Sub-Sahara Africa
Lsn 9
• Bantu iron metallurgy, Bantu migrations,
chiefdoms, Gao, gold trade, Great
Zimbabwe, Islam in Africa, kin-based
society, Kilwa, Kingdom of Ghana,
Kingdom of Kongo, Kingdom of Mali,
Kingdom of Songhay, Mansa Musa,
Swahili Coast, Timbuktu, trans-Sahara
trade route
Part 1: Sub-Sahara Africa
Theme: The impact of trade
Lsn 9
• Among the most influential
people of ancient Sub-Sahara
Africa were those who spoke
the Bantu languages
• Bantu people showed an early
readiness to migrate
– Canoes enabled the Bantu
to move easily
– Agricultural surpluses
enabled the Bantu to
increase their population
more rapidly than the
hunting, gathering, and
fishing people
• After about 1000 B.C., Bantu began to
produce iron tools which enabled them to clear
land and expand their zone of agriculture
• Iron weapons allowed them to defeat
Iron spearheads and
hoes gave the Bantu
an advantage
Political Organization
• By 1000 A.D, most of the migrations were
• Instead of continued migrations, Africans
developed increasingly complex forms of
government that enabled them to organize their
existing societies more efficiently
• Initially the Bantu established “stateless
societies” in which they governed themselves
mostly through family and kinship groups
Political Organization
• Stateless societies worked well in small-scale
communities but as they grew into large
populations, resources became strained and
conflicts became more frequent
• Bantu communities began to organize themselves
militarily and this development encouraged more
formal structures of government
– Chiefdoms overrode kinship networks and
imposed their own authority
• In general, between 1000 and 1500, clusters of
smaller entities gradually formed into larger states
Kingdom of the Kongo: Toward
• One of the most
active areas of
development was
the basin of the
Congo (or Zaire)
– One of the most
prosperous of
the Congolese
states was the
Kingdom of the
Kingdom of the Kongo: Toward
• Perhaps the most tightly centralized of the
early Bantu kingdoms
– King and his officials who oversaw military,
judicial, and financial affairs
– Six provinces administered by governors
– Each province had several districts
administered by subordinate officials
– Each district had villages ruled by chiefs
African Empires: Kingdoms Built on
West Africa
(Ghana, Mali, Songhay)
Characteristics of a Civilization
Intensive agricultural techniques
Specialization of labor
A social hierarchy
Organized religion and education
Development of complex forms of economic
• Development of new technologies
• Advanced development of the arts. (This can
include writing.)
Agriculture: Bananas
• The principal result of the Bantu
migrations was to spread agriculture
to almost all parts of Africa
• Yams, sorghum, and millet were
dietary staples
• In the early centuries A.D., bananas
brought from Asia by Malay seafarers,
became well established in Africa
• The introduction of bananas
introduced a fresh migratory surge
– Iron metallurgy and bananas were
the keys to population growth
Cities: Timbuktu
• Located on the southern
edge of the Sahara;
served as an important
post on the trans-Sahara
caravan route
– Founded 1100 A.D.
as a seasonal camp
by nomads
• Incorporated within the
Mali Empire by Mansa
Musa who built the
Great Mosque of
Djingareyber and a royal
residence, the Madugu
Cities: Timbuktu
• Center for the expansion
of Islam
– Intellectual and spiritual
– Home of Sankore, a
Koranic university
• In the 14th century
Timbuktu became an
important focal point of the
gold-salt trade
– With the influx of North
African merchants
came the settlement of
Muslim scholars
Cities: Gao
• Mansa Musa
expanded Mali’s
influence into Gao
which, like Timbuktu,
was a terminus for
• As Mali declined,
Gao reasserted itself
and eventually
became the
Songhay Empire
Cities: Kilwa
• On the east coast
(Swahili Coast), Kilwa
was one of the
busiest city-states
• Traded gold, slaves,
and ivory obtained
from the interior for
cotton, silk, perfume
and pearls from India
and porcelain from
Cities: Great Zimbabwe
• zimbabwe means dwelling
of a chief
• About the early 13th Century,
a huge stone complex
known as Great Zimbabwe
began to arise in what is
now Tanzania
• Walls 32 feet high and 16
feet thick
• Stone towers, palaces, and
public buildings
• At its height during the late
15th Century, up to 18,000
people lived in the vicinity of
Great Zimbabwe
Cities: Great Zimbabwe
• Kings residing at
Great Zimbabwe
controlled and taxed
trade between the
interior and coastal
– Organized flow of
gold, ivory, slaves, and
local products from
sources of supply to
the coast
Social Hierarchy
Sunni Ali
King of Songhay (1464-1493)
Painting by Leo Dillon
Social Hierarchy
• Kingdoms, empires, city
Ruling elites
Military nobles
Administrative officials
Religious authorities
Wealthy merchants
Business entrepreneurs
Common people
• Small states and kinbased societies
– Aristocratic or ruling elite
– Religious authorities
– Beyond that principal
considerations were
kinship, sex and gender
expectations, and age
Social Hierarchy: Kinship Groups
• Extended families and clans served as the main
foundation of social and economic organization
– Villagers functioned in society first as members of a
family or clan
• Notion of private property ownership did not
exist in sub-Sahara Africa
– Communities claimed rights to land and used it in
• Villages consisted of several extended family
• Male heads of families jointly governed the
Social Hierarchy: Sex and Gender
• Sex largely determined work roles
– Men usually did the heavy labor
– Both sexes participated in planting and harvesting
– Women tended to domestic chores and child rearing
• Men largely monopolized public authority but women in
sub-Sahara Africa generally had more opportunities than
their counterparts elsewhere
– Women enjoyed high honor as the sources of life
– Women acted as merchants
– Some women engaged in combat and formed all-female military
– Even the arrival of Islam did not drastically curtail opportunities
for women
Social Hierarchy: Age Grades
• Members of age grades performed tasks
appropriate for their development and
bonded with one another socially and
• Age grades offered some integration to a
society otherwise organized based on
family and kinship
Social Hierarchy: Slavery
• Most slaves were captives of war
– Others were debtors, suspected witches, and
• Slaveholding allowed owners to advance their
personal wealth in the absence of private land
• After the 9th Century, expanded trade stimulated
interest in slave traffic
– Slave raiding increased to meet the demand
– The Islamic slave trade between 750 and 1500
created a foundation for the future Atlantic slave trade
Economic Exchange
Empire of Mali in the fourteenth century (dashed lines trace the
main trans-Saharan routes of the period)
Economic Exchange: Camels
• Camels came to north Africa from Arabia, by way
of Egypt and the Sudan, around the 7th Century
• A caravan took 70 to 90 days to cross the
Sahara, so the camel’s ability to travel long
distances without water made it very useful
• After about 300 A.D., camels had replaced
horses and donkeys as the preferred means of
transportation across the Sahara
Economic Exchange: Gold
• The Kingdom of Ghana became the most important
commercial site in west Africa because it was the center
for trade in gold
• Ghana itself did not produce gold but the kings obtained
gold from lands to the south and became wealthy by
controlling and taxing the trade
• Muslim merchants were especially eager to procure gold
for customers in the Mediterranean basin and the Islamic
• Ghana also provided ivory and slaves
– In exchange they received horses, cloth, small manufactured
wares, and salt
Economic Exchange: Gold
• Mali benefited from transSahara trade even more
than did Ghana
• From 13th until the late
15th Century Mali
controlled and taxed
almost all the trade
passing through west
• The most prominent
period was under the
reign of Mansa Musa
from 1312 to 1337
Mansa Musa
• Expanded the kingdom
of Mali by capturing
the neighboring
kingdom of Songhay
and making its major
city Timbuktu an
important trade center
• Made a pilgrimage to
Mecca in 1324-1325
and dispensed so
much gold in Cairo
that the value of gold
declined up to 25% on
local markets
Facsimile of a map drawn in
Spain and dated to 1375,
showing Mansa Musa, the king
of Mali, holding a gold nugget.
Religion and Education
Great Mosque at Kilwa
Native Religion
• Many African recognized a creator god as the
single divine force responsible for setting the
world in motion and providing it with order
• Beneath him were many lesser gods associated
with the sun, wind, rain, trees, rivers, and other
natural features
– Unlike the supreme creator god, these lesser gods
actively participated in the workings of the world
• Diviners were religious specialists who had the
power to mediate between humanity and
supernatural beings
Religion: Christianity
• Around the middle of the 4th Century,
Christianity established a foothold in
the Kingdom of Axum, in the highlands
of modern Ethiopia
– Missionaries later established
– From the 12th through the 16th
Century, Christianity was
especially strong in Ethiopia
– As Islam spread, Ethiopian
Christians became isolated from
other Christian lands and therefore
retained much of the original
theology and rituals
– Not until the 16th Century did
visiting Portuguese mariners
expose Ethiopian Christians to
Christians from other lands
Church of St. George
at Lalibela, Ethiopia
Influence of Trade on Religion
• Contact with Muslim merchants
encouraged sub-Sahara west Africans and
coastal east Africans to adopt Islam
• It served as a cultural foundation for
business relationships
– Yet African ruling elites and merchants did not
convert for purely mercenary reasons; they
took their new faith seriously
Muslim Influence in West Africa
• Muslim traders came
on land routes which
allowed Islam to
spread wherever they
• Rulers like Mansa
Musa supported
Islamic scholars which
spread the religion
through religious
schools and education
Mosque at Djenne
Muslim Influence of the Swahili
• Islam arrived on the
African coast in many
waves, at different
times, rather than in
one great sweep
– Because Muslim
traders came via
ship, penetrations
were very
compared to in
west Africa
• The Great Mosque at
Kilwa built in the 12th
Century is the oldest
remaining mosque on
the east African coast
Great Mosque at Kilwa
West African gold merchants using weights and measures
Textile and pottery production
Religious scholars
New Technologies
Gold bearing quartz vein at
Essakan in modern Burkina
Faso in west Africa
Mining and Iron
• The Kingdoms of Mali, Ghana, and Songhay
all used superior iron metallurgy to gain
advantages over their neighbors in terms of
weapons and tools
• Bambuk and Takkeda were mined for gold
and copper
Mud Construction
• Mansa Musa
commissioned Abu-Ishaq
Ibrahim-es-Saheli to
construct his royal palace
and the Djingareyber
Mosque at Timbuktu
• Es-Saheli introduced the
use of burnt brick and mud
as a building material to the
• Each year before the
torrential summer rains,
residents replastered the
mosque’s walls and roof
with mud
Art and Writing
Manuscript from Timbuktu
Books: Timbuktu
• As a center of learning and
religious scholarship,
Timbuktu became a vast hub
for books
• Books were written, stored,
copied, imported, and
distributed there
• Currently some 18,000
manuscripts, many from
ancient libraries, are housed
in the Ahmed Baba Centre,
named after the famous 15th
century Timbuktu scholar,
Ahmed Baba
Art: Lost-wax Process
• Create a wax sculpture
of the desired object
• Encase it in soft clay to
create a clay mold
• Bake the clay, causing
the wax to melt
• Pour hot molten metal
into the mold
• When the metal cools,
break the clay mold to
reveal the object
Gold weights from Ghana made
using the lost-wax process
Next Lesson
• First paragraphs due

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