During the reign of Elizabeth I, England set up trading companies in Turkey, Russia, and the East Indies, explored the coast of North America, and established colonies there. In the early seventeenth century those colonies were expanded and the systematic colonization of Ulster in Ireland got underway.
Western Africa contains a remarkable diversity of ethnic groups. It can be divided into two zones, the Sudanic savanna and the Guinea Coast. The savanna area stretches for some 3, miles 4, km east to west along the southern Saharan borderland.
Its vegetation… Muslims in western Africa A reasonable body of sources for the writing of western African history begins to be available about ce.
Three centuries earlier the Arabs had completed their conquest of Africa north of the Sahara and so came into possession of the northern termini of trade routes reaching across the desert to western Africa.
This information has its limitations. The Muslim writers, contemptuous of non-Islamic societies, passed on little of what they must have known about the organization of pagan black societies and tended to concentrate on and condemn what struck them as their more monstrous aberrations. Conversely, they doubtless exaggerated the importance of the Islamization that entered western Africa with the Muslim traders crossing the Sahara.
Finally, the North African merchants did not penetrate into western Africa beyond the urban centres of trade and government that existed or came to develop on the northern fringes of the cultivable savannas fronting the Sahara. Nevertheless, the picture of western Africa given in the early Muslim writings is of major interest.
It is apparent that, right from the beginnings of Arab contact, the organization of the more northerly western African peoples was not solely tribal.
They had considerable towns and cities that were supported by a developed agriculture. They had organized networks of markets and trade and a developed system of monarchical government.
Kings, whose claim to power was based on descent from the mythical divine founding ancestors of their ethnic groups, taxed trade and levied tribute on the agricultural villages through their possession of bodies of retainers who provided them both with military force and with a hierarchy of officials.
It seems likely that there was an increase in the volume of trans-Saharan trade following the organization of North Africa under Muslim dynasties and that this growth of international trade with western Africa stimulated the growth there of internal trade, urbanization, and monarchical government.
Certainly the control of trade, towns, and government in western Africa became increasingly Islamic in form. But it is quite clear that the foundations for the economic and political development of the western Sudan were in existence before the time of contact with Muslim traders or authors.
Early Muslim interest was concentrated on two major western African kingdoms: Kanemin the east, north of Lake Chad; and Ghanain the extreme west, on the borders of modern Mauritania and Mali.
The Muslim sources, which are broadly confirmed by local tradition, indicate that the kingdom of Kanem was being formed during the 9th and 10th centuries through an interaction between Saharan nomads and agricultural village communities.
But ancient Ghana not to be confused with its modern namesake, considerably farther to the south and east had already reached levels of organization that presuppose several centuries of continuing development.
Distribution of the peoples of the western Sudan and locations of major historic states. The earliest extant Arabic reference to a kingdom of Ghana dates from the early 9th century. The capital was made up of two towns, a stone-built town inhabited by the Muslim traders and a mud-built one of the local Mande in which the king had his walled palace.
Their centres were six miles apart, and the whole of the intervening country was more or less built up. The considerable population was supported by the produce of surrounding farms, which were watered from wells.
The court displayed many signs of wealth and power, and the king had under him a considerable number of satellite rulers. A principal part of his revenue was derived from regular taxes on trade. The relatively extensive Muslim interest in Ghana was undoubtedly due to its importance as a source of gold.
Kanem seems to have been less important commercially; the main interest of the Muslim authors seems to have been in the quasi-divine status of its kings, which offended their Muslim principles. Other western African kingdoms undoubtedly existed at this time, but the Muslim sources record little of them beyond their names and approximate locations.
Malel, to the south of Ghana, may similarly have been a prototype of the later Mande kingdom of Mali, which ultimately was to eclipse and absorb Ghana itself. There are perhaps three possible—and not mutually exclusive—explanations for the origins and development of the kingdoms that Arab trade and scholarship had revealed by about ce.
The first is that they were the result of the invasion of agricultural territory by pastoralists from the Sahara who belonged to the Libyan Amazigh groups who spoke a non-Semitic language and were the dominant group of North Africa before its conquest by the Arabs.
This is the explanation often given in western Sudanese traditions and chronicles. From roughly the 15th century onward, many of these were preserved by local authors who wrote in Arabic and were Muslims, and who thus had some incentive to link the history of their peoples with that of North Africa and with the adjacent Middle East.
It was also the explanation favoured by European historians of the later 19th and earlier 20th centuries when Europeans were themselves conquering and colonizing black Africa. Specifically, it was supposed that many of the ideas and institutions of tribal monarchy had spread through Africa by diffusion from the ancient civilization of Egypt and the Nile valley.
There can be no doubt that over the centuries pastoralists from the Sahara have indeed advanced and conquered southward. But not all of these were Libyan Imazighen; some, such as the dynasts of Kanem, were black African in language and culture.
Nor is it easy to understand how mobile desert pastoral groups could be effective transmitters of ideas and institutions from the settled civilization of the Nile valley to other agricultural lands in western Africa. Some early western African traditions can certainly be interpreted in this sense.
This leads to the second explanation for the origins and development of monarchical statehood among the western African groups. The desiccation of the Sahara and the evolution of its present desert between about and bce must have occasioned an outflowing of population in which the blacks concentrated in the savannas to the south of it.Decolonization and Nationalism in Indonesia, Vietnam, India & Pakistan Chapter 23 / Lesson 9 Transcript Video.
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