Call them what you want but these giants once roamed the Earth. Giants with a will of caste iron and hearts as fierce as dragons. The sands of time will one day pour backwards and the tombs that buried their bodies would fling open and their spirits rise into the skies: Africa will rise again!
African history is the oldest human history in the World; from Ancient Egypt to the present great leaders (alive as well as those in transition) have shaped Africa and world history. This is ancient Feudal Africa. The land shrouded in mysterious events; once forbidden to foreigners. A land made of magical desserts and mountains; a home to leaders, healers, amazing animals and sacred forests. Peace and harmony as kept by the Kings and Queens planted all over the land of the Gods. Muster Lords, tasked with protecting the Kings and Queens, land and people at all costs; should a muster Lord loose or fail his duty he suffers the greatest shame in all of African society. He should protect his King, Queen, land and people as himself and to know who they where is to know of the old Africa.
I am proud to speak of Africa before Europeans came to tremble on its peace, on its civilisation and on its way of life. I hate speaking the African history presented by the Europeans to Africans, but I rather engage in the African history written and tested by the Africans themselves. The European historians are telling us their adventure; of conguest, lynching and colonialisation of African history after Europeans came into Africa. That’s their history. Our should be of before they came into Africa so as we know who we are and where we came from:
Now let us select few out of the hundreds of Africa history and their leaders and further engagement would allow us to go even further in exploring this history before and after Christianity:
Aesop (560 B.C.)
The influence of Aesop on the Western thoughts and morals is profound. Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero, Julius Caesar, Shakespeare, and other great thinkers found inspiration in his words of wisdom. His writings have been translated into almost every language of the civilized world.
Aesop was a Phrygian, in Asia Minor, an African slave, flat-nosed, thick lips, Black skin from which his name was contracted (Esop being the same as Ethiop).
Aesop’s first master was Xanthus, who saw him in a market where he was for sale with two other slaves, a musician and an orator. Xanthus asked the musician what he could do? He replied “Anything.” The orator to the same question replied, “Everything.” Turning next to Aesop, “And what can you do?” “Nothing,” Aesop replied. “Nothing,” repeated Xanthus, and Aesop replied, “One of my companions says he can do anything, and the other says that he can do everything. That leaves me nothing.” This is an example of the wit of Aesop.
Ahmed Baba (1556-1627)
Ahmad Baba al-Massufi al-Tinbukti, full name Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Ahmad al-Takruri Al-Massufi al-Tinbukti .
The Songhai Empire ruled about two thirds of West Africa, including the lands now called Mali, Mauritania, Guinea, Senegal, Gambia, Northern Nigeria and Niger. When the Empire collapsed, due to an Arab and European invasion in 1591 AD, its intelligentsia were arrested by the conquerors and dragged in chains across the Sahara. One of these scholars was Professor Ahmed Baba. The author of 60 books, Professor Baba enjoyed a very high reputation. Amongst the Songhai, he was known as “The Unique Pearl of his Time”. In a Moroccan text from the period, the praise for him was even more gushing. He is described as “the imam, the erudite, the high-minded, the eminent among scholars, Abu l-Abbas Ahmed Baba.”
In Morocco, the Arab scholars petitioned to have him released from jail. He was released a year after his arrival on 9 May 1596. Major Dubois, a French author, narrates that: “All the believers were greatly pleased with his release, and he was conducted in triumph from his prison to the principal mosque of Marrakech. A great many of the learned men urged him to open a course of instruction. His first thought was to refuse, but overcome by their persistence he accepted a post in the Mosque of the Kerifs and taught rhetoric, law, and theology. An extraordinary number of pupils attended his lectures, and questions of the gravest importance were submitted to him by the magristracy, his decision always being treated as final.”
Despite this adulation, Baba was careful to credit his learning to the Almighty and thus maintained his modesty. A Moroccan source tells of an audience he obtained with Al Mansur. It appears that the scholar gave the sultan something of a dressing down. Baba complained about the sultan’s lack of manners, his ill treatment received during his original arrest, the sacking of his private library of 1600 books, and the destruction of the Songhai Empire. We are told by the Moroccan author that Al Mansur “being unable to reply to [any of] this, put an end to the audience.”
The professor was detained in Morocco for a total of 12 years. Eventually he received permission from Al Mansur’s successor to return to Songhai. Just before his departure across the desert, he vowed in the presence of the leading scholars of Marrakesh who had gathered to give him a send off, “May God never bring me back to this meeting, nor make me return to this country!” He returned to a devastated Timbuktu and died there in 1627.
Abu Bakr II (14 Century)
Abu Bakr II ( also Mansa Abu Bakari II, or Mansa Mohammed) was the ninth mansa of the Mali Empire. He succeeded his nephew Mansa Mohammed ibn Gao and preceded Kankou Musa I. Abubakari II appears to have abdicated his throne (1311) in order to explore “the limits of the ocean”; however, his expedition never returned.
Ibn Fadlullah al-Umari (1300-1348), in his encyclopaedic work Masalik Al-Absar, relates a story obtained from the Mamluk governor of Cairo, Ibn Amir Hajib. While Mansa Musa was visiting Cairo as part of his pilgramate to Mecca, Ibn Amir Hajib asked how he had succeeded to the throne, and this is what Ibn Amir Hajib reported he was told: The ruler who preceded me did not believe that it was impossible to reach the extremity of the ocean that encircles the earth: he wanted to reach that (end) and was determined to pursue his plan. So he equipped two hundred boats full of men, and many others full of gold, water and provisions sufficient for several years. He ordered the captain not to return until they had reached the other end of the ocean, or until he had exhausted the provisions and water. So they set out on their journey. They were absent for a long period, and, at last just one boat returned. When questioned the captain replied:
‘O Prince, we navigated for a long period, until we saw in the midst of the ocean a great river which flowing massively. My boat was the last one; others were ahead of me, and they were drowned in the great whirlpool and never came out again. I sailed back to escape this current.’ But the Sultan would not believe him. He ordered two thousand boats to be equipped for him and his men, and one thousand more for water and provisions. Then he conferred the regency on me for the term of his absence, and departed with his men, never to return nor to give a sign of life.
Akhenaton (1375-1358 B.C.)
Amenhotep IV , better known as “Akhenaton” is in some respects, the most remarkable of the Pharaohs. He is considered the founder of the first monotheistic religion. The account of Akhenaton is not complete without the story of his beautiful wife, Nefertiti.
Some archaeologist have referred to Nefertiti as Akhenaton’s sister, some have said they were cousins. What is known is that the relationship between Akhenaton and Nefertiti was one of history’s first well-known love stories. At the prompting of Akhenaton and Nefertiti, the sculptors and the artists began to recreate life in its natural state, instead of the rigid and lifeless forms of early Egyptian art. After the death of his father, he came into full power in Egypt and took the name Akhenaton.
He produced a profound effect on Egypt and the entire world of his day. 1300 years before Christ, he preached and lived a gospel of perfect love, brotherhood, and truth. 2000 years before Muhammed, he taught the doctrine of the “One God.” 3000 years before Darwin, he sensed the unity that runs through all living things.
Cetewayo “Zulu King” (18 Century)
Cetewayo, King of the Zulu’s, was a hero in a war with the British, causing the most crushing defeat the English ever experienced from any Africans in modern history. His victory at Isandlhwana was one of the most terrifying slaughters in history. In 1879, the British invaded Zululand. Cetewayo defeated the British, and killed Prince Napoleon, heir to the French throne.
A missionary, trying to frighten Cetewayo into accepting Christianity, told him of hell fire. “Hell fire?” Cetewayo laughed. Do you think I’m afraid of hell fire? My soldiers would put it out. He commanded his officers to have his warriors to eat a grass fire burning on a nearby hillside. His men immediately began to eat up the fire, not regarding their personal injuries. Cetewayo replied “I eat hell fire.” He was a strict military disciplinarian. The army knew they must conquer or die. Certain death always awaited a defeated army.
Cetewayo banished the missionaries from the Zulu territory for plotting against him and meddling in his national affairs. It was then suggested to the governor of the Cape that the Zulu nation should be annihilated in order to secure South Africa.
Having conquered many more British, Cetewayo was soon captured and imprisoned. Three years later, Cetewayo was granted a request to present his case to Queen Victoria. The British found him to be a courteous, friendly, gentleman, not the man-eating savage depicted. He was honored as a hero and promised restoration of his power.
The whites of South Africa never kept the promise of the Queen. When Cetewayo returned home, he again went to war with the enemy. Cetewayo died in February, 1844. Never having surrendered his principles for freedom for his people, the Zulus.
The Dohemian Female Army (1841)
Dohomey was a wealthy West African empire. The elements of Dohomey’s success were its trade and its powerful army, whose soldiers were considered invincible.
The fierce and mighty Behanzin Bowelle was the king of this great empire. His army contained 25,000 warriors, 5,000 of which were women. These women were thoroughly trained and kept trim by a system of gymnastics developed by the Dohomians themselves. Recruited from among the healthiest and strongest virgins in Dohomey, these females were sworn to chastity.
The king sometimes picked his wives from among them or gave them to his bravest warriors. The training of these women was very rigorous. One of their drills was charging three times barefoot into a construction of thorns, nude to their waist.
The Amazon army corps, made up of female warriors, is said to have been established by King Agadja (1708-1740). His father, King Houégbadja, had already created a detachment of “elephant huntresses” who were also bodyguards. But Agadja made them into real warriors.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey (1887 – 1916)
Marcus Mosiah Garvey, one of the greatest leaders African people have produced, was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica, and spent his entire life in the service of his people–African people. He was bold; he was uncompromising and he was one of the most powerful orators on record. He could literally bring his audiences to a state of mass hysteria. Garvey emphasized racial pride. His goal was nothing less that the total and complete redemption and liberation of African people around the planet. His dream was the galvanization of Black people into an unrelenting steamroller that could never be defeated.
As a young man of fourteen, Garvey left school and worked as a printer’s apprentice. He participated in Jamaica’s earliest nationalist organizations, traveled throughout Central America, and spent time in London, England, where he worked with the Sudanese-Egyptian nationalist Duse Mohamed Ali. In 1916 Garvey was invited by Booker T. Washington to come to the United States in the hopes of establishing an industrial training school, but arrived just after Washington died. In March 1916, shortly after landing in America, Garvey embarked upon an extended period of travel. When he finally settled down, he organized a chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League. The UNIA & ACL had been formed in Jamaica in 1914. Its motto was “One God, One Aim, One Destiny,” and pledged itself to the redemption of Africa and the uplift of African people everywhere. It aimed at race pride, self-reliance and economic independence.
Currently: 21 Century
Timbuktu has often been invoked as a symbol of the most distant place on Earth, as a mysterious and exotic, but unreachable, attraction. Yet, it is a real city with a history.
Indeed, it has a rich and diverse heritage and a fascinating past. The city and its desert environs are an archive of handwritten texts in Arabic and in African languages in the Arabic script, produced between the 13th and the 20th centuries. The manuscript libraries of Timbuktu are significant repositories of scholarly production in West Africa and the Sahara. Given the large number of manuscript collections it is surprising that Timbuktu as an archive remains largely unknown and under-used. Timbuktu’s manuscript collections deserve close study. It is a significant starting-point for reflecting on Africa’s written traditions.
Recognising its significance as a site of African architecture and of its scholarly past, Unesco declared Timbuktu a World Heritage Site in 1990.
A South Africa-Mali Timbuktu Manuscripts Project was officially launched in 2003 and a major achievement of this project was the new library-archive building, which was inaugurated in Timbuktu in January 2009.
The Tombouctou Manuscripts Project at the University of Cape Town (UCT) is dedicated to research various aspects of writing and reading the handwritten works of Timbuktu and beyond. Training young researchers is an integral part of its work.