4 Reasons Ancient Africans Were Badass
“Africa has no ancient cultures, histories or civilizations and has therefore made no meaningful contributions to world history“
This statement from Pier Larson’s 10 Myths About Africa perfectly illustrates Western ignorance about African history. Eurocentric ideals tend to place value on the ‘greatness’ of ancient civilizations — judging them by how much land they conquered or the wonders they built. The assumption is that Africa has never had ‘great’ kingdoms and empires which is incorrect even by our own euro-centric standards. It’s something we only believe because we don’t learn about it in school.
So I’m here to tell you why ancient Africans were just as badass and relevant to the present as your favorite historical heroes.
- West African Empires.
The kingdoms of Ghana, Mali and Songhai in West Africa, were rich both culturally and economically. Ghana came first, uniting the surrounding populations. It was overthrown by the Mali empire which was home to Mansa Musa I, the richest human being in history. The Mali Empire was very successful and ruled in luxury for centuries. It was replaced by the Songhai Empire in the late 14th century. The three successive kingdoms accrued hundreds of billions (in 2014 American dollars) worth of gold from controlling the mines on the West African rivers. They used the trans-Saharan trade to sell gold and luxury items to the rest of the world, taking advantage of high demand.
The kingdoms of Mali and Songhai were expansive, the former reaching from the Atlantic coast to Timbuktu and the latter stretching from the ocean to the middle of the modern day country of Niger.
2. You like Egypt? Well Egypt is in Africa (I am astounded by the number of people who do not know this)
Europeans and Americans are, for the most part, aware of the exploits of Ancient Egypt, yet for some reason don’t think of Egyptians as African. This might be because art and cinematic depictions portray them as Caucasian. In the 1963 film, Cleopatra, the title character is played by a white actress. She is depicted as a powerful queen with many slaves and dancers representing different parts of Africa, many of whom are black. There is evidence that Ancient Egyptians were at least partially Nubian, who were very dark skinned. Pharaos and Nubian royalty intermarried for political reasons like any neighboring civilizations. They traded, went to war, and even enslaved one another. Freed slaves would have stayed and assimilated into the local population. Even a dynasty of Egyptian Pharaohs were Nubian. From 760 BC to 656 BC was the Nubian dynasty of Egypt.
3. Cultural influence
Africans have a rich and diverse history of customs, beliefs, myths, and legends. Some examples of myths are the creation myths of the Mali empire. A whole caste of people called the griot were tasked with educating people, often a specific lineage, about traditional legends and their family history, which ensured the survival of historical and mythical knowledge. Africa was also an important part of the Muslim world. Travelers such as Ibn Battuta traveling along the Swahili Coast and across the Sahara were amazed by the great centers of islamic learning and art.
Martin Bernal, a controversial historian, presents an argument that Ancient Greeks had African and Semitic origins that were erased because of white supremacist and anti-semitic views rampant among respected historians in the 1930s and 40s. The notion that the ancestors of Rome and thus, the cultural roots of Europe were even partially descended from Africans was unacceptable. This attitude can even be seen today when conspiracy theorists argue that the Pyramids of Giza must have been built by aliens.
It is unclear what Pier Larson means by ‘meaningful’ but Africa has certainly made contributions to history which would be deemed meaningful by most. Iron smelting was independently invented in West Africa and spread with the Bantu people to most of the continent. The trans-Saharan trade is also a very important part of world history. Massive amounts of gold and luxury items exported on the backs of camels from the 7th to the 14th century would have had an economical impact everywhere except perhaps the Americas. Feats of engineering and architecture can still be seen today. From the Pyramids of Giza to the Great Mosque of Jenne and the ruins of the Great Zimbabwe.
Pier Larson’s first myth about Africa accurately reflects how the western world views the place of the African continent in world history. People are ignorant of the great civilizations and cultures that flourished there and parts of African history may have been purposefully erased by European and American historians. Despite all of this, history clearly tells that Africa is just as important to the present as any other continent.