a brief note on the history of Africans exploring their own continent
plus: Ancient Egypt in Africa.
Africa is world's second largest continent and arguably the most difficult to traverse.
Historically, many parts of the continent that were conducive to human settlement and activity were home to large, complex societies which rank among some of the world's oldest civilizations. These include ancient kingdoms of the Nile valley and the northern Horn of Africa, the empires along the Niger river, the kingdoms of west-central Africa and the lakes region, as well as the city-states of the East African coast and kingdoms of south-eastern Africa.
In between these densely populated regions were pockets of relatively inhospitable land covered with thick forests and barren deserts. Yet despite this seemingly insurmountable barrier, Africans suceeded in creating vast networks of communication that cut across the deserts and forests between them, facilitating cross-cultural exchanges and expanding Africans' knowledge of their own continent.
In west-Africa, the 'golden network' of the Wangara commercial diaspora extended from the shores of the Atlantic in Senegal to the forest region of central Ghana and across the shifting sands of the Sahara into North-Africa. By the early 2nd millennium, Wangara traders and scholars had established urban settlements along different nodes of this complex network, easily switching goods between various cities as they interacted with other commercial diasporas.
dispersion of the Wangara diaspora across west Africa.
In central Africa the Ovimbundu traders of central Angola pioneered cross-continental routes that moved goods between the city of Luanda on Angola's Atlantic coast to the town of Tete in Mozambique. Here, they encountered the established network of the Yao and Nywamwezi, whose own trading routes connected the Swahili cities of the East African coast to the kingdoms of the Lakes region. Eventually, the Swahili would expand these trade routes with the first recorded cross-continental journey in the region that begun at Bagamoyo in Tanzania and arrived at Luanda in 1852.
Long-distance trade was not the only activity undertaken along these routes. Envoys, scholars, pilgrims and other travelers also utilized the same routes to visit and settle different parts of the continent and beyond. The Djenne-born scholar Muhammad Salma al-Zurruq (b. 1845) for example, travelled across west Africa and the Ottoman domains before returning to Mali, only to embark on another trip that saw him ending up in Sudan. But arguably the most fascinating case was that of the Bornu scholar al-Faki Ahmad Umar who travelled from north-eastern Nigeria to western Ethiopia following long-established pilgrimage and trade routes.
But long before these west African and Central African networks emerged, the region of North-eastern Africa was arguably the most interconnected part of the continent. The rise of ancient states of Egypt, Kush and Punt was largely enabled by the robust exchange of ideas, technologies and goods across the region, brought by the people who visited and settled within the different communities.
The history of ancient Egypt in its north-east African context is the subject of my latest Patreon article, in which I explore the regional interaction and population movement between Egypt and its neighbors; Kush and Punt, from the perspective of the latter.
Read more about it here;
Ibn Khaldūn asserts that prior to entering Cairo, Mansa Musa of Mali “came out near the Pyramids in Egypt,” while al-Maqrīzī states “Mansā Mūsā, king of Takrūr . . . stayed for three days beneath the Pyramids as an official guest.”
If Mansa Musa did pass by Giza, “it suggests medieval Mali was well aware of Pharaonic Egypt’s illustrious past, with the mansā purposely seeking to connect with it”
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