The motherland five: The cultures of Ancient Africa

Welcome readers, 

It’s been a while since I did a Black History 365 entry on stories that pertained to Africa. Still, I’m glad to present this post on the prosperous kingdoms that were prominent in Africa before colonization. Ancient African tribes are immersed in prosperous cultures, and with their own distinct traits that have remained intact to this day. In regards to this, a lot of Ancient African cultures that are known today have been passed down orally via storytelling. A rich storytelling history is told from the perspective of Griots (a historian) who helps maintain the integrity of the culture’s history. Moreover, in terms of Griots, these historians are specifically West Africans, and they tell stories that pertain to that region of the continent. However, that isn’t to say that the Eastern, Northern, or Southern parts of the continent didn’t have prolific orators that have passed down their rich history in ways of poems, speeches, and preservation of the culture in tangible artifacts that told stories. Below are five African kingdoms that were valorous at all times, affluent, formidable, and memorable. 

  1. The Kingdom of Kush: Along the Nile River, the Kingdom of Kush was located directly below Ancient Egpyt. The Kingdom was prominent roughly from 1070 B.C.E to 300 C.E. The Kush People were known for their use of bows and arrows, which helped them gain leverage over their foes in combat. The majority of the Kush Kingdom inhabitants were cotton, wheat, and barley growers. Moreover, the Kush society admired women and had a number of queen leaders that held power. 
  2. The Kingdom of Aksum: Aksum existed from 400 B.C.E until 940 C.E., making it one of Africa’s longest civilizations. The people of Aksum lived near the Red Sea coast and were important traders and merchants. Their city became an integral trading port for African and Egyptian merchants, as well as traders from Asia specifically India and Persia. This inclusive trading resulted in an array of civilizations traveling through the ports and becoming incredibly diverse. 
  1. The Kingdom of Ghana: On the western side of the continent in the savanna grassland, the Kingdom of Ghana was active from 300 to 1100 C.E. Ghanians were largely farmers, but they were known for their iron and gold, and there was a reverence for metalsmiths who were often regarded as strong “magicians” in their culture. These “magicians” would forge powerful weapons from iron and gold, making them powerful warriors. 
  1. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe: It wasn’t until around 1200 C.E. when The Kingdom of Zimbabwe rose to prominence, making it one of Africa’s later civilizations. Located in southern Africa, the people of Zimbabwe had a significant trading presence and captivating architectural talents. Furthermore, they built towers and gigantic stone walls that can still be visible today, despite the fact they only lasted around 200 years. 
  1. The Egyptian Kingdom: Located on the Nile River in the north of Africa, Ancient Egypt beats all other African civilizations in terms of longevity. It is also the most influential civilization. Ancient Egyptians had expertise in science, math, and writing, and they even practiced medicine. 

Moreover, Ancient Egypt was ruled by Assyrians, Persians, and Greeks (Alexander the Great) between 3150 and 30 B.C.E. but it had previously been ruled by these same people in the third and fourth centuries B.C.E. Ancient Egypt’s culture was advanced, with riveting clothing, art, and intricate and rigorous religious systems.    

“Moor Power” : Moors Kings (and Queens) Ruled parts of Europe for almost 700 years, Black History 365

History confirms that the Moors ruled in Europe, primarily Spain and Portugal for almost 700 years. Even though the Moors were African foreigners in a new continent, they influenced European culture, but not many know that the Moors were Eurpoeans of African descent. 

Side note, in the Netherlands they have a controversial celebration during Christmas where the Dutch put soot on their face, a large curly afro, and bright red lipstick to resemble a character named Zwarte Piet. Moreover, the earliest known illustration of Zwarte Piet was done by Amsterdam school teacher Jan Schnekman who depicted the character as a black Moor from Spain. The reason for the controversy derives from the history of blackface that the U.S. was notorious for after the reconstruction era, where it was used heavily in minstrel shows. So, by the Dutch doing this it would be seen as irreverent to the mockery black people endured during that era. 

Moors were usually depicted as being very dark and the word “Moors” was used interchangeable with “Negro” according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  In regards to this, several written works can confirm this description. 16th century English playwrights William Shakespeare used the word Moor as a synonym for African and Christopher Marlowe used Moor and African interchangeably. 

Author and historian Chancellor Williams said “the original Moors, like the original Egyptians, were black Africans”. Furthermore, an Arab chronicler also described Moorish Emperor Yusuf ben – Tachfine as “a brown man with wooly hair”. 

European art depicts Moors with African features and I’m going to use quotes on this because Africa is such a diverse continent that has ethnic groups with an array of features and not a singular one. Having said that, Moors were often depicted having pitch black skin,frizzled hair flat and wide face, flat-nosed, and thick lips. The Drake Jewel, a rare documented piece of jewel from the 16th century, seemed to show a profile of a Black king dominating the profile of a white woman.

Moors have had a significant contribution to the world, because they contributed in areas of mathematics, astronomy, art, cuisine, medicine, and agriculture. This in turn helped develop Europe to move out of the dark ages into the Renaissance. 

Generations of spanish rulers went as far as to abolish the existence of the Moors era from historical records and dismiss the Moors making any impact on their (Spain) land. However, archaeology determined that Moors indeed ruled in Al-Andalus for more than 700 years — from 711 A.D. to 1492.  

The story of Shaka Zulu (Black History 365)

In Southern Africa at the beginning of the 19th century, Shaka Zulu set up, propelled the Zulu Kingdom, and completely changed its warfare. 

In 1787 Shaka was born to Senzangakhona who was a minor chief of one of the clans of the Zulu tribe. His mother Nandi was the daughter of the rival clan chief Mbhengi. According to the Zulu people, Shaka’s birth was a sin because his parents did not belong to the same clans. Also, since Shaka was considered an illegitimate child, he was not named heir to the Zulu kingdom. When it comes to his name, Shaka translates to intestinal beetle. It can be quite funny when we in the west call him Shaka Zulu since Zulu means heaven in the Zulu language we are essentially calling him intestinal beetle heaven. So there’s that. 

Anyway, because of the ongoing frustrations and disapproval from tribal leaders, Shaka’s parents split. Shaka and his mother ran away from the clan of his father. This would ultimately end up with his mother and Shaka returning to her clan the Elangeni where she had been shunned. Growing up Shaka was often insulted, bullied, and disregarded, but as Shaka grew into adulthood, the members of the Elangeni clan remembered his determination and ferocity. Subsequently, when Shaka became sufficiently a man he left the Elangeni and became a citizen of the Mthethwa (Mtetwa) clan. 

Under the rule of Mthethwa (Mtetwa) chief Dingiswayo (Dingiswyo), Shaka operated as a six – year fighter. Dingiwayo (Dingiswyo) had been overwhelmed by Shaka’s courage, perseverance, and relentless determination to be at the top ranks of Mthethwa (Mtetwa). Shaka would stay with Mthethwa (Mtetwa) until 1816 when he heard about the death of his father Senzangakhona. 

With Dingiwayo’s (Dingiswyo) military support Shaka demanded to be given the title of chief that was previously held by his father. With the expertise of the Mthethwa (Mtetwa), he turned the army of his clan into a powerful military capable of protection and provocation by a greater symbolic force.

In 1818, Shaka’s mentor Dingiswayo (Dingiswyo) was by Zwide (Zwaydi), the head of the Ndwande (Nawandwe) clan. Shaka sought retribution in the Battle of Mhlatuze (Mylatheus) River in 1820, and won it with Zulu’s dominance over the Ndwande (Nawandwe). 

Afterwards, Shaka went to build a powerful empire for the various Zulu clans. In regards to this, the Zulu Empire numbered approximately 250,000, including rival groups, and its province became the largest in the history of Southern Africa. 

Shaka Zulu Painting by esther deVries | Saatchi Art

At the height of Shaka’s reign in 1827, he managed to control more than 50 thousand warriors and captured the majority of the region in the modern state of South Africa. 

All of Shaka’s strategic moves and actions were extremely strong and cruel. On the other hand, his army became unified under his control. His mother Nandi, died at the height of his power in 1827. Anger due to her death and her Elangeni’s care would result in the death of thousands of tribal people. This nearly directly led to his mutiny in the harsh treatment of his soldiers. 

Shaka Zulu was assassinated in 1828 by Dingane (Dingae) and Mhlangana (Mylanjana) , his half – brothers. Dingane (Dingae) took over the Empire that lasted half a hundred years before the British Army eventually collapsed. 

Shaka Zulu … feared king, innovative warrior and a legend of old - South  Coast Herald

Works cited :

Rwanda Genocide : 100 Days of Slaughter (Black History 365)

Welcome readers to another entry in Black History 365, a series where I explain, educate and explore historical events, unsung black figures in world history, and recount the struggles and triumphs of black people worldwide. In this entry, I will present the horrific events that happened during the Rwanda Genocide in the early 1990’s and the struggles and adversity the country had to endure to recover from the onslaught of deaths between two rival ethnic groups.

How did the genocide start?

Around 85% of Rwandans are Hutu’s but the Tutsi minority dominated the country. In 1959, the Hutus overthrew the Tutsi monarchy and tens of thousands of Tutsis fled to neighboring countries including Uganda. 

Afterward, a group of Tutsis exiles formed a rebel group called the “Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), which invaded Rwanda in 1990 and fighting continued until a 1993 peace deal was agreed upon. However, that peace deal was short-lived because on the night of April 6th, 1994 a plane carrying then-president Juvenal Habyarimana and his counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi – both Hutu’s extremists blamed the RPF and immediately started a well – organized campaign of slaughter. The RPF said the plane had been shot down by Hutu’s to provide an excuse for the genocide. 

How was the genocide carried out?

With a meticulous and strategic organization, lists of government opponents were handed out to militias who went and killed them along with all of their families. Neighbors killed neighbors and some husbands killed their Tutsi wives, saying they would be killed if they refused to submit to their orders. 

At the time, ID cards had people’s ethnic groups on them so militias set up roadblocks where Tutsis were slaughtered on sight with machetes, which most Rwandans kept around the house. Thousands of Tutsis women were taken away and kept as sex slaves. 

Why was it so vicious?

For one Rwanda has always been a tightly controlled society with strongly organized districts up to the top of government. MRND the then-governing party had a youth wing called the Interahamwe, which was turned into a militia to carry out an onslaught of slaughtering. 

Weapons and hit – lists were handed out to local groups, who knew exactly where to find their targets. The Hutu extremists set up a radio (RTLM) and newspaper which circulated with propaganda filled with hostility, urging people to “weed out the cockroaches” meaning to kill the Tutsis. To make the targets easier to capture and eliminate, names of prominent people to be killed were read on the radio. Furthermore, even though surprising, priests and nuns were convicted of killing people, people including some who sought shelter in churches. 

Did anyone try to stop it?

The U.N. and Belgium had forces in Rwanda but the U.N. mission was not given the mandate to stop the killing. Moreover, a year after U.S. troops were killed in Somalia, the U.S. was determined not to get involved in another African conflict. The Belgians and most UN peacekeepers pulled out after 10 Belgian soldiers were killed. France who were allies of the Hutu government and would supply them weapons, sent a special force to evacuate their citizens and later set up a supposedly safe zone but were accused of not doing enough to stop the slayings in that area. Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current president has accused France of backing those who carried out the massacres, a charge denied by Paris. 

How did it end?

The well-organized RPF, backed by Uganda’s army gradually seized more territory, until July 4th, 1994, when forces marched into the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. Some two million Hutu’s – both civilians and some of those involved in the genocide fled across the border into the Democratic Republic of Congo at the time called Zaire, fearing revenge attacks. Others went to neighbouring Tanzania and Burundi. 

Human rights groups say RPF fighters killed thousands of Hutu civilians as they took power and more after they went into DR Congo to pursue the Interahamwe. The RPF denies this. Meanwhile, in the DR Congo, thousands died from Cholera, while aid groups were accused of letting much of their assistance fall into the hands of the Hutu militias. 

What happened in DR Congo?

The RPF, now in power in Rwanda embraced militia fighting both the Hutu militias and the Congolese army, which was aligned with the Hutu’s. On the other hand, the Rwandan – backed rebel groups eventually marched on DR Congo’s capital, Kinshasa and overthrew the government of Mobutu Sese Seko, installing Laurent Kabila as president. However, the new president’s reluctance to tackle Hutu militias led to a new war that dragged in six countries and led to the creation of numerous armed groups fighting for control of this mineral-rich country. 

An estimated five million people died as a result of the conflict which lasted until 2003, with some armed groups remaining active until now in the new Rwanda’s border. 

Has anyone faced justice?

The International Criminal Court was set up in 2002, long after the Rwandan genocide so those responsbile could not be put to trial. Instead, the UN Security Council established the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the Tanzanian town of Arusha to prosecute the ringleaders. A total of 93 people were indicted and after lengthy and expensive trials, dozen of senior officials in the former regime were convicted of genocide – all of them were Hutu’s. 

Within Rwanda, community courts, know as Gacca were created to speed up the prosecution of hundreds of thousands of genocide suspects awaiting trial.

What is Rwanda like now?

President Kagame has been hailed for transforming the tiny, devastated country he took over through policies that encouraged rapid economic growth. He has also tried to turn Rwanda into a technological hub and is very active on Twitter.

But his critics say he does not tolerate dissent and several opponents have met unexplained deaths, both in the country and abroad.

The genocide is still a hugely sensitive issue in Rwanda, and it is illegal to talk about ethnicity.

The government says this is to prevent hate speech and more bloodshed but some say it prevents true reconciliation.

Charges of stirring up ethnic hatred have been leveled against some of Mr. Kagame’s critics, which they say is a way of sidelining them.

He won a third term in office in the most recent election in 2017 with 98.63% of the vote.

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