History – Western Africa


West Africa’s history begins in about 12 000 BCE (Before our Common Era), according to archaeologists who have made studies of the Mejiro Cave. This is believed to be the time when our human ancestors first arrived in West Africa and, more specifically, the Sahara. The Sahara was, at that time, a lush, fertile place where animals and humans thrived on the abundance of its water and vegetation.

Microlithic tools were found in the Savannah of West Africa. A microlith is defined as a small stone tool, usually made of flint, and measures 3cm (30mm) or less. These were made by agriculture farming tribes who hunted or defended themselves using spears and stone blades. In areas such as Guinea, the Sahel farmers would use bone to create these same tools. In the 4000’s BCE, other tribes and cultures moved into the area and introduced cattle farming, as fossilised findings have indicated. In 3000 BCE onwards, the civilisation of West Africa had become influenced by the new cultures to such a degree that major changes started to take place in terms of tool development and hunting / farming methods. Harpoons and fish hooks from this era have been discovered and these, although primitive, were effective in enabling the farmers to migrate towards the shore for food and industry. It was also at this time that the Sahara underwent massive climate changes, with dramatic alternating of moist / humid and dry spells. Eventually, the entire region became arid desert, uninhabitable to most life, animal or human.

In the third millennium BCE, Guinea’s Sahel farmers began to migrate as well, entering into the area of the other natives. This movement was prompted by the Sahara’s final devastation, and was instrumental in severing ties with Europe’s advancement in terms of culture and technology, isolating this civilisation. It took longer for technology to improve the quality of the weaponry being used by these native West Africans but, when it did, it allowed for the development of their societies.

In the first century BCE, West Africa had established a trade of gold between the Mediterraneans and the Berbers. Along with gold, cotton, metal and leather were in demand from North Africa. In return, the Mediterraneans supplied them with horses, salt and textiles, amongst other valued products. Eventually, these supplies extended to ivory and even slaves.

This trade created a stable economy and, from there, specific empires. The most significant of these was the Ghana Empire, established in the 700’s CE (Common Era). It was the Mandé people, the Soninke, who founded it around Kumbi Saleh city. Eventually, the Ghana Empire ruled the whole of western Sudan and boasted 200 000 soldiers by the 800’s. It was when Islam arose that internal conflicts began. This, coupled with the introduction of the Almoravids into the area, caused the Ghana Empire to disintegrate by the 11th century CE.

The Sosso tribe succeeded the Ghana Empire for a while, but were defeated by the Mandinka in the 1240 Battle of Kirina. This became the Mali Empire, which continued until the 15th century. During this time, trade escalated and free healthcare was administered to all Malians. This state of abundance declined due to a lack of strong Malian leadership. The Mali Empire was taken over by the Songhai, who restored trade and commerce. The Songhai also played an enormous role in making Islam the dominant faith once again. In 1591, Morocco invaded the Songhai Empire and conquered them successfully.

While Songhai was in the middle of its demise, West Africa was full of other, smaller powers springing up. These included the Bambara Empire (Ségou), the Bambara kingdom (Kaarta), the Malinké kingdom (Khasso), and the Kénédougou Empire (Sikasso).

Many West Africans were taken to North and South America to become slaves during the 18th century. Today, these areas are still home to large parts of the West African population of that time. In 1898, the last of these West African empires, Wassoulou, fell and resistance to French colonialism of this region was over.

For more information, please view:http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/640523/history-of-western-Africa

Image of Morocco, ancient town of Aït Ben Haddou.
Morocco, ancient town of Aït Ben Haddou.


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.