Tag Archives: africa

Tribes #2: The Zulu

The largest tribe in South Africa is the Zulu, but this has not always been the case.

The Zulu originate from eastern Africa, but migrated to South Africa hundreds of years ago.

The Zulu belong to the group of tribes that speak Bantu. Bantu-speaking tribes have a tradition in which the groom’s family negotiates the wedding in a house with the family of the bride. This tradition is known as lobola.

Some key characteristics of the Zulu are: colourful beads, carvings and baskets. But they only wear their traditional clothing for special life events such as weddings and funerals.

Psychedelics #4: Iboga

“Ibogaine is a naturally occurring psychoactive indole alkaloid found in plants in the Apocynaceae family such as Tabernanthe iboga, Voacanga africana and Tabernaemontana undulata. In the iboga plant (Tabernanthe iboga), the highest concentration of ibogaine is found in the root bark. Lower concentrations of ibogaine are found in the rest of the plant along with other indole alkaloids in the same family.

These plants are used for medicinal and ritual purposes in African spiritual traditions of the Bwiti religion in Gabon. It was first promoted in the West as having anti-addictive properties in 1962 by Howard Lotsof, who was a heroin addict himself. In France it was marketed as Lambarène and used as a stimulant. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) also studied the effects of ibogaine in the 1950s.

Today, it is illegal in the United States as is considered a Schedule I drug. However, it’s available to varying degrees in many other countries, including Canada and Mexico, as well as several European countries. It’s primarily used in treating addiction for opiates and other highly-addictive drugs, though it is also becoming more common as a tool for personal and spiritual development. Recreational use of ibogaine is nearly non-existent.

Many factors contribute to the ibogaine and iboga experiences, including dose, mindset, setting, and method of consumption. With that in mind, each individual journey will be unique to the person, time, and place, and there’s no way to predict exactly what will happen. It’s also important to note the difference between iboga and ibogaine, each of which has a different makeup and use case. However, ibogaine and iboga do induce some common experiences and effects that can help you prepare for your journey.

Like many psychedelics, iboga has traditionally been used in ceremonial and religious contexts to connect the user to a higher level of spirituality and a deeper understanding of the self. This usually comes about due to the personal insights gained in the egoless state that iboga can produce—people often receive powerful insights into the personal issues they’re facing and feel a greater connection to the world around them. In this context, iboga can help spark personal growth in myriad forms—it’s helped people deal with depression, anxiety, PTSD, indulgent behaviors, and much more.

Source: https://www.google.com/amp/s/thethirdwave.co/psychedelics/ibogaine/amp/

Instruments #1: African Djembe Drum

“The djembe (pronounced JEM-bay) is one of the most versatile and widespread percussion instruments on the planet. Its huge popularity is down to the fact that it can create an unusually wide range of pitches, namely the bass (low), tone (medium) and slap (high). These sounds are created by striking different areas of the djembe skin with the hands.

Its Origins

The djembe drum is said to have been invented in the 12th Century by the Mandinke tribe in what is now Mali, in West Africa. It has been played by West Africans for generations forming an integral part of ritualistic life in Mali, Guinea, Senegal and other neighbouring West African countries.

Its Design

The djembe has a very unique and distinctive design, which is fundamental to its versatile sound. The “goblet-shaped” body of the drum is carved and hollowed out of a single piece of tree trunk. The Mandinka people traditionally used wood from Lenge trees, which held great spiritual importance for them while also lending the drum its resounding acoustic.

The large bowl-shaped chamber in the upper part of the body creates low resonance for the bass strokes (struck by the whole hand in the middle of the drum), while the narrow elongated lower section helps project the volume of all tones.

The head of the drum is traditionally made from goat skin, providing the djembe with piercing high-pitched tone and slap sounds (struck by the hand near the edge of the drum) owing to the thinness of goat skin (compared to antelope or calf-skin).

Sounds of the djembe

There are three main sounds that can be played on a djembe: bass, tone and slap.

The bass sound (low-pitched) is achieved by striking the drum in the middle of the skin with a heavy hand.

The tone (medium-pitched) is played with the hand on the edge of the skin, using the wrist as well as the arm to propel the hand towards the drum.

The slap (high-pitched) is technically the hardest stroke to achieve. There are many types of slap, all of which are played near the edge.

Cultural context

The djembe has been an integral part of spiritual and ritualistic life in West Africa for many generations. It was traditionally only played by griots, well respected high-class court musicians, who used it for story-telling: passing on important historical, religious and cultural information to future generations. Griots were, and still are, respected as not just incredible musicians, but men of great knowledge, possessing centuries of wisdom passed down to them through their direct ancestors.

The drum is inextricably linked with singing and dancing, and any aspiring djembefola (djembe player) must also learn the accompanying songs and dance moves to the rhythms they perform. Various dances have different symbolic meanings, and are performed at important events such as festivals calling for rain or a good harvest, or at ceremonies like births, weddings and funerals.”

Source: http://www.drumafrica.co.uk/articles/the-djembe/

Civilisations #20: Ancient Carthage

“Ancient Carthage was a North African, Phoenician civilization that lasted from c. 650 BCE to 146 BCE. They were defeated by the Romans in 146 BCE. Carthage eventually extended across northern Africa and into the south of modern-day Spain.

Carthaginian religion was based on Phoenician religion (derived from the faiths of the Levant), a form of polytheism. Many of the gods the Carthaginians worshiped were localized, and are now known only under their local names.

Carthage produced finely embroidered silks, dyed textiles of cotton, linen,and wool, artistic and functional pottery, and perfumes. Its artisans worked expertly with ivory, glassware, and wood, as well as with metals and precious stones. It traded in salted Atlantic fish and fish sauce (garum), and brokered the products of almost every Mediterranean people. In addition to manufacturing, Carthage practiced highly advanced and productive agriculture, using iron ploughs, irrigation, and crop rotation.

Carthaginian commerce extended by sea throughout the Mediterranean, and perhaps into the Atlantic as far as the Canary Islands, and by land across the Sahara desert. According to Aristotle, the Carthaginians and others had treaties of commerce to regulate their exports and imports.The empire of Carthage depended heavily on its trade with cities of the Iberian peninsula, from which it obtained vast quantities of silver, lead, copper and—most importantly —tin ore, which was essential for the manufacture of bronze objects by the civilizations of antiquity.

Carthaginian trade-relations with the Iberians (and the naval strength that enforced Carthage’s monopoly on Iberian trade and that with tin-rich Britain), made it the sole significant broker of tin and maker of bronze in its day. Maintaining this monopoly was one of the major sources of power and prosperity for Carthage; Carthaginian merchants strove to keep the location of the tin mines secret. In addition to its role as the sole significant distributor of tin, Carthage’s central location in the Mediterranean and control of the waters between Sicily and Tunisia allowed it to control the eastern peoples’ supply of tin. Carthage was also the Mediterranean’s largest producer of silver mined in Iberia and on the North African coast; after the tin monopoly, silver was one of its most profitable trades.

Carthage also sent caravans into the interior of Africa and Persia. It traded its manufactured and agricultural goods to the coastal and interior peoples of Africa for salt, gold, timber, ivory, ebony, apes, peacocks, skins, and hides. Its merchants invented the practice of sale by auction and used it to trade with the African tribes. In other ports, they tried to establish permanent warehouses, or sell their goods in open-air markets.

Carthage obtained amber from Scandinavia, and from the Celtiberians, Gauls, and Celts they got amber, tin, silver, and furs. Sardinia and Corsica produced gold and silver for Carthage, and Phoenician settlements on islands, such as Malta and the Balearic Islands, produced commodities that would be sent back to Carthage for large-scale distribution. The city supplied poorer civilizations with simple products (such as pottery, metallic objects, and ornamentations), often displacing the local manufacturing, and meanwhile brought its best works to wealthier civilizations (such as the Greeks and Etruscans). Carthage traded in almost every commodity wanted by the ancient world, including spices from Arabia, Africa and India. It also participated in the slave trade.

Military And Warfare
The military of Carthage was one of the largest military forces in the ancient world. Although Carthage’s navy was always its main military force, the army acquired a key role in the spread of Carthaginian power over the native peoples of northern Africa and southern Iberian Peninsula, from the 6th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Carthage’s military also allowed it to expand into Sardinia and the Balearic Islands. This expansion transformed the military from a body of citizen-soldiers into a multinational force composed primarily of foreign mercenary units.

Ancient Carthage was almost constantly at war with the Greeks or the Romans. One set of wars was called the Punic Wars. They were fought with Rome from 265 BCE to 146 BCE. The main cause of the Punic Wars was the conflict of interest between the existing Carthaginian Empire and the expanding Roman Republic. The Romans were initially interested in expansion via Sicily (at that time a cultural melting pot), part of which lay under Carthaginian control. At the start of the first Punic War, Carthage was the dominant power of the Western Mediterranean, with an extensive maritime empire. Rome, meanwhile, was the rapidly ascending power in Italy, which still lacked the naval power of Carthage.

It was during the Second Punic War that the Carthaginian leader Hannibal launched his famous overland attack on Rome. By the end of the third war, which began in 149 BCE, many hundreds of thousands of soldiers from both sides had been lost, and Rome succeeded in conquering Carthage’s empire. The Romans completely destroyed Carthage, and became the most powerful state in the Western Mediterranean. During this period, Rome emerged as the dominant Mediterranean power and one of the most powerful cities in classical antiquity. The Roman victories over Carthage in these wars gave Rome a preeminent status, a status it would retain until the 5th century CE.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/ancient-carthage/

Civilisations #15 : The Bantu Migration

Bantu Migration: Background
The Bantu expansion is the name for a postulated millennia-long series of migrations of speakers of the original proto-Bantu language group. The primary evidence for this expansion has been linguistic, namely that the languages spoken in sub-Equatorial Africa are remarkably similar to each other. Attempts to trace the exact route of the expansion, to correlate it with archaeological evidence and genetic evidence, have not been conclusive. Many aspects of the expansion remain in doubt or are highly contested. The linguistic core of the Bantu family of languages, a branch of the Niger-Congo language family, was located in the adjoining region of Cameroon and Nigeria. From this core, expansion began about 3,000 years ago, with one stream going into East Africa, and other streams going south along the African coast of Gabon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Angola, or inland along the many south-to-north flowing rivers of the Congo River system. The expansion eventually reached South Africa as early as 300 CE.

The Expansion
It seems likely that the expansion of the Bantu-speaking people from their core region in West Africa began around 1000 BCE. Although early models posited that the early speakers were both iron-using and agricultural, archaeology has shown that they did not use iron until as late as 400 BCE, though they were agricultural. The western branch, not necessarily linguistically distinct, according to Christopher Ehret, followed the coast and the major rivers of the Congo system southward, reaching central Angola by around 500 BCE. Further east, Bantu-speaking communities had reached the great Central African rainforest, and by 500 BCE, pioneering groups had emerged into the savannas to the south, in what are now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola, and Zambia.

Another stream of migration, moving east by 1000 BCE, was creating a major new population center near the Great Lakes of East Africa, where a rich environment supported a dense population. Movements by small groups to the southeast from the Great Lakes region were more rapid, with initial settlements widely dispersed near the coast and near rivers due to comparatively harsh farming conditions in areas further from water. Pioneering groups had reached modern KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa by 300 CE along the coast, and the modern Limpopo Province (formerly Northern Transvaal) by 500 CE.

Effects Of The Bantu Migration
Archaeological, linguistic, genetic, and environmental evidence all support the conclusion that the Bantu expansion was a long process of multiple human migrations. Before the expansion of farming and pastoralist African peoples, Southern Africa was populated by hunter-gatherers and earlier pastoralists. The Bantu expansion first introduced Bantu peoples to Central, Southern, and Southeast Africa, regions they had previously been absent from. The proto-Bantu migrants in the process assimilated and/or displaced a number of earlier inhabitants that they came across, including Pygmy and Khoisan populations in the center and south, respectively. They also encountered some Afro-Asiatic outlier groups in the southeast, who had migrated down from Northeast Africa.

In Eastern and Southern Africa, Bantu speakers may have adopted livestock husbandry from other unrelated Cushitic- and Nilotic-speaking peoples they encountered. Herding practices reached the far south several centuries before Bantu-speaking migrants did.

Between the 13th and 15th centuries, the relatively powerful Bantu-speaking states on a scale larger than local chiefdoms began to emerge in the Great Lakes region, in the savanna south of the Central African rainforest, and on the Zambezi river where the Monomatapa kings built the famous Great Zimbabwe complex. Such processes of state-formation occurred with increasing frequency from the 16th century onward. This was probably due to denser populations, which led to more specialized divisions of labor, including military power, while making outmigration more difficult. Other factors included increased trade among African communities and with European and Arab traders on the coasts, technological developments in economic activity, and new techniques in the political-spiritual ritualization of royalty as the source of national strength and health.

By the time Great Zimbabwe had ceased being the capital of a large trading empire, speakers of Bantu languages were present throughout much of Southern Africa. Two main groups developed—the Nguni (Xhosa, Zulu, Swazi), who occupied the eastern coastal plains, and the Sotho-Tswana, who lived on the interior plateau.

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, two major events occurred. The Trekboers were colonizing new areas of Southern Africa, moving northeast from the Cape Colony, and they came into contact with the Xhosa, the Southern Nguni. At the same time the area in modern-day KwaZulu-Natal was populated by dozens of small clans, one of which was the Zulu, then a particularly small clan of no local distinction whatsoever. In 1816, Shaka,
one of the most influential monarchs of the Zulu Kingdom, acceded to the Zulu throne. Within a year he had conquered the neighboring clans and had made the Zulu into the most important ally of the large Mtetwa clan, which was in competition with the Ndwandwe clan for domination of the northern part of modern-day KwaZulu-Natal.

Currently, 300-600 ethnic groups in Africa speak Bantu languages and are categorized as Bantu peoples. It is not known how many Bantu language exist today, but Ethnologue counts 535. They are spoken mostly east and south of present-day Cameroon, that is, in the regions commonly known as Central Africa, Southeast Africa, and Southern Africa. Parts of the Bantu area include languages from other language families.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/the-bantu-migration/

Civilisations #11: The Mali Empire

“The Mali Empire,
also historically referred to as the Manden Kurufaba, was an empire in West Africa that lasted from c. 1230 to 1600. The empire was founded by Sundiata Keita and became renowned for the wealth of its rulers. It was the largest empire in West Africa and profoundly influenced the culture of the region through the spread of its language, laws, and customs along lands adjacent to the Niger River, as well as other areas consisting of numerous vassal kingdoms and provinces.

Pre-Imperial Mali
Modern oral traditions recorded that the Mandinka kingdoms of Mali or Manden had already existed several centuries before unification by Sundiata, a Malian mansa also known as Mari Djata I, as a small state just to the south of the Soninké empire of Wagadou (the Ghana Empire). This area was composed of mountains, savanna, and forest providing ideal protection and resources for the population of hunters. Those not living in the mountains formed small city-states such as Toron, Ka-Ba, and Niani.

In approximately 1140, the Sosso kingdom of Kaniaga, a former vassal of Wagadou, began conquering the lands of its old masters. By 1180, it had even subjugated Wagadou, forcing the Soninké to pay tribute. In 1203, the Sosso king Soumaoro of the Kanté clan came to power and reportedly terrorized much of Manden, stealing women and goods from both Dodougou and Kri.

After many years in exile, first at the court of Wagadou and then at Mema, Sundiata, a prince who eventually became founder of the Mali Empire, was sought out by a Niani delegation and begged to combat the Sosso and free the kingdoms of Manden. Returning with the combined armies of Mema, Wagadou, and all the rebellious Mandinka city-states, Maghan Sundiata, or Sumanguru, led a revolt against the Kaniaga Kingdom around 1234. The combined forces of northern and southern Manden defeated the Sosso army at the Battle of Kirina (then known as Krina) in approximately 1235. This victory resulted in the fall of the Kaniaga kingdom and the rise of the Mali Empire. After the victory, King Soumaoro disappeared and the Mandinka stormed the last of the Sosso cities. Maghan Sundiata was declared “faama of faamas” and received the title “mansa,” which translates roughly to emperor. At the age of eighteen, he gained authority over all the twelve kingdoms in an alliance known as the Manden Kurufaba. He was crowned under the throne name Sunidata Keita, becoming the first Mandinka emperor. And so the name Keita became a clan/family and began its reign.

Imperial Mali (1250–1559)
The Mali Empire covered a larger area for a longer period of time than any other West African state before or since. What made this possible was the decentralized nature of administration throughout the state; yet the mansa managed to keep tax money and nominal control over the area without agitating his subjects into revolt. Officials at the village, town, city, and county levels were elected locally, and only at the state or provincial level was there any palpable interference from the central authority in Niani. Provinces picked their own governors via their own custom (election, inheritance, etc.), but governors had to be approved by the mansa and were subject to his oversight.

The Mali Empire flourished because of trade above all else. It contained three immense gold mines within its borders, and the empire taxed every ounce of gold or salt that entered its borders. By the beginning of the 14th century, Mali was the source of almost half the Old World’s gold, exported from mines in Bambuk, Boure, and Galam. There was no standard currency throughout the realm, but several forms were prominent by region. The Sahelian and Saharan towns of the Mali Empire were organized as both staging posts in the long-distance caravan trade and trading centers for the various West African products (e.g., salt, copper). Ibn Battuta,
a Medieval Moroccan Muslim traveler and scholar, observed the employment of slave labor. During most of his journey, Ibn Battuta traveled with a retinue that included slaves, most of whom carried goods for trade but would also be traded themselves. On the return from Takedda to Morocco, his caravan transported 600 female slaves, which suggests that slavery was a substantial part of the commercial activity of the empire.

The number and frequency of conquests in the late 13th century and throughout the 14th century indicate that the Kolonkan mansas (who ruled at the time) inherited and/or developed a capable military. However, it went through radical changes before reaching the legendary proportions proclaimed by its subjects. Thanks to steady tax revenue and a stable government beginning in the last quarter of the 13th century, the Mali Empire was able to project its power throughout its own extensive domain and beyond. The empire maintained a semi-professional full-time army in order to defend its borders. The entire nation was mobilized, with each clan obligated to provide a quota of fighting-age men. Historians who lived during the height and decline of the Mali Empire consistently recorded its army at 100,000, with 10,000 of that number being made up of cavalry.

The Mali Empire reached its largest size under the Laye Keita mansas (1312–1389). The empire’s total area included nearly all the land between the Sahara Desert and the coastal forests. It spanned modern-day Senegal, southern Mauritania, Mali, northern Burkina Faso, western Niger, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guinea, the Ivory Coast, and northern Ghana. The first ruler from the Laye lineage was Kankan Musa Keita (or Moussa), also known as Mansa Musa. He embarked on a large building program, raising mosques and madrasas in Timbuktu and Gao. He also transformed Sankore from an informal madrasah into an Islamic university. By the end of Mansa Musa’s reign, the Sankoré University had been converted into a fully staffed university, with the largest collections of books in Africa since the Library of Alexandria. During this period, there was an advanced level of urban living in the major centers of the Mali. 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.”

Mansa Mahmud Keita IV was the last emperor of Manden, according to the Tarikh al-Sudan. He launched an attack on the city of Djenné in 1599 with Fulani allies, hoping to take advantage of Songhai’s defeat. Eventually, the army inside Djenné intervened, forcing Mansa Mahmud Keita IV and his army to retreat to Kangaba. The battle marked the effective end of the great Mali Empire and set the stage for a plethora of smaller West African states to emerge. Around 1610, Mahmud Keita IV died. Oral tradition states that he had three sons who fought over Manden’s remains. No single Keita ever ruled Manden after Mahmud Keita IV’s death, thus the end of the Mali Empire.

The old core of the empire was divided into three spheres of influence. Kangaba, the de facto capital of Manden since the time of the last emperor, became the capital of the northern sphere. The Joma area, governed from Siguiri, controlled the central region, which encompassed Niani. Hamana (or Amana), southwest of Joma, became the southern sphere, with its capital at Kouroussa in modern Guinea. Each ruler used the title of mansa, but their authority only extended as far as their own sphere of influence. Despite this disunity in the realm, the realm remained under Mandinka control into the mid-17th century. The three states warred on each other as much if not more than they did against outsiders, but rivalries generally stopped when faced with invasion. This trend would continue into colonial times against Tukulor enemies from the west.”

Source: https://courses.lumenlearning.com/suny-hccc-worldcivilization/chapter/mali/

Did You Know #5: The True Size Of Africa

“Take a look at any map, and it’s clear that the African continent is a big place.

However, despite the common perception that Africa is a large landmass, it’s still one that is vastly underestimated by most casual map viewers.

“The reason for this is that the familiar Mercator map projection tends to distort our geographical view of the world in a crucial way — one that often leads to misconceptions about the relative sizes of both countries and continents.

A Geographical Jigsaw
Today’s infographic comes from Kai Krause and it shows the true size of Africa, as revealed by the borders of the countries that can fit within the continent’s shape.

The African continent has a land area of 30.37 million sq km (11.7 million sq mi) — enough to fit in the U.S., China, India, Japan, Mexico, and many European nations, combined.

Country Land Area (sq. km) Land Area (sq. mi) % of Africa
🇺🇸 United States 9.83 million 3.80 million 32.4%
🇨🇳 China 9.60 million 3.71 million 31.6%
🇮🇳 India 3.29 million 1.27 million 10.8%
🇲🇽 Mexico 1.96 million 0.76 million 6.5%
🇵🇪 Peru 1.29 million 0.50 million 4.2%
🇫🇷 France 0.64 million 0.25 million 2.1%
🇪🇸 Spain 0.51 million 0.20 million 1.7%
🇵🇬 Papua New Guinea 0.46 million 0.18 million 1.5%
🇸🇪 Sweden 0.45 million 0.17 million 1.5%
🇯🇵 Japan 0.38 million 0.15 million 1.3%
🇩🇪 Germany 0.36 million 0.14 million 1.2%
🇳🇴 Norway 0.32 million 0.13 million 1.1%
🇮🇹 Italy 0.30 million 0.12 million 1.0%
🇳🇿 New Zealand 0.27 million 0.10 million 0.9%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom 0.24 million 0.09 million 0.8%
🇳🇵 Nepal 0.15 million 0.06 million 0.5%
🇧🇩 Bangladesh 0.15 million 0.06 million 0.5%
🇬🇷 Greece 0.13 million 0.05 million 0.4%
Total 30.33 million sq. km 11.71 million sq. mi 99.9%

You could add together all of the landmasses above and they would not equate to the geographical footprint of Africa, which itself is home to 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.

Editor’s note: The above table is slightly different from the countries shown in the visualization, which focuses more on fitting recognizable country shapes into the geographical shape of Africa.

Why the Misconception?
Interestingly, the problem with maps is not that Africa is sized incorrectly.

Using the animation below, you’ll see that Africa is actually the most accurately sized continent using the common Mercator map projection:


The Mercator projection attempts to place the spherical shape of the world onto a cylinder, causing areas closest to the poles to be “stretched”.

Africa, which straddles the Equator, barely changes in size — meanwhile, the countries furthest from the Equator become inflated from their true sizes on this type of map.

For those of us living in Western countries, this is an interesting dilemma to consider.

This means that the sizes of European and North American countries are distorted, giving us an inaccurate mental “measuring stick” for judging the relative sizes of other countries.

This has implications not only for Africa, but for the whole Southern Hemisphere: South America, India, the Middle East, and even Australia are “bigger” than they may initially appear on a map.”

Source: https://www.visualcapitalist.com/map-true-size-of-africa/