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The Bantu Expansion  

Koen Bostoen

The Bantu Expansion stands for the concurrent dispersal of Bantu languages and Bantu-speaking people from an ancestral homeland situated in the Grassfields region in the borderland between current-day Nigeria and Cameroon. During their initial migration across most of Central, Eastern, and Southern Africa, which took place between approximately 5,000 and 1,500 years ago, Bantu speech communities not only introduced new languages in the areas where they immigrated but also new lifestyles, in which initially technological innovations such as pottery making and the use of large stone tools played an important role as did subsequently also farming and metallurgy. Wherever early Bantu speakers started to develop a sedentary way of life, they left an archaeologically visible culture. Once settled, Bantu-speaking newcomers strongly interacted with autochthonous hunter-gatherers, as is still visible in the gene pool and/or the languages of certain present-day Bantu speech communities. The driving forces behind what is the principal linguistic, cultural, and demographic process in Late Holocene Africa are still a matter of debate, but it is increasingly accepted that the climate-induced destruction of the rainforest in West Central Africa around 2,500 years ago gave a boost to the Bantu Expansion.

Article

Digital Sources in Europe for African History  

Marion Wallace

There are copious resources for the study of African history on the internet. They include manuscripts and documentary archives, maps, museum collections, newspapers, printed books, picture collections, and sound and moving images. The websites of European institutions provide a good proportion of this content, reflecting the long, entangled, and troubled histories that connect Europe and Africa, as well as new partnerships with African institutions. This plethora of digital resources enables both specialized researchers and the public to access information about Africa more quickly and easily, and on a larger scale than ever before. Digitization comes with a strong democratic impulse, and the new technology has been instrumental in making libraries, archives, museums, and art galleries much more open. But all is not smooth sailing, and there are two particular aspects of which researchers should be aware. The first is that there are still huge collections, or parts of collections, that have not been digitized, and that resources have been—on the whole—most focused on items with visual appeal. The twin brakes of cost and copyright restrain the process, and researchers need to understand how what they can get online relates to what still exists only in hard copy. The second consideration is that digitized resources can be difficult to find. Information about the riches of the web in this area is very fragmented, and exclusive use of one search engine, however dominant, is clearly not enough. As a counter to this fragmentation, a listing of the major websites for African history in Europe is given in a handy guide for researchers, which covers these resources by format and by region of Africa. The listing also provides websites in two particular areas of interest to historians and to the public: the transatlantic slave trade, and the liberation struggles in southern Africa.

Article

Documents on South-Central and Southeast Africa to 1890  

Matthew Hannaford

Much research on the history of south-central and southeast African societies prior to colonial rule has made use of historical documents to a greater or lesser degree. Here, the contents and coverage of available written sources are examined over a near-millennial period from the end of the 1st millennium ce to 1890. While the argument that follows is that documents over this period provide valuable historical material beyond the activities of colonial societies, it is inescapable that they are generally “external” narratives written for external purposes, foremost among which was the exploitation of the land and people. This imbues documentation with a multitude of biases but does not preclude careful and critical use of documentary records for the study of African societies and environments. This is especially true when documents are used alongside other source types from other disciplines such as archaeology, oral history, linguistics, paleoecology, and paleoclimatology. Many pre-19th-century documents are housed in European archives, which poses challenges around accessibility. However, endeavors to produce source databases and develop digital archives are beginning to change this picture, providing scope for renewed scholarship on aspects of the history of Africa from the early 16th century through to the end of the 19th century.

Article

History of Malawi  

Joey Power

The boundaries of Malawi in the early 21st century are rooted in European imperial expansion of the late 19th century and the establishment of the British Central African Protectorate (1891–1907) and, later, the Nyasaland (1907–1964) Protectorate. In 1953, Nyasaland was merged with Northern and Southern Rhodesia to constitute the Central African Federation. African opposition to this led to violent disturbances in 1953 and 1959. A state of emergency was declared in March of 1959 and the Nyasaland African Congress (NAC), the largest African political party in the protectorate, was banned and many of its leaders detained. The NAC was replaced by the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) during the state of emergency. The state of emergency ended in June of 1960 and party leader Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda led the MCP to a territorial election victory in 1961. Vows to end the “stupid federation” were realized in 1963 with the secession of Nyasaland from it. Nyasaland became the independent state of Malawi in July 1964 under an MCP-majority government. Within months of independence, the government and party unity were rocked by a “cabinet crisis” in which key ministers differed with Dr. Banda over foreign policy and domestic politics. Many key leaders resigned or were dismissed and thereafter left the country. This initiated a thirty-year period of autocratic rule that only ended in the early 1990s as a result of internal protest and international financial pressure. A 1993 referendum prompted a return to multiparty governance, and the 1994 elections led to the ouster of the MCP/Banda regime. Since then, Malawi has maintained a multiparty political structure, albeit with enduring challenges wrought by colonial and autocratic legacies.

Article

Southern Zambezia States and Indian Ocean Trade, 1450–1900  

Malyn Newitt

States that flourished in the area immediately south of the Zambesi River from the 15th to the 19th centuries were ruled by Karanga dynasties and were the cultural heirs of Great Zimbabwe. The most important of these states was Mokaranga, whose rulers bore the title of Monomotapa. Other important states—Teve, Manica, Barue, and Butua—all depended on the mining and trading of gold. Commerce was conducted at fairs attended by merchants from coastal towns such as Sofala and Chibuene, which were part of the networks of Indian Ocean commerce. At the beginning of the 16th century this trade attracted Portuguese traders who visited the fairs. In the 17th century, the Portuguese gradually expanded their presence through the institution of the prazos, whose owners acquired jurisdiction over extensive areas formerly ruled by the Karanga. The Portuguese were expelled from the Zimbabwe plateau in the 1690s and were succeeded by the Rosvi, another Karanga ruling elite. These states were devastated by droughts from the 1790s to the 1830s. All of them experienced civil wars before they were conquered by the Ngoni, who established the kingdom of Gaza, which covered the whole area south of the Zambesi as far as the Limpopo River until the time of the Scramble for Africa. Some of the old Karanga states, notably Manica and Barue, survived as tributaries of the Gaza state.

Article

The Copperbelt of Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo  

Iva Peša

The Central African Copperbelt, a region which straddles the boundary between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia, holds exceptionally rich and high-grade copper deposits. These deposits have been worked from as early as the 6th century ce. Still, the commencement of large-scale industrial resource extraction at the start of the 20th century, spurred by imperial rivalry between Belgian and British interests, initiated fundamental processes of change. The Copperbelt urbanized rapidly, as the mines attracted thousands of migrant workers from hundreds of miles away. The social, cultural, economic, and political lives of these new urbanites have attracted much attention from colonial administrators and mining officials, as well as from generations of social scientists and historians. These observers have tended to depict the Copperbelt’s history in terms of stark dichotomies, as part of a transition from rural to urban; from subsistence agriculture to industrial wage labor; from extended kinship to nuclear families; or even from “tradition” to “modernity.” The protracted economic crisis which held the Copperbelt in its sway between 1975 and 2000 painfully revealed the boom-and-bust nature of copper mining. This period of “decline” made scholars question earlier modernization frameworks. Examples showing how kinship ties have been creatively reworked, how gender roles have constantly been subject to negotiation, and how economic precarity was part of urban life throughout the 20th century, suggest that Copperbelt scholarship should abandon narratives of “transformation” and exceptionalism. The Central African Copperbelt, instead, exemplifies African history’s rich complexity.