In Africa, as in other parts of the world, civilization emerged in areas where farming was mastered. Some African civilizations later became wealthy by trading ivory, gold, iron, salt, and other goods. Migration and the spread of Islam were also important in the development of African societies.
Section 1 The Development of Civilizations in Africa
Africa is a large continent with distinct geographical and climate zones. Much of the continent is desert. Other parts are covered with thick rain forest. The continent's first civilizations emerged in areas where farming was mastered. The independent state of Kush was formed when Nubia, a region south of Egypt, broke free of Egyptian control around 1000 B.C. Kush flourished for several hundred years from trade with the Roman Empire, Arabia, and India. Axum, a neighboring trading state, conquered Kush in the fourth century A.D., probably to end competition over the ivory trade. Problems arose in the twelfth century as Muslim coastal states sought control over the slave and ivory trade. By the fifteenth century, Axum and one of the Muslim states were engaged in an expanding conflict.
Section 2 Kingdoms and States of Africa
Several powerful trading empires developed in West Africa beginning in the fifth century A.D. Ghana, Mali, and Songhai each enjoyed centuries as a powerful trading empire before being surpassed or conquered. Valuable trading commodities, such as iron and gold, were the basis for their wealth and power. In exchange, they received metal goods, textiles, horses, and salt from the Muslim merchants of North Africa. East Africa also saw the emergence of trading empires. Bantu-speaking peoples who migrated from the west gradually began trading along the East African coast. This trade produced tremendous wealth as well as a mixed African-Arabian culture and language, both called Swahili. Villages in southern Africa consolidated more gradually to form states. One of the wealthiest and most powerful was Zimbabwe, which flourished from 1300 to around 1450.
Section 3 African Society and Culture
African kings had greater contact with their subjects than did rulers in Asia. The close relationship helped maintain order and encourage commerce. For most Africans, family and ancestral relationships were paramount. Slavery was practiced, and women were usually subordinate to men. However, lineage was based on the mother, and mothers had a key role in educating children. When Islam swept across North Africa, the result was often a blend of Islam with native beliefs and practices. Islam took hold more gradually south of the Sahara and in East Africa. In Ethiopia, Christianity continued to gain followers even after the arrival of Islam. Early African art served a religious purpose. Some of the finest artistic achievements were woodcarvings and sculptures of a religious nature. Music and dance were part of many religious ceremonies. Music, along with storytelling, helped transmit a community's history to younger generations.