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In the splendor of the ancient African civilizations – Part 2

“The tragedy of Africa is that the African has not fully entered into history […] They have never really launched themselves into the future,[…]” Those were the words, among other profoundly patronizing ones, the former French president Sarkozy pronounced during a speech he gave at the Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal on July 26th, 2007 in front of students, professors, and political figures. A speech that unfortunately and wrongly reflects what many Westerners, including those of African descent, think of Africa, convinced that the African history started with slavery, or if there was any form of civilization before that, there were just unorganized settlements, or if they’re generous, kingdoms.

If that’s your case, well think again, because what you’re about to read might shock you: Africa was home to many civilizations which, on top of that, were at the origin of several scientific and academic advances, just to mention that. Please read it again. Believe it or not, despite the multiple trials from those who benefited–and still do–from that image of a “historyless” Africa, Africa has a glorious history. Ancient Egypt many attempted to this day to separate from Africa is an example among numerous others. Apparently, even though it hasn’t been officially proven yet by an actual historian, once upon a time, a significant part of the Middle East was considered African.

It’s in the perspective to debunk those lies used to discredit Africa from any contribution to the current world that I’m writing this series of article about the dozen, or so, of ancient African civilizations. To educate my African brothers and sisters, those who despite being non-African, are curious about African history, and others just passing by. (By the way, welcome to my blog if you’re in the latter group, I hope you are enjoying your trip here, because it is one, and don’t hesitate to read my other articles, share and leave a comment below) OK BACK TO Y’ALL THE TRIBE! Let’s start, shall we?

Carthage

Carthage was an ancient civilization located in North Africa for more than four centuries, between 575 and 146 BC. Born of the Phoenician city-state Carthage, in modern Tunisia, it occupied most of the North African coast from modern Morocco to the borders of Egypt, as well as parts of modern Spain and islands on the Western side of the Mediterranean Sea, such as Sicily, in modern Italy.

The Carthaginian empire is known for its flourishing trading past, among others, with trade occupying an important place in that ancient civilization. Indeed, many treaties of commerce regulated exports and imports of large quantities of minerals and textile, such as silver, lead, copper, tin ore, silk, cotton, linen, and wool. Carthage also maintained a monopoly over tin and bronze, a position that provided power and prosperity for decades, even centuries, to the empire. It is also known that Carthaginians were highly advanced and productive in the agricultural sector, using tools and methods still used nowadays, such as iron ploughs, irrigation, and crop rotation, and trading its manufactured and agricultural goods, such as salt, gold, timber and ivory, into the interior of the African continent and Persia. They would also trade with Scandinavians (Northern Europe), Celtiberians (central part of Modern Spain), Celts (around Great Britain) and Gauls (around modern France). The multiple trading activities that allowed merchants from Carthage to trade with almost every commodity wanted in the ancient world bear witness of how very rich the empire was.

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Carthage also used to be one of the largest military forces in the ancient world, its navy being its main force. Its strong military spent most of the empire’s 400 years fighting against the Greeks and Romans over the control of islands and lands around and on the Mare Nostrum (name used by Romans to design the Mediterranean Sea). It’s one of the most known fights in ancient history called Punic Wars, opposing the Roman and Carthaginian military, the latter led by the renowned Hannibal, one of the greatest military minds in history, between 265 and 146 BC, that marked the end of the powerful empire. The Roman empire entered, destroyed, and conquered its center, Carthage, remaining true to their famous expression Veni, Vidi, Vici.

The Empire of Mali

Way more recent than Carthage, the empire of Mali was also a trading empire, but further south, in West Africa. Founded by Sundiata Keita, it was a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic empire that extended on a vast territory covering more than 1,138,000 square kilometers from the Atlantic Coast, south of the Senegal River to the central parts of the Sahara Desert, near Gao in modern Mali. The empire, one of the largest ones in the West African history, developed from its capital city Niani, in the state of Kangaba, which coincidentally turned out to be Sundiata’s birthplace, and lasted for a little more than three centuries, from circa 1230 to 1550 AD.

The empire of Mali is mostly famous for having been ruled by the wealthiest and very generous man in history, Mansa Musa, a wealth that mostly came from the taxes collected by its citizens and the imported and exported goods. In fact, the West African empire was an agglomeration of hundreds of small kingdoms which pledged allegiance to the empire by offering an annual tribute. During his reign, he founded the city of Timbuktu, a huge centre of learning and impressive architecture. I strongly suggest you read more about him; the references you will find below can help you start researching about this awesome emperor, who made himself so well-known that he put Timbuktu on 14th century’s world maps.

The empire’s decline in the sixteenth century was caused by the different peoples living in and out of Mali, of Tuareg, Wolof, Mossi and Dioula ethnicity. They had all given up their reverence to the powerful empire, over which the neighboring Songhai empire afterward slowly gained control.

Interesting facts

  • Did you know that the ones who invented the practice of sale by auction were Carthaginian merchants, who were Black, by the way, using it to trade with the African tribes? They most likely used it as a trading method when selling and buying slaves to(or from) other civilizations.
  • Did you know Timbuktu, this vibrant city mentioned earlier, was home to the University of Sankore which produced a great number of skilled astronomers, scholars, and engineers even long after the end of the empire of Mali? For the little story, the decline in its quality of education is attributed to the French colonial occupation.
  • Although ruled by the Mansa (or Master), much of the state power in the empire of Mali was held by court officials, a particularity that helped the empire in periods of instability, but also when ruled by bad emperors.

Conclusion

We already are at the end of the second part of this awesome series about the ancient African civilizations. Again, I got to learn more about my roots, during my research. I mean, I don’t know for you, folks, but I can’t believe we never really get to learn about any of those civilizations in our history classes.

Having done all my schooling in Canada, I personally had one history class during my first year of college on the western civilization, in which I was briefly taught about the Chinese civilization, but never about any of the numerous African ones, even though I know they highly contributed to the current state of the Western world. I believe we should also be taught about ancient African history, not only about Western, Chinese or Indian history in elementary and high schools, not only when you choose to take specific history classes on Africa, once in college. It’s even a bigger problem in Africa, where the majority of the curricula is still based on the ones inherited from the colonization, leading to students knowing more about foreign civilizations’ history than their own.

At the end of the day, it is the job of us African descent people to self-educate about the richness of our history, the same way Westerners do for theirs. This is what I am working on through this blog, a mission that I really take to heart because I am convinced that my continent is the sh*t and deserves more respect, I will never cease to repeat it. I hope you liked and enjoyed reading this article, let me know your thoughts about it, I’ll be more than pleased to read you. What did you learn? Did you know Africa hosted ancient civilizations before? If so, which ones? Let me know in the comments, who knows, I might write about them in an upcoming article ;). Anyway, hope to see you again and have a good one:)! Much love <3

References

Ancient Carthage. https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/ancient-carthage/

Carthaginian Empire. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Carthaginian_Empire

Mali. https://www.britannica.com/place/Mali-historical-empire-Africa

The Empire of Mali (1230-1600). https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/empire-mali-1230-1600

10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Ancient Mali Empire. https://afktravel.com/100058/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-the-ancient-empire-of-mali/

Mali Empire. http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mali_Empire

Steve Rutikara

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