States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa summary



States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa summary


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States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa summary


Chapter 19


States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa




                Throughout most of the classical age, sub-Saharan Africa participated in the economy of the eastern hemisphere to a limited degree.  Geographic factors, most notably the Sahara desert, restricted trade and communication between sub-Saharan Africa and its neighbors to the north.  Despite these boundaries, the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa developed “stateless” societies and intricate religious concepts.  The migration of the Bantu-speaking tribes brought languages and iron metallurgy to most of the sub-Saharan region.  Later the rise of trans-Saharan trade helped to transform African life by inspiring larger, more centralized kingdoms and introducing new religions such as Islam and Christianity.




Effects of Early African Migrations


                By the year 1000 Bantu-speaking people had spread throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa.  During the middle of the first millennium B.C.E. the Bantu mastered iron metallurgy, and they spread this skill throughout Africa by their migrations.  Between 400 B.C.E. and 1000 C.E. the population of sub-Saharan Africa expanded from around 3.5 million to over 22 million, partially because of agricultural advancements such as the domestication of the banana.  By around 1000 C.E. the Bantu had spread throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa, and their language differentiated into around five hundred different tongues.   Early Bantu political organization was marked by a structure often referred to as “stateless societies,” which meant that there was no elaborate bureaucracy or hierarchy of officials.  This does not mean, however, that there was no governmental structure.  Rather, family and kinship units played a much more strategic role in providing a governing structure.  Male family heads made up a village ruling council, with the most prominent member acting as chief.  Groups of villages would join together to form a district, but apparently the government was more collective and less truly centralized.  After the year 1000 C.E. increasing population pressures and military challenges led to the rise of more centralized governments and larger kingdoms.  The best example of a Bantu kingdom would be Kongo, which reached its peak in the fourteenth century.


Islamic Kingdoms and Empires


                The rise of trans-Saharan trade, precipitated by among other things the increasing domestication of the camel, profoundly influenced the world of sub-Saharan Africa.  In addition to more tangible trade goods such as gold or slaves, religious concepts such as Islam also crossed the desert.  A series of powerful and dynamic Islamic kingdoms, beginning with Ghana, rose to dominate west Africa.  Ghana, centered around its capital of Koumbi-Saleh, controlled the gold trade across the Sahara.  In the thirteenth century Ghana was superseded by Mali under the leadership of the legendary lion king Sundiata.  Mali dominated the trade routes and west Africa from the thirteenth to the fifteenth century.  The peak of Mali’s power came during the reign of Mansa Musa, whose pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324–1325 is probably the single most dramatic moment in medieval African history.  Despite being a very conscious display of his wealth and splendor, Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage was also indicative of his tremendous devotion to Islam and the religion spread rapidly during his reign.


                East Africa was also dependent on trade, except in this instance the trade went through the Indian Ocean.  Swahili city-states such as Mogadishu, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar, Mozambique, and Sofala dominated east Africa politically and economically.  Islamic merchants exchanged goods from Persia, India, and China with the city-states.  Eventually the Swahili leaders converted to Islam.  The most prosperous of the Swahili city-states was Kilwa, which was influential from around 1300 until the city-state was sacked by the Portuguese in 1505.  Central African kingdoms such as Zimbabwe also indirectly shared in the trading prosperity.  The magnificence of stone complexes such as Great Zimbabwe speaks to the power and wealth of this kingdom.


African Society and Cultural Development


                Africa has always been, and continues to be, a land of extraordinary diversity.  This diversity expresses itself politically and linguistically but also socially and culturally.  The larger kingdoms developed social classes similar to most other societies studied so far, while the smaller states and stateless societies created a more fluid social situation.  In these smaller states, conditions such as kinship, age groupings, and sex and gender expectations played a more important role in establishing social position. Even considering the dominant role played by men politically, women in sub-Saharan Africa possessed more opportunities than did women in other parts of the world.  Even the arrival of Islam did not substantially worsen the condition of women in sub-Saharan Africa.  Private ownership of land was not an established institution.  This fact made the possession of slaves an important barometer of personal wealth.  As many as ten million African slaves were shipped north as part of the trans-Saharan slave trade between 750 and 1500 C.E.  The Zanj slave revolt led by Ali bin Muhammad expressed the important role that slavery played in Islamic society.  African religious life also mirrored the complexity of the continent.  Certain factors, however, such as the existence of a distant creator-god, the possibility of reaching lesser gods and spirits associated with nature, and the role of diviners in making that connection, were common motifs.  The arrival of Islam and to a lesser extent Christianity, as seen in the kingdom of Axum, brought about a transformation of African religious life.  Nevertheless, these new religions never completely eliminated the native traditions and often, in fact, took on aspects of the original African beliefs.


  1. Effects of early African migrations
    1. Agriculture and population growth
      1. Bantu and other migrations from 2000 B.C.E.--1000 C.E.
        1. Spread agriculture and herding throughout Africa
        2. Displaced and/or absorbed hunting/gathering/fishing people
        3. Iron metallurgy after 500 B.C.E. facilitated clearing more land
        4. Yams, sorghum, and millet cultivated
        5. Introduction of bananas after 500 C.E. caused migration and population surge
      2. Population growth: from 3.5 million in 400 B.C.E. to 22 million by 1000 C.E.
    2. African political organization
      1. Kin-based society the norm (sometimes called "stateless society")
        1. Early societies did not depend on elaborate bureaucracy
        2. Societies governed through family and kinship groups
        3. Village council consisted of male family heads
        4. Chief of a village was from the most prominent family head
        5. A group of villages constituted a district
        6. Villages chiefs negotiated intervillage affairs
      2. Chiefdoms
        1. Population growth strained resources and increased conflict
        2. Some African communities began to organize military forces, 1000 C.E.
        3. Powerful chiefs overrode kinship networks and imposed authority and conquered
        4. Examples: Ife and Benin
      3. Kingdom of Kongo
        1. Villages formed small states along the Congo River, 1000 C.E.
        2. Small states formed several larger principalities, 1200 C.E.
        3. One of the principalities overcame its neighbors and built kingdom of Kongo
        4. Maintained a centralized government with a royal currency system
        5. Provided effective organization until the mid-seventeenth century
  2. Islamic kingdoms and empires
    1. Trans-Saharan trade and Islamic states in west Africa
      1. After 300 C.E. camels replaced horses and donkeys as transport animals
        1. Camels' arrival quickened pace of communication across the Sahara
        2. Islamic merchants crossed desert and established relations
      2. The kingdom of Ghana became the most important commercial site in west Africa
        1. Provided gold (most important), ivory, and slaves for traders from north Africa
        2. Exchanged for horses, cloth, manufactured goods, and salt
        3. Koumbi-Saleh, capital city of Ghana, a thriving commercial center
        4. Ghana kings converted to Islam by the tenth century, didn't force on others
        5. Nomadic raids from the Sahara weakened the kingdom in the early thirteenth century
      3. Sundiata, or lion prince, built Mali empire (reigned 1230-1255 C.E.)
      4. Mali empire and trade
        1. Controlled and taxed almost all trade passing through west Africa
        2. Enormous caravans linked Mali to north Africa
        3. Besides the capital Niani, many other prosperous cities on caravan routes
      5. Mansa Musa, Sundiata's grandnephew (reigned 1312-1337 C.E.)
        1. Made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-1325 with huge caravan
        2. Upon return to Mali, built mosques
        3. Sent students to study with distinguished Islamic scholars in northern Africa
        4. Established Islamic schools in Mali
      6. Decline of Mali due to factions and military pressure from neighbors and nomads
      7. The Songhay empire replaced Mali by the late fifteenth century
    2. The Indian Ocean trade and Islamic states in east Africa
      1. Swahili is an Arabic term meaning "coasters"
        1. Dominated east African coast from Mogadishu to Sofala
        2. Spoke Swahili, a Bantu language, supplemented with some Arabic words
        3. Trade with Muslim merchants became important by the tenth century
      2. The Swahili city-states
        1. Chiefs gained power through taxing trade on ports
        2. Ports developed into city-states governed by kings, eleventh and twelfth centuries
      3. Kilwa: good example of busy city-state on east coast; exported gold
      4. Zimbabwe was powerful kingdom of east Africa
        1. By the ninth century, chiefs began to build stone residences (Zimbabwe)
        2. Magnificent stone complex known as Great Zimbabwe in the twelfth century
        3. Eighteen thousand people lived in Great Zimbabwe in the late fifteenth century
        4. Kings organized flow of gold, ivory, and slaves
      5. Islam in east Africa
        1. Ruling elite and wealthy merchants converted to Islamic faith
        2. Conversion promoted close cooperation with Muslim merchants
        3. Conversion also opened door to political alliances with Muslim rulers
  3. African society and cultural development
    1. Social classes
      1. Diversity of African societies: villages, kingdoms, empires, city-states
      2. Kinship groups: extended families and clans as social and economic organizations
        1. Communities claimed rights to land; no private property
        2. Village council allocated land to clan members
      3. Sex and gender relations
        1. Men undertook heavy labor
        2. Women were responsible for child rearing, domestic chores
        3. Men monopolized public authority, but women enjoyed high honor as the source of life
        4. Aristocratic women could influence public affairs
        5. Women merchants commonly traded at markets
        6. Sometimes women organized all-female military units
        7. Islam did little to curtail women's opportunities in sub-Saharan Africa
      4. Age grades
        1. Assumed responsibilities and tasks appropriate to their age grades
        2. Age group formed tight circle of friends, later allies
      5. Slavery
        1. Most slaves were captives of war, debtors, criminals
        2. Worked as agricultural labor or sold in slave markets
        3. Slave trade increased after the eleventh century
        4. Demand for slaves outstripped supply from eastern Europe
        5. Slave raids of large states against small states or villages
        6. Zanj slave revolt in Mesopotamia in tenth century
    2. African religion
      1. Creator god as source of world order
      2. Lesser gods and spirits
        1. Often associated with natural features
        2. Intervened in the workings of the world
        3. Believed in ancestors' souls; had many rituals
      3. Diviners mediated between humanity and supernatural beings
        1. Interpreted the cause of the people's misfortune
        2. Used medicine or rituals to eliminate problems
        3. African religion was not theological but practical
    3. The arrival of Christianity and Islam
      1. Early Christianity in north Africa
        1. Christianity reached north Africa during the first century C.E.
        2. Christian kingdom of Axum in Ethiopia (fourth century C.E.)
      2. Ethiopian Christianity
        1. Missionaries translated Bible and popularized Christianity there
        2. Carved churches out of solid rock
        3. Solomonic dynasty claimed descent from Israelite kings (thirteenth century)
        4. Kebra Negast fictionalized account of lineage; was popular with Rastafarians
      3. African Islam
        1. Appealed strongly to ruling elite and merchants of sub-Saharan Africa
        2. Converts took their religion seriously; they built mosques and schools, invited experts
        3. Accommodated African gender relations; women retained more freedoms
        4. Supplemented rather than replaced traditional religions


Mansa Musa (p. 437) - Ruler of Mali empire, grand-nephew of Sundiata; reigned from 1312 to 1337; well known in Islamic world for his grand pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324-1325; policies greatly promoted Islamic faith in his empire.

Sundiata (pp. 429, 436-37) - Founder of the Mali empire, known as the lion prince, reigned 1230-1255 as a Muslim king; hero in the oral tradition of west Africa.


age grades (pp. 443-44) -Age groups of sub-Saharan Africa, also called "age sets;"in communal life, members of different age grades assumed different responsibilities or tasks appropriate their levels of strength, energy, maturity, and experience.

Bantu (pp. 430-33) -Peoples of sub-Saharan Africa; originated in the region around modern Nigeria during the second millennium B.C.E. and spread throughout almost all sub-Saharan Africa by about 1000 C.E.; established divergent societies, but all spoke tongues belonging to the Bantu family of languages.

Great Zimbabwe (p. 440) -Capital city of Zimbabwe; a magnificent stone complex situated between the Zambesi and the Limpopo Rivers; up to eighteen thousand residents lived in the city during the late 15-th- century.

Kilwa (pp. 439-40) -One of the Swahili city-states that emerged on the east African coast during the 11-th- or 12-th- century; actively participated in trade of the Indian Ocean basin and enjoyed tremendous prosperity; suffered a devastating sack by Portuguese mariners in 1505.

kingdom of Axum (p. 446) -Christian kingdom of northeast Africa, located in the highland of modern Ethiopia; converted to Christian faith in mid-4-th- century C.E.; developed Christianity largely in isolation from the 8-th- century, and reestablished relations with Christians of other lands from the 16-th- century.

kingdom of Ghana (p. 435) -Islamic state of west Africa, situated between the Senegal and Niger Rivers in a region straddling the border between the modern states of Mali and Mauritania; emerged probably as early as the 5-th- or 6-th- century C.E.; kings converted to Islam by about the 10-th- century; became the most important commercial site of west Africa, trading gold, ivory, and slaves with Muslim merchants during later centuries; collapsed during the early 13-th- century.

kingdom of Kongo (p. 433) -Early Bantu kingdom, established during the 14-th- century in the valley of the Congo River (also known as the Zaire River), which embraced much of modern-day Republic of Congo and Angola; maintained effective authority until the mid-17-th- century.

Koumbi-Saleh (p. 435) -Capital city of Ghana kingdom, also a thriving commercial center with population of some fifteen thousand to twenty thousand people from the 11-th- to the early 13-th- century.

Mali empire (pp. 429, 436-37) -Large Bantu empire of west Africa, established by the lion prince Sundiata on the ruins of the Ghana state during the early 13-th- century; probably the wealthiest land in sub-Saharan Africa; known for its gold trade; overcome by Songhay empire by the late 15-th- century.

"stateless societies"(p. 432) -One form of social organization adopted by the Bantu in sub-Saharan Africa; governed mostly through family and kinship groups without elaborate hierarchy of officials or a bureaucracy.

Swahili (pp. 438-39) -Peoples of the east African coast; spoke Swahili, a Bantu language supplemented with words and ideas borrowed from Arabic; established a number of powerful city-states along the coast by the 11-th- and 12-th- centuries.

Zimbabwe (p. 440) -Interior kingdom of south-central Africa, emerged from a chiefdom to a state by the early 12-th- century; actively participated in trade of gold, ivory, and slaves.

Sub-Saharan African Kingdoms(DUE JANUARY 3rd)


Topic One: Political Organization in Sub Saharan Africa…

  1. What does “Sub-Sahara” mean?


  1. Why did Africa tend to embrace “kin-based” political systems?


  1. What were the advantages and disadvantages of this system?


  1. Why did the Kongo emerge as a state that was based upon more centralized political authority?



Topic Two: Trade and Empire

  1. “The introduction and usage of the camel ranks as one of the most important biological introductions to any culture in human history” Would you agree or disagree with this statement? 



  1. What was Africa’s main source of trade along the sub-Saharan trade routes?


  1. Discuss the ascension of the kingdom of Ghana.


  1. How did Islam fuel the development of Africa and trade?


Topic Three: Mali and Sundiata


  1. How did Islam relate to the development of Mali?


  1. What makes Sundiata one of Africas most significant regional leaders, an African Charlemagne if you will?


  1. Discuss the role of the Hajj in the development of Mali, consider Sundiata’s famous trek.


  1. Why was Mali a kingdom that centralized its political rule?



Topic Four: East Coast Trade


  1. What is unique about Swahili culture?


  1. How does Islam relate to the development of East Africa?




Topic Five: Zimbabwe and Indian Ocean Trade


  1. Discuss the unique features of Zimbabwean civilization.


  1. How did East Africa fit into the Indian Ocean trade routes and what benefits did they derive from it?


Topic 6: Diversity and Class


  1. Communism is described as an economic system in which the benefit of all consumes the livelihood of all participants, person’s work for the benefit of the community rather than themselves.  In this respect how were many African civilizations communal rather than individualistic?



  1. What were the specific roles that Men and Women played?  Was Africa a patriarchy or Matriarchy?


  1. How were women treated in Islamic culture? 


  1. Discuss Ibn Battuta’s notations on the treatment of Women in the African world and how this is contradictory to the Arab world.


  1. How was African slavery different from your historical perspective on slavery?


  1. What was the Zanj revolt?


Topic 7: Religion


  1. How were African religions different from Islam?


  1. What types of questions did African religions usually attempt to answer?


  1. Discuss the components of Ethiopian Christianity?


  1. What was the overall impact of Islam on Africa?


  1. Did Africa change Islam to suit its own needs?  If so how?


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