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History of Africa

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Nkosi Mngomezulu

History 171: History of Africa to 1880

Professor Richard Mtisi

18 October 2017

Midterm Exam

Part 1A:

  • Tribe- A tribe is a social group in a traditional society which has families, clans and communities joined together by economic, religious, social and blood ties who share a common culture and dialect with a specific leader. Many of the areas within Africa have what people refer to as tribes coming from the outside like Hausa tribes in West Africa. The term tribe is controversial in this sense because as we discussed in the semester, there are certain connotations associated with the word like primitive and civilized so historians have tried to change people’s mind about that idea of tribes existing. The significance is that many Westerners view Africa as many tribes but historians know them as people of different descent which is why tribe is very controversial and has a negative slant to it.
  • Mansa Musa- He was the most famous ruler of Mali from 1312 AD to 1337 AD. He came to power due to royal instability which had made central administration quite weak. His first mandate was to make central administration stronger and hold its position over the whole empire. He used the army to regain states which they had lost due to instability and those states had declared their own independence. Peace and security was the norm under Mansa Musa and there was great prosperity in Mali as internal and external trade grew. The significance of Mansa Musa is that brought back Mali to one nation state and regained lost lands around Mali. Mali had been a huge empire so he was there to control the empire and ensure the safety of the people. He was also well known for his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324 where he spent a lot of gold in Cairo and Mecca. Also he was significant because he made trade a viable economic source in Mali and tried to make the people of Mali be more accepting to the idea of Islam.

Part 1B:

  • “My word is pure and free of all untruths.”- This quote comes from the book Sundiata: An epic of old Mali by Djibril Tamsir Niane. The story took place around 1230 AD in a city called Niani which was the capital of ancient Mali. The quote is important because it talks about the role the griots played in ancient Mali society. Ancient Mali had many storytellers and these were known as griots who recited Mali history to outsides and younger people within Mali.  It essentially means that griots would speak nothing but the truth because African societies relied heavily on storytellers to recount the events of that period. This word that came from the griots was unchanged because it had passed through many different griots and was unchanged within these generations. Many of these royal griots didn’t know what lying was because these were words from their fathers and forefathers. It is also significant in our history course because it highlights how fundamental griots were in ancient West African history. This was due to the fact that all African history was orally conveyed to people and there were no written documents of the history. This means that the words of the griots were like gold because they gave a clear description of what happened during historical times especially in Mali.
  • “On his right are the sons of vassal kings, their heads plaited with gold and wearing costly garments.”- This quote comes from the book Africa Volume 1 by Toyin Falola when they describe the empire of Ghana and how it was structured during historical times. During this time in Ghana, there had been many feuds in the area where people fought over trade areas and routes due to gold being a viable source of income. This quote is significant because it shows how disputes of gold were settled in ancient Ghana with the vassal states where the kings saw that the central government had all the power and for them to survive and be at peace, they had to pay an annual tribute. Also, it meant that the states could control their own affairs within and this loyalty was seen by a son of a vassal king being kept in the palace of the king of Ghana as hostage. These sons were wearing gold products throughout because they were in a palace and Ghana at the time had an abundance of gold. It is also important in our history course because it shows that Ghana was the land of gold and controlled many trade routes within West Africa. These trade routes were important because they helped Ghana exchange their gold for weapons and protection because there were a lot of disputes due to gold trade.

Part II:

3. “Arabic material is a recent graft onto an old Bantu tree.” Is this a fitting description of the Swahili? Why and why not?

The Swahili people are an ethnic and cultural group inhabiting East Africa mainly in Kenya. Most of its people live on the Swahili coast with a large majority of the people in Lamu, Shanga and Mombasa. 2000 years ago, Arabs came to the Swahili coast and settled there because of trade and opportunities for growth. With these Arabs moving the Swahili coast, it would be fitting to say that Arabic material is not a recent graft onto an old Bantu tree when it comes to describing the Swahili people. The Swahili people were central to the acceptance of Arabs on the coast because they accepted them as people they would live with peacefully and this was due to the Arabs taking concubines in Kenya.  

Lamu was a traditional town in northern Kenya where the Arab merchants first settled in Kenya 2000 years ago. This illustrated that the Arabs had not arrived in Kenya in the last millennium but had been a civilization that had been there for two millennia. As Louis Gates had pointed out in his documentary about the Swahili coast, “it felt more like the Middle East” because the Arabs had been in Lamu for a long time and had been accustomed to the culture and life in Kenya. This describes a group of people who had moved to Africa before they even developed in that they settled within Lamu and people were accepting of them. The Swahili people had been an African civilization and this these Arabs came to East Africa, it had shifted towards a mix of Arab and African civilization. Most of the Arab men who moved to Lamu 2000 years ago had no African ancestry and so to gain this, they took concubines to be more acquainted to the Swahili people. A concubine is when an Arab man would marry an African women to form the cultural mixing of the people. These Arab merchants began to intermarry with these African women around the 12th century (Falola 204). The cultural mixing which grew bigger in the 13th century was a result of the economic relationship between East African people and foreign traders who were the Arabs. Gates argues that the mixing of the Arab men and African women was the formation of the Swahili people. The mixing of blood could have been the start of Swahili society but it raises the issue that the Swahili people existed before the Arabs came to the coast. Indian Ocean trade between Kenyans and Arabs was caused by Arabs wanting the riches of the interior of the coast while Kenyans wanted the luxuries of the east. This suggests that this was a trade relationship that had started long ago and was not a recent development and so Swahili people had been mixing well Arabs since the 12th century.



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