Southern African Kingdoms Excerpts from the Great African Civilizations of the “Middle Ages”
Many people are under the false impression that African civilizations prior to the European coming to its shores were unsophisticated and had not built anything of any significance. When the pyramids of ancient of Egypt are brought into the conversation, people are quick to point out that the pyramids are not in Africa or that the pyramids were not built by Black Africans. All the previous statements are false. Firstly Egypt is in Africa and secondly the pyramids were built by Black Africans. When the conversation continues and the Kushite civilization is mentioned, and that currently more pyramids have been found in Sudan than in Egypt, these people are quick to point out that the pyramids in Sudan are smaller. It seems like a forever ending battle in setting the record straight when comes to the history of the African continent and Black people. You have racism and ignorance on one end and self-hatred on the other. Slavery, colonization, the battle of foreign religions for supremacy and Arabization on the continent of Africa has crippled Africans and Africans in the diaspora. Many Africans have forgotten their traditions and culture. This presents a problem in remembering one’s history when many African societies’ history wasn’t written down, but passed down orally. The European Renaissance and the so-called Age of Exploration, which initiated the hideous Atlantic Slave trade, brought an end to the Middle Ages. These two things were the catalysts that open the door to the modern era. The Age of Exploration and the European Renaissance ended the “Middle Ages”. What does that term denote?
The Middle Ages or the medieval period, as it is sometimes called, is taken from the collapse of the Western half of the Roman Empire in 476 AD, until the early stages of the modern era, the European Renaissance and the age of Exploration acting as a transitional period. The modern era usually agreed by Western historians to be from around the 16th century. This is the same period when many great African civilizations started decline or collapse and the Western Christian powers, i.e. Western Europe reemerged as a global power. It was the rise of one continent (Europe) and the fall of another (Africa). As stated earlier, slavery, colonization, the battle of foreign religions for supremacy and Arabization on the continent of Africa have crippled Africans and Africans in the diaspora. In the modern era, many have forgotten the great contributions the African continent gave to the world in education, science, engineering, trade, and culture.
The great medieval African kingdoms from across the continent, North, South, East, and West, have systematically been covered up. It was African empires that created the environment and provided resources that enable Europe to have a renaissance. Centuries later, and currently, many Europeans and Arabs will not acknowledge the contributions of Africa. It was the Moors of Muslim Spain in their great city of Toledo that provided the scholarship and the education of Europeans that fueled the Renaissance in Europe. For hundreds of years Africans ruled Andalusia (Spain) from their capital Marrakech in Morocco. The city of Marrakech was founded by Black African Amazighs (Berbers) from Mauritania. In history they are known as the Almoravids. Their empire stretched from modern day Senegal in West Africa through North Africa up into Spain. From Marrakech (Morocco) to Kilwa (Tanzania), Black Africans built sophisticated societies on a grand scale. They were major traders and we are not just talking about traders of slaves.
In the city of Timbuktu, the largest commodity of trade was books. At its height, its population was around 100,000 people, and its universities had about 25,000 students. Timbuktu have manuscripts that go back to around 300 AD. With the rise of European power, slavery, and its hunger to control trade routes, African civilizations were being destroyed. The first European nation that assisted in Africa’s downfall was the Portuguese.
The Portuguese were the first European explorers who started exploring the West African coast in 1418. In 1456 the Portuguese discovered Cape Verde, ten islands off the coast of West Africa. They were uninhabited at the time. In 1462 the Portuguese started inhabiting the islands. This is where the Atlantic slave trade began by the Portuguese nearly 30 years before Christopher Columbus sailed to the so-called New World.
The Portuguese traders first came around the Swahili (East African) coast in 1498. The word Swahili comes from the Arabic word sawahil the plural of sahil.1 It means shore. Therefore Swahili means the people who live on the shore i.e. the east coast of Africa. The Portuguese described a magnificent island city named Kilwa Kisiwani, whose inhabitants according to the Portuguese were Black Moors. An expedition by the Portuguese in 1500 led by Pedro Alvares Cabral, a sailor wrote “in this land there is rich merchants and there is much gold and silver and amber and pearls. Those of the land wear clothes of fine cotton and of silk and many fine things, and they are Black men.”2
According to the local oral tradition; the founder of the city of Kilwa was Ali ibn Hassan, son of a Persian father, the Shah of Shiraz, and an Abyssinian (African) woman. Ali bin Hassan purchased the island in the 10th century and married the local African king’s daughter. The Kilwa Sultanate supposedly began with Ali bin Hassan’s son, according to tradition. This son was the child of Ali ibn Hassan and the daughter of the local African king.3
Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Battuta, the great Moroccan explorer, visited Kilwa during the reign of Sultan Al Hassan ibn Suleiman in 1331. He described the beauty, the wealth of the city and said that the inhabitants were Black skinned with scars (tribal marks) on their faces.4
Kilwa’s buildings were magnificently built from coral stone.5 A building that exemplifies this type of architecture is the Palace of Husuni Kubwa. Constructed in the 14th century during the reign of Sultan Al Hassan ibn Sulaiman, it had over a hundred rooms and was accompanied by an octagonal swimming pool. Nearby was the great mosque of Kilwa, which consisted of 16 bays that was supported by 9 columns.6
Over a period of time, Kilwa became the most prominent and powerful city on the East African coast. It was known for its gold it received from the Zimbabwe plateau. The city was situated in the center of trade with the interior of Africa and other parts of the world. From the interior Africa 1500 kilometers (900 miles) away, Kilwa received gold, ivory, tortoise shells, copper and etc. Situated off the African coast of the modern day country of Tanzania, Kilwa would then trade goods it received from the interior of Africa with distant lands such as India, Persia, Arabia, China, and etc.7
In the African interior, in modern day Mozambique, was Manyikeni, a trading station and a town belonging to the Zimbabwe traditional complex. Gold was plentiful there. So plentiful that gold was buried with their dead. Manyikeni, which means “a place where people can give to each other”, was an important link between the Great Zimbabwe and Kilwa. It was situated between the Great Zimbabwe (the capital) and the East African coast.8 Manyikeni was part of a vast network that spanned from the Great Zimbabwe in the interior to the Swahili coast all the way to China. Once the goods from the interior made it to the coast, they were shipped up to Kilwa Kisiwani. Goods like porcelain, silk, and etc. would that were shipped from Arabia, Persia, India and China to Kilwa, would be traded into the interior of Africa. The traders of Kilwa were the middlemen for this network that ran from the Great Zimbabwe in inner Africa to China.9
Things were going well when in 1505 the Portuguese pillaged Kilwa and established a fort on the island. The Portuguese wanted to control the Indian trade routes. Kilwa never really recovered and went into decline and was abandoned by the 19th century.10
In 1944, an Australian soldier found copper coins from Kilwa off the northern coast of Australia. The coins are believed to be about 1000 years old. Previously, Kilwa coins outside of Kilwa had only been found in Oman on the Arabian Peninsula and the Great Zimbabwe. Now add Australia to the list. Its discovery may change how we look at Australian and African history.10
In Southern Africa, the Great Zimbabwe was a very important part of the grand Indian Ocean trading network. It thrived from the 13th – 15th century. Known for its gold, it was a very wealthy city whose magnificent structures were built out of stone. The Zimbabwe traditional complex covered the area between the Zambezi and Limpopo Rivers.10 The Zimbabwe traditional complex was the source for Kilwa Kisiwani gold, ivory, and copper on Swahili coast.
The name Zimbabwe in the Shona language means house of stone. At the Great Zimbabwe there was an enclosure wall made of stone without the use of mortar that went up to 11 meters high. It is estimated the enclosure wall at the Great Zimbabwe contains over 1 million stones.7
In 1871, a German explorer by the name of Karl Mauch discovered the Great Zimbabwe. In first discovery of the Great Zimbabwe, Europeans wouldn’t acknowledge that Black African people built something as magnificent and sophisticated as the Great Zimbabwe. They continued to search for a White civilization is southern Africa to no avail. They came up with many outlandish claims, such as, the Great Zimbabwe must have been built by the Phoenicians thousands of years prior, or that the Great Zimbabwe was the Queen Sheba’s palace. The European settlers plundered the ruins and damaged the archaeological site in their excavations. The British promoted the lie that White people built Great Zimbabwe and used this to justify their right to the land in southern Africa. By the 1890’s Cecil Rhodes, a wealthy British businessman and colonist, establishes the country of Rhodesia. The Great Zimbabwe lies within its borders.
This began a huge White washing propaganda campaign that continued until the White Rhodesian government was overthrown by natives in 1980.11 With modern carbon dating and archaeological evidence, the consensus is that Great Zimbabwe was built by Black Africans.7
But where did the people of Great Zimbabwe come from, since the archaeological evidence suggests that the people of the Great Zimbabwe arrived around the 13th century which means they migrated from somewhere else. The evidence points to a kingdom slightly south of Great Zimbabwe. This kingdom collapsed around the same time the Great Zimbabwe rose. This was the kingdom of Mapungubwe.7 The people of Mapungubwe are the ancestors of the people of Great Zimbabwe. Mapungubwe lies in modern day South Africa at the confluence of Limpopo and Shashe rivers.11 The Kingdom of Mapungubwe began in the 11th century and it thrived from the 11th -13th century. Mapungubwe traded as far away as China, India and Egypt. They traded copper, gold, exotic beads, and etc. It was the most power kingdom in Southern Africa at that time. Known for their abundance of gold, the people of Mapungubwe were master goldsmiths. Excavations have shown that they buried gold with their dead just like the royalty of Great Zimbabwe and the royalty of Manyikeni. It is believed the Mapungubwe was the start of the Southern African Kingdoms.
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