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Chapter Eight: African Civilizations and the Spread of Islam

Chapter Eight:
African Civilizations
and the Spread of Islam
African Regions
Pre-Islamic Africa
• Extremely diverse societies developed
• Political unity was difficult because of terrain
• Bantu is primary language spoken
• Oral traditions; very few written records
• Most communities are preliterate (lacking
writing system)
• Animistic and polytheistic religions common
• Majority of Africa, even after introduction of
Islam, will remain in isolation
• Many who are exposed to Islam do not convert
but remain practitioners of their indigenous
“Stateless” Societies
• Many small communities are politically organized in this way
• Authoritarian and centralized empires will exist, however.
• Lack concentration of power and authority
• Authority and power normally exercised by a ruler and court
is held by a council or families or community
• Weakness of stateless societies
• No organization to collect taxes  no effective militaries
• No consensus  Difficult to resist external pressures
• No undertaking of large building projects
• Hard to create stability for long-distance trade
• Internal problems could be resolved by allowing dissidents to
leave and establish new villages
African Economy
• Economies vary by region
• N. Africa integrated into the world
economy via Islamic trade routes and
• Most participate in agriculture and
• Africans exchanged abundant raw materials
for manufactured goods.
Influence of Islam in Africa
• 7th century: Muslim armies moved west
from Egypt across N. Africa
• Spreads Islamic influence; rapid conversions
• Traders and travelers brought Islam along
pre-existing caravan routes.
• Berbers (people of the Sahara) begin to
convert to Islam
• 11th-12th centuries: Almoravids and
Almohads (reforming Muslim Berbers)
from western Sahara grow in power
Launch jihad (war to spread and protect faith)
Almohads defeat Almoravids
Almohad Caliphate: 1121-1269
These groups are essential to penetration of
Islam throughout Africa.
Grasslands Kingdoms
• Sahel Grasslands: transition zone between Sahara Desert and
savannahs to the south
• Point of exchange between North and Sub-Saharan Africa;
important region of trade
• Grasslands Kingdoms = Sudanic States = Ghana, Mali, Songhai
Sudanic States
• Islam reinforced ideas of kingship and power: “royal cult”
• Joining Islam gives rulers prestige and associates them with other great
Muslim leaders
• Majority of population never converted but retain their
• Trade gold for salt from Berbers in North Africa
• Mali, Ghana and Songhai
• Combine Islamic religion/culture with local practices
• Each incorporates the previous kingdom; bigger than last
4th – 11th c.
• 1st great West African
• Rose to power by
taxing salt and gold
• 10th c: rulers convert to
Islam while common
people remain loyal to
• Reaches 11th c. height
• Almoravid armies
invaded Ghana in 1076
• Had few natural resources except
salt and gold.
• They were also very good at making
things from iron.
• Ghanaian warriors used iron tipped
spears to subdue their neighbors,
who fought with weapons made of
stone, bone, and wood.
Ghana became a rich and powerful nation, especially
when the camel began to be used as a source of
transport. Ghana relied on trade and trade was
made faster and bigger with the use of the camel. ../salt/photo6.html
Ghana’s Economy & Decline
• The taxation system imposed by the king (or 'Ghana')
• Both importers and exporters pay a percentage fee, not in
currency, but in the product itself.
• Tax was also extended to the goldmines.
• Tribute was also received from various tributary states and
chiefdoms to the empire's peripheral.
• The empire began struggling after reaching its apex in the early
11th century.
• By 1059, the population density around the empire's leading cities
was seriously overtaxing the region.
• The Sahara desert was expanding southward, threatening food
• While imported food was sufficient to support the population when
income from trade was high, when trade faltered, this system also
broke down.
in Ghana travel/ghana/
After 700 AD, the religion of Islam began to spread over northern
Africa. Muslim warriors came into Ghana and fought with the nonIslamic people there. This weakened the great civilization of Ghana.
Local warriors then decided to break away from the power of Ghana
and form their own local kingdoms. This ended many of the trade
networks. This eventually weakened the civilization of Ancient Ghana.
• Broke away from Ghana in 13th c.
• Economy: agriculture and gold trade
• Traders spread beyond W Africa
• Very wealthy empire
• Islamized state in 13th c. when rulers convert
• Founder: Sundiata (dies 1260)
• Credited with Malinke expansion and
creation of unified state with each tribe
having a representative at court
• Mansa Musa is successor
• Jenne and Timbuktu
• Major cities of commercial exchange
• Scholars, craft specialists, and foreign
• Timbuktu was famous for its library and
• The Mali Empire flourished because
of trade above all else.
Mali Empire
• It contained three immense gold
mines within its borders unlike the
Ghana Empire, which was only a
transit point for gold.
• The empire taxed every ounce of
gold or salt that entered its borders.
• By the beginning of the 14th
century, Mali was the source of
almost half the Old World's gold
exported from mines in Bambuk,
Boure and Galam.
Ancient Timbuktu
Mansa Musa
• 1324: Hajj to Mecca
• Aligns himself with elite
Islamic rulers
• Brings back scholars,
• Inadvertently devastates
economies he enters
• Indicates wealthy,
sophisticated empires
existed in Africa
• Estimated wealth: $400
In 1324, Mansa Musa made a pilgrimage or hajj to Mecca
with 60,000 servants and followers and 80 camels carrying
more than 4,000 pounds of gold to be distributed among the
poor. Of the 12,000 servants, 500 carried a staff of pure
gold. This showed his power and wealth to the other people
he visited.
Salt, Copper, Gold
When Mansa Musa died, there were no kings as powerful as he
was to follow. The great kingdom of Mali weakened. Eventually
a group of people known as Berbers came into the area and
other people came up from the south to claim territory that
was once part of the kingdom. Although Mali fell, another
advanced African kingdom took its place, the Kingdom of
Mansa Musa was a Muslim. He
built many beautiful mosques or
Islamic temples in western Africa.
• Independent from Mali in 1370s
• Prospered as a trading state and military power.
• Founded by Sunni Ali (1464-1492)
• Great military leader; extended rule over the entire
Niger River valley.
• Songhai remained dominant until defeated by
Moroccans in 1591 for not being “Muslim enough”
Songhay Economy
• The Songhai economy was based on a traditional
caste system.
• The clan a person belonged to ultimately decided
their occupation.
• The most common castes were metalworkers,
fishermen, and carpenters.
• Lower caste participants consisted of mostly nonfarm working slaves, who at times were provided
special privileges and held high positions in society.
• At the top were nobleman and direct descendants
of the original Songhai people, followed by freemen
and traders.
• At the bottom were war captives and slaves
obligated to labor, especially in farming.
The great Songhai leader, Sunni Ali saw that the kingdom of Mali
was weakening and he led his soldiers to conquer the area. He began
the kingdom of Songhai. He also set up a complex government to
rule all the lands he had conquered.
• Sunni Ali died in 1492 CE.
• His son took over the rule of
Songhai but he did not
accept Islam as a religion.
Many mosques were built of
local materials.
• Islam was accepted as a
religion by many people in
northern Africa.
• One of Sunni Ali’s generals,
named Muhammad Ture,
overthrew the new king and
made himself king of
• Ture was a follower of Islam
(Muslim) and so he made
Islam the religion of his
• Songhai remained a rich
and strong kingdom under
Muhammad Ture’s rule.
• It had a complex
government centered in
the city of Gao, and great
centers of learning.
• But later rulers were not
as powerful.
• In the late 1500s,
Morocco invaded Songhai
to take its rich trade
• Moroccans had a new
weapon, the gun, and the
army of Songhai did not.
This led to the fall of
(Photo courtesy of African Origin of Civilization by
Cheikh Anta Diop)
Songhai Society
• Upper classes in society converted to Islam while lower
classes often continued to follow traditional religions.
• Sermons emphasized obedience to the king.
• Timbuktu was the educational capital.
• Sonni Ali established a system of government under the
royal court, later to be expanded by Askia Muhammad,
which appointed governors and mayors to preside over
local tributary states, situated around the Niger valley.
• Local chiefs were still granted authority over their
respective domains as long as they did not undermine
Songhai policy.
Influence of Islam
in Grasslands Kingdoms
• Islam provided universal faith and fixed law.
• Rulers reinforced authority through Muslim
• Many Sudanic societies were matrilineal and did
not seclude women.
• Hesitancy over conversion to Islam since it
restricts women more than these societies did
• Slavery and slave trade was prevalent from
Muslim influence
• The Bantu expansion or the Bantu Migration was a millennialong series of migrations of speakers of the original Bantu
language group.
• The primary evidence for this great expansion, one of the
largest inhuman history, has been primarily linguistic
• That is that the languages spoken in sub-Equatorial Africa are
remarkably similar to each other, to the degree that it is
unlikely that they began diverging from each other more than
three thousand years ago
• In Africa, south of the equator, the most significant
development of the classical era was involved the
accelerating movement of the Bantu-speaking peoples into
the subcontinent
• The spread of Bantu peoples was a slow movement that
brought Africa south of the equator a measure of cultural
and linguistic commonality
• Kinship structures
• Ancestral and nature spirits
• Belief in witches
• Diviners, skilled in penetrating the world and
Early migrations of Bantu
(3000-1000 B.C.E.)
• Move south and west into the
forest lands
• Absorb much of the population
of hunter/gather/fisher people
• By 1000 B.C.E. occupy most of
Africa south of the equator
• Farming largely replaced foraging
• Agriculture generated a more
productive economy
• Farmers brought with them both
parasitic and infectious diseases to
which foragers had little immunity
The Bantu peoples
• Originated in the region around modern
• Agricultural Society
• Cultivated yams and
palm oil
• Herded goats
• Population pressure
drove migrations
• Spread to south and east
• Languages differentiated into about 500
distinct related tongues
Bantu rate of migration increases
after 1000 B.C.E.
• appearance of iron
• Iron tools allow them to clear more land for
• Give them an advantage
• Iron weapons give them stronger position
Swahili coast
• 1800 miles long
• Diffusion from Indian,
Arab, Chinese, and
• Islam perhaps most
Swahili Coast of East Africa
• Coasts enable East Africa to be connected to India Ocean
• Islamized trading ports along coast by 13th c.
• Kilwa, Mogadishu, Mombasa: large city-state centers of
• Ibn Battuta: Islamic scholar/writer who visits these cities
• Exported raw materials in return for Indian, Islamic and
Chinese luxuries
• Swahili language (Bantu + Arabic) emerged in urbanized
trading ports
• Rulers and merchants were often Muslim.
• Most of the population retained African beliefs and few
converted to Islam
• Culture = Swahili as language and fused African and Islamic
Swahili Coast
• While the Swahili Coast had kingdoms, it was not
controlled by just one kingdom.
• City-States
• The region was a center hub of trade and
commerce in east Africa.
• The introduction of various traditions such as
Islam helped to shape the character of the
Swahili Coast.
Swahili City-States
• By the 11th and 12th Century, trade had brought
tremendous wealth to coastal east Africa.
• Mogadishu, Lamu, Malindi, Mombasa, Zanzibar,
Kilwa, Mozambique, and Sofala were some of
the trade centers that eventually developed into
powerful city-states governed by a king who
supervised trade and organized public life in the
• Wood structures to coral and stone based
Swahili Coast
• By the tenth century, Swahili society attracted
increasing attention from Islamic merchants.
• Middle Man of Trade
• From the interior regions of east Africa, the Swahili
obtained gold, slaves, ivory, and exotic local
• In exchange, the Swahili city-states received
pottery, glass, and textiles that the Muslim
merchants brought from Persia, India, and China.
Central Africa
• Across central Africa, agrarian
societies thrived and kingdoms
• Yoruba
• Non Bantu-speaking
• Highly urbanized
• Benin
• Forms in 14th century under
ruler/oba Ewuare the Great
• Ruled from the Niger River
to the coast near Lagos
• Luba
• Divine kingship
• Hereditary bureaucracy
Central Africa without Islam
• Both develop free of Islamic contact
• Kongo
• Agricultural society, flourishes by 15th
• Gender division of labor and family-based villages
• Largest site: Mbanza Kongo = 60,000-100,000
• Zimbabwe
• Great Zimbabwe, largest site
• Dominated gold sources and trade with coastal
Great Zimbabwe
Lost Kingdom
• Great Zimbabwe, or "house of stone", is the
name given to hundreds of great stone ruins
spread out over a 500 km² (200 sq mile) area
within the modern day country of Zimbabwe,
which itself is named after the ruins.
• The exact origin of the word Zimbabwe is not
Great Zimbabwe
• Built consistently throughout the
period from the 11th century to
the 15th century, the ruins at
Great Zimbabwe are some of the
oldest and largest structures
located in Southern Africa.
• The ruins span 1,800 acres (7
km²) and cover a radius of 100 to
200 miles (160 to 320 km).
Great Zimbabwe
• It is believed Great Zimbabwe
located south of the Zambezi
River was where much of
Africa’s gold was mined.
• At its peak in about 1400, the
city which occupied 193 acres
may have had 18,000
• Between 1250 and 1450, local
African craftsmen built stone
structures for Great
Zimbabwe’s rulers, priests, and
wealthy citizens.
largest structure served as
Great Zimbabwe• The
a king’s court.
• Mixed farming and cattleherding was Great Zimbabwe’s
economic base.
• Long distance trade mostly in
• Ecological crisis caused from
overgrazing and the
destruction of forests may have
led to their decline.
Great Zimbabwe
• While there is little known about Great Zimbabwe, its
size and influence on the region is just recently being
• European disbelief in a Bantu-speaking empire is still
under debate in some academic circles.
• The European belief that Africans were not capable of
such an advanced kingdom fueled the speculation of
the kingdom as a lost kingdom of some White nation
perhaps the Queen of Sheba.
Christianity in Africa
• Christian states are present in
North Africa, Egypt, and Ethiopia
before the arrival of Islam.
• Egyptian Christians, the Copts,
had a rich and independent
tradition (Coptic Christianity).
• The Nubians resisted Muslim
incursions from 9th until 13th
• Ethiopia continues to retain
• Christianity will come later to
the rest of the continent with
the presence of Europeans.
Global Connections
• Spread of Islam brought large areas of Africa into
the global community through increasing contact
from 700-1500 CE between Africa and
Mediterranean and Asian civilizations.
• Sudanic states and East Africa
• However, most of Africa evolved in regions free of
Islamic contact (Central + Southern Africa).
• Organized their lives in stateless societies.
• While no universal empires and religions develop in
Africa, Christianity and Islam impact the region
through political, economic, and cultural
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