinkable Persecution
In the 20th century alone, there have been some 1.8 million Christian martyrs in Africa. This figure does not take into account the estimated 600,000 Christians who have died in the genocidal conflicts in Rwanda and Burundi, nor does it fully account for the more than two million deaths in the 17 years of Sudanese civil war waged by the militant Islamist government on the predominantly Christian population of the south.
The Dictionary of African Christian Biography
The spread of the faith in Africa represents perhaps the most dramatic advance in all Christian history, and yet the names and stories of persons chiefly responsible are largely unknown. The Dictionary of African Christian Biography (DACB), sponsored by the Overseas Ministries Study Center in New Haven, Connecticut, is an effort to rectify this by gathering stories of the founders and builders of the African church and offering them free over the internet. We consider this a most significant project, and Christian History Institute was eager to help. So last year we assisted in the advance of The Dictionary of African Christian Biography. We urge you to visit their website and make use of the materials: www.dacb.org.
An Historical Overview by Michèle Sigg of DACB
The Christian Church has been continuously present on the African continent since the days of Christ. While the history of African Christianity is multifaceted in its regional development, it is, nevertheless, possible to discern four general phases in the planting and maturing of the African Church.
Part 1: The Genesis of the Church The Ancient Church in Egypt and Ethiopia
During the first three centuries after Christ, Africa was a major center of Christian thought and activity. Origen was from Alexandria in Egypt, while Tertullian and Augustine were from North Africa. By the end of the third century, Christians in the eastern Magrib were in the majority. Sadly, Christianity in much of North Africa virtually disappeared as Islam advanced in the following centuries. In Egypt and in Ethiopia, however, it had taken deep root, and was thus able to survive the Islamic juggernaut and continues to this day.
Part 2: The Continuation of the Sub-Saharan Church The European Contribution
While the Portuguese introduced a Catholic form of Christianity to the Kongo Kingdom (central Africa) between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries, there were few, if any, lasting results. Only at the end of the eighteenth century did the Evangelical Revival begin to bring to Africa an influx of missionaries whose labors would produce the first fruits of an enduring Christian presence in Sub-Sahara Africa.
With Western civilization came not only the good intentions of Christianity, however, but also the appallingly devastating transatlantic slave trade and the inevitable excesses of commercial greed manifest in the white foreigners&rsquo insatiable appetite for Africa&rsquos natural resources. Before authentic Christianity could sink its roots deep into African soil, these evils had to be fought.
Two great British champions from the nineteenth century were Thomas Fowell Buxton and Henry Venn, neither of whom ever set foot on African soil. While Buxton sought to fully eradicate the slave trade by encouraging local commercial and agricultural initiatives in its place, Venn is responsible for laying down the principles of the &ldquoindigenous church&rdquo whereby the nascent African church began to come of age.
Part 3: Passing the Mantle The First African Leadership
For the next two hundred years, African Christians had to struggle against racism and Western spiritual imperialism. But, as Venn had written, if the African church were to mature and establish itself, missionaries had to move on once the seed was sown, leaving indigenous leaders to build the church. Samuel Ajayi Crowther was the first African to be appointed bishop by the Anglican Church. He is the subject of our next issue.
Part 4: "Pentecost" The African Church Seeks Its Own Language
The seeds of the Sub-Saharan church had been planted by Western missionaries. Now, as the Gospel spread throughout the nooks and crannies of the continent, African Christianity began to define itself on its own cultural terms. Reformers within the missionary churches as well as independent church leaders called for change in the institutionalized church. This led to both reform, on the one hand, and to the birth of thousands of "African Initiated Churches" (AICs) on the other.
Maps of Africa & regions of Africa
Below is listed a selection of our maps of Africa and regions of the continent, South and West Africa in particular. We have other maps available showing regions of the continent. For instance, we have on-line a complete listing of maps of Egypt. For a list of maps of any other region, or to request digital images of any of the maps not already pictured, please contact us.
ISLANDS OFF WEST AFRICA. Paris: Rigobert Bonne, 1760s to 1780s. Engraved by Pietro Scattaglia. 9 1/2 x 14. Very good condition.
The three panels presented left to right are: "Isles de Madere," and "Santo," "Plan de la Rade de Funchal," and "Isle de Goree." These islands and port were part of the slave trade in the early eighteenth century. The earliest occupiers were Dutch, followed by the French, who were replaced by the British during the Napoleonic Wars.
Rigobert Bonne was the Royal Hydrographer of France, so his primary interest was in marine charts. However, with his Royal connections and access to the cartographic documents in Paris, Bonne was able to compile maps containing some of the most up-to-date information of his time. $150
Guillaume Delisle. "Carte d'Afrique." Paris: Phillipe Buache, -1772. 19 1/2 x 25. Engraving. Some old surface marks. Mounted on old linen. Otherwise, very good condition. Denver.
A updated version of Guillaume Delisle's 'mother' map of Africa. "In the history of cartography of Africa the name of Guillaume De l'Isle is pre-eminent. He ranks after Ptolemy in the importance of his contribution to the mapping of Africa." (Tooley, Collector's Guide to Maps of Africa , pp. iv-v) Delisle, the 'father of modern cartography,' was also known as the 'first geographer to his majesty,' a title created especially for him. Delisle was a product of the renewed intellectual activity which characterized eighteenth century France, and he used data supplied by the Parisian Academy of Science, producing the finest and most accurate maps of his time. His map of Africa is an excellent example of his work. That map was a seminal map of the continent, followed for much of the following century. In his first map of the continent in 1700, Delisle remeasured the Mediterranean, being the first to establish its correct longitude, and thus to give a correct picture of Africa's northern coast. He was the first to discard Lake Zaire and Zaflan, as inherited from Ptolemy, and the first to show the correct source of the Blue Nile. In his revised map of 1722, Delisle adds the improvement of the depiction of Lake Myassa (Moravi). As characteristic of the period, emphasis is on the coastal area, which is well delineated. Little was known about the interior of the continent at that time, but Delisle gives interesting information about the locations of native tribes. This is a further updated map issued by Delisle's successor, Phillipe Buache, in 1772. $750
Rigobert Bonne. "Carte des Cotes de Barbarie ou les Royaumes de Moroc, de Fez, d'Alger, de Tunis, et de Tripoli . . .." From Atlas Moderne. Paris: Jean Lattré & J. Thomas, 1762. 12 x 17 1/2. Engraving. Original outline color. Very good condition.
Rigobert Bonne was the Royal Hydrographer of France, but he produced many fine topographical and historical maps as well as charts. This map combined both some up-to-date topographical rendering with the historical detail of this region. Population centers are connected by rivers with much detail devoted to the interior. Of interest is the information also on the European kingdoms of Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece and the many islands of the Mediterranean. A handsome, finely etched title cartouche shows two Mohammedans discuss an oasis at bottom left. $375
Rigobert Bonne. "Carte de la Guinée." From Atlas Moderne ou Collection de Cartes sur toutes les parties du Globe Terrestre . Engraving. Paris: Jean Lattré & Delalain, -1775?. On two sheets: each map approx. 16 5/8 x 12 1/4. Original hand color. Very good condition.
Rigobert Bonne (1727-1795) produced a large number of atlases and charts, and his maps also appeared in Lattré & Delalain's Atlas Moderne . Maps from this atlas used information compiled from 1762 until 1775. This map depicts a very accurate image of the West African coast, extending from the Cape Verde islands in the northwest to "Cap Negro" south of Congo. Major rivers and towns are noted, and current political divisions are shown with lovely pastel hand-coloring. A finely etched title cartouche graces the lower left of the first sheet. For the pair: $600
John Thomson. "North Africa. South Africa." From A New General Atlas. Edinburgh: J. Thomson, 1815. 22 7/8 x 20 3/8. Engraving. Full original hand color. Full margins. Short repaired tears in left margin, not affecting image. Foxing throughout. Else, good condition.
A striking map of North and South Africa from an interesting period in the history of the continent. The map is divided into the two separate geographical areas known to Europeans, with towns carefully named and much attention given to geographical detail. The map is beautifully crafted, with precise engraving and neat hand coloring. The delicate coloring highlights the information given, making the map both easier to read and pleasing to look at. Altogether, a fine example of early 19th-century British cartography. $125
Fielding Lucas, Jr. "Africa." From A New and Elegant General Atlas Containing Maps of each of the United States. Baltimore: F. Lucas, Jr., 1816. Folio. Engraving. Full original hand color. Large margins. A few spots near lower center, else very good condition.
A fine map by Baltimore cartographer, Fielding Lucas, Jr. (1781-1854). Lucas appears to have become involved in the publishing and book trade while a resident of Philadelphia from 1798 to 1804, when he moved to Baltimore. In 1807 Lucas joined Conrad, Lucas & Co., and then in 1810 he set up his own business at 138 Market Street. There Lucas first got involved in cartographic publishing with his New and Elegant General Atlas of 1816. In the second decade of the nineteenth century, through his Philadelphia contacts, Lucas was one of the major contributors to Carey & Lea's atlas of 1823. Concurrently with this involvement, Lucas brought out his own General Atlas, containing 104 maps of all parts of the world. Lucas, during his 50 years of residence in Baltimore, established himself as a prominent citizen of that city, serving as President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, President of the Board of School Commissioners, and as President of the Second Branch of the City Council. But it is for his important role in early American cartography that Lucas is best remembered. $425
After Conrad Malte-Brun. "Africa." From A New General Atlas. Philadelphia: Grigg & Elliot, 1832. 8 x 9 3/4. Engraving by J.H. Young. Full original hand color. Full margins. Excellent condition.
In 1832, Philadelphia publishers Grigg & Elliot issued their New General Atlas, intended to illustrate Danish geographer Conrad Malte-Brun's Universal Geography. The maps are well engraved by J.H. Young, and hand colored in the style of the period. This map shows the continent of Africa on the eve of the Great Trek. Two large deserts are indicated: "Great Southern Zahara" extends just north of the Cape Colony, to the "Mountains of the Moon," north of the Equator, the other further north is "Zahara or Great Desert." Lake Tanganyika is shown as "L. Maravi". A very interesting map from the early nineteenth century. $95
"South Africa Compiled from the M.S. Maps in the Colonial Office Captn. Owen's Survey &mpc." London: SDUK, 1834. 12 1/4 x 15 1/2. Engraving by J. & C. Walker. Original outline hand coloring. Full margins. A few scattered spots. Else, very good condition. A detailed and cleanly drawn map of South Africa by the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (SDUK). This wonderful English enterprise was devoted to the spreading of up-to-date information and the enhancing of understanding. This very informative map was published one year before the Great Trek, and it shows the political and topographical setting for this important event. Names of towns, rivers, mountains, plains, and information on native and animal populations are given throughout. Included are four inset maps of "Environs of the Cape," "District of George," "Environs of Graham-Town," and "Cape-Town." $300
Thomas G. Bradford. From A Comprehensive Atlas. Geographical, Historical & Commercial . Boston: Wm. B. Ticknor, 1835. 7 3/4 x 10. Engravings. Original outline color. Very good condition, unless noted otherwise.
A nice group of maps from Boston publisher and cartographer, Thomas G. Bradford. Issued in 1835, Bradford's Atlas contained maps of the United States and other parts of the world, based on the most up-to-date information available at the time. Cities, rivers, lakes, and some orography are depicted. Because Bradford continued to update his maps as he issued them in different volumes, this political information is very interesting for historic purposes.
- "Northern Africa." With spots. Countries are named and indicated with original outline color, from Biafra in the south west, around the horn and along the Mediterranean and Red Seas to Zanguebar in the east. $70
Henry S. Tanner. "Africa." From Tanner's Universal Atlas. Philadelphia: H.S. Tanner, 1843. 12 x 14. Engraving. Original hand coloring. Very good condition.
This map was made by the great American cartographer, Henry Schenck Tanner. In 1816, Henry, his brother Benjamin, John Vallance and Francis Kearny formed an engraving firm in Philadelphia. Having had experience at map engraving through his work with John Melish, Tanner conceived of the idea of compiling and publishing an American Atlas, which was begun in 1819 by Tanner, Vallance, Kearny & Co. Soon Tanner took over the project on his own, and thus began his career as cartographic publisher. The American Atlas was a huge success, and this inspired Tanner to produce his Universal Atlas, of more manageable size. The maps were issued by Tanner, then in 1844 by Carey & Hart. Later the maps were issued by S. Augustus Mitchell, and then Thomas, Cowperthwait & Co. into the second half of the century. $250
"Map of Africa, Showing Its Most Recent Discoveries." Philadelphia: S. A. Mitchell, Jr., 1867. Lithograph. Original hand-coloring. 10 1/2 x 13 1/2. Full margins. Very good condition.
For most of the middle part of the nineteenth century, the firm founded by S. Augustus Mitchell dominated American cartography in output and influence. This fine map is from one of his son's atlases issued in 1867. It depicts as current geographical information as was available at the time, showing rivers, lakes, towns, trade routes and some orography. Political divisions are clearly indicated, highlighted with contrasting colors, giving us an interesting picture of what Americans understood of the states of Africa. The late nineteenth century was a period of great exploration throughout Africa and this map shows "its most recent discoveries." Despite this, there is still a large section noted as "Unknown Interior." A wonderful cartographic document over a century ago. $150
J. Bartholomew, F.R.G.S. "South Africa." From Black's General Atlas of the World. Edinburgh: Adam and Charles Black, 1879. 16 1/2 x 22 1/8. Although the map states that it is "engraved and colored" by J[ohn] Bartholomew, it was lithographed in colors.
One of a series of precisely detailed maps of the world from one of the leading British mapmaking firms of the nineteenth century. Adam and Charles Black issued atlases from the 1840s through the 80s, keeping their maps as current as possible. This handsome map is a splendid example of their output. $165
Frank A. Gray. "Gray's New Map of Africa." Philadelphia: O.W. Gray & Son, 1881. 15 x 12. Lithograph, engraved on stone by J.M. Atwood & W.H. Helms. Original hand color. Chip in top right corner else very good condition. Backed with map of Asia.
The last part of the nineteenth century was a period of intense European exploration of Africa and this map reflects the latest information available on the "dark continent." For instance, information from Stanley's 1874-77 explorations to Lake Victoria and the Congo are included, as is much other interior detail that is impressively updated from earlier maps. The political situation of the continent is also up-to-date, with the Orange River Free State and Natal shown, and other nations/colonies along the coasts. Insets are included of St. Helena and the delta of the Nile. A wonderfully detailed and current snap-shot of Africa at an exciting period of its history. $150
Ancient Egypt and Black Africa
In 1955 a west African scholar, Marcel Diop, argued vehemently that professional Egyptologists had been concealing a startling fact for over half a century Diop claimed that the ancient Egyptians were Negroes and their characteristic civilization was a Negro achievement. It is in fact a not uncommon belief that Egypt was part of Black Africa, but as far as physical appearance goes this is not true. Thousands of sculpted and painted representations from Egypt and hundreds of well preserved bodies from its cemeteries show that the typical physical type was neither Negroid nor Negro. The second part of Diop’s thesis however was that Egyptian civilization had been spread throughout Africa by emigrants from Egypt and presented in dramatic form a genuine and fascinating historical problem. Geographically ancient Egypt was an African country and her civilization was part of a mosaic of African cultures distributed over the face of that vast continent, Was there any serious contact between ancient Egypt and Black Africa, that is the Negroid and Negro peoples of western and central Africa and, if there was, how important was the flow of influences in either direction?
This is not just an academic question, for many Africans and Afro-Americans, intensely interested in the history of early African cultures, often feel that the creativity of these cultures has been unfairly minimized by European scholarship. This is not true of prehistorians and historians of Africa today the old habit of attributing any unusually sophisticated idea or technique appearing amongst Black Africans to the influence or the presence of a racially “superior” Hamite or other non-Negro has rightly been abandoned. However, as the achievements of Black Africa are recognized and increasingly better documented, and the distinctive characters of its many cultures emerge, the role of Egyptian influence becomes even more problematical. Are there any significant similarities between Egyptian and ancient African cultures if so, how much are they due to a general “African” nature, and how much to cultural interaction?
Egyptian civilization was in fact peculiarly resistant to outside influence, but many ancient people, including Africans, borrowed from it. This was not however indiscriminate borrowing from an overwhelmingly superior culture and was varied in its effects. The Greeks, for example. were impressed by Egypt their statuary and architecture were at first strongly influenced by Egypt and, according to the Greeks themselves, some of their leading philosophers and scientists went to Egypt to study its ancient knowledge as well as the new learning established after 320 B.C. in the Hellenistic city of Alexandria. Yet developed Greek art and thought cannot be mistaken for Egyptian. Similarly, amongst ancient Black Africans there must have been varied reactions to Egyptian contact, affected both by the cultural strength of each African group and by the role in which the Egyptians appeared. Egyptians in Africa were sometimes traders and employers, sometimes conquerors and colonists, sometimes defeated enemies.
Physical hindrances to contact must also have affected the potential spread of Egyptian influence. It is generally agreed that in late prehistoric times, between 5000 and 3000 B.C., the chances for contact between the Egyptian Nile valley, the Sahara and Africa south of the Sahara and along the upper reaches of the Nile, were better than in later periods. The Sahara at this time had a moister climate and supported a comparatively large and mobile population, which included Negroid and Negro physical types, as did the communities living near modern Khartoum. Certainly, domesticated animals appear to have spread during this period from Egypt (which had derived them from the Near East) throughout North Africa, deep into the Sahara and as far south as Khartoum agriculture was established in Egypt at the same time but spread more slowly. However, there was no comparable spread of Egyptian cultural influence. The many communities along the Egyptian Nile had no political or religious cohesiveness, and the common material culture and neolithic economy that they shared was not very different in its nature from that of contemporary African cultures. The typical pottery and artifacts of prehistoric Egypt are not found outside of the Nile valley or south of the Second Cataract, and only along the upper Nile is some influence perceptible.
Between the Second Cataract and Khartoum at this time a typical product of the indigenous population, called the “Khartoum Neolithic” people, was pottery with impressed designs, a tradition inherited from their hunting and gathering predecessors. By contrast, the wares of contemporary Egypt were sometimes painted but rarely incised, while the commonest fabric was plain red polished, often with an added black top. This decorative idea was copied on a small scale in the Khartoum Neolithic and eventually became an important feature of later pottery styles in Lower and Upper Nubia. Otherwise, borrowing was restricted to a simple tool, the “gouge” found in fact throughout the Sahara as well as along the Nile.
The civilization of historical Egypt developed so rapidly in the first centuries of the third millennium B.C. that some have suggested that the creative inspiration came from the already developed cultures of Mesopotamia. Literacy, centralized political control, an elaborate religious system, a metal (copper, later bronze) technology and a developed style in art and monumental architecture were firmly established in Egypt by 2700 B.C. However, it was just at this time that contact with other parts of Africa became more difficult. The Sahara was arid by 2500 B.C. and while its retreating population introduced agriculture and domesticated animals into western and central Africa, the desert routes to Egypt became more difficult to traverse. Even the chief remaining corridor for human movement, the Nile valley, was to a large extent blocked in the south by a vast swamp, the Sudd.
Some scholars therefore doubt that there could have been any significant contact between Egypt and most of Black Africa after 3000 B.C. They suggest that apparent similarities such as the appearance of centralized political structures and divine kingship, which appear in some Black African groups in the first and second millennia A.D., are general and coincidental. Other historians believe such similarities are ultimately derived from ancient Egypt, probably via the “Egyptianized” kingdom of Meroe in the Sudan (591 B.C.-A.D. 320), and are perhaps linked to the diffusion of iron technology from the same source. Recently however the appearance of iron-working in western Africa has been dated to about 500 B.C., and is unlikely to have come from Meroe where iron was still rare at the same date. It can no longer be automatically assumed that the iron-working which appears in central Africa in the early first millennium A.D. was derived from Meroe, since an alternative source is now known to have existed.
The controversy will be resolved only by extensive archaeological exploration, which so far has taken place only in the extreme north of the principal contact area, the modern Republic of the Sudan. Lower Nubia, the area between the First and Second Cataracts (now shared between Egypt and the Sudan), has been thoroughly explored since 1900 it has served as an ever-growing reservoir to the Aswan Dam, a fact which has stimulated periodic bursts of salvage archaeology, culminating in an extraordinary international effort in 1961-1964. Upper Nubia, the valley between the Second and Fourth Cataracts, has been less well explored recent surveys have reached as far as the Third Cataract and a handful of early historical sites have been excavated as far as the Fourth Cataract. Further south the principal excavated sites are Napatan (706-591 B.C.), Meroitic or later. Archaeological coverage is not yet full enough to trace the possible diffusion of Egyptian influence beyond the Sudan in these or earlier times.
However, the accumulation of data over the last sixty years and its continuous reinterpretation have enabled us to study the earliest effects of ancient Egypt on its nearest southern neighbors, who included considerable numbers of Negroid and Negro peoples, and to guess what the effect may have been on more remote Black Africans. For nearly 1500 years (3000-1570 B.C.) the indigenous cultures of Lower Nubia were markedly different from those of historical Egypt, and in Upper Nubia the distinctions carried on into the Meroitic period. The differences are most easily to be seen in the pottery, in which the varied and inventive traditions of the ancient Sudan contrast strikingly with the unimaginative wares of historical Egypt, but are to be found also in most other aspects of material culture, in language, and surely, in social and political organizations and in religious beliefs. These latter aspects are poorly documented, since the Sudan did not become literate in its own language until ca. 180 B.C. and even now the earliest script, Meroitic, remains untranslatable.
Lower Nubia was unlikely to support a highly developed culture. It has access to some important resources (copper, gold and some valued types of stone) but only a small amount of cultivable land, and throughout history it has acted as a buffer zone between Egypt and the inhabitants of Upper Nubia. Nevertheless, the indigenous population of this region (which, certainly by 2200 B.C., consisted of a mixture of brown and black-skinned peoples, according to Egyptian depictions) was remarkably resistant to Egyptian cultural influence in spite of close and sometimes oppressive contact with the Egyptians. Already by ca. 3050 B.C. Egyptian expeditions had reached the Second Cataract while the people of the contemporary Nubian culture, labeled A-group by archaeologists, buried with their dead foods and liquids in imported Egyptian pots and Egyptian-made copper implements. These were obtained as a result of A-group control over the trade in luxury items, such as ebony and ivory, from further south. The material culture of the Nubians however remained basically non-Egyptian right up to the point (ca. 2600 B.C.) when they were decimated, enslaved and expelled by Egyptian troops intent on securing full control of the trade-routes and natural resources of the area.
From ca. 2590 to 2420 B.C. the Egyptians controlled Lower Nubia from a few weakly defended settlements between the First and Second Cataracts, but these were eventually abandoned partly because of political instability in Egypt itself and partly because of an incursion of African people into Lower Nubia. These people, who may well have been related to the A-group. are called C-group by the archaeologists and came possibly from the now rapidly drying deserts to the east and west during their period of occupation, part of, and finally all Lower Nubia came to be called Wawat. Organized under chieftains, the C-group were war-like enough to be hired as mercenaries by the Egyptians and they also hindered Egyptian trading expeditions, which until ca. 2185 B.C. were still reaching Upper Nubia. Eventually the C-group secured complete control of this trade and as a result, early C-group graves often contain Egyptian artifacts representing both booty and payment.
By ca. 1930 B.C. the Egyptians had reasserted their control over Lower Nubia, and consolidated it with a series of great forts eventually reaching to the southern end of the Second Cataract. These forts, with massive walls thirty to forty feet high, are eloquent testimony to the military threat offered by the C-group and the other African peoples in the general area. During the period of domination the C-group continued to live in flimsily built settlements, to bury their dead in substantial and un-Egyptian tombs with circular stone superstructures and to produce a variety of distinctive artifacts showing no Egyptian influence. When Egypt once again underwent an internal decline, the Egyptians did not abandon the forts but the C-group clearly regained some economic and political independence. Late C-group graves are often rich and include a number of especially large examples which probably belong to chieftains some Egyptian influence may have affected burial customs, but as a whole the native culture of Wawat maintained its individuality.
After the Egyptian re-occupation of Lower Nubia however, the relationship became more complex Upper Nubia, now called Kush, was regarded as a military threat and the great forts were meant in part to prevent Kushite attacks. The Egyptians fought several campaigns south of the Second Cataract and a contemporary inscription, while contemptuous of the Kushites, reveals by its very vehemence a fear and respect for Kushite fighting ability. In a recent translation by Gardiner, the text reads, in part:
When one rages against him [the Nubian] he shows his back when one retreats he starts to rage. They are not people worthy of respect they are cowards, craven-hearted.
But the Nubians were formidable enough for the royal author of the inscription to envisage that his troops might fail to resist them:
He who shall destroy [the frontier] and fail to fight for it, he is not my son and was not born to me.
Despite the sporadic hostilities, trade continued to flow between Kush and Egypt, although the entry of Kushites into Lower Nubia was carefully regulated. Finally, in ca. 1650 B.C., the Kushites took the opportunity offered by declining Egyptian power, invaded Lower Nubia and occupied the Egyptian forts. Kushite political organization had reached the point where a single king, called by the Egyptians the “ruler of Kush,” controlled not only Lower Nubia but probably Upper Nubia, the Kushite home-land, as well. Egypt by now was divided between an Asiatic dynasty in the north and an Egyptian dynasty in the south, and the Kushite and Asiatic rulers entered into an alliance against the Egyptian king. In a unique contemporary inscription, the Egyptians revealed the political reality of the situation by referring to the Kushite ruler as an equal of the Asiatic and Egyptian kings, in marked contrast to the Egyptian custom of referring to all foreign rulers as inherently inferior to the pharaoh.
Unfortunately, we cannot yet trace through archaeology the development of this important Kushite state, but in 1912-1914 a partially excavated cemetery at Kerma revealed what are almost certainly the royal burials of the “rulers of Kush” of the period ca. 1670-1570 B.C. and some of their predecessors. The latter probably did not exercise as much power, since the Kushites we know were originally divided into a number of tribes and the consolidation of control must have been gradual. The latest royal burials are extraordinary structures. The king was placed, with rich funerary equipment, in a central chamber or pit, and at the same time large numbers of women, presumably from his family, were sacrificed and buried in a nearby corridor or chamber. Over the burial complex was heaped a vast earth mound, sometimes held together by a mud-brick framework and a brick paving over the surface a large stone cone was sometimes placed at the top.
These Kushite rulers no doubt maintained control over Upper and Lower Nubia through their exalted positions within the community, with however the support of warrior retainers, whose burials are found in and around the royal tumuli. Typically a warrior’s funeral equipment includes a formidable metal dagger and he is usually accompanied by two or three sacrificed women. There are also indications that the Kushites had a fleet of boats, which would have secured them control over the river, the chief means of communication boats are depicted in some buildings at Kerma and, earlier, the Egyptians had regulations against Kushite vessels entering Lower Nubia.
Kushite culture was in essentials non-Egyptian. The Kushites were dark-skinned people with their own language or languages, and their burial structures and customs were, for the most part, unparalleled in contemporary Egypt. The great mass of the artifacts from Kerma are of Kushite manufacture they include excellent pottery, mainly a very fine red polished black-topped ware in beaker and bowl forms, leather garments, and mica and ivory inlays in animal or geometric form. Nevertheless, the long period of contact inevitably resulted in some cultural interaction with Egypt, the evidence for which needs to be carefully considered.
Hundreds of objects, mostly fragmentary but certainly of Egyptian origin, were found at Kerma, consisting of statues and statuettes of Egyptian kings and officials, faience and stone vessels, metal and wood objects, jewelry, and pottery. This led the excavator, Reisner, to believe that an Egyptian garrison and manufacturing center had dominated the Kushites, but it is now clear that some of these objects were plunder from Lower Nubia and the rest were secured through trade. The Kushites evidently were impressed by some aspects of Egyptian civilization they collected Egyptian artifacts, refurbished some of the Egyptian temples in Lower Nubia and engaged the services of Egyptian scribes and craftsmen, some of whom must have been at Kerma. However, the technical knowledge of these Egyptians was applied to giving material form to Kushite conceptions and one may suspect that any intellectual influence from Egypt was similarly transformed. Thus the knowledge of building in mud-brick may have been derived from Egypt, but three massive brick structures found at Kerma are not of traditional Egyptian design. Their enormous walls take up between 80 and 90% of each structure and were meant to support an extensive second story, none of which survived. The ground floor rooms are quite small. One of these buildings, near the river, was perhaps the residence of the Kushite king the two others, in the cemetery, were chapels and contained wall paintings in Egyptian style but of quite un-Egyptian content. Rows of painted hippopotami, giraffes and ships indicate a close connection with indigenous beliefs and experience.
In and around the denuded Kushite town at Kerma there was evidence for considerable industrial activity, including the making of pottery, faience and copper or bronze objects. The Kushites were skilled potters, but the faience-workers and metallurgists were probably Egyptian their products however reflected Kushite culture. Faience (a powdered stone composition covered with a glassy glaze) occurs frequently but an un-Egyptian glazing of stone objects is also not uncommon, and some of the material produced, such as lions in blue faience or blue-glazed stone, are of Egyptian form but are not paralleled easily in Egypt itself. The famous Kerma daggers are based on an Egyptian prototype fitted however with a peculiarly Kushite pommel of ivory and tortoise shell, and there are occasional metal copies of typical Kushite pottery shapes.
The subsequent history of Kushite culture is not yet known. Between 1570 and 1500 B.C. the resurgent Egyptians rapidly re-occupied Lower Nubia and campaigned into Kushite territory until a new Egyptian frontier was established at Napata. For the next 400 years Wawat (Lower Nubia) and Kush were colonial possessions, governed by an Egyptian bureaucracy and sending an annual tribute, primarily of gold, to Egypt. The Nubians of Wawat now became Egyptianized and their chieftains, absorbed into the administrative system, are found depicted and buried in completely Egyptian style. In the larger and more diverse province of Kush the interaction was undoubtedly more complex, but unfortunately only Egyptian centers have so far been excavated. Resistance to Egyptian control is indicated by serious revolts throughout Dynasty XVIII (15701320 B.C.) and may have persisted into later periods. On the other hand. large numbers of Kushites were absorbed into the Egyptian army and some probably gained high rank in the provincial administration. The last effective viceroy of Kush, for example, was called Penehasi, the Nubian” and although this name was also given to Egyptians he may well have been a Sudanese. In any case, Penehasi remained in Kush, presumably as its independent ruler, when the Egyptians abandoned the province in ca. 1085 B.C.
There is no textual or archaeological evidence on the transition to the later and better known Napatan and Meroitic periods. It is surely significant however that the earliest Napatan royal burials were of an earth-mound type, reminiscent of the Kushite customs at Kerma, and that Egyptian influence did not become strong until the Napatans conquered and, for a brief period (751-656 B.C.), ruled Egypt. Thereafter it is true that certain Egyptian cultural forms in art and religion become evident, but the many differences in detail and emphasis, and the eventually exclusive use of the native Meroitic language and script emphasize once again the individuality of these early Sudanese civilizations.
Turning briefly to the question of African influence on Egypt, it is sometimes said that ancient Egyptian institutions and social structure were, in a general way, “African.” This however, implies a uniformity of thought and experience throughout the continent which in fact is unlikely to have existed. More specifically, Egypt seems to have been little affected by African or other foreign cultural influences. Their trading and military expeditions certainly must have enabled the Egyptians to learn much about their southern neighbors, but only one or two Nubian gods were absorbed, as minor deities, into the Egyptian pantheon while a few Nubian words appear in the Egyptian language. From early historical times it is true that a steady though proportionately small stream of Nubians entered Egypt as slaves or mercenaries however, even when immigrants settled down as a community they rapidly absorbed Egyptian culture and within a few generations are virtually indistinguishable from Egyptians in the textual and archaeological record. There is evidence that in the New Kingdom especially individual Nubians were appointed to important posts at the royal court in Egypt and, in view of the fact that the pharaohs maintained harems which included Nubian women, it is not unlikely that a few of the Egyptian kings may have been at least partly Nubian. Nevertheless, no resulting cultural influence can be detected arising from this form of contact. The significant Black African influence on Egypt was indirect. The mineral and other natural resources of the northern Sudan attracted the Egyptians into the area where they encountered numerous and sometimes well organized and formidable human groups contact stimulated a variety of commercial, diplomatic and military reactions which meant that the southern lands played a role in Egyptian foreign policy approaching in importance that of western Asia.
The cultural interraction between Egypt and her nearest Black African neighbors was then a complex matter from very early times Egyptian influence was sometimes resisted and, if absorbed, underwent a transformation in the process. If it did penetrate into Africa beyond the Nile the transformation was probably even more radical and the resistance of the indigenous cultures to it even stronger.
Africa&rsquos northern half is more dry and hot, while its southern end is more humid and cool.
Earth Science, Geology, Meteorology, Engineering, Geography, Human Geography, Physical Geography
Africa, the second-largest continent, is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean, and the Atlantic Ocean. It is divided in half almost equally by the Equator.
The origin of the name &ldquoAfrica&rdquo is greatly disputed by scholars. Most believe it stems from words used by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans. Important words include the Egyptian word Afru-ika, meaning &ldquoMotherland&rdquo the Greek word aphrike, meaning &ldquowithout cold&rdquo and the Latin word aprica, meaning &ldquosunny.&rdquo
A number of factors influence Africa&rsquos sunny climate. The Equator nearly bisects the continent into two equal parts. Climatic zones lie on either side of this line as if it were a mirror, with tropical wet climates closer to the Equator and more arid conditions closer to the tropics.
This climatic symmetry is disturbed, however, by Africa&rsquos unequal shape. The continent&rsquos narrow southern section is far more influenced by oceanic factors than the bulging northern section. Africa&rsquos northern half is more dry and hot, while its southern end is more humid and cool.
Climate and Agriculture
Climatic factors greatly influence Africa&rsquos agriculture, which is considered the continent&rsquos single most important economic activity. Agriculture employs two-thirds of the continent&rsquos working population and contributes 20 to 60 percent of every country&rsquos gross domestic product (GDP). GDP is the total value of goods and services produced in a country during one year.
Important climatic regions of agriculture include tropical wet, savanna, desert, Mediterranean, and highland.
Tropical wet conditions occur along the Equator, the Gulf of Guinea, and the east Madagascar coast. Temperatures remain near 27° Celsius (80° Fahrenheit) year-round. Annual precipitation varies from 152 centimeters (60 inches) inland to 330 centimeters (130 inches) along the coasts. Important crops to Africa&rsquos tropical wet regions include the plantain, pineapple, coffee, cocoa, and oil palms. (Oil from this palm tree is the primary cooking oil in Africa, as familiar as olive oil or corn oil in North America.)
Savanna conditions occur in much of eastern and southern Africa. Temperatures here are cooler and more variant than in tropical wet regions. Annual precipitation is between 50 and 152 centimeters (20 to 60 inches). The dry season in the savanna can last as long as six months. Important savanna crops include the cassava (related to the potato), peanuts, peppers, okra, eggplant, cucumber, and watermelon. Africa&rsquos most important grain crops, millet and sorghum, are grown here.
Desert conditions occur in northern Africa, especially in the Sahara and the Sahel. Temperatures can range from 54° Celsius (130° F) on the hottest days to freezing on the coldest nights. Annual precipitation never exceeds 25 centimeters (10 inches), and some areas go without rain for years. Important desert crops include date palms and cotton.
Mediterranean climate conditions occur along the extreme northern and southern coasts of Africa. These regions have mild temperatures, dry summers, and moderately rainy winters. Important crops include figs, olives, oranges, tomatoes, onions, and large vegetables, such as cabbage and cauliflower.
Highland conditions occur in the highest elevations of Africa, particularly in the Ethiopian Highlands. Temperatures here are much colder than the surrounding lowlands. Precipitation depends on the orientation of the mountain in relation to moisture-bearing winds. Important highland crops include alfalfa, potatoes, and wheat.
Forestry and Fishing
Forestry, the management of trees and other vegetation in forests, is an important economic activity in Africa. On average, forest products account for 6 percent of Africa&rsquos gross domestic product (GDP), more than any other continent. This is a result of Africa&rsquos abundant forest cover, with 0.8 hectares (2 acres) per person, compared with 0.6 hectares (1.5 acres) globally. In central and western Africa, where forest cover is heaviest, the forest sector contributes more than 60 percent of GDP.
The export of forest products, especially high-grade woods like mahogany and okoume, brings in significant revenue. These woods are mostly found in the countries of the Congo Basin&mdashCameroon, Central African Republic, Republic of the Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea&mdashwhere there is a dense rain forest. Okoume, for example, accounts for 90 percent of the trees logged in Gabon. These woods are generally exported to Japan, Israel, and the European Union. Mahogany and okoume are used to make everything from homes to musical instruments to lightweight aircraft.
Africa&rsquos forest sector, however, suffers from illegal logging and overharvesting of certain tree species. Many species of both mahogany and okoume are endangered. Experts argue that overharvesting will eventually destroy forest habitats. Saplings planted to replace the logged trees do not grow fast enough to be harvested on a regular basis, and the rain forest habitat in which these trees thrive is being destroyed for agriculture and development.
Today, Africa is torn between developing its forests to their fullest economic potential and protecting these natural landscapes from over-development. For instance, the Central African Forests Commission regulates Africa&rsquos forestry sector and promotes sustainable uses of the Congo Basin&rsquos rain forest products. The commission created the Sangha Tri-National Landscape, a reserve that covers more than 1 million hectares (2.4 million acres) of rain forest in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, and the Republic of the Congo.
Africa&rsquos fishing industry provides income to more than 10 million people and has an annual export value of $2.7 billion. Africa has fisheries on all its marine coasts, as well as inland. The Great Lakes and Nile River, for instance, support huge freshwater fisheries.
Marine fisheries are important to many coastal countries in Africa. West Africa is one of the most economically important fishing zones in the world, producing 4.5 million tons of fish in 2000. Namibia and South Africa are also major players in the marine fish market, exporting between 80 and 90 percent of their fish annually. The Eastern African countries of Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya have well-established fisheries in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean. Small fish such as herring and sardines are the most common catch on the African coastline. However, larger fish, such as tuna, cod, hake, and haddock, are the most profitable.
Africa&rsquos extensive inland fisheries contain more than 3,000 fish species and account for two-thirds of global inland fish production. Unlike marine fisheries, the catch from Africa&rsquos inland fisheries is not exported. It is consumed almost entirely on the continent, forming a major source of people&rsquos protein intake.
Africa&rsquos Great Lakes support the largest inland fisheries on the continent. Lake Victoria is the most productive freshwater fishery in the world, producing more than 500,000 tons of fish worth $600 million every year. The Nile perch, a highly prized catch that can weigh more than 45 kilograms (100 pounds), and the Nile tilapia are Lake&rsquos Victoria&rsquos dominant commercial fish species.
Much like the forestry sector, Africa&rsquos fishing sector suffers from overharvesting. As a result, in the past century, fish stocks have declined by up to half in some coastal zones. The Partnership for African Fisheries (PAF) is being implemented to strengthen Africa&rsquos fisheries sector. PAF will focus on stricter regulations and environmental management. These processes will increase fishery revenue and promote the sustainable use of marine and inland fish resources.
Mining and Drilling
Africa is a major producer of important metals and minerals. Metals exported by African countries include uranium, used to produce nuclear energy platinum, used in jewelry and industrial applications nickel, used in stainless steel, magnets, coins, and rechargeable batteries bauxite, a main aluminum ore and cobalt, used in color pigments.
Africa&rsquos two most profitable mineral resources are gold and diamonds. In 2008, Africa produced about 483 tons of gold, or 22 percent of the world&rsquos total production. South Africa accounts for almost half of Africa&rsquos gold production. Ghana, Guinea, Mali, and Tanzania are other major producers of gold.
Africa dominates the global diamond market. In 2008, the continent produced 55 percent of the world&rsquos diamonds. Botswana, Angola, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Namibia are Africa&rsquos largest producers of diamonds.
Unfortunately, several African conflicts and civil wars have been caused and funded by the diamond industry. Diamonds that come from these regions are known as conflict diamonds or blood diamonds.
In 2002, the United Nations created the Kimberley Process Certification Scheme (KPCS) in order to certify diamonds from sources that are free of conflict. The KPCS also aims to prevent diamond sales from financing wars. Countries that do not meet KPCS requirements are not allowed to trade with much of the rest of the world. The Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Côte d&rsquoIvoire have all been expelled at some point in the last decade.
Africa is home to select deposits of oil and natural gas, which are drilled for energy and fuel. In 2007, the continent produced 12.5 percent of the world&rsquos total oil production and 6.45 percent of the world&rsquos total natural gas production. Nigeria, Libya, Algeria, Egypt, and Angola dominate Africa&rsquos oil industry. Oil exploration has significantly increased on the continent, and many countries are looking to become first-time producers.
Oil and natural gas production have also been connected to civil conflict. In Nigeria, guerrilla groups have attacked oil infrastructure and stolen oil from pipelines since the early 1990s. These groups, primarily ethnic minorities, say foreign oil companies have exploited their labor while keeping most of the wealth. They also charge that out-of-date equipment has severely polluted air, soil, and water resources. This pollution has lead to losses in arable land and fish stocks. However, the severe actions of these guerrilla groups have also increased pollution as they have damaged equipment. The attacks have also reduced production and local income, as many companies are forced to shut down.
The Built Environment
Africa&rsquos natural resource economy contributes greatly to the continent&rsquos built environment, or human-made buildings and structures. The largest engineering projects and urban areas are directly linked to the production and trade of resources such as water, oil, and minerals. Yet much like the resource economies described above, Africa&rsquos infrastructure suffers from poor management and inefficient government regulation.
Africa is home to a number of engineering marvels. The Aswan Dam, a complex of two dams in Aswan, Egypt, captures the world&rsquos longest river, the Nile, in the world&rsquos third-largest reservoir, Lake Nasser. The Aswan High Dam, the newer and larger of the two dams, produces more than 10 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity every year, enough power for about 15 percent of the country.
The Aswan Dam complex regulates the flooding of the Nile and stores water for agriculture. While farmland has increased by 500 percent as a result of the dam, land fertility has decreased. Nutrient-rich silt is unable to spread over the Nile valley because it is trapped in Lake Nasser.
The Driefontein Gold Mine outside of Johannesburg, South Africa, is one of the largest gold mines in the world. The mine is made up of eight shafts that reach depths of up to 3,352 meters (11,000 feet) underground. One of the shafts is in the process of being deepened to about 4,115 meters (13,500 feet), making it the deepest mine in the world. These extreme depths make mining operations incredibly dangerous at Driefontein, which has one of the worst records of employee fatalities in the industry.
Two urban areas that demonstrate Africa&rsquos uneven growth are Lagos, Nigeria, and Johannesburg, South Africa. Both of these large cities have distinct economic engines that make them favorable for growth. At the same time, each faces similar problems as a result of this growth.
Lagos is Africa&rsquos second most-populous city, with a population of about 10.2 million people. Lagos is growing 10 times faster than New York City, New York, or Los Angeles, California, in the United States. The United Nations estimates that Lagos will be one of the largest megacities in the world by 2015.
Lagos is the commercial and industrial hub of Nigeria, which has a gross domestic product that is triple that of any other West African country. Located on the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea and adjacent to the Niger Delta, Lagos is a center of oil extraction, refining, and export. The city is tied to the rise and fall of oil prices, creating cycles of extreme wealth and poverty.
Lagos&rsquo unregulated growth has created a sprawling and chaotic urban landscape. Poor immigrants from rural Nigeria have flooded the city looking for economic opportunities. Residential zones are overcrowded, averaging six people per room. Slum communities are growing rapidly, taking over unsuitable areas such as nearby lagoons and lakes. Lagos suffers from water shortages, poor sanitation services, and heavy traffic. Government bodies and urban developers are finding it difficult to keep up with Lagos&rsquo rapid growth.
Johannesburg is the largest city in South Africa, with a metropolitan population of more than 7 million. Johannesburg is also the world&rsquos largest city not situated on a river, lake, or coastline. The city developed around the gold and diamond industry situated on a mineral-rich mountain range.
While mining operations are gradually losing importance in Johannesburg, most mining companies still have their headquarters there. The wealth and trade of these companies and other manufacturing industries is supported by Africa&rsquos largest stock exchange, the JSE (Johannesburg Stock Exchange). As such, Johannesburg has become the financial hub for the African continent.
Much like Lagos, Johannesburg&rsquos unregulated development has caused certain infrastructure problems. During the last four decades, Johannesburg&rsquos inner city of Hillbrow has suffered from poor planning and a lack of investment. Hillbrow is known for high levels of unemployment, poverty, and crime. Johannesburg officials are trying to solve these problems by reinvesting in Hillbrow&rsquos downtown businesses.
Residents of Johannesburg make up for the city&rsquos high level of unemployment by participating in one of the world&rsquos largest informal economies. An informal economy is sometimes called a black market. In an informal economy, goods and services are exchanged without taxes, or money going to the government. A large population of Johannesburg, mostly immigrants, have become cash-only vendors who do not work for any official entity. These informal economic activities have caused obvious problems with labor and commerce regulation. Without knowing how many people are employed, how much money they are making, or how they are making it, it is increasingly difficult to track the city&rsquos economic progress.
Africa's narrow southern section is far more influenced by oceanic factors than the bulging northern section. Its northern half is more dry and hot, while its southern end is generally more humid and cool.
Map by the National Geographic Society
Most Renewable Electricity Produced
Lesotho (100%, hydropower)
87 people per square kilometer
Congo River (4 million square kilometers/1.55 million square miles)
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (5,895 meters/19,341 feet)
Largest Urban Area
Cairo, Egypt (15.6 million people)
the art and science of cultivating land for growing crops (farming) or raising livestock (ranching).
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Halsall, Paul. Internet African History Sourcebook. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/africa/africasbook.html (accessed on July 31, 2003).
Iliffe, John. Africans: The History of a Continent. New York: Cambridge, 1995.
Villiers, Marq, and Sheila Hirtle. Into Africa: A Journey through the Ancient Empires. Toronto, Canada: Key Porter, 1997.
Adoption of Western Dress
Clothing of African Cultures
Headwear of African Cultures
Body Decorations of African Cultures
Footwear of African Cultures