Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi
Born in Timbuktu in 1596, Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi wrote, in Arabic, a chronicle entitled Tarikh al-Sudan (History of the Sudan). The document addresses the political, cultural, and religious history of the Songhay state in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and it also offers detailed accounts of various states in the Niger River valley into al-Saadi’s own day. Al-Saadi was particularly interested in the impact of Islamic thought and culture on the African kingdoms, as the following excerpt demonstrates. The document was discovered by a German explorer in the 1850s during his visit to Timbuktu.
Abd al-Rahman al-Saadi, Timbuktu and the Songhay Empire, trans. John Hunwick (Leiden, the Netherlands: Brill, 2003), 38–40.
The attitudes of British colonial authorities towards their subjects are reflected in Oginga Odinga’s memories of his childhood in a Kenyan village. The British government took over Kenya in 1895 after the privately sponsored East Africa Company failed to keep order or find sufficient revenues to reward investors. Although Kenya became one of the few African colonies to receive a large number of white settlers, Oginga Odinga’s village in the remote southwest Nyanza region seldom saw white people. By this time (shortly before World War I) the British had perfected a system of administration that required fewer costly European functionaries and placed responsibility for carrying out government policies in the hands of natives. In this process of “indirect rule” the British appointed headmen or chiefs to serve as intermediaries between villagers and remote district or provincial administrators who were British. Odinga’s memoir describes some of the complexity in the roles of these natives who received enhanced opportunities, wealth, and status from the government, but at the risk of being isolated from their own people.
Oginga Odinga estimated that he was born in 1911 or 1912. He was educated at an English school and became a teacher. In the 1940s he emerged as a leader of the Luo people in his native Nyanza district, pressing for economic development and political rights for Africans. He was the first vice president of independent Kenya, but quickly parted from nationalist leader Jomo Kenyatta because of his insistence that Kenya should have a multiparty political system. After his death in 1994 Odinga was honored for a lifetime of involvement in nationalist and democratic politics in Kenya.
Oginga Odinga, Not Yet Uhuru. New York: Hill and Wang (1967): 1–3, 15–16, 20–22.
Between 1837 and 1845, more than five thousand Dutch Afrikaner settlers moved into the South African interior, followed by even larger numbers after 1845. Their timing was opportune, for they crossed the frontier in the immediate aftermath of Shaka’s wars (the mfecane), which had depopulated and destabilized the region to such an extent that the Afrikaners encountered minimal initial resistance. The majority of voortrekker wagon trains headed due north, across the Orange and Vaal rivers, to establish new farms, communities, and ultimately two independent Afrikaner states. But one wagon train, led by Piet Retief (1789-1838) in 1837, split off from the others and headed eastward toward the coast, where there was better rainfall and access to the sea. Their route, however, took them right to the frontiers of the mighty Zulu empire, which was now ruled by Shaka’s half-brother, Dingane. Retief and a party of seventy men visited Dingane in early 1838 to seek his permission to settle in his kingdom, but the Zulu leader saw the arrival of whites as a serious threat, and he decided to launch a preemptive strike. Retief and his party were initially welcomed at the Zulu capital, but at Dingane’s command, they were all slaughtered. Dingane then sent his regiments to attack the wagon train, killing an additional 250 voortrekkers.
Temporarily defeated but not deterred, the Afrikaners decided to send a punitive expedition against the Zulu later that year. Led by Andries Pretorious, the Afrikaners assembled a force of five hundred well-armed male volunteers, two cannon, and fifty-seven wagons to confront a massive Zulu army that may have been as large as ten thousand. At the Battle of Blood River on December 16, 1848, the Afrikaners dealt the Zulu a stunning defeat in one of the most decisive military encounters in the history of colonial Africa. Lashing their wagons together in a defensive laager (“a mobile fortress of wagons”), the Afrikaners turned back successive assaults by Zulu regiments before launching a counterattack. When the battle subsided, more than three thousand Zulu lay dead on the battlefield—but not a single Afrikaner had been killed. One of the participants in this campaign was Sarel Cilliers (1801–1871), who led the men in daily prayers and Sunday worship. Cillier’s account of the battle highlighted the ferocity of the struggle, as well as the religious fervor that inspired the Afrikaner combatants. In later years, Cilliers became famous and revered as the “Father of the Covenant,” the holy promise that the Afrikaners made to God prior to their great battle with the Zulu.
Charl Celliers [Sarel Cilliers], “The Journal of the Late Charl Celliers”(1871), in John Bird, ed., The Annals of Natal, Vol. I: 1495–1845 (Cape Town: C. Struik, 1965), 238, 243–47.
Born in 1946 in South Africa, in the Eastern Cape, Steve Biko engaged in political activism at a very early age, which ultimately caused his permanent expulsion from public schooling. Fortunately, he was able to enroll in and graduate from a private school, from which he entered the University of Natal Medical School to fulfill his life’s ambition to become a doctor. But his interest in political reform always remained strong, and in 1967 he joined the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a multiracial organization dedicated to African civil rights. Biko soon became disillusioned with the NUSAS, however, when it seemed to him that “whites did all the talking and blacks all the listening.” The next year, he founded and organized the all-black South African Students’ Organization (SASO). While leading SASO, Biko formulated and spread the philosophy of Black Consciousness. The primary goals of Black Consciousness were to forge pride and unity among all black South Africans, to foil the government’s strategy of divide and rule, and to restore confidence in the ability of Africans to throw off their oppression. As envisioned by Biko, Black Consciousness was both a mental attitude and a way of life. He argued that true freedom could only be achieved once blacks realized that “the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” By challenging the premises and forces that created identities of inferiority and helplessness, Biko sought to awaken blacks to the potential power within each individual.
The apartheid government first restricted Biko’s activities, then banned all speeches and texts containing any reference to his person or his ideas. For a time, Biko cleverly avoided arrest, and Black Consciousness continued to gain momentum, resulting ultimately in the 1976 “Soweto uprising,” in which student protests against inferior education served as the spark for a massive, violent confrontation between African residents of townships and government security forces. In August 1977, Biko was finally caught at a roadblock, arrested, and severely beaten and tortured in jail over a period of several days. Bloodied, naked, and unconscious, he was then tossed into the back of a truck and driven over 700 miles to Pretoria, where he was pronounced dead at the age of twenty-nine.
The following text, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” was written by Biko in 1973 for inclusion in a book on black theology in South Africa. In this essay, Biko discusses the origins and expressions of racism and highlights their effect on people’s attitudes and lives. He also provides a clear definition and explanation of Black Consciousness and offers it as a solution to remedy dependency on whites and passivity in blacks. In doing so, he envisions a new identity for South African blacks that will empower individuals and give them the strength and determination to take charge of their own future.
Steve Biko, “Black Consciousness and the Quest for a True Humanity,” in I Write What I Like: Selected Writings, ed. Aelred Stubbs. Copyright © 1979 Harper & Row.
Abstract and Key Words
In 1950 the government of South Africa passed apartheid legislation known as the Group Areas Act No. 41, which required South Africans to reside only with members of their own race. At that time, the South African government recognized four racial groups: Black, white, “colored,” and Indian (South Asian). “Colored” encompassed mixed race people, as well as immigrants from Malaysia. Prior to 1950 many people lived in predominantly black, white or “colored,” areas, but mixed residential areas also existed—including a vibrant area of Cape Town called “District Six,” which was razed to the ground, and its non-white inhabitants forcibly removed. After the passage of Group Areas Act No. 41, an estimated three million people were involuntarily moved to segregated areas.
John A. Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858–1940) grew up during an economic depression in England that ultimately shifted his intellectual interests from literature to economics. One of his major contributions is the theory of under-consumption, which argues that low consumer demand and high supply of goods will lead to a sluggish economy. Hobson also held that imperialism could be stripped down to economic interests by the mother country: it was no more than a search for new capitalist markets. This selection explores Hobson’s observed relationships among economy, international struggle, imperialism, and nationalism.
From John A. Hobson, Imperialism and the Lower Races. New York: James Pott and Co., 1902, part II, chapter IV.
‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Bakrī
Al-Bakrī was born in Spain, and it appears that he never left that country. However, he collected information from people he met who had traveled to the Sahara and the Sudan, and he published his findings in a work called The Book of Routes and Realms (Kitāb al-masālik wa-’l-mamālik). Al-Bakrī, who died in 1094, was famous for his curiosity about the geography, languages, and natural landscape of places he had not himself visited. The greater part of his major book is still unpublished, but the following section provides insight into the changing religious landscape in Ghana in the early eleventh century.
‘Abd al-‘Azīz al-Bakrī, “Ghāna and the Customs of Its Inhabitants,” trans. J. F. P. Hopkins, in N. Levtzion and J. F. P. Hopkins, Corpus of Early Arabic Sources for West African History (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981), 79–81.
Rhode Islanders were the principal American slave traders during the eighteenth century, during which a total of approximately 1,000 slave-trading voyages set out from the colony to Africa. The “triangular trade” between the Atlantic seaboard, the Caribbean, and West Africa was the main source of great wealth for many families in this small British settlement. Among these families was that of John Brown, whose donation to a struggling college in Providence would lead to the renaming of the institution in his honor. Aware of their university’s explicit connection to the profitable and lethal slave trade, archivists at Brown University have attempted to tell the full story of voyages like that of the Sally. In the excerpts that follow, lines from the ship’s log are annotated with details of the events they describe.
John Carter Brown Library, http://cds.library.brown.edu/projects/sally/documents.html
Evidence that imperial expansion in the nineteenth century was not an exclusive European privilege is provided by this painting of the Battle of Adowa in 1896. Under the command of the Ethiopian emperor Menelik II (r. 1889-1913), an Italian invasion force was annihilated. Menelik is at the left of the painting, directing his troops who fire on the Italian forces with cannon and machine guns. Astride a white horse, St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia, exhorts Menelik’s army to victory. The Italian commander, General Baratieri, is on the far right, ready to order a retreat. The Italians lost 6,000 men in this crushing defeat. Ethiopia would remain independent until 1936.
National Archives photo no. 28-0547M (top); http://www.library.yale.edu/div/exhibits/boxers.htm (bottom)
Courtesy of the Library of Congress
In the medieval period Ethiopia became a multiethnic, multilingual, and multireligious state in which the kings limited the church’s conversion efforts. Nevertheless, the kings continued to emphasize their Christian identity, and this factor is reflected in their adoption and endorsement of the Fetha Nagast, or Law of the Kings, in the mid-fifteenth century. This legal code had originally been written in Arabic by a Coptic Christian in Egypt, probably in the mid-thirteenth century. While living under Muslim rule, the Copts were allowed to adopt portions of Justinian’s law code and the resolutions of church councils for their own governance. Translated from Greek, and with many Biblical passages added, the code connected Egyptian Christians to their Byzantine, Roman, and Judeo-Christian heritage, founding the basis of law squarely in that tradition. The Ethiopian monarchs had the Arabic source translated into Ge’ez (the state language of Ethiopia at the time), and the translator added a section on kingship, a portion of which is offered below. The Law of the Kings remained the law in Ethiopia until 1930, when Emperor Haile Selassie I issued the country’s first modern constitution.
Excerpt from The Fetha Nagast, trans. Paulos Tzadua, ed. Peter L. Strauss (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2009), 271–273.
While many consider the Cold War to have been a showdown between free market capitalism and state-directed economics, the truth on the ground was often more complex. Here, the American petro-giant Mobil Oil proudly proclaims its support for newly-independent Ghana’s Five-Year Plan to create a socialist “Welfare State.”
National Archives of Ghana (PRAAD)
World Economic Forum
The Global Gender Gap Report was introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 to analyze disparities between genders in a worldwide context. It assesses national gender gaps in political, economic, health, and education-related areas and ranks countries according to data, allowing comparisons across regions, time, and income groups. According to the report’s introduction, these rankings “are designed to create greater awareness among a global audience of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them.” This excerpt looks at women’s impact on economic growth through increased education, participation in the labor force, and women’s role as consumers, or the “power of the purse.”
From “The Global Gender Gap,” World Economic Forum, 2010. http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_GenderGap_Report_2010.pdf (downloaded November 20, 2012).
Amda Seyon was a fourteenth century king of the Solomonid Dynasty, which ruled Ethiopia from 1270 until 1974. The name of the dynasty, Solomonid, derives from the Ethiopian belief that the kings of Aksum (whom the Solomonids believed were their ancestors) were descended from King Solomon of Israel and the Queen of Sheba. The kings of Aksum and the later Solomonids were Christian, and their king Amda Seyon, led them into warfare in 1329 against Muslims in the neighboring state of Ifat (in north-east Ethiopia). The Solomonids also fought against other neighboring states, including Christians and animists; however, the Glorious Victories of Amda Seyon portrays the war between the Solomonids and Ifat as a religious war between Christians and Muslims. The following excerpt features the king encouraging his army to fight on, paraphrasing the book of Psalms in the process.
The Glorious Victories of Amda Seyon, King of Ethiopia, trans. and ed. G. W. B. Huntingford. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965), 67, 69-71.
The archaeological site of Mapungubwe, first discovered and excavated in the 1930s, spans the borders of present-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Botswana. It was one of the most powerful African Iron Age states, dominating southern Africa from 1070 to 1300 and establishing trade contacts with the Middle East and India. The source of its influence was the gold mined in the territory, fashioned into objects, and then exported far beyond the borders of the kingdom.
University of Pretoria Museums, South Africa, Mapungubwe Collection, copyright University of Pretoria
Jantshi ka Nongila
Shaka was born in 1787, the illegitimate son of Senzangakhona, chief of the Zulu. Treated as an unwelcome outcast by his father and his kin, he sought refuge among several neighboring groups before distinguishing himself as a skilled and innovative soldier in the Mthethwa army. King Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa was so impressed with Shaka that he helped him seize the Zulu chieftainship after the death of Senzangakhona in 1816. When Dingiswayo was killed by his archenemy Zwide, Shaka avenged the death of his friend and mentor by destroying Zwide’s regiments in 1818. Shaka used this occasion to submit the large Mthethwa confederation to his personal rule, and the Zulu emerged as the dominant military and political power in the region. During the 1820s, Shaka continued to expand and consolidate the Zulu empire. Through a series of wars that became known as the mfecane (“the time of sorrows”), widespread areas of southern Africa were devastated by warfare, famine, and social dislocation as residents tried to resist or escape from the Zulu regiments. At the height of his power in the mid-1820s, Shaka was visited by British traders, who were duly impressed with the size and power of the Zulu kingdom. Although Shaka was wary of the English, he did initiate commercial and diplomatic relations, and he sent personal emissaries to meet with the British king. But in 1828, Shaka was assassinated and succeeded by Dingane, his half-brother. Dingane ruled in much the same manner as Shaka until his power was broken by an armed force of white settlers at the Battle of Blood River in 1836. This selection is from Jantshi ka Nongila, the son of one of Shaka’s military intelligence officers. In 1902, when Jantshi was around 55 years old, he recounted his tales to James Stuart, an English colonial civil servant who had a keen interest in recording and preserving the language and history of the Zulu people. The edited selection of his testimony highlights Shaka’s frontier battle with Zwide, and it illuminates the traits and behaviors that made the Zulu king a great and feared leader.
James Stuart interview with Jantshi ka Nongila, February 9–19, 1903, in The James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence Relating to the History of the Zulu and Neighboring Peoples, Vol. I. de B. Webb and J. B. Wright, eds. and transl. University of Natal Press (1979): 174, 185–87, 189, 195, 198, 201–02.
This autobiography of a slave who would emerge as a leading voice in the abolitionist cause has been enormously significant for understanding Atlantic slavery. Equiano claimed to have been born a prince among the Igbo people of modern Nigeria around 1745, kidnapped as a child, and transported across the ocean to the West Indies and Virginia. Named by his first (of several) masters after the sixteenth-century king Gustav I of Sweden, “Gustavus Vas[s]a” would travel throughout the southern American colonies and the Caribbean, always longing to achieve his freedom. Shaming his Quaker master into honoring a promise, Equiano was freed in 1765, but he continued to suffer the indignities and risks attending a free black man living in a slave society. His published memoir was designed to galvanize antislavery forces, and his work elicited sufficient sympathy and respect to contribute to the abolition of the British slave trade (though not slavery itself) in 1807.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr., ed., The Classic Slave Narratives (New York: Mentor, 1987), 99–100, 102–103.
In 1789, Olaudah Equiano published his autobiography, titled The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself. The title is most appropriate, for there is little doubt that he did indeed live a very interesting and exceptional life. Born around 1745 in what is now southeastern Nigeria, he was only eleven years old when he and his sister were kidnapped by African slave traders, brought to the coast, and sold to a European slave merchant. He was then shipped across the Atlantic to the West Indies, enduring and surviving a horrific experience during the “middle passage.” He was subsequently sent to a plantation in Virginia, where he was purchased by Captain Michael Pascal, an officer in the Royal British Navy. Equiano served Pascal well for several years, acting as a shipboard powder boy during several campaigns of the Seven Years’ War. While living in England, he was able to receive some schooling, and he converted to Christianity.
His next master, a Philadelphia businessman named Robert King, returned Equiano to the West Indies and employed him as a shipping clerk. Equiano took advantage of his tolerant Quaker master and his commercial travels to engage in some petty trading of his own, and he eventually saved enough to purchase his freedom in 1766. He continued his maritime voyages as a free man for several years, joining expeditions to the Mediterranean, Central America, and a near-fatal exploratory voyage to the Arctic. He later joined the British abolitionist movement and became a popular speaker against slavery and the slave trade in England. In 1787, he was briefly involved with an ill-fated project to repatriate free blacks to Sierra Leone, but he was forced to resign after he complained about corruption and mismanagement within the organization. He returned to his speaking tours across England and wrote his autobiography, which sold very well in Great Britain and the United States. By most accounts, he died in 1797, with his final wish to return to Africa as a missionary unfulfilled.
The reading consists of excerpts taken from Equiano’s autobiography. Although originally written to promote the abolitionist cause, his accounts of his experiences seem mostly accurate. His story begins with his description of village life in Africa prior to his capture. Here he acknowledges that Africans had their own institution of slavery, but he strives to make a clear distinction between it and the slavery that he experienced and witnessed in the Caribbean. He then recounts the manner in which he was captured, brought to the coast, and transported to the West Indies. His detailed and moving description clearly conveys the shock and subsequent demoralization that accompanied the loss of freedom and removal from one’s ancestral home. It is also interesting to compare his story with the account found in Jacques Barbot’s journal and to identify, analyze, and explain the ways in which they are similar and different. The next section focuses on Equiano’s experiences in the Caribbean, his views on African–European relations, and his unceasing efforts to win his freedom. Through his own example, he illustrates the behaviors and attitudes required for slaves to make the most of their situation. The reading ends with his final plea for abolition, in which he crafts an argument that blends both moral and economic factors in support of ending the trade in slaves.
Olaudah Equiano, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa the African, written by himself, in Equiano’s Travels, ed. Paul Edwards (Oxford: Heinemann Press, 1996): 1–3, 6–9, 13–14, 22–28, 57–67, 143–46. Copyright © 1996 Heinemann Publishers.
Samuel Clemens (1835–1910), who took his pen name from a command shouted on riverboats, was the quintessential American writer: his major works The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are classics about the American experience. A humorist, Twain borrowed and responded to current political material in his works. This essay provides a satirical yet scathing depiction of King Leopold II of Belgium, whom Twain condemned as a heartless imperialist for his destructive policies in the Belgian Congo. Consider how Twain gets his point across while nonetheless speaking from King Leopold’s point of view.
From King Leopold’s Soliloquy: A Defense of His Congo Rule, By Mark Twain. Boston: The P. R. Warren Co., 1905. Second Edition
Abstract and Key Words
German mapmaker Henricus Martellus created this copy of a Portuguese map to show the extent of Bartolomeu Dias’s explorations beyond the Cape of Good Hope in southern Africa in 1486-1488. In earlier Ptolemaic maps, Africa appears as either a quarter-circle or a block of landmass abruptly terminating at the Sahara. This remarkable map shows the rapid development of European knowledge of the west and south coasts of Africa during the fifteenth century. In contrast to earlier maps, Africa is shown as surrounded by water. The Indian Ocean—for centuries a Muslim-controlled “lake” inaccessible to European merchants– is now shown as penetrable by ocean-going vessels sailing around the Cape of Good Hope. In 1497 Vasco da Gama headed a successful expedition that did just that, returning to Portugal in 1499.
Nzinga Mbemba (Afonso I)
A Portuguese sailor came into contact with the Kingdom of Kongo, which occupied a vast territory along the Congo River in central Africa, in 1483. When he returned in 1491, he was accompanied by Portuguese priests and Portuguese products, and in the same year the Kongolese king and his son were baptized as Catholics. When the son succeeded his father in 1506, he took the Christian name Afonso and promoted the introduction of European culture and religion within his kingdom. His son Henrique was educated in Portugal and became a Catholic bishop. However, Afonso’s kingdom began to deteriorate in subsequent decades, as the Portuguese made further inroads into his territory, pursuing ruthless commercial practices and trading in slaves captured in his dominions. In 1526, the king sent desperate letters to King João III of Portugal, urging him to control his own subjects and to respect the alliance—and the common Catholic faith—that bound the Europeans and the Africans together.