181-200 of 633 Results


Financing the Indian Ocean Slave Trade  

Hollian Wint

The finances underpinning the traffic in enslaved people across and around the Indian Ocean is one of the least understood factors of the trade. Comprehension of this complex history requires a consideration of all stages of the slave trade: enslavement mechanisms, the traffic and transportation of captives, and the uses of enslaved labor and capital. It also requires a broad definition of finance. Circulations of capital and credit underpinned the traffic in enslaved people, as much as the trades in Indian Ocean commodities that accompanied human trafficking. The role and business organization of merchant networks is a crucial part of this history. Muslim merchants could draw on a common faith and kinship to organize their commercial relationships, but they also relied on extensive networks of Islamic law. Gujarati merchants pooled capital and labor within extended kinship networks but disputed financial transactions in imperial courts. Both networks, however, depended on their African partners and agents to supply captives and established those relationships through gift-exchange, debt, or manumission. Thus, financial mechanisms, such as debt and pawnship, that were internal to slave-supplying societies were central to enslavement. On the other end of the trade, slave-owners in various Indian Ocean societies mobilized their slaves as security for loans, as credit that could be used to finance trading expeditions that produced more captives or to underwrite agricultural production on slave plantations. Yet credit networks also facilitated the social mobility of enslaved individuals in the Indian Ocean world (IOW), enabling some individuals to participate in commercial life and purchase property and sometimes even their own freedom. Europeans entering the IOW initially participated in and drew upon these existing financial structures of enslavement, trafficking, and slavery. Yet plantation agriculture and artisanal industries that European, Asian, and African societies developed during the long 19th century both intensified Indian Ocean slave trades and demanded new forms of capital investment. In this context, some European capital came from the Atlantic trade. British anti-slavery activities ultimately put an end to the legal traffic of captives across the Indian Ocean, though illegal trades, new forms of bondage, and internal slaveries continued into the 20th century. British interventions disrupted Indian Ocean financial networks more broadly, resulting in new forms of indebtedness in East Africa.


Fire in African Landscapes  

Simon Pooley

Fires have burned in African landscapes for more than a hundred million years, long before vertebrate herbivores trod the earth and modified vegetation and fire regimes. Hominin use of lightning fires is apparent c.1.5 million years ago, becoming deliberate and habitual from c. 400 thousand years ago (kya). The emergence of modern humans c. 195 kya was marked by widespread and deliberate use of fire, for hunting and gathering through to agricultural and pastoral use, with farming and copper and iron smelting spreading across sub-Saharan Africa with the Bantu migrations from 4–2.5 kya. Europeans provided detailed reports of Africans’ fire use from 1652 in South Africa and the 1700s in West Africa. They regarded indigenous fire use as destructive, an agent of desiccation and destruction of forests, with ecological theories cementing this in the European imagination from the 1800s. The late 1800s and early 1900s were characterized by colonial authorities’ attempts to suppress fires, informed by mistaken scientific ideas and management principles imported from temperate Europe and colonial forestry management elsewhere. This was often ignored by African and settler farmers. In the 1900s, the concerns of colonial foresters and fears about desiccation and soil erosion fueled by the American Dust Bowl experience informed anti-fire views until mid-century. However, enough time had elapsed for colonial and settler scientists and managers to have observed fires and indigenous burning practices and their effects, and to begin to question received wisdom on their destructiveness. Following World War II, during a phase of colonial cooperation and expert-led attempts to develop African landscapes, a more nuanced understanding of fire in African landscapes emerged, alongside greater pragmatism about what was achievable in managing wildfires and fire use. Although colonial restrictions on burning fueled some independence struggles, postcolonial environmental managers appear on the whole to have adopted their former oppressors’ attitudes to fire and burning. Important breakthroughs in fire ecology were made in the 1970s and 1980s, influenced by a movement away from equilibrium-based ecosystems concepts where fires were damaging disturbances to ecosystems, to an understanding of fires as important drivers of biodiversity integral to the functioning of many African landscapes. Notably from the 1990s, anthropologists influenced by related developments in rangeland ecology combined ecological studies with studies of indigenous land use practices to assess their impacts over time, challenging existing narratives of degradation in West African forests and East African savannas. Attempts were made to integrate communities (and, to a lesser extent, indigenous knowledge) into fire management plans and approaches. In the 2000s, anthropologists, archeologists, geographers, historians, and political ecologists have contributed studies telling more complex stories about human fire use. Together with detailed histories of landscape change offered by remote sensing and analysis of charcoal and pollen deposits, these approaches to the intertwined human and ecological dimensions of fire in African landscapes offer the prospect of integrated histories that can inform our understanding of the past and guide our policies and management in the future.


Food and Agricultural History of Ghana since Pre-colonial Times  

Samuel Adu-Gyamfi

The importance of food and agriculture in a nation’s history cannot be gainsaid. Generally, countries like Ghana have maintained consistent patterns of eating local staples that have dominated the food crop space for many decades in their regions. Historically, Ghana has been supported by the domestication of plants and animals and sometimes also by the translocation of the same from other regions or countries. When these new plants were made available, various agricultural techniques were deployed to perpetuate them. In Ghana, the British colonial government took steps to improve aspects of food and agriculture during the colonial period to serve domestic interest and especially European interest abroad. In general, the policies that guided the production, manufacture, and distribution of food during the colonial period continued to remain significant in subsequent years.


Food and Diet: Methods  

Liza Gijanto

Studies of food and diet across the African continent primarily include the shift from foraging, or hunting and gathering, to plant and animal domestication. Many researchers have concentrated on (1) hunter gatherer subsistence, (2) origins and patterns of agriculture (animals and plants), and (3) influences of geography, climate, and environment. Such studies utilize methods and sources from traditional historiography (i.e., primary documentary sources) as well as oral and archaeological materials. While linguistic analysis is limited, the bulk of the evidence used to determine the origins of food production and transition from procurement lies in the archaeological record and involves methods ranging from basic analysis of faunal and botanical remains to chemical and DNA analysis.


Food History and Women in Sub-Saharan Africa  

Igor Cusack

Any account of women and food history in sub-Saharan Africa must be complicated by two main factors: first, the multitude and complexity of African societies and their interactions with the different colonial powers over five centuries, and, second, by an underestimation of the importance of women’s activities by researchers imbued with colonial patriarchal ideologies. In prehistoric and precolonial times, only glimpses of women’s roles in food production and gathering can be seen, drawing on evidence from historical linguistics, ethnography, anthropology, and archaeology. What evidence there is suggests that women’s participation in these tasks was important. The written account of Ibn Battutah and the oral epic of Sundiata provide some information about what was eaten and Sundiata does point to women’s major role in growing food and in cooking. During the colonial period, from about 1500 to the 1960s, many accounts from different parts of sub-Saharan Africa stress how women played a dominant part in the farming, processing, preparation, and cooking of food. There was a varied and often complex division of labor between men and women. Instead of the more rigid gendered private/public divide often seen in the West, women in Africa have engaged in wider roles in the public sphere, for example, in the processing of food for sale. There are some indications that women’s work was changed by the introduction of new crops from Asia and the Americas. Colonial governments favored men working on cash crops so that women focused even more on the provision of food for the family. Women also showed great adaptability in assessing and using new technologies such as peanut processing machines. Cooking has remained predominantly a woman’s occupation in sub-Saharan Africa and a divide between a “high” cuisine, mainly in the hands of men outside Africa, and a “low” or humble cuisine, has not developed. Cookery books are very useful sources for evidence of the history of women’s domestic role. Those published for European settler wives in the colonial period were focused on the housewife rooted in the home and this ideology of domesticity can be found in the cookery books of postcolonial Africa. After independence, the ruling elites of African nations set about constructing discourses of national identity, flags and anthems particular to each nation, and women have contributed to this nation-building by assembling national cuisines. Since the 1980s, an epidemic of obesity has occurred in many African urban areas, with associated chronic disease, which women have suffered more than men. An ideal image of a plumper body, along with the introduction of “fast food,” has contributed to this situation. Women have also been disadvantaged by cultural food taboos in which certain foods are prohibited to them.


Food Production in the Forest Zone of West Africa: Archaeological and Historical Perspectives  

Richard T. Chia and A. Catherine D'Andrea

Recent narratives on the origin of food production in the West African forest zone have replaced earlier diffusion-based models with viewpoints that emphasize the diversity of sources for plants and animals exploited and domesticated in the region. Management of indigenous tree species, including oil palm and incense tree, managed first by indigenous foragers, have the longest history in the area, dating back to over 8,400 before present (bp). After the 4th millennium bp, domesticates such as pearl millet, cowpea, and domestic caprines were introduced from adjacent Sahel and the savanna regions, and populations began to favor oil palm over incense tree. The mechanisms of these introductions are less clear but likely involved both diffusion and/or movements of peoples who became sedentary to varying degrees. Palaeoenvironment is an important factor to consider in tracking the development of food production in the forest zone; however, some combination of natural and human-mediated changes took place, the nature of which was not uniformly distributed.


Football in Lusophone Africa  

Nuno Domingos

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the game of football has spread across the territories of the Portuguese colonial empire in Africa—Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, and São Tomé and Príncipe—quickly becoming part of the daily life of main colonial cities. It was introduced by Portuguese settlers and by individuals of other nationalities; in particular, members of the English business diaspora. Religious missions and schools as well as migrant individuals from trade and labor networks were all agents in the expansion of the game which, since the first decades of the century, has become integrated into the leisure practices of different imperial territories through the formation of clubs, associations, and tournaments. Sports associations were the most mobilizing form of its integration in the Portuguese colonial empire. This network became more extensive in colonies that were significantly urbanized, more populated, had more dynamic economies, and that had more settlers, who increasingly became fans of the game and followed competitions in the newspapers and on the radio. The institutionalization of the game incorporated the discriminatory structure of the Portuguese colonial system. The logic behind official sports policies created by the Estado Novo regime (1933–1974), which until the early 1960s did not include natives (indígenas), was thus applied. And yet, Africans soon took over the game, creating their own clubs and competitions. Resistance to Portuguese colonialism forced political changes, which resulted in a war fought on three different fronts, but also in a gradual abandonment of official policies of racial discrimination. In the colonial football sphere, this opening, combined with the development of a professional market, led to the movement of African players first to colonial clubs, and then to metropolitan clubs, and even to the national team. The fame and talent of these players, especially Eusébio da Silva Ferreira, ultimately helped in disseminating official government propaganda of a multiracial empire.


Forced Labor in Portuguese Africa  

Zachary Kagan Guthrie

Forced labor was central to the modern history of the Portuguese empire. It was widely imposed across Angola, Mozambique, São Tomé, and Guinea after the imposition of Portuguese colonial rule in the late 19th century and persisted within the Portuguese empire for decades after it had been abolished by other European powers. The brutal violence and far-reaching social disruption created by forced labor had a profound impact on colonized communities. It was one of the most important ways that individual subjects interacted with the Portuguese colonial state. Forced labor was also fundamental in structuring the economic, political, social, and ideological contours of the Portuguese empire: the colonial economy was deeply dependent on the exploitation facilitated by forced labor, and both the operations of the Portuguese colonial administration and the justification for its existence were closely intertwined with conscripting forced workers. Finally, the prevalence of forced labor in the Portuguese empire precipitated recurring international scandals, which did a great deal to define Portuguese colonialism in the eyes of the world. Studying forced labor has therefore become an important methodology for understanding the depredations of Portuguese colonial rule, its impact on the lives of the people it governed, and the economic and political organization of the Portuguese empire.


Foreign and Domestic Interest in Agricultural Land in West Africa  

Kerstin Nolte, Massa Coulibaly, and Peter Narh

Farmland in West Africa has been of interest to foreign investors for decades. However, the recent “rush for land” is unprecedented in scale and pace. Both foreign and domestic investors acquire agricultural land in West Africa; hotspots include the fertile lands along the rivers Gambia, Niger, and Senegal. The current interest in land does not come as a surprise to those who have studied how land governance systems in West Africa evolved over time: Inherited from colonial administration, land tenure is governed through statutory and overlapping (neo) customary systems. Since the 1990s, these systems have allowed investors to acquire ownership or rights of use, especially for customary land. This facilitated access to land for outsiders, which then coincided with an increased demand for land in the 2000s. Since then, large extents of agricultural land have been transferred to foreign and domestic commercial investors. These acquisitions are exacerbating inequalities, and the current evidence points toward rather adverse impacts on local people. At the same time, such acquisitions put land governance systems under pressure. This pressure leads to changes to the land governance systems, for instance, through eroding trust in customary institutions. The examples of the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company and Mali’s Office du Niger show how exactly land acquisitions play out on the ground over time.


Forest History  

Christopher Conte

Natural and human histories intersect in Africa’s forested regions. Forests of several types cover the continent’s mountains, savannas, and river basins. Most current classifications divide forest by physical structure. Open canopy forests occur in semi-arid regions of western, eastern, and southern Africa, while closed canopy rain forests with large emergent trees cover much of the Congo River basin, the upland forests of Rift Valley escarpments, and the volcanic mountains in eastern and Central Africa. Along the tropical coasts, mangrove forests hug the river estuaries. For much of human history, Africa’s forests have anchored foraging and agrarian societies. In the process of domesticating the landscape through agriculture, Africans modified forests in ways that ranged from large-scale deforestation to forest creation on savanna environments. A boom in forest commodities preceded European colonialism and then continued when foreign governments took formal possession of African territory in the late 19th century. In this context, states ascribed value to forest trees as commodities and so managed them as profitable agricultural crops. Colonial forestry separated people from forests physically and culturally. This fundamental shift in human–forest relations still resonates in postcolonial African countries under the guise of internationally funded forest conservation.


Forms of Slavery in the Great Lakes States (East Africa)  

Michael W. Tuck

Among the centralized states of the Great Lakes area of East Africa, there was a cultural unity that included certain forms of slavery. The enslaved persons in the region were dishonored, subject to violence, and considered property. The most distinct feature of slavery in the region was the gendered dimension, with common terms among the societies for male and female slaves that were widespread prior to the 18th century. Another common feature was the general use of the labor of the enslaved for household tasks as opposed to for producing products for the market. As the region was incorporated into long-distance commercial networks in the 19th century, the status and treatment of the enslaved changed. The demand for slaves and ivory for coastal East Africa led to a number of changes among the states. The increased enslavement of people for export, primarily through warfare and raiding, led to an increase in violence and instability. The greater numbers of enslaved people passing through the states also led to an increase in slavery within the states, mainly of women. That, in turn, led to an increase in violence within the states and a diminishing of the status of women. The integration into commercial networks not only led to short-term gains for elites but also introduced tensions within the societies which undermined central authority and led to colonial conquest.


Frantz Fanon  

Christopher J. Lee

Frantz Fanon was born in 1925 on the Caribbean island of Martinique. He died in 1961 from leukemia in a hospital outside Washington, DC. Trained as a psychiatrist, Fanon achieved fame as a philosopher of anti-colonial revolution. He published two seminal books, Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961), that addressed the psychological effects of racism and the politics of the Algerian Revolution (1954–1962), respectively. He also wrote a third book, Year Five of the Algerian Revolution (1959, reprinted and translated as A Dying Colonialism in 1967), as well as numerous medical journal articles and political essays, a selection of which appear in the posthumous collections Toward the African Revolution (1964) and Alienation and Freedom (2015). Despite the brevity of his life and written work, Fanon’s analysis of colonialism and decolonization has remained vital, influencing a range of academic fields such that the term Fanonism has become shorthand to capture his interrelated political, philosophical, and psychological arguments. Through penetrating views and a frequently bracing prose style, the small library of Fanon’s work has become essential reading in postcolonial studies, African and African American studies, critical race theory, and the history of insurgent thought, to name just a few subjects. Fanon is a political martyr who died before he could witness the birth of an independent Algeria, his stature near mythic in scale as a result. To invoke Fanon is to bring forth a radical worldview dissatisfied with the political present, reproachful of the conformities of the past, and consequently in perpetual struggle for a better future.


Freedom Suits in the Ibero-Atlantic World  

Cristina Nogueira da Silva and Mariana Dias Paes

Throughout the period when slavery was a legally sanctioned institution in the Atlantic and Mediterranean worlds (c. 1500–c. 1888), Africans and their descendants in Europe, Africa, and the Americas approached courts and other institutions to claim their entire or partial freedom. Known as “freedom suits,” these lawsuits allow access to their conceptions of freedom and justice. Mobilizing a common normative framework, enslaved individuals advanced their own interpretations regarding norms that governed slavery and freedom. This common framework, however, acquired specific meanings in different regions, depending on the configuration of the relationship between slave and owner as well as on the agency of the enslaved themselves. Enslaved women and men advanced numerous arguments in courts, but their chances of success varied widely. In the long term, these lawsuits were fundamental in determining the directions that the institution of slavery took in the Ibero-Atlantic world.


Free French Africa  

Eric Jennings

Free French Africa was the part of the French empire that came under the control of General Charles de Gaulle’s movement. From 1940 to 1943, it encompassed French Equatorial Africa and Cameroon; Brazzaville served as its capital. These African lands provided Free France with legitimacy, manpower, revenue, natural resources, and a starting point for military operations in the Desert War. These territories fell into Free French hands for a number of reasons, including the actions of African noncommissioned officers who spearheaded the arrest of Vichy’s governor in late August 1940. Thereafter, they were thrown headlong into the war effort. Some 17,000 soldiers were recruited in these regions and a run on natural resources ensued. It was at considerable cost to local populations that de Gaulle built a military machine in Central Africa, one capable of bringing France back into the global fray. For Africans, the advent of Free France signaled economic hardship, multiple imperatives including military enlistment and rubber collection, and a hardening of colonial practices.


Fulani Pastoralism in West Africa  

Matthew D. Turner

Histories of the Fulani people have generally focused not on their pastoralism per se but on their role in the political histories of different periods in West Africa. Nevertheless, the changing social relations of Fulani people and others have affected the Fulani settlement and herd mobility practices that constitute their pastoralism. Fulani pastoralism has undergone significant changes from the late 19th century to the present, including sociopolitical changes that arose with colonial rule and have led to new trajectories affecting Fulani pastoralism up to the present. A key issue is the uneasy dependence of herding Fulani on the state—a dependence that has qualitatively changed as the key threat to their mobile pastoral livelihood has shifted from insecurity to competition with crop agriculture, as shaped by colonial policy, laws, and rapid increases in rural population density. The Fulani have always been a heterogeneous group. The herding Fulani, who manage livestock owned by themselves and others, is a focus of any reconstruction of the history of pastoralism. Unfortunately, these low-status “bush Fulani” are not often not included as protagonists in oral histories and colonial archives. A serious consideration of current understandings understandings of the needs of livestock and the constraints associated with herding offers a different lens through which to re-read standard accounts of the “Fulani” within colonial and post-colonial documents. By doing so, the hope is to demonstrate the responsiveness of herding Fulani to the changing constraints they have faced over time.


The Gambia  

Bala Saho

Oral history tells of an indigenous trader who lived in the middle belts of the River Gambia known as Kambi. His wealth and popularity transcended boundaries, villages, and communities from the interior of western Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. When the Portuguese arrived in the region during the first half of the 15th century, they immediately realized that Kambi wielded economic and social authority because of the frequent movements of traders up and down the river. The traders told the Portuguese that they visited Kambi-yaa (or Kambi’s place in Mandinka) in order to trade, and the Portuguese decided to name the region Gambia. Whether the above oral narrative is accurate is not of great concern. What is important is that the account provides a glimpse of the history of the region and the changes that were already under way by the 15th century. It is evident that the ancestors of present-day Gambians had arrived in waves, or series of migrations, and were fully established on both banks of the Gambia River when Portuguese explorers first arrived in the 15th century. The Portuguese reported having found Mandinka kings on the river who claimed to be vassals of the king of “Melle.” In 1620, Richard Jobson also reported that the Mandingo were the “lords and commanders” of all the Gambia. These early 15th century contacts, led to a continuous Europeans’ presence in the River Gambia that still persist. By 1816, Bathurst was established as the new capital of the Gambia but it was not until nearly 100 years later that the entire territory we now know as Gambia came firmly under British influence. British rule lasted until 1965, when a new era of self-rule began. The country has since witnessed three republics, the first ending in 1994, the second in 2016, and the third still existing as of 2018.


Gender and the Study of Slavery and the Slave Trades in Africa  

Vanessa S. Oliveira

Indigenous societies in Africa made use of slave labor and traded in captives. Slavery was one of many forms of dependency and an effective means of controlling people alongside serfdom, clientage, wage labor, and pawnship. In African societies, enslaved individuals could be sacrificed at funerals and in public ceremonies, as well as used in the military and in the production of goods and foodstuffs. Because of their kinlessness and dependent status, some enslaved men and women could hold positions of authority. Women were more wanted in the domestic market, as they played a major role in the production of foodstuffs in agricultural societies and contributed to increasing kinship groups. Indigenous forms of slavery coexisted with demand for enslaved laborers in the trans-Saharan, Indian Ocean, and transatlantic markets from ancient times until the 20th century. The Muslim markets absorbed more women, incorporated as concubines and domestic servants, as well as castrated boys. The transatlantic market, in turn, required more men to work on plantations and in urban occupations. The growing need for slave labor in the Americas and in the Muslim world had profound implications for slavery in Africa. By the late 18th and 19th centuries, the productive use of enslaved labor had become a fundamental feature of the African political economy, resulting in the development of slave societies in various regions of the continent. The demand for captives in the internal and foreign markets resulted in the enrichment of few individuals and firms and in the growth of insecurity and slavery in Africa.


Genesis of Chadic Polities  

Augustin Holl

Chadic is above all a linguistic category. It includes a number of languages belonging to the Afro-Asiatic linguistic family and located almost exclusively in the Chad basin in North central Africa. Chadic languages are distributed in in three regional clusters, each divided in to part: Western Chadic with northwest and southeast sub-clusters, Central Chadic with southern and northern sub-cluster, and finally, Eastern Chadic with southwestern and northeastern sub-clusters. The history of settlement, expansion, and socio-cultural evolution of speakers of Chadic languages is intimately the consequences of climate change on Lake Chad and the Chad basin. Converging results of genomic research point to the Eastern African origins of Ancestral Chadic. Groups of Ancestral Chadic migrated along the tributaries of the Shari River, forming the Proto-Chadic Homeland in the southeast of the Mid-Holocene Lake Chad. These Early Chadic speaking communities drifted northeastward, northward, and northwestward, initially as pastoral nomadic groups, then sedentary mixed-farmers. The socio-political systems changed radically during the first half of the second millennium CE, from 1000 to 1500 CE, presiding over the emergence hierarchical and centralized polities in Western and Central Chadic areas.


Genetics and Southern African History  

Francesco Montinaro and Cristian Capelli

Southern Africa’s past is constellated by a series of demographic events tracing back to the dawn of our species, approximately 300,000 years ago. The intricate pattern of population movements over the millennia contributed to creating an exceptional level of diversity, which is reflected by the high degree of genomic variability of southern African groups. Although a complete characterization of the demographic history of the subcontinent is still lacking, several decades of extensive research have contributed to shed light on the main events. Genetic and archaeological researches suggest that modern humans may have emerged as the result of admixture between different African groups, possibly including other Homo populations, challenging the common view of a unique origin of our species. Although details are still unknown, surveys suggest that long term resident populations (related to Khoe-San speakers) of the subcontinent may have emerged hundreds of thousand years ago, and have inhabited the area for at least five millennia. Population movements, and the introduction of new cultural features, characterize the history of southern Africa over the last five millennia and have had a dramatic impact on subcontinental genetic variability. Traces of these migrations can be identified using different genetic systems, revealing a complex history of adaptation to new selective pressures and sex-biased admixture. The historical events of the European colonization and the slave trade of the last millennium, and the emergence of new cultural groups, further increased the genomic variability of human populations in this region, one of the most genetically diverse in the world.


Genetics and the African Past  

Mary E. Prendergast, Elizabeth A. Sawchuk, and Kendra A. Sirak

Africa harbors the greatest human genetic diversity on the planet, a fact that has inspired extensive investigation of the population structure found across the continent and the demographic processes that shaped observed patterns of genetic variation. Since the 1980s, studies of the DNA of living people have repeatedly demonstrated that Africa is the cradle of human origins, in agreement with fossil and archaeological evidence. Since the first ancient human genome was published in 2010, ancient DNA (aDNA) has contributed additional possibilities for exploring population history, providing a direct window into genetic lineages that no longer exist or are barely discernible. Genetic data from both living and ancient people—when integrated with available archaeological, bioarchaeological, historical linguistic, and written or oral historical data—are important tools for contextualizing African genetic diversity and understanding the biological and cultural processes that have shaped it over time. While most studies to date have focused on humans, aDNA can also be obtained from plant and animal remains, sediments, and some artifacts, all of which can enable a more comprehensive understanding of human lives. Genetic research on the African past often focuses on human origins and Pleistocene population structure, as well as on the origins, directionality, and tempo of demographic changes that accompanied Holocene transitions to herding and farming. The rise of cosmopolitan cities and states in the past two millennia has been examined with genetic evidence to a very limited extent, but this is a potentially rich vein of research. Increasingly, forced migrations of enslaved Africans and the development of the diaspora are the subjects of genetic study as well. Yet to date, Africa remains vastly understudied relative to parts of the world such as Eurasia, in terms of both ancient and present-day DNA. This shapes not only the study of the past but also medical innovations and public health. While the bulk of published African genomes come from present-day people, there are problems with relying solely on this data to reconstruct the past, given the continent’s long and complex demographic history. Increasingly, aDNA is providing novel perspectives on a past largely invisible in the genomes of people living in the 20th and 21st centuries due to recent demographic shifts. A surge in African aDNA studies since 2015 has also renewed longstanding debates about the ethics of genetic research on people, both living and deceased. Researchers working in Africa today must consider ethical issues including stakeholder engagement, informed consent, and control of biological samples and data; in aDNA studies, descendant communities, museum curators, bioarchaeologists, and geneticists, among others, play critical roles in these discussions.