8.1 Diverse Societies in Africa
African peoples developed diverse societies as they adapted to
WHY IT MATTERS
Differences among modern societies are also based on people’s
interactions with their environments.
Africa spreads across the equator. It includes a road range of Earth’s
environments, from steamy coastal plains to snow-capped mountain peaks.
Some parts of Africa suffer from constant drought, while others receive over
200 inches of rain a year. Vegetation varies from sand dunes and rocky wastes
to dense green rain forests. Interaction with the African environment has
created unique cultures and societies. Each group found ways to adapt to the
land and the resources it offers.
Setting the Stage
I. A Land of Geographic Contrasts
A. Africa is the second largest continent in the world.
1. It stretches 4,600 miles from east to west and 5,000 miles from north to
2. With a total of 11.7 million square miles, it occupies about one-fifth of
Earth’s land surface.
A Land of Geographic Contrasts
I. The deserts are largely unsuitable for human life and also hamper people’s
movement to more welcoming climates.
A. The largest deserts are the Sahara Desert in the north and the Kalahari
Desert (kahl•uh•HAHR•ee) in the south.
1. Stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, the Sahara Desert
covers an area roughly the size of the United States.
a. Only a small part of the Sahara consists of sand dunes.
b. The rest is mostly a flat, gray wasteland of scattered rocks and gravel.
c. Each year the desert takes over more and more of the land at the
southern edge of the Sahara Desert, the Sahel (suh•HAYL).
Kalahari Desert Sahara Desert
African Rain Forest
C. Another very different, but also partly uninhabitable, African environment
is the rain forest.
1. Sometimes called “nature’s greenhouse,” it produces mahogany and teak
trees up to 150 feet tall.
2. Their leaves and branches form a dense canopy that keeps sunlight from
reaching the forest floor.
3. The tsetse (TSET•see) fly is found in the rain forest.
a. Its presence prevented Africans from using cattle, donkeys, and horses
to farm near the rain forests.
b. This deadly insect also prevented invaders, especially Europeans, from
colonizing fly-infested territories.
The deadliest creature lurking in rain forests
is a small fly called the tsetse fly. Tsetse flies
carry a disease that is deadly to livestock and
can cause fatal sleeping sickness in humans.
A. The northern coast and the southern tip of Africa have welcoming
Mediterranean-type climates and fertile soil.
1. Because these coastal areas are so fertile, they are densely populated with
farmers and herders.
B. Most people in Africa live on the savannas, or grassy plains.
1. Africa’s savannas are not just endless plains.
a. They include mountainous highlands and swampy tropical stretches.
b. Covered with tall grasses and dotted with trees, the savannas cover over
40 percent of the continent.
C. Dry seasons alternate with rainy seasons often, two of each a year.
1. Unfortunately, the topsoil throughout Africa is thin, and heavy rains strip
a. In most years, however, the savannas support abundant agricultural
Early Humans Adapt to Their Environments
I. Early Humans Adapt to Their Environments
A. About 2500 B.C., the Sahara began to dry out.
1. Through desertification, the land became dry and the desert spread.
2. This encouraged migration, as Bantu people were forced to seek new
places to live.
a. Over thousands of years, migration has contributed to the rich diversity
of people and cultures in Africa.
I. Nomadic Lifestyle
A. Africa’s earliest peoples were nomadic hunter-gatherers.
1. Today, some of the San of the Kalahari Desert and the BaMbuti
(bah•uhm•BOO•tee) of the rain forests of Congo are still hunter-gatherers.
a. The San, for example, travel in small bands of a few related families.
b. The men hunt with spears and bows and arrows, and the women and
children gather roots and berries.
Herders and Pastoralists
B. Other early Africans eventually learned to domesticate and raise a variety of
animals for food.
1. Called herders, or pastoralists, these people kept cattle, goats, or sheep.
2. They drive their animals to find water and good pastures for grazing
during the dry season.
3. Millions of modern Africans are pastoral herders as well.
4. The Masai (mah•SEYE) of Tanzania and southern Kenya, for example,
still measure their wealth by the size of their herds.
Early Societies in Africa
A. One of these elements was the importance of the basic social unit, the family.
1. Africans often lived with extended families, or families made up of several
2. Families that shared common ancestors sometimes formed groups known
lineages or clans.
3. Many African villages were matrilineal.
a. Meaning the people traced their ancestors through their mothers rather
than their fathers.
I. Local Religions
A. They also developed belief systems that helped them understand and organize
information about their world.
B. Nearly all of these local religions involved a belief in one creator, or god.
C. They generally also included elements of animism, a religion in which spirits
play an important role in regulating daily life.
a. Animists believe that spirits are present in animals, plants, and other
natural forces, and also take the form of the souls of their ancestors.
Animism and ritual worship in the form of dancing,
drumming, divination, and sacrifice, characterized
much of Africa.
A. Mansas had both political and religious roles in society.
1. The religious role of the mansa grew out of traditional Malian beliefs.
2. According to the beliefs, people’s ancestors had made an agreement with
the spirits of the land that would ensure the lands provided plenty of food.
Many Africans believed the spirits of dead relatives stayed with them when they
died and that the spirits could talk to the supreme god.
Keeping a History
I. Keeping a History
A. Because the people of West Africa did not have a written language, their
cultures have been passed down through oral histories.
a spoken record of past events.
B. Storytellers helped maintain the oral history of the cultures of West Africa.
1. West African storytellers were called griots (gree•OHZ).
a. They helped keep the history of their ancestors alive for each new
C. In addition to stories, they recited proverbs.
1. Short sayings of wisdom or truth.
a. Used to teach lessons to the people.
West African Iron Age
I. West African Iron Age
A. Unlike cultures to the north, the peoples of Africa south of the Sahara seem
to have skipped the Copper and Bronze Ages and moved directly into the
1. Evidence of iron production dating to around 500 B.C. has been found in
the area just north of the Niger and Benue rivers.
2. The ability to smelt iron was a major technological achievement of the
ancient Nok of sub-Saharan Africa.
B. Iron was fashioned into tools for farming and weapons for hunting.
1. Some of the tools and weapons made their way into overland trade routes.
15.2 West African Civilizations:
The expansion of trade across the Sahara led to the development of great
empires and other states in West Africa.
WHY IT MATTERS
These civilizations demonstrate the richness of African culture
before European colonization.
I. The Soninke
A. Ghana had many resources, but location delayed development as trading
1. Had no easy access to sea
2. Sahara desert blocked overland trade routes.
B. Trade was vital to the societies of West Africa.
1. That region produced valuable resources, notably gold.
Beginning of the Ghana Empire (750-1076)
II. The trade routes crossed the savanna through the region farmed by the Soninke
A. The Soninke people called their ruler ghana, or war chief.
B. Muslim traders began to use the word Ghana to refer to the Soninke region.
Beginning of the Ghana Empire (750-1076)
Ghana or War Chief
I. Trade Across the Sahara
A. By A.D. 200, trade across the Sahara had existed for centuries.
1. Trade was difficult due to harsh desert conditions.
2. Most pack animals could not travel very far in the hot, dry Sahara without
rest or water.
B. Berber nomads learned how to cross Sahara by traveling in large caravans
1. The camel could walk as much as 60 miles in a day.
2. It could travel more than ten days without water, twice as long as most
Ghana: The Land of Gold
I. Ghana: The Land of Gold
A. Gold came from a forest region south of the savanna between the Niger
(NY•juhr) and Senegal (SEHN•ih•GAWL) rivers.
B. Some sources estimate that at least 2/3 of the world’s gold came from West
Salt of the Earth
I. The Sahara contained deposits of salt.
A. Arab and Berber traders crossed the desert with camel caravans loaded down
B. They also carried cloth, weapons, and manufactured goods from ports on the
C. After a long journey, they reached the market towns of the savanna.
Goods for Gold
I. Gold-Salt Trade
A. Important trade of gold and salt took place on the trans-Saharan trade .
1. Once Berber traders began crossing Sahara and traded food, hard goods,
copper, and salt for gold.
a. Ghana became key player in African trade
b. Ghana traded salt to people in south, where salt was scarce.
II. Silent Barter
A. Process in which people exchange goods without ever contacting each other
1. The trading kingdoms often could not speak the same language; therefore
the “silent barter system.”
Instead of meeting and arguing a price, gold would be left at a special place, and the
Just place the goods
here! We will go
back to the town and
return tomorrow to
see if our goods are
what they want!
Well, They have some
much needed salt, some
peacock feathers… very
nice! Oh yes, they also
have an excellent array
How much gold
should we leave?
A fair amount, but not too
much! They will give more
to ensure that we continue
to trade with them!
Most traders were afraid to leave too little in return of the gold Ghana provided
them with, for they knew that if they did, Ghana would stop the trade.
Well, it’s not as much as
we would like, but if we
haggle, they may never
trade with us again!
I’ll hit the
drum to let
we have a
Afraid that the trade between Ghana and their kingdom would stop, many rulers
would always leave a bit more than required, in return!
Control of the Trading Empire
I. Kings of Ghana
A. By 800 A.D., Ghana’s kings built great wealth taxing goods brought to
B. Salt Taxes
1. Majority of taxes charged on salt: charged fee for each load of salt brought
into Ghana from north, larger fee for each load exported to south.
C. Money from trade, taxes allowed kings to live lavish lifestyle.
1. Ghana’s kings also used wealth to build up huge army when needed.
a. Used army to conquer other peoples in area.
b. Captured people sold as slaves to Muslim traders.
Gold Supply Scarce
I. Gold not taxed the same; taxes might discourage traders from buying gold.
A. To keep gold prices high, kings ruled only they could own large gold nuggets.
1. Others could only own gold dust.
2. Kept the location of gold mines secret.
a. This way he could keep the price of gold high.
I. Attempts at Expansion
A. Mid-1000s, Ghana’s empire rich and powerful.
B. King tried to expand to north into lands controlled by Almoravids, a Muslim
1. Attempt led to long war.
2. In 1076, Almoravids captured Koumbi-Saleh, Ghana’s capital.
Hmmm… I wonder what
might happen if I try to
expand into the territory
controlled by the
It will be on
Results of Conflict
I. Results of Conflict
A. Almoravids controlled capital temporarily.
B. Ghana’s empire was weakened
C. King unable to deal with rebellion in part of empire.
1. Soon Ghana fell into decline; new empire took its place.
Collapse of the Ghana Empire
I. By the early 1200s, Ghana collapsed
1. A Muslim group called the Almoravids cut off many trade routes, without
which Ghana could not support its empire.
1. When the Almoravids moved, they brought herds of animals with them.
a. These animals ate all the grass, leaving the land worthless for farming.
C. Internal rebellion
1. The people Ghana conquered rose up in rebellion and took over the entire
How did the kings of Ghana become
Answer(s): by taxing salt and gold, by
controlling the price of gold
The Mali Empire
I. The Rise of the Mali Empire
A. After Ghana’s decline, no one kingdom immediately set out to control the
1. Mali’s location on the Niger River allowed its people to control trade on
the river and became wealthy from gold.
B. By 1230, Mali grew frustrated with its neighboring peoples and rose up to
C. Mali expanded to the Atlantic Ocean and became the leading power in West
A. Mali’s rise to power began under a ruler named Sundiata (soohn-JAHT-ah).
B. Sundiata raised an army and conquered the nearby kingdoms, including
Ghana, and took over the salt and gold trades.
C. Sundiata took over religious and political authority held by local leaders.
1. Sundiata ruled for 25 years.
A. Mali’s greatest and most famous ruler was a Muslim named Mansa Musa
B. During Musa’s reign, Mali’s territory became twice the size of Ghana and
grew wealthier than ever.
Much wealth came from taxation of gold-salt trade.
C. Mali kept peace and order along Saharan trade routes by using large army.
D. Based his laws on the “Quran.”
Muslim Mosque in Timbuktu
Islam in Mali
I. Islam in Mali
A. In 1324, Musa made a pilgrimage to Mecca.
1. He brought with him; 60,000 people and 80 camels each had 300lbs of gold.
B. Musa spread Islam through West Africa by building mosques in cities.
1. Islam did not take hold initially
2. In Mali, Islam became powerful influence, especially among ruling class
Timbuktu was an important caravan stop along the Niger and became a center of
trade and learning after Mansa Musa ordered mosques and universities to be
II. After Mansa Musa’s death, his son could not stop raiders from the southeast
from burning down Timbuktu’s schools & mosques.
A. By 1500 nearly all of the lands the empire had once ruled were lost.
The Songhai Empire & Sunni Ali
A. After Mali declined, a people called the Songhai (SAHNG-hy) grew in
strength and formed a new civilization near the Niger River.
B. The Songhai leader Sunni Ali (SOOH-nee ah-LEE) captured the city of
Timbuktu and strengthened and enlarged the Songhai Empire.
1. Allowed religious tolerance
The Songhai Empire & Sunni Baru
I. In 1492 Sunni Ali died, his son Sunni Baru became the new ruler.
1. He was not Muslim.
a. But most of the people of the empire’s towns were Muslim.
b. They feared that if Sunni Baru did not support Islam they would lose
trade and power, so they rebelled.
c. Askia led the rebellion & took control of the Songhai empire.
I. Askia Muhammad
A. An excellent administrator and Muslim culture and education thrived
during Askia’s reign.
1. Askia set up an efficient tax system and chose able officials.
B. Timbuktu flourished again with schools, universities, libraries, &
1. Timbuktu’s universities, schools, libraries, and mosques attracted
The Fall of the Songhai Empire
I. Morocco in North Africa wanted to control Songhai’s salt mines.
A. In 1591, the Songhai Empire was invaded by Moroccans who were equipped
with arquebus (An early form of the gun.)
1. The Moroccans destroyed Gao and Timbuktu.
2. Songhai never recovered and trade declined.
B. Other trade centers north and south of the old empire became more important.
1. Port cities on the Atlantic coast were preferred by the European merchants
who did not like dealing with the overland Muslim traders.
C. The period of great West African empires came to an end.
Terms to Know
• Sahara Desert
• Kalahari Desert
• Tsetse fly
• Nomadic hunter-gatherers
• Smelt Iron
• Ghana, or war chief
• Gold-Salt Trade
• Silent Barter
• Mansa Musa
• Sunni Ali
• Askia Muhammad