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African Maritime Archaeology  

Edward Pollard

The continent of Africa has had a lengthy involvement in global maritime affairs and archaeological research with Middle Stone Age people using marine resources on the coasts of southern Africa, the Classical Pharos lighthouse of Alexandria, and Medieval Indian Ocean trade on the Swahili coast to the Atlantic triangular slave trade. Maritime archaeology is the identification and interpretation of physical traces left by people who use the seas and oceans. Middle Stone Age sites in South Africa such as Klasies River Mouth and Pinnacle Point have the earliest evidence for human use of marine resources including birds, marine mammals, and shellfish. This exploitation of marine resources was also coincident with the use of pigment, probably for symbolic behavior, as well as the production of bladelet stone tool technology. The extensive timespan of human activity on the coast around Africa occurred during changing relative sea levels due to Ice Ages and tectonic movement affecting the location of the coastline relative to maritime archaeological sites. Geomorphological changes may also take place over shorter periods such as the 1909 ce shipwreck of the Eduard Bohlen in Namibia lying c. one and half thousand feet landward of the shoreline. Ancestors of sea-going vessels have been recorded on rivers from dugout canoes excavated at Dufuna in northern Nigeria and the first plank-built boats, such as the Old Kingdom Royal Ship of Cheops of Khufu, found at the Giza pyramids, which imitated the shape of earlier papyrus rafts. Classical documents such as the Periplus Maris Erythraei and Ptolemy’s Geographia record Arabian and Indian trade with eastern Africa including ivory and rhinoceros horn and describe fishing practices using baskets and sewn-hull boats of the inhabitants. The increase in oceanic trade links here during the medieval period encouraged the formation of Swahili port cities such as Kilwa and Mombasa. The former was in a strategic position to manage much of the gold trade between Sofala in Mozambique and the northern Swahili Coast. Portuguese forts, constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries on their trade routes around Africa, such as Elmina Castle in Ghana, Fort Jesus in Mombasa, Kenya, and Fort São Sebastião on Mozambique Island, dominate the ports and harbors. The first sub-Saharan underwater scientific investigations took place in 1976 of the Portuguese frigate Santo Antonio de Tanna that sunk during an Omani siege from 1696 to 1698. At Elmina in West Africa, studies were made of wreck-site formation processes around the 17th-century Dutch West India Company vessel Groeningen, which had caught fire when firing its guns in salute to Elmina Castle after arrival. More broad-based studies that interpret the functioning of the African maritime society in its wider environmental setting, both physically in the context of its religious buildings, harbors, fishing grounds, sailing routes, and shipwrecks, and by taking account of non-material aspects of the beliefs that influence behavior of coastal societies, have led to interpretations of their maritime outlook.

Article

Africans in World Wars I and II  

Joe Lunn

World Wars I and II were very probably the most destructive conflicts in African history. In terms of the human costs—the numbers of people mobilized, the scale of violence and destruction experienced--as well as their enduring political and social impact, no other previous conflicts are comparable, particularly over such short periods as four and ten years, respectively. All told, about 4,500,000 African soldiers and military laborers were mobilized during these wars and about 2,000,000 likely died. Mobilization on this scale among African peasant societies was only sustainable because they were linked to the industrial economies of a handful of West Central European nation states at the core of the global commercial infrastructure, which invariably subordinated African interests to European imperial imperatives. Militarily, these were expressed in two ways: by the use of African soldiers and supporting military laborers to conquer or defend colonies on the continent, or by the export of African combat troops and laborers overseas—in numbers far exceeding comparable decades during the 18th-century peak of the transatlantic slave trade—to Europe and Asia to augment Allied armies there. The destructive consequences of these wars were distributed unevenly across the continent. In some areas of Africa, human losses and physical devastation frequently approximated or surpassed the worst suffering experienced in Europe itself; yet, in other areas of the continent, Africans remained virtually untouched by these wars. These conflicts contributed to an ever-growing assertiveness of African human rights in the face of European claims to racial supremacy that led after 1945 to the restoration of African sovereignty throughout most of the continent. On a personal level, however, most Africans received very little for their wartime sacrifices. Far more often, surviving veterans returned to their homes with an enhanced knowledge of the wider world, perhaps a modicum of newly acquired personal prestige within their respective societies, but little else.

Article

Combat Games in the Black Atlantic, 17–19th Centuries  

Matthias Röhrig Assunção

Combat games are attested in Africa from the time of the transatlantic slave trade and throughout the 19th century. In the agricultural societies in the rainforest of West and West Central Africa, wrestling was the most common form, while pastoral societies in the savannahs of central and southern Africa excelled in stick fighting. Fist fighting, slap boxing, and kicking also constituted the base of combat games in some locations. The enslaved Africans and their descendants made use of these bodily techniques in the plantation societies of the Americas and the Indian Ocean. The new oppressive context of slavery led to adjustments of techniques and practice. Stick fighting was widespread in Brazil and the Caribbean, whereas wrestling only became important in the United States. The previously rather marginal techniques of kicking and head butting became central to capoeira, ladja, and moring, even though it is difficult to establish precise genealogies. Bodily techniques were onlys one aspect of the complex cultural reinvention of combat games in the Atlantic world. African religious practices such as protections from supernatural forces and broader cultural meanings were incorporated into African-derived and creole combat games. While keeping some of their former social function, combat games in the “New World” also acquired new, contradictory meanings as either tools of resistance, spectacle for monetary gains, or even instruments of oppression. They provided an early example of globalization of bodily techniques and cultural meanings, and the most successful ones, such as capoeira, continue to expand worldwide to this day.

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

Liberated Africans  

Richard Anderson

“Liberated Africans” refers to a group of African-born men, women, and children intercepted by naval forces from slave ships and slave trading factories in the Atlantic and Indian oceans as part of the 19th-century campaign to abolish the transoceanic slave trade from Africa. Following the passage of Britain’s 1807 Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade, the British Royal Navy patrolled both the Atlantic and Indian oceans in order to suppress the external trade from Africa. Captured vessels were taken to a series of Vice-Admiralty courts, and later Mixed Commission courts, located in Freetown, Sierra Leone; Havana, Cuba; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Tortola; Cape Town, South Africa; James Town, St. Helena; Luanda, Angola; and Port Luis, Mauritius. Naval interdiction by Brazil, Portugal, the United States, and other powers resulted in a smaller number of cases brought before unilateral anti-slave-trade tribunals. Between 1808 and 1896, this complex tribunal network “liberated” approximately 214,000 Africans who survived the Middle Passage. Perhaps 75,000 of these individuals were settled in Sierra Leone; the remainder were settled in the British Caribbean, Brazil, Cuba, Liberia, and British colonies and outposts from the Gambia, Cape Colony, and Mauritius, to Mombasa, Zanzibar, and Bombay. The arrival of an estimated 192,000 Liberated Africans into Atlantic ports continued through the demise of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1860s. In the Indian Ocean, approximately 22,000 Liberated Africans disembarked in East Africa, the Persian Gulf, and India as a result of a highly uneven British naval campaign from 1808 into the 1890s. Many Liberated Africans experienced very liminal freedom. Adults and children were apprenticed to colonial inhabitants for periods of up to fourteen years. Men were conscripted into the British West India Regiments and Royal African Corps. Many women were forcibly married to strangers soon after arrival. Approximately one out of every four Liberated Africans underwent a second oceanic passage, most of them forcibly relocated to the British West Indies. The settlement of Liberated Africans—referred to by British officials as their “disposal”—represented a sizable involuntary African migration into and across the British Empire in the decades after the abolition of the British slave trade. Their arrival brought with it a lasting linguistic and cultural impact in many colonial societies. The descendants of Liberated Africans remain identifiable communities in many postcolonial societies from Africa to the Caribbean.