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Africa Before European Arrival

Categories: Africa

Before the Europeans came to Africa in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Africans developed an advanced civilization. Many cities, kingdoms, and empires like the empire of Aksum in east Africa in the 300’s and other parts of Africa arose and declined. In West Africa, empires like the Ghana, Mali and Songhai controlled the gold and salt trade. They were the crossroads of trading. Cities on Africa’s east coast also gained wealth and power through trade in between 1000 and 1500. In Africa between 300 and 1400, there were several centers of advanced civilization.

Ghana was founded by people in A. D 300.

The people came from the Niger and Senegal River valley. Ghana is one of the first trading areas in West Africa. The kingdom of ancient Ghana rose in power and gained control of the trans-Saharan gold and salt trade over the time period of 700 and 1067. They traded with North Africa and the Arab world. Ghana was one of the most advanced civilizations in Africa and world at the time.

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They had a well- organized government and many aspects of succeeding. They were cross road of trading gold and salt. They used silent barter system to trade which means they traded goods with each other with our seeing each other.

For example, they traded gold for salt from North Africa. They assured safe trade for the Arabs and the Wangara. To show their wealth, they often decorated them selves and dogs with gold dust. They also used an organization in setting up a court.

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They used monarchy to rule the people of Ghana. Although Islam spread to Ghana by trade, the people of Ghana didn’t accept the religion but they respected the Arabian and Persian scholars who came to study their culture. The people of Ghana taxed traders; the traders paid extra goods.

This helped the empire of Ghana to get wealthy and powerful. The people of Ghana used horses, camel, and donkeys for transportation. They were one of the first tribe to use iron in Africa. Ghana had a powerful, well-trained cavalry and soldiers. The army of the Ghana Empire used advanced weapons. They also had a foreign policy. Once, they were invaded by the Persians and it destroyed the empire. They never recovered from it and a king of Mali took over the empire. The empire of Mali came from a small district of Ghana. When the Ghana Empire declined Sundiata, a Mali ruler took control of the entire empire.

Sundiata and his family made the empire of Mali to be twice the size of the empire of Ghana. Like the Ghana Empire, they also became rich by trading gold and salt. Unlike the people of Ghana, they used the river to transport. They also used horses, camels, and donkeys for transportation. The empire of Mali stretched from the Atlantic coast south of the Senegal River to Gao on the east of the middle Niger bend. Most Mali people were farmers. They used slaves to work for them. The Mali Empire grew and prospered by monopolizing the gold trade and developing the agricultural resources along the Niger River.

All the goods passing in out of and through the empire were heavily taxed. All the gold nuggets were for the king; they only traded the gold dust. The Mali Empire’s most famous king was Mansa Musa. He is the grandson of Sundiata. Mansa Musa helped to spread Islam in Africa. He is known for his generosity; when he went hajj to Mecca he gave everyone free gold. He divided the empire into provinces, each with its own governor appointed by the mayors. Like the empire of Ghana, they had a well- trained army. The empire of Mali was safe to live and travel. The government of Mali was strict.

They showed no mercy to anyone who is guilty of the act they did. The city of Timbuktu was one of the famous cities in the empire. It was the center of learning, luxury, and trade. The different manuscripts and written books that came were sold for more money than any other merchandise. The empire of Mali collapsed when several states including Songhai proclaimed and defended their independence. The kingdom of Aksum was located in modern-day Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its location gave them access to trade to the red sea, Mediterranean Sea, Indian Ocean, and the Nile valley.

Aksum was the trading center for Africans, Arabians and other people. Traders from Egypt, other parts of Africa, Arabia, the eastern Mediterranean, Persia, and India came to Aksum to trade. These traders exchanged salt, ivory cloth, brass, iron, gold, glass, olive oil and wine. The most famous ruler of Aksum is Ezana, a strong king who rose to power in A. D. 325. He built a powerful nation by adding territories. The kingdom of Aksum controlled a large trading network. Christianity was the official religion of this kingdom. They built excellent pillars. The pillars of Aksum were 60 to 100ft tall.

They decorated the pillars with writings of their victories and achievements. The pillars were carved from single stone slabs. Aksum had a written language called Ge’ez. Arabian migrants brought the language to Aksum. Ge’ez is the basis of the modern-day languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea. The hill lands of Aksum weren’t made for farming but the people terraced or leveled off an area of land to farm. The people of Aksum also built canals, dams, and holding ponds to bring mountain water to the fields. Kilwa Empire arose when the Bazrangi Empire fell in A. D. 224. It is located at east African coast.

The main religion of the Kilwa Empire was Islam. It was one of the famous trading ports in east Africa. They traded with the empires of southern Africa. It grew wealthy by exchanging gold and iron from great Zimbabwe and other part of southern Africa, ivory and slaves from mainland Tanzania, and textiles, jewelry, porcelain and spices from Asia (Document8). The Kilwa Empire became famous throughout the world when a Moroccan traveler named Ibn Battutah visited Kilwa. He described this city state as one of the beautiful cities in the world. The Kilwa Empire controlled trade in the East African Coast.

Hausa people are found in northwestern Nigeria and southern Niger. It is the largest ethnic groups of the West Africa. Most Hausa people were farmers and traders. The Hausa people were Muslims and followed all the laws of Islam religiously. Their goods were sold as far as North Africa and Southern Europe. They spoke the language called Hausa. Hausa language is written in Arabic characters. Music and art played an important part in their life. Their art works were unique from other African cultures. To make beautiful sculptures, they used clay, wax, copper, Zinc, lead and fire.

The wares made by Hausa people were sold throughout West Africa. In conclusion, civilizations like the Ghana, Mali, Aksum, Kilwa and Hausa were advanced even before the Europeans arrived in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. They had well organized governments. They traded with people from Middle East, Asia, and Europe. All the empire’s ruler always did what’s best for their kingdom and people. The most common trade was gold for salt. The empires, kingdoms, and cities gained power and wealth through trading. The empires of Ghana, Mali, Aksum, Kilwa and Hausa were centers of advanced civilization in Africa between 300 and 1400.

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Africa Before European Arrival. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from

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