African Civilizations:
c. 800-1600 CE
AIM: To learn about several major
civilizations of the African continent
in the age before colonization.
3 Big Ideas About Africa, pre-1600:
The continent became part of the global trade
network through West & East African trading
African peoples were introduced to Islam.
African people maintained traditions around
their village, family, and religious belief (s).
Basic Geography of Africa
Second largest continent on Earth, after
Much of Africa is made up of savanna—or
A large part of Africa is also desert—including
the _________, the world’s largest desert.
__________ run along the Equator in central
Fertile farmland is scattered throughout the
continent—although __________ are a
persistent problem in places (i.e. Somalia).
Natural Resources
Natural Resources
Africa is filled with many natural resources
that are traded worldwide: oil (i.e. Nigeria is
the 11th largest producer of crude oil in the
world); diamonds (i.e. especially from South
Africa & Botswana); salt; iron; gold; copper;
Government, pre-1600
Most African communities traditionally
_________________presented opinions and
arguments before everyone else joined in to
reach a _____________.
Traditional Society & Culture, pre1600
Most African communities traditionally shared
power among members of the community
rather than having a single leader.
Elders and other respected people presented
opinions and arguments before everyone else
joined in to reach a consensus.
Family Patterns
Traditional African societies emphasized the
____________ over the ____________.
Therefore, extended families who descended
from a common ancestor formed ________, or
a group of people __________________.
Family Patterns
Traditional African societies emphasized the
group over the individual. Therefore, extended
families who descended from a common
ancestor formed clans, or a group of people
united by a common trait or interest.
Some art from the Smithsonian’s collection at the
National Museum of African Art, in D.C.
Yoruba peoples, Ekiti
region, Nigeria
Early 20th century
wood, pigment
Baule peoples, Côte
19th century
wood, encrustation
Basic Traditional Religious Beliefs
Many early Africans identified the forces of
nature with divine spirits and worshipped
many gods and goddesses, making them
Many Africans also believed the spirits of their
departed ancestors were present here on Earth.
Some of these early religious beliefs were animistic.
Today, some people in Africa (and elsewhere around
the world) are still animistic, but may also combine
these beliefs with a more formal religion such as
Christianity [this is called syncretism].
Animism: The belief in the existence of individual spirits
that inhabit natural objects and phenomena.
Some of these early African peoples believed
in one supreme being who was the creator and
ruler of the universe.
In Botswana, many people have a totem, or a
natural object or animal associated with a
particular family, person, or clan.
[Do Not Write]
I was given the totem of a “kwena,”or
crocodile. One respects one’s totem and feels
some connection to it, as well.
3 Major Kingdoms of West Africa
3 trading kingdoms of West Africa:
The Rise and Fall of African
Strong African rulers created kingdoms by
gaining control of the most profitable trade
3 trading kingdoms of West Africa were:
Ghana, Mali, and Songhai.
Kingdom of ___________
General facts/history:
Kingdom of Ghana [from]
800-1000 CE
Despite its name, the old
Empire of Ghana is not
geographically, ethnically,
or in any other way, related
to modern Ghana. It lies
about four hundred miles
northwest of modern Ghana.
Ancient Ghana
encompassed what is now
modern Northern Senegal
and Southern Mauritania.
[Do Not Write]
Nobody is sure when Ghana came into being. But some time at
the beginning of the first millennium AD, it is thought that a
number of clans of the Soninke people, (in modern Senegal)
came together under a leader with semi-divine status, called
Dinga Cisse.
There are different accounts of who he was, but all reports
emphasize that he was an outsider who came from afar. It is
likely that this federation of Soninke was formed possibly in
response to the attacks of nomadic raiders, who were in turn,
suffering from drought, and seeking new territory. Further
west was the state of Takrur in the Senegal valley. It was
linked to the north via a coastal route leading to Morocco via
The Empire of Ghana derived power and wealth from
gold. The introduction of the camel in trans-Saharan
trade boosted the amount of goods that could be
Most of our knowledge of Ghana comes from Arab
writers. Al-Hamdani, for example, describes Ghana
as having the richest gold mines on earth. These were
situated at Bambuk, on the upper Senegal River. The
Soninke also sold slaves, salt and copper, in exchange
for textiles, beads and finished goods.
Muslim merchants brought their religion and ideas
when they settled in the kingdom of Ghana.
Ghana absorbed Muslim cultural influences, such as
Arabic writing and Muslim styles of architecture.
Women in Ghana had a high status and played an
active role in the economic life of the empire.
There were a number of reasons for Ghana's
decline. The King lost his trading monopoly.
At the same time drought was beginning to
have a long term effect on the land and its
ability to sustain cattle and cultivation. But the
Empire of Ghana was also under pressure from
outside forces.
Kingdom of ___________
General history/facts/location:
Trading fact:
Kingdom of Mali
1200-1450 CE
Under Sundiata Keita
(aka Mansa Musa), the
most powerful ruler of
early Mali, the kingdom
extended its borders and
dominated West Africa.
Mansa Musa ran an
efficient government—
appointing governors to
rule certain areas.
Mansa Musa converted to Islam and took a
hajj to Mecca.
This hajj had a cultural impact on Mali since
Mansa Musa brought home Muslim scholars
and artists and forged new trading ties.
Decline [do not write]
A combination of weak and ineffective rulers and
increasingly aggressive raids by Mossi
neighbors and Tuareg Berbers gradually
reduced the power of Mali. In the east, Gao
began its ascendancy while remaining part of
the Mali Empire.
ridges served with a variety of "sauces." These sauces can be made with peanuts, okra, baobab leave
Kingdom of ____________
General history/location:
Kingdom of Songhai
1450-1600 CE
Emperor Sonni Ali built
Songhai into the largest
state that had ever
existed in West Africa.
An efficient bureaucracy
governed the kingdom.
The Songhai expanded trade to Europe & Asia.
As in Mali, there was a privileged caste of
craftsmen, and slave labor played an important
role in agriculture. Trade improved under the
ruler Mohammed Ture Askiya, with gold, kola
nuts and slaves being the main export. Textiles,
horses, salt and luxury goods were the main
Civil war broke out in the late 1500s. Invaders
from the north defeated disunited forces of
Songhai, leading to the kingdom’s downfall.
Hausa People: A Synopsis
Nubia: A Synopsis
Hausa people
The Hausa people built
city-states (like early
versions of minicountries) in what later
became Nigeria.
Hausa products made from
cotton and leather
traveled on caravans
across the Sahara and
sometimes to Europe.
The Hausa dominated Saharan trade routes by
the 1500s.
Nubia: 1000 BCE-150 CE
[Do Not Write] When discussing the civilizations of
the Nile Valley, many histories focus almost
exclusively on the role of Egypt.
But this approach ignores the emergence further south
on the Nile of…
[Start Writing…]
…the kingdom known to the Egyptians as Kush, in
the region called Nubia - the area now covered by
southern Egypt and Northern Sudan.
Nubia was rich with minerals such as stones
needed for the building of temples and tombs,
and gold, needed for jewelry. Indeed Kush was
one of the major gold producers of the ancient
At one stage Nubia, was occupied by Egypt for
about 500 years and then the tables turned.
From around 850 BCE, the Egyptian state fell
into such decline that what became known as
the 25th dynasty rose in Nubia, with authority
over all of Egypt.
Around 350 CE, King Ezana of Axum invaded
East Africa Overview [Do Not Write]
In contrast to North Africa, East Africa was
never subject to one wide, sweeping Muslim
takeover. Islam came to the East African coast
in many waves and at different times. There is
no single date in the records, but it is thought
that Islam had taken root by the 8th century.
[Do Not Write]
The first Muslims came from different directions. Most
obviously from the Arab peninsula, which at one point is
separated by less than fifty miles of sea from the Horn of
They came from Egypt, where Islam first came to North
Africa, and from Somalia further up the coast, where the port
of Zeila became very important in the 10th century in response
to the political centre of the Muslim world moving from
Mecca to Baghdad. And finally Persia; there is a tradition that
the first Muslims came from Shiraz in Persia. They are known
as the Shirazis.
AXUM: A Synopsis
Axum [aka Aksum]: 900 BCE-600 CE
Only write points 1 & 3
Aksum, ancient kingdom that flourished in northeastern
Africa from the 1st century BC until the early 7th century AD.
Its capital was the city of Aksum, which lies in the northern
part of present-day Ethiopia. A powerful trading center,
Aksum controlled the highlands of northern Ethiopia and the
Red Sea coast of present-day Eritrea.
Culturally, it was closely associated with the people of
southern Arabia, who spoke related languages and followed
similar traditions. Aksumite kings built massive stelae (stone
pillars) to adorn their tombs, and some of these stelae still
stand today.
Traders who had immigrated from Arabia
mixed with African farmers, thereby
introducing Jewish and Christian traditions to
Fremnatos—trader, philosopher, theologian,
He introduced Christianity to Axum, after
supposedly being kidnapped there while on his
way to India.
King Ezana learned from Fremnatos and
adopted his faith as Axum’s official religion in
333 CE.
Axum declined due to civil war.
Great Zimbabwe
Great Zimbabwe, historic city in southern
Africa that was established in the 11th century
CE and flourished for about 300 years
beginning in the 12th century. At its height the
city dominated much of the present-day
country of Zimbabwe. By the end of the 15th
century the city had fallen into disuse and was
largely abandoned.

African Civilizations: c. 800