History – Central Africa

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

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

Image of Protective wall from the king''s enclosure at Great Zimbabwe.
Protective wall from the king”s enclosure at Great Zimbabwe.

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

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

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

For more information, please view: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/ht/?period=08&region=afc


Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.