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Africa Connected To Outside World Prior To 1500 History Essay

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What are the two ways that Africa was connected to the outside world prior to 1500? What kind of complex societies developed via these two connections? How do they differ? Before the periods of 800 and 1500 C.E, there was very limited contact of Africa to the Mediterranean and Asian civilizations. All the same, African civilization in this period compared favorably with the civilization of Europe. During this period for example, as much as the Roman Empire was on the decline, Ethiopia in East Africa was already flourished. As much as European States were becoming centralized monarchies, similar kingdoms in Sub-Sahara Africa were emanating especially in the regions drained by the Rivers Niger, Zambezi and Congo. The periods between 800 and 1500 C.E saw Africa experiencing a growth in both frequency and intensity of connection to the outside world mainly as a result of the spread of Islam. These connections led to the change in lifestyles of the people religiously, politically socially and technologically. The growth and spread of Islam brought large areas of Africa as a continent into contact with the global world. There were various ways in which Africa connected to the outside world during the periods mentioned above but the main ones were through trade, religion and politics. An important synthesis was created especially as a result of the fusion of Sudanic and East African Islamic and African cultures.

These two connections led to emergence of two conspicuously large and complex societies as far as leadership and authority was concerned. Being a preliterate era, most of the societal states’ knowledge was transmitted through oral ways. It is important to bear in mind that African societies before the period of 1500 had diversified cultures and way of life as much as they shared some aspects like language and beliefs. This diversity was obviously inevitable due to the vast size of the African continent. Political forms lacked a concentration of power and authority since they were varying from hierarchical states to “stateless” societies that were organized on principles of kinship where control was from lineages or age sets. These stateless societies were weak in the sense that they were not able to withstand external pressures or even mobilize war when the need arose. Also, they could not undertake any large building project or worse still, organize long-distance trade This growth in connections however, through religion (Christianity and Islam) and trade enhanced a significant change in both the political and cultural arrangement of these societies. A good example is the emergence of state building where states like Songhai and Mali were built on not only military power but also through dynastical alliances. City-states in eastern and western Africa were able to develop extensive trading networks as a result of slave trade.

In Central Africa however, things were different because stateless societies with kinship patterns were replaced by kingships as forms of political authority. A good example is the Luba people of Katanga region where there arose a divine hereditary bureaucracy in which the Luba king had divine power of ensuring the fertility of all living things people and crops included. This kingdom was able to successfully integrate people into one political unit. Other examples are the kingdoms of Kongo and Mwenemutapa. By the late fifteenth century, the kingdom of Kongo, an agricultural society whose people possessed abundant skills in the arts of weaving, blacksmithing, pottery making and carving flourished along the lower parts of the Congo River. A sharp division of labor existed in which women dominated domestic tasks and crop cultivation while men concentrated on clearing the forests for tilling. Hunting and trading. The population (approximately around 100,000 people) resided in small villages that were family based in which local chiefs that were non hereditary were ruled by a central kingship. In the case of the Shona-speaking people found to the east of Central Africa (Zimbabwe) in the regions between Rivers Zambezi and Limpopo, they were specialists in royal stone building which they began as far as the ninth century and saw the construction of large walls and massive stone buildings. Their ruler was referred to as Mwenemutapa who oversaw the flourishing of the kingdom by eleventh century and controlled a large territory extending to the Indian Ocean. This is the reason as to why Zimbabwe controlled and dominated gold sources and other trades with the Indian Ocean coastal ports up to the sixteenth century when the Mwenemutapa kingdom collapsed due to internal conflicts.

The main difference between the city sates and the kingdoms was on the basis of political authority. Whereas the city states had their authority bestowed on regional divine kings who usually presided over elaborate courts, the kingdoms had a different setting as the power of the king was limited by other internal societal forces. A good example is the Oyo where local lineages paid tribute to the ruler but were in control of provinces. The ruler in the capital was advised by not only a secret society but a council of state as well.


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