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Mike Brass. 1998 essay. The similarities and differences between the rise of complex societies in West and East Africa
The internal development of Jenne-Jeno
As a result of McIntosh and McIntosh’s precessual archaeological approach to excavating Jenne-Jeno and its hinterland, it has been demonstrated that instead of developing as a result of the trans-Saharan trade, Jenne-Jeno was an indigenous town possessing much earlier origins (Hall 1996: 221).
The earliest occupants of Jenne-Jeno (c. 250 BC - 50 AD) possessed iron and had a subsistence base that was predominantly aquatic, e.g. waterfowl and fish, although bovids are also found that are possible those of the domestic Bos taurus (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 15) Permanent mudbrick architecture is lacking, but there are large numbers Saharan affinity sand-tempered pottery (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 15).
Phase II (40 - 400 AD) has yielded the earliest known example of African rice -domesticated (McIntosh 1981: 15-16). The cultural continuity from Phase I is demonstrated, amongst others, from the continued faunal dominance of aquatic animals and bovids. Here too is the first permanent mudbrick architecture and this, together with the rice and crowded cemeteries, provides a possible association with the increase in settlement size and a likely rise in population (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 16).
It was in late Phase III and early Phase IV (750-1150 AD) that Jenne-Jeno achieved its greatest growth, reaching 33 hectares - a figure to which might be added the adjacent mound of Hambarketolo, connected to Jenne-Jeno via an earthen dike, of 9 hectares - and a population which was ten times greater than that of today (McIntosh &a McIntosh 1981: 16, Hall 1996: 227). The shallower Hambarketolo deposits of 3 metres, suggest a later date for the origin of the city by comparison with and functioning part of Jenne-Jeno at its height (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 16-17).
Both Hambarketolo and Jenne-Jeno declined during Phase IV and were abandoned, although the causes are yet unclear (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17). A possible explanation is that the start of the abandonment occurs in the same period as that reported by al-Sa’di for the conversion of Jenne-Jeno to Islam, in the thirteenth century AD (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17).
The excavators hypothesise that the new-converted ruler and/or the elite of Jenne-Jeno founded a new Islamic, city (Jenne) on a new unconnected site (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17). Control of trade belonged to native Muslim merchants and the new city replaced the old as the centre of economic activities, a view reinforced by the surviving historical records (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17).
To examine the extent of urbanism, it is crucial to look closely at the surrounding countryside in an attempt to identify a system of hierarchical settlements on the premise that the city is a settlement providing specialised functions in relations with those around it (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17). Of those 42 sites within the 25km survey area reported by the excavators, none had been abandoned before Phase III whilst roughly three-quarters had by the close of Phase IV (c. 1400 AD). These sites had been occupied for hundreds of years previously (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 18). The surrounding lands of Jenne-Jeno display the greatest site density in the late Phase II and early Phase IV, after which decline is evident (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 18). All the indirect evidence, including the ceramic and feature categories, points towards Jenne-Jeno being the centre of an integrated settlement hierarchy with its hinterland.
Thus the survey results confirm the archaeological evidence from Jenne-Jeno itself - that there was a rapid development during Phase III between 400-900 AD, and that the survey sites hit their greatest density at roughly the same time (late Phase III - early Phase IV) that Jenne-Jeno reached its largest growth extent (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 19). Jenne-Jeno’s decline was part of the general population reorganisation that affected other floodplain settlement sites also in the western Inland Niger Delta, the causes of which are unknown but which preceded the various political disturbances created by the Bambara and Fulani migrations (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 19).
The early expansion of Jenne-Jeno in the first centuries of the first millennium was likely due to the local and regional Inland Delta and adjacent area trade networks developing. Its position at the boundary of the two ecology zones of the dry savanna and the Sahel, together with the lack of stone and iron ore on its alluvial plain, gave the settlement great opportunities of involvement as inter-regional trade expanded (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 19).
The Inland Niger Delta possess no iron ore right for smelting, and so the slag at Jenne-Jeno and other sites within the survey area mentioned above must have been imported either in the form of iron or bloomery iron that had remnants of slag attached to it (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 19). Because of weight and easier and cheaper transport, the latter option is probably the correct one. The excavators believe that the source of the iron ore is Benedougou and that the trade stretches back close to Jenne-Jeno’s origins (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 19, 20).
THE INTERNAL DEVELOPMENT OF GHANA
Although the Ghana Empire is the earliest historically documented kingdom in the West African Sahel, it is in fact the second complex political system that arose in this area (Munson 1980: 457). The historical records of Ghana come from Arab sources dating between 800 and 1650 AD, but Ghana had been in existence for long before then and was centred in the present-day Sahal region of south-eastern Mauritania and western Mali. (Munson 1980: 457).
The tendency for a number of years, and with Africanists being some of the main culprits, has been to ascribe sub-Saharan cultural advances to invading or migrating people, or simply diffusion, from North Africa, Meroe or Ancient Egypt (Munson 1980: 458). This hypothesis assumes the controversial viewpoint that the West African states are seen as superimposition imposed upon peasant village cultivating communities instead of having evolved from them (Munson 1980: 458).
However the greatly distinctive Meriotic pottery is absent in West Africa, leading to the conclusion that Meroe’s direct contribution was overemphasised (Munson 1980: 458). There is little the Saharan (North-African-Berber) nomads could have contributed towards the basic structure of the West African states, as these people had no prior knowledge or experience in either political organisation or state structural and social formations (Munson 1980: 459). Instead the effect of the proto-historic Libyco-Berbers on the West African societies should perhaps be most likely be compared to the recent nomadic Tuareg and their raids against the West African state outskirts (Munson 1980: 459).
In the quest for the origins of the Ghana Empire it is necessary to examine brief the last portion of the southern Maruentanian prehistoric sequence, the Tichitt Tradition (Munson 1980: 459-460).
The Naghez Phase, dated to around 1 100 BC, was the culmination of cultural internal influences over many centuries and it was in this phase that large stone masonry villages are in evidence for the first time, with clear street layout (Munson 1980: 460).
There are three follow-on phases: the Chebka Phase (1 000 - 800 BC), the Arriane Phase (800-600 BC) and the Akjinjeir Phase (600-300 BC). It is in this terminal Neolithic Akjinjeir Phase that architectural, lithic and ceramic standards decline, villages become concealed and fortified and the proportion of domestic animal bones in the faunal assemblages drop dramatically (Munson 1980: 461-462).
The inevitable conclusion is that the external threat and pressure were so great that the previous standard of culture simply could not be maintained. All the evidence implicates the Libyco-Berbers (Munson 1980: 462). There is a break in the chronological sequence between the end of the Akjinjeir Phase and the establishment of the town of Tichitt, a break in which the remains of no villages have as yet come to light and is a period that probably reflects continuing Libyan armed forays (Munson 1980: 462).
The same people were responsible for both the Tichitt Tradition and the Ghana Empire - the Soninke (Munson 1980: 462). Of particular importance to the evolution of the Tradition to the Ghana Empire is the limited agricultural land available.
The inhabitants of the closing stages of the preceding Naghez Phase were most likely to have been incipient cultivators (Munson 1980: 464). Villages were likely to have been autonomous and population density low (Munson 1980: 464). By the time of the Chebka Phase full-blown agriculture is in evidence, and population numbers rapidly increase. This is a region that has limited agricultural land. With the area only receiving roughly 150mm of rain per year and with there being no evidence of artificial irrigation, only the silt deposits with the seasonally wetted former lake beds were suitable for farming (Munson 1980: 464). The fortified villages dating from the Chebka Phase are probably the result of warfare over the limited arable tracts of land.
The ensuing Arriane Phase displays no evidence for warfare, although cultivated products are seen to be playing a greater part in the subsistence economy with the population density having further increased (Munson 1980: 465). If the above hypothesis that warfare resulted in the Chabka Phase over rivalry for agricultural land is to hold true, then the inhabitants of the Arriane Phase must somehow have resolved their differences and worked out a satisfactory solution (Munson 1980: 465).
This solution could well have been brought about at the close of the Chabka Phase or the start of the Arriane Phase with the strongest village having, either independently or in alliance with some of the neighbouring villages, subdued its rivals (Munson 1980: 465). It is at this point that the Trachitt Tradition (in the form of villages or artefacts) spreads from the western extremity of the Dhar Tichitt to Dhar Nema (Munson 1980: 465).
The site Kedama lies near the centre of the currently known spread of villages belonging to the Arriane Phase culture, and is over a kilometre big (Munson 1980: 465). Kedama may well have been the central administration of a complex political system, that might have been either a mighty chiefdom or a state in its first stages of formation (Munson 1980: 465). It will never be known whether this system had reached its full potential with the technological-environmental imposed upon it or if it would have continued to evolve into a recognisable state, for the culture was destroyed by the invading seventh century BC Libyco-Berber marauders (Munson 1980: 465). These invaders came firstly by ox-cart and later with horses, armed with weapons made of metal, and caused a cultural disaster by killing and enslaving the population (Munson 1980: 465).
However to effectively exploit the riches gold fields they came across, they established trading posts along the trans-Saharan route whose inhabitants lived in the symbolic relationship with the traders (Monson 1980: 465).
The internal development of East African coastal settlements
A false picture has been painted over the years by those archaeologists and historians still belonging to the old colonial school of thought. They portray the East Coast as having been civilised by foreign traders and colonisers (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 285). Yet these people were only part of the system of change and not completely responsible for it. It is indigenous African populations that comprise the history of the East Coast.
Various implements, pottery and iron slag discovered at the site of Kwale are evidence of an Iron Age population living there by 250 AD. Related contemporary cultural materials are to be found from numerous excavated and surface sites in central and coastal Tanzania and Kenya (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 285).
Kilwa was first occupied in the ninth century era and, until the rule of the Shirazi dynasty beginning in the late twelfth century, yields homogeneous cultural material: slag and tuyeres (evidence of the possession of iron metallurgy), shell bead manufacture, ceramics, and spindle whorls (evidence for cotton) as well as food in the form of fish and shellfish remains (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286; Hall 1987: 78, 99; Chittick 1974: 236).
Chittick’s belief of a non-autochthonous people comprising Kilwa’s population is disputed by the chronicles that make it clear they were natives (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286). Similar ceramics have been discovered from Unguja Ukuu (Zanzibar Island) and Manda, also coastal sites. Although this red-finished ceramic style does not occur inland, it may well have an independent coastal origin (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286).
The East Coast archaeological evidence proves that, in all cases, local peoples possessed their own civilisation before the Arabs arrived. After Arabs coming, foreign technique replace the local earthenware techniques (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286). The first Islamic earthenware (recognised as most characteristic of the thirteenth century) was a mottle glaze applied over a light slip that had incised hatched patterns (Garlake 1966: 53). This was followed in the fourteenth century, in Kenya particularly, by the “black on yellow” earthenware, which existed until the fifteenth century when it was supplanted by the blue and green glazed earthenware (Garlake 1966: 53, Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286). This can be compared with the introduction in the mid-thirteenth century of Chinese yellow and black glazed earthenware, and blue and white celadons (Garlake 1966: 53, Masao & Mutoro 1992: 286).
An unbiased reading of the Arabic sources reporting on this period reveals that contrary to the old belief of the East Coast being an Arabo-Persian colony or an Islamic cultural appendix in which the locals contributed little, nowhere is there a mention of large Islamic settlements or colonies of Muslim expatriates (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 287, 288). Indeed, these sources inform us that the coast was both inhabited and ruled by the indigenous Zandj population.
The report by Al-Masudi of his 916 AD coast visit emphasises the Zandji state’s non-Islamic make-up. More evidence of the African development of the coastal peoples is provided by the famous narrative of Buzurg ibn Shahriyar concerning the capturing by Arab slaver traders of the Zandji ruler (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 288). The Arab sources also constantly refer to the expanding trade that was taking place between the East Coast and the Indian Ocean lands, with Arab, Indian and Persian merchants undertaking regular voyages (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 288).
There is only one indication in this period of the permanent presence of Arabo-Persian components as well as their supposed found of them, and that claim is dubious. Al-Mas’udi recounts that the island of Kanbalu (Pemba) is populated by Muslims, who conquered the island taking the natives prisoners, speaking the Zandj language (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 288). At no point does the author state that these Muslims were Arabs, and that they spoke Zandj suggests that they were Bantu Muslim converts. Nonetheless, prior to this conquest the island inhabitants were Zandj (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 288).
By the advent of the ninth century, most of the East Coastal towns were peopled by Swahili. Not all towns shared the same degree of prosperity, as their economic activities and social structures contrasted with one another (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290). Hardly any of the settlements possessed stone architecture in the incipient stages, but the abundance of stone architecture expanded as settlement wealth increased (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290).
The influence of external trade on West Africa
The majority of Jenne-Jeno’s population - agriculturists, artisans and fishers - would have seen in the new city of Jenne an expanding market and thus better and greater demand for their products (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17). This scenario has as its hub economic forces driving the abandonment of the old Jenne-Jeno in favour of the emerging and expanding markets of Jenne, which was effectively accomplished by the mid-half of the fifteenth century (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 17).
The evidence for the expansion by the fifth century AD of the trade networks Jenne-Jeno functioned in trade is provided by the presence of the Phase III copper, as the closest known deposits of copper ore are at Akjoujt (southern Mauritania), Nior (Mali) and Air (Niger Republic) in the Sahara; Air’s pre-Islamic copper industry has yielded radiocarbon dates of 550 +/- 100 AD and 640 +/- 100 AD respectively (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 20, Garlake 1978: 119). Another trade item possibility is salt, albeit difficult to detect archaeologically. If large quantities of trade imports were reaching the city by the fifth century AD, then the middle Niger could well have performed an important role an a north-south transport system (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 20).
In exchange the Saharan traders may well have been seeking rice from Jenne-Jeno, savanna produces like fruit from Benedougou, and other agricultural products (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 20). Despite the lack of direct evidence, the Lobi goldfields were accessible to the inhabitants of Jenne-Jeno and gold, therefore, may also have been one of the items making up the trans-Saharan trade (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 20).
The development of Jenne-Jeno can thus be linked to its proximity to the south-western extreme of the navigable and agriculturally productive Inland Niger Delta (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 21).
This hypothesis explains the archaeological fact that Jenne-Jeno was trading in copper, which was likely to have been of Saharan origin, by the fifth century, and that the city had grown to a quite considerable size by the turn of the first millennium (McIntosh & McIntosh 1981: 21).
Ghana was in a strategic position to profit from the trans-Saharan trade, laying as it did at the southern boundary of the Saharan caravan routes along which salt, and copper and cloth (although to a lesser extent), were transported. It was also positioned at the West African gold fields’ northern boundary.
Instead of being responsible for the rise of the West African state of Ghana, the trans-Saharan trade (together with, but to a far lesser degree, the introduction if iron metallurgy) instead provided the stimulus for the evolution of the Ghana Empire, an expansion which had its base in a pre-existing pattern extending back to a prehistoric period well before the first exertions of Libyco-Berber influence (Munson 1980: 459).
However, as the invaders advanced further south they came across rich gold fields and enslaved the nearby people (Munson 1980: 465). To effectively exploit these riches, though, a series of supplies stations were needed along the trans-Saharan caravan route and so, in c. 300 BC, protection was offered to those survivors of the Akjinjeir Phase population. The objective was to establish agricultural villages, like the town of Tichitt mentioned that was mentioned above, and for the inhabitants to co-exist with the nomads in a symbolic relationship (Munson 1980: 465).
The new-found peace, the art of metallurgy learnt and the wealth derived from the trans-Saharan trade resulted in the rise once again of both the population and the power of the Soninke peoples (Munson 1980: 465-466). The course of the next few hundred years, maybe preceding 500 AD, saw the emergence once again of the “mental blueprint of a despotic political structure” resulting in the later establishment of the powerful Ghana Empire a small way to the south of its predecessor, the Tichitt Tradition.
The influence of external trade on East Africa
The East Coast was subdivided up into three sections by the Arab geographers: Barbar (generally the Horn of Africa’s Cushitic-speaking inhabitants, southern Somali), Zandj (between the Lamu archipelago and an unknown coastal point that was opposite Zanzibar) and Sofala (the Arabic for “shoal”, which portrays the danger of sailing faced by the Arabs), starting to the south of Zanzibar to southern Mozambique (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 289, 290; Garlake 1978: 95-96; Hall 1987: 78). It is uncertain whether the reference to the land of Wak-Wak places it further south than Sofala or if maybe it signifies Madagascar (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 289).
It is Zandj that has attracted the most attention among the Arab chroniclers, with brisk trade occurring with the other Indian Ocean lands (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 289). The local inhabitants were natives and the chroniclers do not know the name of any coastal settlement, and have only recorded the name of one other offshore island settlement apart from Kanbalu - Lundjuya, which is a corruption of the Bantu term for Zanzibar-Ungudja (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 289).
Sofala earned a reputation for its gold and so was also named Sufala al-adhahab (Golden Sofala) or Sufala al-tibr (Sofala of gold sand). The indigenous inhabitants were related to the Zandj and also interacted in trade with ships arriving from India and the Arabic lands (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290). Sofala was also the southern-most trading stretch on the East Coast, primarily as a result of the monsoon winds bringing the trading vessels (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290, Garlake 1978: 97). The early eleventh century Arab writer expressed the fears of his contemporaries concerning the vast expanse of ocean after Sofala: “The sea behind Sufala of the Zanj is unnavigable. No ship which ventured to go there ever returned.” (Trimingham 1975: 118-119)
The Arabic trading vessels (dhows) used the start of the north-east monsoons, which begins in November, to collect cargo for Africa in the Gulf and the Red Sea, and then to continue onto northern Kenya before the winds died (Garlake 1978: 96). Those wishing to sail further south to Sofala were helped by the southerly current of the Mozambique Channel, but had to brave the dangers of cyclones (Garlake 1978: 96). From the beginnings of the south-west monsoon in April a northerly current flows past the Somali coastline, so the dhows depart as soon as they are sure the current is secure. For those more southerly vessels, the contrary southerly current is at its weakest during the months May to July (Garlake 1978: 97). For those not wanting to spend a year making the round trip to the East Coast, Kilwa represented their last possible destination (Garlake 1978: 97). Ivory was the major East African export (Hall 1987: 78).
Most of the coastal settlements appointed chiefs, regularly either Arabs or Persians who were accepted willingly (e.g. Pate) for they were not involved in the realm of conflicting lineage competition (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290). The inter-mixing and inter-marrying of locals (in the majority) and immigrants lead to not only ethnically diverse settlements, but also economically specialised societies with the social hierarchies and socio-economic distinctions (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290).
This cultural mixing made possible the foundations for the evolution of a new language, Kiswahili - “the language of the coast” - which was first written using the Arabic script (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290, 291; Garlake 1978: 94). The adoption of Arab and Persian words script into the “proto-Kiswahili” language occurred in conjunction with the spread of Islam through the native coastal populations (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290). Kiswahili’s basic grammar, structure and vocabulary are, therefore, of completely native origin (Garlake 1978: 94). Kiswahili spread southwards from its main point of origin along the Somali coast, to the north of the Tana delta.
There is a corresponding settlement pattern that existed until c. 1300 AD. The regions to the north of the Tana delta contained about twenty settlements while to the south were Mombassa, Zanzibar, Pemba, Kilwa and some additional others (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290). It was these northern towns that oversaw the development of the emerging new language, a language that spread to the other towns most likely by way of migrants and traders during the nineteenth century (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 290-291). These traders were the ones who encouraged the spread of Islam through the elite and the merchant classes of the various settlements.
The African components of the Swahili culture are stronger than has previously been recognised: the grammatical structure and much of the vocabulary of Kiswahili bears close relationships with the Mijikenda and Pokomo languages, and its literature echoes the African oral tradition (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291).
Neither Arabia or Persia bears comparisons with the Swahili material culture and there are no known parallels that can be drawn with architecture outside East Africa that permits a conclusion other than that the Swahili stone architecture was an original and creative development of the local mud-and-wattle architecture abundant along the coast synthesised with the Arabian heritage of styles and methods (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291, Garlake 1978: 97, Chittick 1974: 235). The surviving settlement buildings display a unity of style evolution along the coast which can be seen in both the plans and the construction and decorative techniques (Garlake 1978: 97). This architecture was a consequence of the increase in economic wealth of and socio-economic differentiation with the native societies (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291).
The mosques were not built in the traditional great arcade court and pavilion tradition of Arabia, but rather as rectangular halls containing numerous pillars (Garlake 1978: 97). While the form of a lot of the mosque and house decoration is Islamic, it has an African content (Garlake 1978: 97). The coastal internal house room arrangement reflect the African desire for privacy with the reception room being at the front (Garlake 1978: 97).
The Muslim religion itself was not left untouched along the coast, for it demonstrates strong African religious influences in the eminence placed upon spirits and spirit possession, and the worship of ancestors together with various forms of divination (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291).
Although the north East Coast and the south East Coast had encountered Islam by the eighth and eleventh centuries respectively, a distinctive Islamic coastal civilisation only emerged in the fifteenth century - the Shirazi (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291). Islam was first only followed by Arabic and Persian immigrants in the coastal settlements, and adopted by some African engaged in the commercial trade, Islam made more headway on the islands to start with (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 291).
The origins of the Shirazi are closely related to those of the Islamic spread. The oral tradition and the accounts (of late origin) in Kiswahili state some Arabic traders, from the Persian Gulf city of Shiraz, arrived in to East Africa during the ninth and tenth centuries (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 292). Other surviving accounts claim that the Karmatians, who were a fanatical Shiite sect from the Arabian region of al-Ahsa near the Gulf, colonised the Benadir coast (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 292). In truth, however, the Shirazi were likely to have been northern African aristocratic Islamic refugees (Hall 1987: 99). From the twelfth century onwards, traders - descendants of inter-married Arabs and natives - migrated south and spread the Arabo-Islamic culture to Kilwa, Mafia, Pemba and Zanzibar, Kilwa being taken over in the late twelfth century (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 292, Garlake 1978: 106, Chittick 1965: 276).
Credit has previously been given to the Shirazi for introducing not only highly developed stone architecture, the use of lime and cement, cotton-weaving, carpentry and other skills, but this is no longer recognised as correct (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 292). Trade prosperity merely quickened their evolution, such as that of stone masonry and carpentry, from of their local origins.
The complex societies of West Africa did not arise as a result of either migrating people or diffusion, but rather from indigenous origins. It was on this base that the trans-Saharan trade exerted the influence permitting the further growth and development of both Jenne-Jeno and prehistoric Ghana.
The arrival of Islam in Jenne-Jeno resulted in the building of a new city, Jenne, nearby in the thirteenth century AD that took over as the economic powerhouse. By contrast, in Ghana the Libyco-Berbers destroyed the Trachitt Tradition in the seventh century BC; however, the effect of the trans-Saharan traders dealing primarily in exploiting the gold fields was the establishment of agricultural stations. It was out of this symbolic relationship between the natives and the merchants, with the accompanying learned knowledge and wealth that was gained, that enabled the Soninke people to rise to prosperity again and thus lay the indigenous foundations for the later Ghana Empire.
The historical processes prior to the twelfth century in East Africa likewise laid the African cultural foundations which the bountiful Swahili culture would later be founded on (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 296). The rise of the Indian Ocean trade networks affected the African coastal communities both socially and economically, in different ways to those of West Africa, as the settlements became more commercial-orientated. Islamic influences percolated through the religions, cultures and the politics of the towns, the first to feel these effects being the inhabitants north of the Juba river while later migrants spread it further south (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 296). However, the immigrants never arrived in any substantial numbers and were “Bantusized”, one main feature of these dynamic relationships being the development of the Kiswahili language (Masao & Mutoro 1992: 296).
These settlements in effect owed their prosperity to the gold received from the interior and which they traded with the Arab vessels. These vessels came primarily from the ports of Aden (Red Sea), Oman (Persian Gulf) and Siraf, southern Persia (Garlake 1978: 94). Therefore the African East Coast was locked securely into the Indian Ocean trade system (as opposed to West Africa, that was a vital part of the trans-Saharan economic trade sphere) that extended from the Near East to Indonesia, including both India and China (Garlake 1978: 94). Thus the East coastal settlements were urban commercial town bearing Islamic influences.
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