Until the end of 16 century, Africa was far more advanced than Europe in terms of political organization, science, technology and culture. That prosperity continued, despite the European slavery ravages, till the 17th and 18th century. The continent was crowded with tens of great and prosperous cities, empires and kingdoms with King Askia Toure of Songhay, King Behanzin Hossu Bowelle of Benin, Emperor Menelik of Ethiopia, King Shaka ka Sezangakhona of South Africa, Queen Nzinga of Angola, Queen Yaa Asantewaa of Ghana, Queen Amina of Nigeria.
We are talking here about Empires, Kingdoms, Queendoms, Kings, emperors, the richest man in the history of humanity in Africa.
Were these Kings and Queens sleeping on banana trees in the bushes? Were they dressed with tree leaves, with no shoes? If they were not sleeping in trees, covered with leaves, where are the remainder of their palaces, their art work?
The reason is simple. Europeans have destroyed most of them. We have only left drawings and descriptions by travelers who have visited the places before the destruction.
The medieval Nigerian city of Benin was built to “a scale comparable with the Great Wall of China”. There was a vast system of defensive walling totaling 10,000 miles in all. Even before the full extent of the city walling had become apparent the Guinness Book of Records carried an entry in the 1974 edition that described the city as: “The largest earthworks in the world carried out prior to the mechanical era.” – Excerpt from “The Invisible Empire”, PD Lawton
In the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to Nigeria, remarked that:
“As good an article of cloth can be woven by the Yoruba weavers as by any people . . . in durability, their cloths far excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.”
The recently discovered 9th century Nigerian city of Eredo was found to be surrounded by a wall that was 100 miles long and seventy feet high in places. The internal area was a staggering 400 square miles.” Robin Walter
Loango City in the Congo/Angola area is depicted in another drawing from the mid 1600`s. Yet again, a vast planned city of linear layout, stretching across several miles and entirely surrounded by city walls, bustling with trade. The king`s complex alone was a mile and a half enclosure with courtyards and gardens. The people of Loango had used maths not just for arithmetic purposes but for astrological calculations. They used advanced maths, linear algebra. The Ishango Bone from the Congo is a calculator that is 25 000 years old. “The so-called Ishango bone`s inscriptions consist of two columns of odd numbers that add up to 60,with the left column containing prime numbers between 10 and 20, and the right column containing both added and subtracted numbers.” Source: Ta Neter Foundation. It is on view in a museum in Belgium.
In some places, ruins are still visible.
At the end of the 13th century, when a European traveler encountered the great Benin City in West Africa (present Nigeria, Edo State), he wrote as follows:
“The town seems to be very great. When you enter into it, you go into a great broad street, not paved, which seems to be seven or eight times broader than the Warmoes street in Amsterdam…The Kings palace is a collection of buildings which occupy as much space as the town of Harlem, and which is enclosed with walls. There are numerous apartments for the Prince`s ministers and fine galleries, most of which are as big as those on the Exchange at Amsterdam. They are supported by wooden pillars encased with copper, where their victories are depicted, and which are carefully kept very clean. The town is composed of thirty main streets, very straight and 120 feet wide, apart from an infinity of small intersecting streets. The houses are close to one another, arranged in good order. These people are in no way inferior to the Dutch as regards cleanliness; they wash and scrub their houses so well that they are polished and shining like a looking glass.” (Source: Walter Rodney, ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa
Here is another account of the great Benin City regarding the city walls
“They extend for some 16 000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet.” Source: Wikipedia, Architecture of Africa.”
In 1897, Benin City was destroyed by British forces under Admiral Harry Rawson. The city was looted, blown up and burnt to the ground. A collection of the famous Benin Bronzes are now in the British Museum in London. Part of the 700 stolen bronzes by the British troops were sold back to Nigeria in 1972.
Did you know that in the 14th century the city of Timbuktu in West Africa was five times bigger than the city of London, and was the richest city in the world?
Today, Timbuktu is 236 times smaller than London. It has nothing of a modern city. Its population is two times less than 5 centuries ago, impoverished with beggars and dirty street sellers. The town itself is incapable of conserving its past ruined monuments and archives.
Back to the 14 century, the 3 richest places on earth was China, Iran/Irak, and the Mali empire in West Africa. From all 3 the only one which was still independent and prosperous was the Mali Empire. China and the whole Middle East were conquered by Genghis Kan Mongol troops which ravaged, pillaged, and raped the places.
The richest man ever in the history of Humanity, Mansa Musa, was the emperor of the 14th century Mali Empire which covered modern day Mali, Senegal, Gambia, and Guinea. At the time of his death in 1331, Mansa Musa was worth the equivalent of 400 billion dollars. At that time Mali Empire was producing more than half the world’s supply of salt and gold.
When Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, he carried so much gold, and spent them so lavishly that the price of gold fell for ten years. 60 000 people accompanied him.
He founded the library of Timbuktu, and the famous manuscripts of Timbuktu which cover all areas of world knowledge were written during his reign.
Witnesses of the greatness of the Mali empire came from all part of the world. “Sergio Domian, an Italian art and architecture scholar, wrote the following about this period:
‘Thus was laid the foundation of an urban civilization. At the height of its power, Mali had at least 400 cities, and the interior of the Niger Delta was very densely populated.’
National Geographic recently described Timbuktu as the Paris of the medieval world, on account of its intellectual culture. According to Professor Henry Louis Gates, 25,000 university students studied there.
“Many old West African families have private library collections that go back hundreds of years. The Mauritanian cities of Chinguetti and Oudane have a total of 3,450 hand written medieval books. There may be another 6,000 books still surviving in the other city of Walata. Some date back to the 8th century AD. There are 11,000 books in private collections in Niger.
Finally, in Timbuktu, Mali, there are about 700,000 surviving books. They are written in Mande, Suqi, Fulani, Timbuctu, and Sudani. The contents of the manuscripts include math, medicine, poetry, law and astronomy. This work was the first encyclopedia in the 14th century before the Europeans got the idea later in the 18th century, 4 centuries later.
A collection of one thousand six hundred books was considered a small library for a West African scholar of the 16th century. Professor Ahmed Baba of Timbuktu is recorded as saying that he had the smallest library of any of his friends – he had only 1600 volumes.
Concerning these old manuscripts, Michael Palin, in his TV series Sahara, said the imam of Timbuktu
“has a collection of scientific texts that clearly show the planets circling the sun. They date back hundreds of years . . . Its convincing evidence that the scholars of Timbuktu knew a lot more than their counterparts in Europe. In the fifteenth century in Timbuktu the mathematicians knew about the rotation of the planets, knew about the details of the eclipse, they knew things which we had to wait for 150 almost 200 years to know in Europe when Galileo and Copernicus came up with these same calculations and were given a very hard time for it.
The old Malian capital of Niani had a 14th century building called the Hall of Audience. It was an surmounted by a dome, adorned with arabesques of striking colors. The windows of an upper floor were plated with wood and framed in silver; those of a lower floor were plated with wood, framed in gold.
Malian sailors got to America in 1311 AD, 181 years before Columbus. An Egyptian scholar, Ibn Fadl Al-Umari, published on this sometime around 1342. In the tenth chapter of his book, there is an account of two large maritime voyages ordered by the predecessor of Mansa Musa, a king who inherited the Malian throne in 1312.
“Kumasi was the capital of the Asante Kingdom, 10th century-20th century. Drawings of life in Kumasi show homes, often of 2 stories, square buildings with thatched roofs, with family compounds arranged around a courtyard. The Manhyia Palace complex drawn in another sketch was similar to a Norman castle, only more elegant in its architecture.
“These 2 story thatched homes of the Ashanti Kingdom were timber framed and the walls were of lath and plaster construction. A tree always stood in the courtyard which was the central point of a family compound. The Tree of Life was the altar for family offerings to God, Nyame. A brass pan sat in the branches of the tree into which offerings were placed. This was the same in every courtyard of every household, temple and palace. The King`s representatives, officials, worked in open-sided buildings. The purpose being that everyone was welcome to see what they were up to.
“The townhouses of Kumase had upstairs toilets in 1817.This city in the 1800s is documented in drawings and photographs. Promenades and public squares, cosmopolitan lives, exquisite architecture and everywhere spotless and ordered, a wealth of architecture, history, prosperity and extremely modern living” – PD Lawton, AfricanAgenda.net
Winwood Reade described his visit to the Ashanti Royal Palace of Kumasi in 1874:
“We went to the king’s palace, which consists of many courtyards, each surrounded with alcoves and verandahs, and having two gates or doors, so that each yard was a thoroughfare . . . But the part of the palace fronting the street was a stone house, Moorish in its style . . . with a flat roof and a parapet, and suites of apartments on the first floor. It was built by Fanti masons many years ago. The rooms upstairs remind me of Wardour Street. Each was a perfect Old Curiosity Shop. Books in many languages, Bohemian glass, clocks, silver plate, old furniture, Persian rugs, Kidderminster carpets, pictures and engravings, numberless chests and coffers. A sword bearing the inscription From Queen Victoria to the King of Ashantee. A copy of the Times, 17 October 1843. With these were many specimens of Moorish and Ashanti handicraft.” – Robin Walter
The beautiful city of Kumasi was blown up, destroyed by fire, and looted by the British at the end of the 19th century.
4. Kilwa, Tanzania
In 1331, Ibn Battouta, described the Tanzanian city of Kilwa, of the Zanj, Swahili speaking people, as follows ” one of the most beautiful and well-constructed cities in the world, the whole of it is elegantly built”. The ruins are complete with `gothic` arches and intricate stonework, examples of exquisite architecture. Kilwa dates back to the 9th century and was at its peak in the 13th and 14th centuries.
This international African port minted its own currency in the 11th -14th centuries. Remains of artifacts link it to Spain, China, Arabia and India. The inhabitants, architects and founders of this city were not Arabs and the only influence the Europeans had in the form of the Portuguese was to mark the start of decline, most likely through smallpox and influenza.”
– Source: UNESCO World Heritage Centre, excerpt from “African Agenda” by PD Lawton
In 1505 Portuguese forces destroyed and burned down the Swahili cities of Kilwa and Mombasa.
A Moorish nobleman who lived in Spain by the name of Al-Bakri questioned merchants who visited the Ghana Empire in the 11th century and wrote this about the king:
“He sits in audience or to hear grievances against officials in a domed pavilion around which stand ten horses covered with gold-embroidered materials. Behind the king stand ten pages holding shields and swords decorated with gold, and on his right are the sons of the kings of his country wearing splendid garments and their hair plaited with gold. The governor of the city sits on the ground before the king and around him are ministers seated likewise. At the door of the pavilion are dogs of excellent pedigree that hardly ever leave the place where the king is, guarding him. Around their necks they wear collars of gold and silver studded with a number of balls of the same metals.”
– http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghana_Empire#Government – the source of the quote is given on wikipedia as p.80 of Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West Africa by Nehemia Levtzion and John F.P. Hopkins)
In 15th when the Portuguese, the first Europeans who sailed the Atlantic coasts of Africa
“arrived in the coast of Guinea and landed at Vaida in West Africa, the captains were astonished to find streets well laid out, bordered on either side for several leagues by two rows of trees, for days they traveled through a country of magnificent fields, inhabited by men clad in richly colored garments of their own weaving! Further south in the Kingdom of the Kongo(sic), a swarming crowd dressed in fine silks’ and velvet; great states well ordered, down to the most minute detail; powerful rulers, flourishing industries-civilized to the marrow of their bones. And the condition of the countries of the eastern coast-Mozambique, for example-was quite the same.”
For example the Kingdom of Congo in the 15th Century was the epitome of political organization.
It “was a flourishing state in the 15th century. It was situated in the region of Northern Angola and West Kongo. Its population was conservatively estimated at 2 or 3 million people. The country was divided into 6 administrative provinces and a number of dependencies. The provinces were Mbamba, Mbata, Mpangu, Mpemba, Nsundi, and Soyo. The dependencies included Matari, Wamdo, Wembo and the province of Mbundu. All in turn were subject to the authority of The Mani Kongo (King). The capital of the country(Mbanza Kongo), was in the Mpemba province. From the province of Mbamba, the military stronghold. It was possible to put 400,000 in the field.”
– Excerpt from “African Agenda” by PD Lawton
“On the subject of cloth, Kongolese textiles were also distinguished. Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo and adjacent regions who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet. Professor DeGraft-Johnson made the curious observation that:
“Their brocades, both high and low, were far more valuable than the Italian.”
On Kongolese metallurgy of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that:
“There is no doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead vapours. They devised preventative and curative methods, both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.”
In Nigeria, the royal palace in the city of Kano dates back to the fifteenth century. Begun by Muhammad Rumfa (ruled 1463-99) it has gradually evolved over generations into a very imposing complex. A colonial report of the city from 1902, described it as “a network of buildings covering an area of 33 acres and surrounded by a wall 20 to 30 feet high outside and 15 feet inside . . . in itself no mean citadel”.
A sixteenth century traveller visited the central African civilisation of Kanem-Borno and commented that the emperor’s cavalry had golden “stirrups, spurs, bits and buckles.” Even the ruler’s dogs had “chains of the finest gold”.
One of the government positions in mediaeval Kanem-Borno was Astronomer Royal.
The Nigerian city of Kano in 1851 produced an estimated 10 million pairs of sandals and 5 million hides each year for export.
In 1246 AD Dunama II of Kanem-Borno exchanged embassies with Al-Mustansir, the king of Tunis. He sent the North African court a costly present, which apparently included a giraffe. An old chronicle noted that the rare animal “created a sensation in Tunis”.
In Southern Africa, there are at least 600 stone built ruins in the regions of Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. These ruins are called Mazimbabwe in Shona, the Bantu language of the builders, and means great revered house and “signifies court”. The Great Zimbabwe was the largest of these ruins. It consists of 12 clusters of buildings, spread over 3 square miles. Its outer walls were made from 100,000 tons of granite bricks. In the fourteenth century, the city housed 18,000 people, comparable in size to that of London of the same period.
Apparently the Monomotapan royal palace at Mount Fura had chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. An eighteenth century geography book provided the following data:
“The inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the manufacture of the country. The floors, cielings [sic], beams and rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &c. The candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”
Monomotapa had a social welfare system. Antonio Bocarro, a Portuguese contemporary, informs us that the Emperor: “shows great charity to the blind and maimed, for these are called the king’s poor, and have land and revenues for their subsistence, and when they wish to pass through the kingdoms, wherever they come food and drinks are given to them at the public cost as long as they remain there, and when they leave that place to go to another they are provided with what is necessary for their journey, and a guide, and some one to carry their wallet to the next village. In every place where they come there is the same obligation.”
In, 1571 Portuguese forces invade Munhumutapa, and started the destruction of the place. In 1629, Emperor Mavhura becomes puppet ruler of Munhumutapa on behalf of the Portuguese.
Chinese records of the fifteenth century AD note that Mogadishu had houses of “four or five stories high”.
“Gedi, near the coast of Kenya, is one of the East African ghost towns. Its ruins, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, include the city walls, the palace, private houses, the Great Mosque, seven smaller mosques, and three pillar tombs.
The ruined mosque in the Kenyan city of Gedi had a water purifier made of limestone for recycling water. The palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi contains evidence of piped water controlled by taps. In addition it had bathrooms and indoor toilets.
Bling culture existed in early Tanzania. A Portuguese chronicler of the sixteenth century wrote that:
“they are finely clad in many rich garments of gold and silk and cotton, and the women as well; also with much gold and silver chains and bracelets, which they wear on their legs and arms, and many jeweled earrings in their ears”.
In 1961 a British archaeologist, found the ruins of Husuni Kubwa, the royal palace of the Tanzanian city of Kilwa. It had over a hundred rooms, including a reception hall, galleries, courtyards, terraces and an octagonal swimming pool.
The Bamilike structures of the Cameroon are of mind-blowing architectural delicateness and beauty. The Bamum and Shomum scripts of the Cameroon are similar to those of Ethiopia. There are over 7000 ancient Bamum manuscripts and the Bamum Palace is still perfectly preserved.” – When we Ruled, by Robin Walter
As historical sources described above the continent was full of monuments. Where are they?
The sad truth is that Europeans invaders have destroyed most of them either as punitive actions or under the scramble for Africa ‘Terra Nullius’ law.
During the scramble for Africa by Europeans, the main way to prove that a land was qualified for colonization or take over was ‘Terra Nullius”, a Latin expression deriving from Roman law meaning “land belonging to no one”, which is used in international law to describe territory which has never been subject to the sovereignty of any state, or over which any prior sovereign has expressly or implicitly relinquished sovereignty. Sovereignty over territory which is terra nullius may be acquired through occupation” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terra_nullius
Many islands were acquired that way when it was possible to slaughter the small population and easily prove that the land was empty before the arrival of colonial powers. But very soon, the colonial powers were in difficulty to find “land belonging to no one”. Africa was not a Terra Nullius. Consequently, the terra nullius law was altered to include land inhabited by savages and uncivilized people. Again, very quickly the colonial power found it difficult to prove that Africa was a land of savages and uncivilized people. Instead they found, as demonstrated above, queendoms and kingdoms with great palaces and highly developed political and social norms. And so the killing began.
There is a museum in Paris with 18 000 human heads of people killed by the french colonial troops and missionaries. It’s called “Musée d’Histoire Naturelle de Paris”. Among the heads are the ones of African kings, kings’ families, african engineers, writers, army officers, spiritual leaders, but also ordinary men, women, children that the french found unusual, exotic enough or interesting to kill to enrich their Museum of natural history where they display mainly animals skulls to represent bio-diversity and evolution.
France was not alone in the European competition to behead the maximum of variety of exotic people. The skulls and heads of many Africans still could be found in museums and unusual places around Europe.
Another consequence of the Terra Nullius law defined as a land inhabited by savages, lead to the capture of Africans to display in zoos and public events around Europe, in primitive conditions, to demonstrate the inferiority and barbarism of the African people. From that moment till now, most Europeans still think Africans are savages, inferior, grotesque, unintelligent people. They more an African would display features that would fit that stigma, the more he or she would be liked by them.
Sadly, nothing is left of our ancestors. When Europeans invaded Africa they applied the 4 basic principles of any occupant forces:
1. First, Kill the strong and loot the place
2. Second, Breed the weak
3. Third, Kill, Deport or Exile the smartest and the skilled ones
4. Fourth, Impose the golden colonial rule “My way or the Highway”.
The Kings and their descendants were all killed. Additionally, 3 centuries of transatlantic slavery exported over 12 millions of the finest men and women from Africa to America, tens of millions have died in the process.
Imagine what would happen to any country or civilization when almost all writers, storytellers, engineers, craftsmen, artists, leaders are killed or exiled? And, Any sign of heir past glory and ingenuity destroyed or burned? Their books and records of knowledge stolen or destroyed.
Who will transmit the century accumulated knowledge to the ordinary men and women?
It’s that broken link to knowledge and leadership for the last 3 centuries which has plunged the whole continent into a dark age, its people left without guidance.
Today, If you want to see the glory of Africa, you have to go to Europe, where thousands and thousands of stolen arts objects, civilization artifacts are in public museums and private collection (in UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Germany, etc.). If you want to see the wealth of Africa, you have also to go to Europe where they are stored in private and public accounts.
5 centuries ago, when Europeans arrived in Africa they found the people were so advanced, wealthier, and were impressed by the abundance of nature and civility of its people.
“They are loving and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.”
From Egypt to the Sudan, from Mali to Tanzania, from Zimbabwe to Mozambique, Africa is full of the testimony to her past. In many cases the complete destruction of structures has not been through natural elements but deliberate acts, most notably of the British Empire. The museums of Britain and Europe are full of the results of` pillage and plunder`. There are numerous ancient structures that are in a state of good preservation but in the case of many of Africa`s cities, palaces, temples and trading ports of old we are left with nothing other than the written reports and drawings of traders and travelers from medieval times to the final days of complete destruction in the late 1800s.In terms of beauty and even on occasion scale the architecture of Egypt`s pyramids pale in comparison to other African historical structures. The diversity of architecture from this continent is staggering.