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**a Brief note on Africa's intellectual history
plus; the Yoruba intellectual culture ca. 1000-1900.
Writing has been a fundamental part of African history since antiquity. The continent is home to some of the world's oldest and most diverse writing traditions; from the ancient scripts of Egypt, Kush and Aksum, to the medieval literature of Nubia, Ethiopia, 'Sudanic’ Africa and the east-African coast.
Scholars in many African societies created vibrant intellectual cultures, producing a vast corpus of literary works including historical chronicles, scientific compositions, theological writings, philosophical treatises and poetry. The intellectual exchanges they fostered resulted in the creation of a closely-knit web of scholary capitals which housed many of the continents most renowned education centers.
It was in these centers of education like Timbuktu, Jenne, Sokoto, Sennar, Gondar and Zanzibar, that many of the continent's political and cultural innovations were developed. As scholars exchanged ideas on concepts of theology, politics and social organization, they spawned new intellectual movements that were distinctly African in origin. The significance of these African intellectual cultures has only recently begun to receive attention in modern scholarship, which has dispelled the misconception of the "Oral continent par excellence".
And just as the scope of pre-colonial Africa's literary output is now increasingly appreciated, so too has the focus on African societies whose intellectual culture was predominantly oral. While it had long been acknowledged by anthropologists and linguists that the utility of African oral traditions went beyond their use in historiography, its only recently that research has shed more light onto the complexity of African orality.
The oral traditions of African societies are the products of the rich intellectual culture created by diverse communities of 'oral scholars' whose importance cut across all facets of African society. From the royal genealogists who 'recorded' their kingdom's history, to the priests who encoded vast amounts of 'oral literature' about African theologies, to the poets who preserved and transmitted the society's philosophy, the intellectual cultures of oral societies is a fascinating but still poorly understood chapter of African history.
The intellectual history of oral societies is the subject of my latest Patreon article, using the case study of the Yoruba in south-western Nigeria.
read more about it here:
Illustration of a ‘Palaver’ (public meeting) not far from Badagry (Nigeria), by William Allen, ca. 1841
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