(AFRICAN EMPIRES to 1500 CE – continued)

home | 6th-15th centuries

AFRICAN EMPIRES to 1500 CE (3 of 4)

previous | next

Peoples and Empires in South Central Africa

Scholars theorize that perhaps as long ago as 1000 BCE, Bantu-speaking people began moving south from around the Benue River in western Africa (today Nigeria) into south-central Africa.

By the 900s CE it was the pastoral and Hamitic speaking Tutsi who were migrating southward, into east-central Africa, to Rwanda, near Ukerewe (in centuries to come to be known as Lake Victoria). There, it is said, the Tutsi introduced cattle raising, iron-working, new crops, kingship and caste divisions. The people whom the Tutsi overran were Bantu speakers – the Hutu – and the Tutsi made vassals of some of the Hutu, giving them cattle in exchange for services and loyalty.

Before the 1100s, agriculture was practiced in much of south-central Africa, except in the interior of southern Angola, close to the Kalahari Desert. In south-central Africa, bananas were grown. This was tropical woodland and savanna, where yams and sugar cane were grown. Beans, groundnuts, sorghum and other millets were cultivated in areas of savanna. And people augmented their food production by hunting, fishing, gathering grubs, raising chickens, pigs and, in a few places, cattle. There was also pottery making, wickerwork and salt production. At Munza were iron mines. People in this region of Africa preferred using salt and metal, including copper, as currency for trading. By the 1300s, communities in Katanga were uniting into a kingdom of farmers, fishermen and crafts people, and they were trading in dry fish and products made of metal.

Into the 1300s, in some of the more remote parts of south-central Africa were villages that were still egalitarian, but in the more densely populated areas monarchs had arisen. These monarchs associated their rule with spirits, and their rule was supported by rituals and priests not totally removed from sorcery, divination, healing and fertility rites. And those supporting monarchical rule believed in the sacredness of lineage and royal blood of their monarchs. A monarch had underlings who advised him and went with him in his visits to the villages where he claimed rule. The monarch had a keeper of emblems, a military chief and warriors to support his rule. He had slaves. From his subjects the monarch received taxes with which to maintain his operation and to buy what he needed to maintain what he considered an appropriate lifestyle.

By the 1400s small empires thrived in south-central Africa. One was centered at Luba, built by iron-working farmers in a place with land and sufficient rainfall and suited for creating agricultural surpluses: with fertile land and sufficient rainfall. And there were woodlands, lakes and rivers for supplementary hunting and fishing.

Another empire was centered at Lunda , its center about 400 kilometers southwest of the center of Luba's empire. It was less densely populated than Luba and not quite as agricultural. It appears that people at Lunda learned metal working from the people of Luba.

A third empire was centered in the kingdom of the Kongo, which dominated areas such as Loango, Kakong, Ngoi and Kisama.

Copyright © 1998-2018 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved