What the Slave Trade did to Afrika

•March 8, 2007 • 13 Comments

This post is on the effects of Slavery on Afrika…once more…the aim is to understand NOT blame. Moreover, by no means is this post exhaustive. It aims to simpley highlight a few key points. ( By the way for hard to find pics of Africa during the slavery era click here.) Thank you for the encouraging words you have said in the past. As for the racist remarks…I won’t even dignify such ignorance with a response. This blog is by an Afrikan for Afrikans…and those who are interested in the continent. May we have the courage to engage in our healing…I mean REALLY do the work required for us to heal…and of course a critical step in that process is learning how we were wounded…so here we go…this is PART of the story.

The Trans-Atlantic and East Coast Slave trades

Slavery occurred on both the West and East coasts of Afrika. The West Afrikan /Trans-Atlantic slave trade moved Afrikans to the Americas whereas the East Afrikan slave trade sent Afrikans to Asia and the Middle East. The most intense period was from about 1300- 1800 AD. Five hundred years of persecution and destabilization is a long time! The slave trade on the West and East coasts of Afrika was abusive, exploitative and inhumane. This slave trade had several negative effects on Afrika. Here are a few of them: Firstly, an enormous amount of human labour was ripped out of Afrika and transplanted to various, predominantly European-owned ventures. The estimated number of Afrikans that were forcibly removed from Afrika range from the few millions to the hundreds of millions. The Trans Atlantic Slave Trade took away the working engine of the continent. When the European slave masters came to Afrika they made a point to take the healthiest and most able-bodied individuals with them. Slave buyers preferred their slaves to be between the ages of 15-35 with a ratio of two men to one woman. The slave trade took Afrika. The removal of the development agents from Afrikan soil led to severe stagnation in Afrikan development as a whole. The slave trade in Afrika was achieved by social violence and barbarism. Afrikans were tricked, beaten tortured and raped into the shackles that led them to bondage. This intense social violence occurred for at least 500 years on the West Coast of Afrika and a bit less on the East Coast of Afrika. In order to avoid capture, Afrikans were on the run all the time, running away from slave traders and running away from Afrikan neighbours who worked in collusion with the predominantly European slave traders. It is basically impossible for individuals to devise economic development strategies when the threat of being carted away and beaten into submission is an ever-present threat for them. Thirdly, slavery caused Afrikans to abandon other modes of production in favour of slave raiding. In Accra and Dahomey, slaves were traded for gold form Brazil thus undermining the gold trade that had flourished in this region for eons. Slave In the Gold Coast the shift form gold mining to slave raiding occurred in a period of 10 years from 1700-1710. Fourthly, the violence and violation of sovereignty entailed in slave raiding led to the spread of war like bushfire across portions of Afrika. War makes normal life impossible. Agricultural activities were negatively impacted in Western, Eastern and Central Afrika as labour was drawn from agriculture and the environment because more volatile and unpredictable in nature. As a result nations were unable to feed the sparse population they had left. An example of this is Dahomey which ‘ in the 16th century was known for exporting food to parts of what is now Togo, was suffering from famines in the 19th century.’ (Rodney, How Europe underdeveloped Africa, 108) Finally, slavery gave birth to racism. The inhumane treatment meted out to Afrikans by the Caucasian slave traders in particular forced them to devise theories to rationalize the barbaric manner in which they treated the Afrikan slaves. They rationalized that Afrikans had to be inferior beings. These racist theories became so common place that soon it was accepted as gospel truth. The birth of racism is what allowed the Caucasian race to subsequently colonize Afrika and it is what enables them to continue treating Afrika and Her people as subhuman beings whose survival is of no importance.

Caputuring slaves

On the ships…


If slaves resisted




Previous comments on this post

The Angry Mallard Duck said…

This post is missing one basic point. The concept of slavery was stamped out in Europe by the fall of the Roman Empire. It was reintroduced to European culture by Africans who tried to trade their own slaves to European traders and settlers as currency.

Slavery was common in Africa long before the Europeans showed up. When tribes raided one another, they raided not only for goats and whatnot, but for slaves as well. The check that kept this practice in balance was the lack of large market in slaves.

When the Europeans learned of this practice, they introduced that market, and more often than not, bought their slaves from African slave traders.

I know that you quoted the passage from “How Europe underdeveloped Africa” thanks to your bibliography, but keep in mind that not all histories are accurate and complete. All too often the slave trade seems to be laid soley at the feet of villianious Europeans, and while I do not dispute this fact, I will point out that they were not alone in this villiany, nor where they the instigators of it. They merely took unfair advantage of an existing cultural practice.

12:40 PM

Afrikan Eye said…

This is a common misconception about African slavery that is popular…and often used in an attempt to say that ‘well Afrikans were already engaged in slavery so what’s the big deal about the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade?…afterall Afrikans were already treating each other badly’.
This sort of attitude is a clever means of dehumanising Africans further by spreading inaccruacies of ‘innate and indigenous BARBARIC African slavery.’ This line of thinking creates a wall of impersonality and indifference to the horrors of the Trans-Atlanic and East African slave trades because it allows people to say (in the back of thier minds) ‘Well Africans were already doing this to each other before the West or Arabs came in…so the Trans Atalantic and East African slave trades really didn’t introduce anything new to the continent.’ That is a LIE and I encourage you to REALLY read and look into the nature of the indigenous Afrikan slavery. I refer to a book titled Pre-colonial Black Africa by Cheikh Anta Diop. But to make life easier I will list here a few CRITICAL disctinctions bewteen African and foreign slavery:
– During the times of INDIGENOUS Afrikan slavery, Afrikans did not go around raiding each others’ villages for the SINGLE purpose of getting slaves. Slaves were usually the result of a war with the conquered group becoming captives and slaves for the victor. Afrikans didn’t just senselessly run around attacking each other to get slaves…we were busy doing other things and building our civilisations. It is, sadly, when Western and Arab/Asian slavery started that Afrikans began to conduct slave raids on each other.
– In certain parts of ancient Africa, slaves composed part of the infantry, the kings army and the Calvary alongside freemen and were treated in the same manner. Slaves of the King enjoyed privileges that many free men did not have.
– In many parts of Africa there were two main types of slaves:
1. There were slaves of the mother’s household who were responsible for running the house alongside the mother. These slaves were respected, feared and consulted by the children. The slaves often became a part of the family and therefore didn’t have a desire to over throw the household or social structure.
2. The slave of the father’s house were’t as warmly embraced into the family as the slave of the other’s house. He/she had no special privileges in society and basically had to ensure that the household was looked after.
– The abuse and barbaric treatment of slaves that characterised foreign slavery of Afrikans was NOT common in indigenous Afrikan slavery. The mistreament of slaves was seriously discouraged as can be see in the fact that if it was known that a noble man abused his slaves, he would lose his stature and respect in society.
– In some (albeit rare cases) slaves actually married into royality.
– In the indigenous Afrikan slavery system you did not remain a slave FOR LIFE. There came a time when you were released into society as a free person. This practice only began to happen in the Western-style slave trade after a great deal of noise-making about the issue.

This is a brief overview and I urge you, if you’re serious about what you’re saying, to look into the implications of your words.
The indigenous African slave trade was a COMPLETELY different creature to that that was brought to Africa by foreigners…and it a SERIOUS problem that when people think about slavery the immediate image is that of the Western and Arab/Asian types slavery. This therefore, as you have illustrated, leads to the misconception that Afrikan slavery had the same character as that of the foreign slavery. It DID NOT… and we should be aware of that.

12:15 PM

giovanni.dicristofano@tin.it said…

Some (simplified) facts.
1) During Roman Empire slavery was much similar to the Slavery in Africa as Afrikan Eye describes.
2) During the Middle Ages in Europe there was widespread a particular kind of slavery. The Slavery of the Land. Peasants were a property of the landlord for life. Peasants lost their freedom but got protection from the invaders. In case, they could shelter inside the landlord’s castle. (Dozens of tales, movies and cartoons describe the Right of the First Night: the virgin wife of the peasant had to spend the first night of her honeymoon with the landlord.). Peasants remained in a condition of slavery in Russia till the year 1860.
3)First slaves in America were WHITE. Poor starving Europeans emigrated to America to work in a condition of near-slavery in coffee or cotton farms. African slaves were imported in America later when the businessmen realized that Africans would cost less and work harder. But an American white bachelor could still buy and marry a white emigrant woman in some market nearby an harbour. Strudel

6:59 PM

Anonymous said…

and boring men who mobs wives?

1:47 PM

sokari said…

Hi, I have set up an African Women’s Reblog at:


Myself and Mshairi are hoping to develop the REblog into a space for African women – we are not sure what yet but would appreciate it if you would have a look through the reblog and add a link to it on your blog.

many thanks

3:31 AM

dark-into-light said…

Fact is.. this world is ruled by the white man. It will always be.

It´s so heart-breaking to see what they´re still doing to our home Africa and our brothers & sisters up to today!
…Then turn right around & start talking about “helping” them poor afros, “supporting” them, when they´re the major cause for all this sh**!

The only thing that would really help us would be them to finally leave our people alone.
Stop interfering and confusing everything & everyone in Africa.

Besides that, an african will always be “just” an african ..no matter where he/she will ever go.
They will never recognize you as a human being like them, instead keep on reminding you how black you are in everything you try to do.

I´m not hatin.. just talking out of experience.
This is just the sad reality.



The effect of colonlialism on African women

•March 8, 2007 • 16 Comments

Well, now that we have an idea of the general status of African women before colonialism…let’s take a look at the economic and socio-political effects of colonialism on African women…remember, the idea is not to blame colonialists and get stuck in the rut of forever blaming others…the aim is to share knowledge and information and give us all some historical perspective as we look at our current state of affairs and as we make plans to positively mould our future.

Economic Impact
Firstly, women were affected by the alienation of land experienced by most Africans. However, women appear to have been more personally affected by this land alienation. This is because, ‘As women lost access and control of land they became more economically dependent on men. This led to an intensification of domestic patriarchy, reinforced by colonial social institutions.’ Among the Kikuyu of Kenya women were the major food producers and thus not only had ready access to land but also authority over how land was to be cultivated. Speaking about African women in general, Seenarine, in quoting Sacks explains that, ‘the value of women’s productive labor, in producing and processing food …established and maintained their rights in domestic and other spheres – economic, cultural, religious, social, political, etc.’

The advent of the British colonialism and the settler economy negatively impacted Kikuyu women because the loss of land meant a loss of access to and authority over land. Kikuyu women found that they no longer had the variety of soils needed to grow indigenous foodstuffs. Traditionally, certain pieces of land were associated with the growth of certain crops. Thus the variety of soils was required to ensure food security . Moreover, land loss meant women were restricted to smaller tracts of land for cultivation. Continuous cultivation of these areas of land led to soil exhaustion and nutrient depletion which ultimately adversely affected crop yields. Land alienation reduced the economic independence enjoyed by women by compromising their economic productivity. As colonialism continue to entrench itself in African soil, the perceived importance of women’s agricultural contribution to the household was reduced as their vital role in food production was overshadowed by the more lucrative male-controlled cash crop cultivation.

Secondly, colonialism negatively impacted women by introducing wage labour.
Women were directly affected because they were required, by law in some cases, to provide wage labour for the European plantation economies. The Northey Circular in Kenya (1919) commanded district officers and African chiefs to procure wo
men and juvenile labourers for private and public works. Women were deeply affected by such directives because it drew them away form their usual economic activities. In come cases European labour demands were most intense during the peak labour requirements for their own agricultural activities. As Mbilinyi explains, ‘ Women and children were the major source of casual labour during labour peaks in the Rungwe tea industry and Mbosi coffee industry.’ This produced a conflict in women as they were forced to leave their duties to work for Europeans. Keep in mind that this forced labour was accompanied by acts of physical and sexual abuse which were often committed by African men against their own women. Therefore, working on the plantations further compromised women’s well being and ability to be as productive as they previously had been in past.

Thirdly, the introduction of wage labour affected women through its denial of African women to African male labour. The colonial economy forced men to seek employment in European economic ventures and took them away from the labour responsibilities they used to have in the traditional African economy. As Mbilinyi explains, ‘The withdrawal of male labour from peasant production intensified female labour, and led to a drop in cultivated acreage.’ Women found that not only did they have to fulfil their traditional duties as women, the loss of male labour forced them to take on the duties previously carried out by men.

Fourthly, this loss of male labour was often in the form of male migrant labour where men left rural areas to seek employment in urban areas. This led to both social and economic impacts on women. The focus in this section will be on the economic repercussions of male migrant labour.

Due to male migrant movement, women found that they had to hire labour to substitute for absent male household members. In Tanganyika, hired labour cost, ‘ (T)wo Tanganykinan shillings (Tshs 22) per month with food ration.’ This cost added to the economic strain already being felt by the African woman.

Problems posed by male migrant labour were exacerbated by changes in bridewealth arrangements. In many areas bridewealth had evolved from being a payment made in livestock to a cash exchange. As a result bridewealth was inflated and became a way of putting monetary value on the bride’s wealth. Thus, instead of the bridewealth process being one that affirmed the woman’s worth, it became one that judged the woman’s worth. This inflation in bridewealth meant that most young men were unable to pay it and thus had to go to urban areas in order to earn enough to make the payment. Now women lost their husband’s economic (and other) support at the onset of marriage thereby putting them in a disempowered economic state from the beginning of marriage.

Fourthly, taxes were introduced by the colonial economy. In most cases taxes were to be paid by men to the colonial authority. In some cases, however, taxes were also imposed on women. For example, among the Egba of Nigeria, the British colonial authority used African males to impose taxes on women. Women could be taxed from the age of fifteen! This tax was seen as a nuisance for women who not had enough economic responsibilities of sustaining the household in the absence of males.
Taxes also indirectly affected women by affecting bridewealth exchange as exemplified by the situation in colonial Zimbabwe. By the 1930s, African patriarchs in particular had become extremely preoccupied with controlling bridewealth. As Barnes explains, ‘(F)athers and guardians had come to regard this payment- once only a symbolic exchange of gifts between families- as a fair means of accumulation cash to pay taxes and meet other financial obligations. This change represented the commdification of a woman’s value to her family.’ In the past, African women in some societies had retained a measure of control over their bridewealth which economically empowered her. Sadly, with the new financial constraints experienced by males, especially in the form of heavy taxation, bridewealth became a source of income that males sought to control. Thus, once more, women were excluded from traditional provisions that had previously given women some measure of economic independence.

A fifth way in which colonisation negatively impacted women was through the introduction of the cash crop economy.
Initially, Africans were not allowed to grow cash crops because the settlers feared that the ‘primitive’ African agricultural practices would spread crop disease and contamination to their plantations. But eventually the colonialists permitted Africans to grow cash crops. In Kenya this took place between 1950-1963.Given the mandate to grow cash crops, many Africans chose to take the opportunity and in doing so women were adversely affected.

First, men intended to control the cash crops and their proceeds. Women were to continue with subsistence farming except in the cases where subsistence crop became cash crops with a market value. In this case males swiftly took control of the crop’s proceeds although the women continued to do all the work around its cultivation.

Secondly, as the cash crop economy grew, the colonial government imposed the new cash crops (cocoa, coffee, cotton etc) on men and because of their market value, men accepted to cultivate them. So although women were expected to grow foodstuffs, their labour was also required in the growth of cash crops. This doubled the agricultural load on women.

Moreover, the introduction of new technology, especially the plough actually had a negative impact on women. Firstly, the plough enabled men to cultivate more land. But men left the backbreaking, labour intensive work of sowing and weeding to women. Thus the women’s load was increased. Secondly, the plough made men more directly involved in crop cultivation thereby increasing the men’s right over proceeds earned from the cash crop. To many men, this meant they could dispense with the money earned without consulting the women who did most of the work in earning the money. Hence, women, once although women were working more, their economic dependence on men was increasing.

Finally colonialism led to the complete loss of access to land by women. The colonialists brought with them the idea of private ownership of land. Women were completely excluded from this ownership. Berger explains that in Kenya, the Swynnerton Plan of 1954 began a process of, ‘registering and consolidation land and granting titles to individuals, almost all of whom have been men.’ This policy weakened rural women’s autonomy in the economy.

It is clear that colonials had devastating economic impacts on women. As the colonial government entrenched itself into the African nations, women found their labour being increasingly exploited, their autonomy decreased and their levels of dependence on males increasing.

Socio- Political impact
The first socio-political effect of colonialism was the concept of the Victorian woman which the colonisers brought with them. The colonialists came with the belief that women were to remain creatures of the private domain. Women were to preoccupy themselves with domestic issues and leave the ‘real work’ of ruling and running the nation in terms of politics and economics in particular to the men. The role and position of the pre-colonial African women did not conform to this concept of a women. Hence, the implementation of policies seated in this myopic perception of women led to the erosion of women’s position in society.

Secondly, male migration profoundly affected women especially in rural areas. In Tanganyika, male migrancy nearly halved the male population such that there were nearly twice as many women than men. The removal of males form African society le to the destruction of the African family. Household no longer had father, brother, uncles and nephews thus leaving a void where the male used to reside. Male participation in their traditional roles in ceremonies, rites and rituals was distorted. The responsibility older males had of guiding and steering young males was abandoned as many went to urban areas. Women could not rely on the social support and protection men offered them and in many cases became the de facto heads of household. The problem is that the increase in women’s social responsibilities did not lead to a rise in their status, if anything it led to an erosion of their status.

Thirdly, as colonialism progressed, African patriarch’s, and the colonial government to a certain extent, attempted to restrict movement of women in a bid to control their sexuality. As Parpart explains, ‘Colonial policy pushed men into migrant labour leaving women stranded in the rural areas with an increasingly onerous workload. As rural conditions deteriorated, the cities beckoned. While women had little chance of waged employment in town, their opportunities to earn money existed.’ As a result, more women migrated to urban areas but were met with stiff opposition in the form of disapproval of African patriarchs in particular. Both they and colonial officials disliked female migration because they felt it led to moral decline and female indiscipline. African patriarchs were particularly concerned with controlling women’s movement and thus sexuality for a number of reasons. Firstly, they wanted to retain the purity of their clan. When women moved away form home, the patriarchs had less control over whom the women married or cohabited with. Thus, African males wanted to keep women under their noses so as to ensure endogamous marriage by the women. Secondly, African patriarchs discovered that if women left home and got married in her new area of residence, the groom often did not pay the bridewealth. Since there was no social pressure on couples in urban areas to pay bride wealth, African patriarchs began losing a great deal of income in the form of unpaid bride wealth.
Therefore, African patriarchs become preoccupied with controlling female mobility. The colonial administration also become concerned because some African men left their employment early due to domestic problems that arose in the form of accusations of adultery and wives leaving them for other men. This caused the colonial administration to assist the African patriarchs out of (initial) mutual benefit. In Zimbabwe, the administration passed Ordinances and Laws such as the 1926 adultery ordinance which applied to married women and the 1929 Native Affairs Act, which applied to prostitutes, in an attempt to, ‘assist the kraal native to control their women’. However, it must be noted that the colonial administration was not very serious in their attempts to control the movement of women due to the observation that the men were more productive when he had his wife or a female companion around.

Nonetheless, rural women’s mobility was constrained thus limiting the social freedom they used to enjoy. In the past women had participated in activities that required quite a bit of movement. Fro example, among the Kikuyu since trading was carried out by women they enjoyed freedom of movement in order to dispense of their duties effectively. Colonialism caused some women to lose the freedom they once enjoyed.

Fourthly, due to the Victorian concept of women held by the colonialist and embraced by the African male, women were excluded from the new political and administrative system. In the past, most African societies had a dual sex political system which allowed for substantial female representation and involvement in governance and administration. The position of Queen mother seen across Africa in Ghana among the Akan, Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda but to name a few, gave women prominent and visible political authority in running the nation.
However, the chauvinist and misogynistic colonial officials made no provisions in the initial administrative design. It is often only with women protests as was the case of the Aba women’s war and the actions of Mekatilili was Menza, that a meagre number of woman’s positions were created in the colonial set up.
This marginalisation of women led to an erosion in the position and influence of women in society. As this new status quo was maintained, African men actually began to believe that women were incapable of leading the nations. This erroneous opinion is still held by many Africans to this day and is reflected in the meagre number of appointments women receive to parliament and ministerial positions.

The discussion on the socio-political effects of colonialism on women is not exhaustive by any means. However, it is designed to give the reader a good impression of how foreign colonial domination truly led to deterioration in the status of women across Africa.

The African women’s response

African women did not appreciate the new form of foreign and local patriarchal domination that was being meted out to them due to colonialism. They thus voiced their concerns in numerous acts of protest an defiance in an attempt to not only vocalise their anger and frustration and the new state of affairs, but to also improve their situation. Therefore, although colonialism led to detrimental effects in the economic and socio-political spheres, African women used these challenges to empower themselves and move forward. Colonialism increased the levels of awareness in women about their situation, their rights and the ability they themselves had to alter their environment. As Parpart explains, women used the court system in colonial Zambia to their advantage, ‘They (women) learnt the value of protest and the need to frame arguments in certain ways.’ Thus, women adapted to their new realties and gleaned methods of self-empowerment in the process.

This resilience and ingenuity of African women is seen in the acts such as the Aba women’s war (1929) where women came together in protest of certain colonial policies. Queen Sarraounia (1899) of Azna defended her nation from French invaders while Mekatilili wa Mennza mobilised her community to protest against the British. Women formed associations and unions as a statement of their unity as well as to contribute to the push toward independence. Fro example, Oyikan Abayomi founded the British West African Ladies Club in 1929 with a member ship of 500-200 women. This organisation was anti-colonial and brought women’s voices together as a powerful against colonialism.

It is evident that colonialism led to a definite decline in women economic independence as well as their socio-political status in society. Colonialism managed to instil in African men a strange feeling of superiority over women despite the fact that for centuries prior to colonialism, this unfounded feeling of superiority was generally absent in non-Islamised African states. It is evident that even today, in modern Africa, women still have to live with continued subjugation and abuse because they are women. However, it is with great joy that once more, we are witnessing a rise in women consciousness and self- confidence as women say NO to continued social scorn and disrespect. Women today, just as they had during the colonial era, refuse to accept the injustices meted out to them by men of whatever race.

May we as Africans strive to restore African women to a position of respect and dignity that even exceed that which she enjoyed in the past. For it is only when a nation respects women and treats them with dignity that true development can occur. Women are at the frontlines of humanity as mothers and primary caregivers. Therefore, in nurturing and building them, we are building the whole nation and continent.

For the Restoration of Afrika and all Her peoples at home and abroad.

Previous comments on this post

giovanni.cristofano@tin.it said…
Sooner or later somebody should write on the effect of women on men, irrelevant of skin color. gdc
2:45 PM
africanmessiah said…
Hello African eye……first of all i would like to say that i love your blog….we are on the same theme so much respect and more support !!Second, you may be right with the effect of colonialism to african women………but as you said we should not blame the past……..look at Afghan women……….they had their problems up to the 90s and after being liberated from their Taliban fashist leaders……they even play football now!!…..and this has been done within less than 5 years since the Americans touched the Afghan land !!……….then why African’s women still undermined?!!……..i believe the women themselves have not done enough to change the situation……..how can someboy help if you do not say that you need help?!……..see my blog if you have time, i have the same topic as yours and i believe solutions can be found to this………i am trying to bring as much awareness to the people and how to solve the problems!!Last question, what is your solution to the effect caused by colonialists to african women?
8:08 PM
Anonymous said…
I find your writing interesting and thought provoking and I was wondering if you would be interested in contributing articles to http://www.africangn.net (aGN)
aGN a division of http://www.globalents.net


•March 8, 2007 • 27 Comments


Africans were the first to inhabit the earth. Fossil records as well as DNA analysis give scientific evidence to support this fact. Therefore, the first woman to give birth was a Black African woman. It is from us that all humans have come. The other races of humankind all evolved from Black Africans.

Ancient Africans had a deep-seated respect for women. Charles Finch in the book Echoes of the Old Darkland explains that early man did not know the link between sex and birth. Therefore, it was believed that new life was created by the woman, the mother alone. It was perceived that all life in nature emerged from women ALONE. Therefore when the first concept of God was developed, the female served as the model of the Supreme Being. Finch explains how it was under this initial Matriarchal System that the first rules and taboos to govern human behaviour were articulated. Another important contribution of ancient woman can be seen in the fact that as the gatherer of grains, seeds, roots berries and plants to the group, we had the opportunity to observe how seeds sprout when they fall in the ground. This observation led to the practice of organized cultivation. It was the woman who probably developed the practice of purposeful cultivation. This may have happened as early as 15,000 BC. It is the practice of agriculture that made population expansion, food surpluses and community settlement possible.

It is not known exactly when the role of the male in procreation was discovered, but this discovery did not enhance the status of men much until the necessity of men became clear in war and conquest. The vital role of men did not lead to an imposition of the male on the female, rather it served to enhance the principle of duality evident in creation. Males and females were seen as complements to one another and a harmony between the two was necessary for harmony to continue on earth. Therefore, it was seen as prudent and wise to ensure the well being of both men and women if the successful survival of humans was to continue. The respect for women was reflected in society and the seriousness and consideration women were given. In Egypt and Kush the importance of the mother was seen in the facts that the children took their surname from the mother and that the mother controlled both the household and the fields. In Kush, the Queen Mother had the right to choose the next Pharaoh. Prior to Islamic conquest of sub-Saharan Africa in the 12th and 13th centuries, the system of succession to the throne was matrilineal. Cheikh Anta Diop in his book Pre-colonial Black Africa explains that in the African custom of matrilineal succession, very strict rules were observed which stated that the heir of the throne was not the king’s son but the son of the King’s first-born sister (the king’s nephew). This is because, as an African proverb states, ‘ You can never be sure who the father of the child is; but of the mother you can always be sure. The brilliance of this logic cannot be missed. This saying underpinned the rationale many African societies used to ensure that conference of power and titles of leadership were reckoned through the mother’s line. This matriarchal foundation of African society meant that respect for women was woven into the very fabric of society. Women had numerous important roles and functions to carry out, many of which conferred a great deal of power and respect to them. The erosion of the status of women occurred gradually but was significantly exacerbated and hastened by foreign invasions, particularly colonialism.


Unfortunately, most people, Africans and non-Africans alike, assume that the current status of women in Africa is reflective of their status in ‘traditional African societies’. This is wrong. The status and power of women in Africa in antiquity and the pre-colonial period was significantly healthier than it is today. Therefore, referring to the second-class citizen status of African women today as ‘traditional’ is erroneous and must be rectified. Africans cannot afford to continue thinking that traditional African societies perceived women as inherently inferior creatures and thus sidelined them from positions of power and influence. In this article we will look at some of the roles, functions and related power that African women had before the onslaught of colonialism. In later articles we will look at how colonialism in particular led to the erosion of the power and status of women in African society. This article is by no means exhaustive but instead seeks to provide a brief overview of the role of women in traditional African society. The article will close with several examples of exceptional African women who transformed their societies and the world.


Economic roles


In traditional Africa, women had recognized and vital roles in the economic development of their communities.

Among the Kikuyu of Kenya, women were the major food producers and thus not only had ready access to land but also had AUTHROITY of how the land was to be used and cultivated. Therefore, the value of women’s productive labour in producing and processing food established and maintained their rights in the domestic and other spheres. Nowadays, although women still are major food producers either directly or through employment, they do not receive the recognition and respect that they used to. Colonialism profoundly negatively affected the role and status of women in African society.

Moreover, in much of pre-colonial Africa, bridewealth gave women a certain amount of economic independence and clout. In the past, African women in some societies retained a measure of control over their bridewealth which economically empowered them to a certain extent. Sadly, with the new financial constraints experienced by males due to colonialism, especially in the form of heavy taxation, bridewealth became a source of income that males sought to control. Thus, once more, women were excluded from a cultural prative that had previously given women some measure of economic independence.

Among the Egba of Nigeria, women were the economic powerhouses of the nation due to the trade and market system they had developed. Among these people from West Africa, women dominated the trade and merchant exchange of goods of their communities. Women were responsible for a number of things including: setting the rules of trade among themselves i.e. market taxes and tariffs; organizing and managing the market system; agreeing on lucrative terms of trade with outsiders; holding meetings to discuss how to improve their trade and marketing system and more. These women had a highly developed business acumen which they used for the economic upliftment of their community. Keep in mind that many of these women were taking over their businesses from mothers or aunties of the same profession. Therefore, the economic knowledge they implemented had been honed for centuries. In short, they knew what they were doing. To this day, women still dominate the local market scenes in Africa but almost none can be found in the ‘formal’ Westernised economic institutions that have developed in Africa since independence. Perhaps the absence of women, and thus the absence of ancient African economic knowledge is contributing to the LACK of economic organization and power in many African nations.

Spiritual Roles

In ancient Africa, women were often the most powerful spiritual figures in the land. Women were often in charge of the spiritual systems in their communities. This group of female spiriual leaders were a select group, and not all women were allowed to join the ranks of spiritual leadership. Nonetheless, women dominated the positions of spiritual and religious power in most African traditional societies. These were responsible for announcing dates and times of ceremonies, rites and rituals. These women were oracles, spirit mediums, knowers, seers and advisors. These women had the power to place and remove curses.

African people are known for their spiritualism and the seriousness with which they take religion. Therefore, we can see how a dominant feminine energy in the spiritual sphere helped to ensure that women were respected in society.

Political Roles

We will begin with a intimate type of governance system used by African women. In parts of pre-colonial Nigeria, newly-married women of a given town would form an organization designed to look out for their interests and those of their families. Among the responsibilities of this body was the governance of their husbands! If one of the members came to the group with a serious and valid complaint about the behaviour of her husband, the group would find this man, confront him with the allegations and keep and eye on him until his behaviour improved. This method was highly effective because it did away with the often destructive and frankly, Western notion, that a marriage (or a serious relationship) if only the business of the two involved. This system of inter-personal governance ensure that BOTH the man and woman were accountable to each other and treated each other with respect and dignity.

In terms of macro-political organization, in the past, most African societies had a dual sex political system which allowed for substantial female representation and involvement in governance and administration. The position of Queen mother seen across Africa in Ghana among the Akan, Egypt, Uganda, Ethiopia and Rwanda but to name a few, gave women prominent and visible political authority in running the nation.

In most cases the Queen Mother was older than the King and was biologically related to him. She often had her own land, from which she gained revenue through tax and her word was law on the land she owned. She had her own courts complete with courtiers and staff. It is only through her courts that decrees, especially death sentences, made by the King could be annulled. Therefore, although the King had the technical power of the lives of those in his kingdom, the Queen Mother could often give someone back their life.

The Queen Mother among the Akan of Ghana also had very important role in terms of ensuring the well-being of the women and children of the nation. Therefore, she and her staff were responsible for designing and implementing the educational system of the land. As you can see, the nation was entirely comfortable with the Queen Mother and her staff being in control of the structure, organization, some content and day-to day running of the educational system which ALL their children were affected by. We as modern African women should remember that not too long ago the minds of all nation were moulded by the vision women.

Often the Queen mother also in charge of childbirth, coming-of-age and marriage ceremonies.

In some nations, the role that the Queen mother played was also played by the King’s wife. For example among the Baganda of Uganda, the Kings wife had considerable power. But usually, the King’s wife either had as much power as the Queen mother but usually had less.

A very important role that the Queen Mother, and sometimes also the wife of the King, had was that of either selecting or endorsing the King’s successor. In some cases, the Queen was responsible for nominating the King’ successor and it was up to her to convince a panel of advisors to agree with her choice. In other cases, other people nominated the King’s successor and only with the Queen’s consent could the heir-select be allowed to rule.

Women also directly ruled many African nations. We should remember that this was the exception rather than the rule. However, women did rule their nations. At the end of this post you will find a list of women from whom we can draw inspiration, courage and self-confidence. Many of these women were Queens. African Queens had supreme power and authority over all inhabitants of her Queen-dom. Her word was law and no man or woman could defy her. She had supreme military, political, spiritual and economic power.

In the book Black Africa, Cheikh Anta Diop explains bicameralism, a type of governance some of our ancestors used to rule their people. Before Africa was under the dominance of any foreign powers, women had a position of influence in society. In African bicameralism, women participated in the running of public affairs within the framework of a women’s assembly. This assembly sat separately to the man’s assembly but the two shared influence and power. The resistance against foreign invasion and occupation of West African nations such as Dahomey and the Yorubas is said to be a result of the women’s assembly meeting at night. African bicameralism allowed the blossoming of both males and females and allowed the full use of both the feminine and masculine mind. Bicameralism is an ancient example of African democracy that put full to use the human resources of society in a manner that supported and encouraged everyone.


These stories are taken from the book In praise of Black Women by Simone Shwarts- Bart and seek to give us all concrete examples of the power, scope and nature of African women in the past. African women should NEVER accept being told that they have done nothing. We have created religions, resisted invasions, raised kings and more.


Humanity was born in Africa, Black Africa to be precise. In 1959 two palaeontologists dug up the skull of a human like being dated to be 1.75 million years old. The place of the discovery was Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. In 1974, at the same location, they discovered Lucy, a 3 ½ million year old fossil of a small woman. This young African woman, Lucy, may be the womb from which all humanity came.

Queen Tiye

Little known today, Queen Tiye is among the women who have most marked history. 3,500 years ago she was the wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Queen Tiye’s beauty was legendary, but her personality was even more powerful. For her pleasure the Pharaoh built a new palace for her in Thebes (now called Malkata). He also dug her a lake in the middle of the desert, just to please her. The revolution in Egyptian art dates back to her rule. Her influence on the Pharaoh was so great that she seemed to the supreme authority in the empire.

When the Pharaoh died, Tiye’s son Akhenaton came into power and it was during his rule that Queen Tiye took action that has most decisively marked history. Up until then Egyptians, like many others, were polytheists, they saw the world around them as governed by several gods. But suddenly, under Queen Tiye’s influence, the Pharaoh proclaimed for the first time in human history, a single God-Aton. This reform may have inspired Moses to establish the monotheism that has since spread all over the globe. So today when people pray to God in a church, mosque or synagogue, they may be, in some way, under the invisible influence of Queen Tiye.

The Candaces

The kingdom of Kush so renowned and honoured in ancient times was headed by Queens know as the Candaces. The Black Kingdom of Kush was born about 3,000 years ago and lasted until 350 AD. In the year 750 BC, the kingdom expanded north along the Nile and conquered Egypt founding the 25th dynasty, the illustrious dynasty of the Black pharaohs.

However in 666BC the Assyrians invaded Egypt and defeated them. The final battle took place in Thebes which the Assyrians burnt to the ground.

Tautaomon is the name of last black pharaoh to rule Egypt, he fled to Napata (Maraw) after the fall of Thebes. Napata was then the capital of the Kingdom of Kush. Of the Queens of Kush, the Candaces, two names stand out. The first is Amanireans, the Queen of Kush when the Romans followed the Nile south after the defeat of the last Pharaoh Cleopatra. She is described as a ‘very masculine woman who had lost an eye in battle’. Masculine probably meant courageous. Remembering her Pharaoh ancestors she went down the Nile to meet the Romans and defeated them at Aswan where her soldiers broke all of statues of Emperor Augustus. Although the Romans formulated a counteroffensive in the form of a strong army that stormed the kingdom of Kush up to Napa, it failed. This army was thoroughly humiliated by Amanireans and her army. The Roman army was withdrawn back to Egypt. Finally giving up the conquest of Kush, the Romans suggested that Candace ask for peace which the Emperor Augustus granted.

The second Candace is mentioned in the Bible in Acts 8. The story explains how the apostle Philip heard a voice telling him to go to Jerusalem from Gaza. On his way he met a eunuch, who was a Minister to Candace ‘Queen of Ethiopia’ (Kush was called Ethiopia by this time). The story goes on to detail how Philip told the eunuch of ‘the good news of Jesus Christ’. The eunuch was baptized and went o back to Kush filled with a desire to share the news he had been told. It appears that Candace was the first in Africa to embrace the faith. As a result Christianity went down the Nile reaching the area we now call Ethiopia. The biblical Candace and Amanrenias, the brave lady with the missing eye, give us a glimpse into our buried African past.

Makeda- Queen of Sheba

The story of the Makeda is recorded in the Bible in the second book of Chronicles and the first book of Kings. Makeda had learnt of the wisdom of Solomon and went to Jerusalem to test it with riddles. The Kebra Negast, a 14th century book of legends of Ethiopia says that the visit of Makeda lasted more than six months. At the first sight of Makeda, Solomon was struck by her miraculous beauty and he said in his heart ‘May God bless me with offspring through her’.

On the day of Makeda’s departure, Solomon had gifts loaded on 6,000 chariots for her alongside a vessel to travel in the air. He begged that if a child should be born of their union that she send him home to Jerusalem and give him a ring so that the child be recognised. So Makeda went back to her country where she gave birth to child and named him Ibn el Hakim: Son of Wisdom. When the child grew up, Makeda gave him the ring and sent him to visit his father. The child was 22 years old. In Jerusalem, crowds gathered in the streets surprised to see someone who looked so much like Solomon. Some people thought he looked even more like his grandfather David. During his stay in Jerusalem, the young man was adorned and consecrated a king in the Temple of Jerusalem. This is how he became Menelik I, the first king of the famous dynasty of the Lions of Judah, the last of whom was Negus Haile Selassie, the last Emperor of Ethiopia.

Sarraounia- The panther queen

In the 1890 a French colonial operation was planned whose mission it was to force the submission of an empire along the bend of the river Niger. Lieutenant Voulet and Captain Chanoine were the colonial officers in charge of this mission. The Voulet-Chanoine mission met with success as they spread death and ravaged the villages they took. It was in 1899 that they would go on their final and fatal expedition to Chad. It was there that they met a woman, Sarraounia, the queen who opposed their bayonets with the strength of her soul and the white man’s tricks with the traditional magic of Africa.

Sarraounia’s father was a warrior who had distinguished himself from the those who were hungry to sell black men. He had become the king of a small territory of the Azna’s. Sarraounia’s mother had died giving birth and it was thought that her child would follow her to the grave. But the little child with her pinched mouth and clenched fists opened her eyes and revealed shining yellow eyes; the people recognized the sign of the panther. The Azna’s always knew that they been born of a panther, and it was this animal which was sculpted in front of their houses, embroidered on their clothes and was their symbol among the other tribes. Panthers are made for the bush and the panther child soon learnt how to use a bow and arrow. She learnt the secrets of ‘hyena’s ear’ a poison that gives arrowheads merciless power over everything that breathes. She was the king’s daughter and she went with men as she pleased, but never wanted a child clinging to her breast. Sometimes she would disappear for weeks at a time and they said that she would talk to the spirits of the Shadow who taught her all the secrets of good and evil, the elixirs of power and wisdom and the plants that kill and those that bring back life. This is how she became Sarraounia, daughter to the king, sorceress, great dame of the Shadow.

She was 20 when was brought to the throne due to her father’s death. At the slightest danger, she would be at the head of her troops, her pales eyes shooting lightening. Her silhouette became legendary. Then a rumour made its way to her: a column of white men were marching east, devastating everything in their path. Sarraounia immediately sent messengers to her Muslim neighbours suggesting that theyunite against their common threat. The Muslims did not even bother to reply: you don’t make alliances with the seeds of slaves. So Sarraounia had a fortress wall built around Lougou, her capital. She smashed open the granaries and sent the women, children and old men to safe places in the bush. The warriors waited while the queen applied an ointment on them that was supposed to stop bullets. Then having hand-picked a group of archers, the silent warriors, she slipped into the tall grass to seek out the enemy. When night fell, a cloud of arrows from nowhere threw the Voulet-Chanoine expedition into a state of chaos for the first time. The next day 150 porters were missing at roll call and a dozen native infantrymen had deserted preferring to wander in a strange land that confront Sarraouina. The troops enter a deserted city. Another arrow flew in sky and shouts rang out, a woman’s laughter was heard: that was the beginning of the end for the French force. Day after day Sarrounia harassed the divided and crippled column until one of her warriors brought now Chaoine with a rifle shot, while Voulet was slain further along. That was the end of their adventure.

The capital kingdom was rebuilt, but new French soldiers followed those who had died and the traditional cunning of the Azna people could not sustain them. Eventually a French flag was raised in the middle of the great court of Lougou and the queen shut herself up in the shadows of her palace. One day at the end of a fiery hot afternoon, a yellow-eyed panther burst out of the throne room and disappeared into the bush. Sarraounia was never seen again.

Ana de Sousa Nzinga

In 1860 the Scottish missionary David Livingstone reached the old Portuguese stronghold of Luanda. Bare stairs, cells and shackles told of the horrifying recent history here. As he reached a courtyard he saw the imprint of a woman’s foot engraved in stone. When he asked whose it was an Angolan man declared it was the imprint of the great Ngola Nzinga who had set foot in this courtyard 300 years ago.

Ana de Sousa Nzinga was born in 1581 in Basa the capital of the kingdom of Ndongo, a land ruled by leaders called ngolas. During this time the Portuguese were advancing towards Ndongo with the aim of converting them as they had the peoples of Kongo. However, the greatest treasure in the minds of the Portuguese were the very people of Angola- the black ivory- slaves.

Ngola Karensi, Ana de Sousa’s father, had thought about the European effect on neighbouring Kongo and decided to bar missionaries from his country. War is waged against him for this decision. This war will last more than 40 years, until his very last breath. On the King’s death, power falls into the hands of his oldest son Ngola Mani a Ngola who raises an army of 30,000 men who he intends to put to fight against the Portuguese. Ana de Sousa Nzinga, the amazon and warrior considered the greatest political mind of her time plans to join them on the battlefield. She realizes that their traditional lances are no match for the Portuguese guns and points this out to the king in a council meeting saying, ‘My dear brother, your warriors are many, but their chests are bare; if you go this course, your defeat will be that of the whole nation’. Furious, the king has the throat of Nzinga’s only son cut and has her sterilized some say using red hot pokers while others claim they used scalding water.

A few months later after having been defeated again, the king begs Nzinga to negotiate a peace agreement with the Portuguese governor of Luanda. Since she speaks Portuguese and has studied their customs, ways of thinking and military strategies, Nzinga agrees to go though she cannot forget her dead son and ruined womb. But the lamentations of her people give her the conviction she needs and so she sets off for Luanda. She enters the white’s fortress accompanied only with a few of her fellow women. At that moment, trying to test her, the governor fires a 21 gun salute. But the princess already knows the sound of the white man’s music and she enters the fortress without blinking an eyelid. She crosses the courtyard where her step leaves an imprint in the stone as she makes her entrance into the main reception room. The room is full of armed men. All the way from the back of the room the governor signals her to step forward, but still wishing to embarrass her, he has not prepared a seat for her. She gestures to one of the women who kneels and Ana de Sousa Nzinga sits upon her human throne. The governor rudely asks her what the conditions of her surrender will be to which she replies, ‘I represent a sovereign people and I am ready to continue this conversation only on that basis.’

A few months later in 1623 a peace treaty is signed between the kingdoms of Angola and Portugal. But Nzinga knows the tricks of the Europeans and is still determined to fight in order to protect her people from the slavers. On her return home she jails her brother and proclaims herself ngala.

The passage of time proves Nzinga was right about the Europeans. The peace treaty lasts the space of only a dream and soon the Portuguese are moving deeper into her kingdom. Though she suffers setback after setback she fights until the very end. For 30 years she will fight to win her homeland. She will return blood for blood and slaughter for slaughter, all to save her people from slavery. She dies at the age of 84 without having been able to rebuild her homeland but she is still remembered as the woman who lost many battles but never lost the war. Ana de Sousa Nzinga lived a queen and died a queen.


1. Shwartz- Bart, Simone. In praise of Black women. Texas, Modus Vivendi Publications, 2001.

2. African Women in history course

3. Diop, Cheikh Anta. Precolonial Black Africa: A comparative study of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa, from antiquity to the formation of modern states .New York, Lawrence Hill Books. 1987

4. Mbiti, John. African religions and philosophies. Nairobi, East African Educational Publishers, 1969.

5. Ehret, Christopher. An African Classical Age: Eastern and Southern Africa in World History 1000BC to AD 400. Virginia, The University Press of Virginia, 1998.

6. Finch, Charles. Echoes of the Old Darkland: Themes from the African Eden. (Georgia, Khenti Inc. 1999)

Previous comments on this post


ziwani said…

Great respect to the phenomenal women you highlight, it is a great read. In addition another woman ruler occcured in the Shilluk kingdom around the early 18oo’s. She was ruoth Abudhok Bwoch and effectively ruled the Shilluk kingdom in current northern Sudan. The shilluk Kingdom is a branch of the ancient Luo nation, part of which settled in Kenya.

9:44 PM

Ms K said…

Hey great blog you have here.

I just wanted to ask, what’s your reason for spelling Africa with a ‘k’. I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind that.

3:04 PM

AfricanSunset said…

Check out this Book
“For Women and the Nation”-Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti of Nigeria.

Cheryl Johnson-Odim and Nina Emma Mba Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a Nigerian feminist who fought for suffrage and equal rights for her countrywomen long before the second wave of the women’s movement in the United States. She also joined the struggle for Nigerian independence as an activist in the anticolonial movement. For Women and the Nation is the story of this courageous woman, one of a handful of full-length biographies of African women activists. It will be welcomed by students of women’s studies, African history, and biography, as well as by opponents of the Nigerian military regime that has held one of her sons, Dr. Beko Ransome-Kuti, in solitary confinement since August 1995.

3:42 PM

Afrikan Eye said…

Thank you for your comments…
@ms K…Afrika with a ‘K’ because that’s how it is spelt in Kiswahili…also signals a break from the ‘Africa’ that has been created by the West…Westerners have created an idea of ‘Africa’ in our heads that misrepresents our history and tends to belittle our legacy, who we are, our achievements/ contributions and our potential.

4:11 PM

giovanni.dicristofano@tin.it said…

dear Afrikan Eye, we hope you will soon post the second part of ‘African women in civilization’. Some question now..
1) can I republish your posts in my (penniless for now) webzine http://www.strudeltimes.it ?

2) can you upgrade ‘African Women in..” adding tales, stories, so on ?

And last but not least, I have a dream (yep). Even if I am just a white male, my ambition is an international respectable webzine. There is a column ready for you, think on it . Thanks gdc

10:23 AM

Afrikan Eye said…

Will soon post the next spiel…effects of colonialism on women as well as other great examples of Afrikan women
@gdc Thank you for your encouragement 🙂 Will soon holla at you. in peace!

11:48 AM

AfroFeminista said…

I love this! I’m no fan of historical writing, but this, this was just so inspiring! Proving that there was a time when women and men were held in equal regard by a society not tainted by patriarchy borne of displacement, colonialism and globalization!

Thanks for sharing this!
I’m adding you to my blogroll – fasta fasta:):)



Afrikan contributions to civilisation

•March 8, 2007 • 8 Comments


It is very important that we, as Afrikans, sit back and just look at how much we have contributed to civilisation Please take a moment and THINK about this. We as Afrikans have developed an apologetic attitude for the current state in Afrika and even more of us are unaware of the type of historical injustices that Afrika is carrying around. Many of us feel that ‘well if Afrikan politicians were less corrupt and corruptible, if Afrikans were more into intra-Afrikan trade, if Afrika has the common-sense to negotiate reasonable deals during ‘financing’ talks, if Afrikans could just stop killing each other in senseless wars, if Afrika just got themselves together…then Afrika would be fine’. Although there is some merit and truth in that whole argument, I fundamentally feel that it is only ½ of the truth and as far as I’m concerned a ½ truth is a lie, because it misinforms one’s understanding and forms a ½ true basis on which more inaccuracies can be built and constructed. We need to understand that after 600 odd years of slavery and colonialism during which time Afrika was raped of her material wealth, crops and above all PEOPLE, Afrikans could not work on their OWN civilisation because we were busy building the civilisation of others. Then it is no wonder Afrika is in the current state She is in. 600 years is a long time! To make matter’s worse people also tend to buy into Darwin’s theory of linear evolution which basically states that an organism evolves from less complex to more complex. When this argument is extended to civilisations, one concludes that the current state of all civilisations on the planet are at their MOST evolved and civilised state EVER. Given Afrika’s current state it’s no wonder people are like ‘Geeez if this is MODERN Afrika what was ANCIENT Afrika like…maaan these guys really were just dancing around engaging in cannibalistic acts…Afrika can’t possibly have contributed anything of worth to the world.’ Well, look at these examples and you will see just how WRONG that statement is. This is a very brief insight into our ability and achievements but it will be enough to help us all see that we Afrikans are pretty damn brilliant.


An astronomical observatory in Namoratunga in Kenya

Namoratunga in north-western Kenya has an alignment of 19 Basalt pillars that are non-randomly arranged and oriented towards certain stars and constellations. The same stars and constellations are used by modern Cushitic people to calculate an accurate calendar. These Cushites have a calendar which uses the rising of seven stars or constellations to calculate a 12-month, 354-day year. The stone orientation in Namoratunga is such that it allows for accurate observation of these stars/constellations. It is assumed that these ancient Africans astronomers made their observations with the NAKED eye since no telescopes had yet been invented.

Basalt pillar alignment at Namoratunga IIAs far as the accuracy of the stone alignments are concerned, they show 0 degree error all cases except for three stone alignments which were off by 1 degree. In no case were the alignments off by more than 1 degree. Therefore, as Lynch and Robbins conclude, ‘Namoratunga II alignments are non-random and [this] gives weight to the idea that the stones were used in calendric reckoning in 300 B.C’. (1)

The Dogon of Mali and the Sirius question

The Dogon of Mali in West African people have complex and detailed knowledge of the Sirius star system. Adams explains that:

These West Africans people have not only plotted the orbits of stars circling Sirius but have revealed the extraordinary nature of one of its companions- Sirius B- which they claim to be one of the densest of stars in our galaxy. What is most astonishing about their revelations is that Sirius B is invisible to the unaided eye.’ (2)

The Sirius B star is of deeply significant spiritual importance to the Dogon and they have thus gathered intricate and detailed knowledge of this star which is invisible to the naked eye. The Dogon say that the orbit of Sirius B around Sirius (the visible one) lasts 100 years. Although modern astronomers have not yet confirmed this, they have confirmed the duration of orbit of another star circling Sirius. The Dogon say that Sirius B is the smallest and densest star in the sky. The Dogon’s drawings of the orbit of Sirius B matches modern astronomical drawings.

The Dogon also have detailed observations about the moon stating that it rotates in a conical spiral around the earth and that it is dry and dead. They know that Saturn has permanent rings around it and that the earth is in the Milky Way and that the latter has a spiral structure. They also know the rotation pattern of Jupiter’s four largest moons.

The incredible observations made by the unaided African (Dogon) eye are so incredible that, as Adams reports, ‘Their (Dogon) extensive celestial knowledge, particularly that concerning this invisible star ( Sirius B), is a mystery that has sent shock waves around the scientific world.’ (3)


Steel making among the Haya of Tanzania

The fact that ancient Africans were smelting iron is a fairly well known and accepted historical fact. However, what is relatively unknown is that ancient Africans were producing carbon steel 2000 years ago. Research done by Peter Schmidt and Donald Avery discovered that, ‘ 2,000 years ago Africans living on the western shore of Lake Victoria had produced carbon steel in pre-heated forced-draft furnaces, a method that was technologically more sophisticated that any developed in Europe until the mid-nineteenth century.’ (4)

The Haya created furnaces that were made by digging a bowl shape into the ground that was then lined with earth of a termite mound. A haft that would rise above ground level was then made with either termite mud or slag gathered from a site at which iron had been successfully smelted. Eight blowpipes would be inserted to varying depths at the base of the furnace and air forced through them. Swamp grass would then be brunt in the bowl until the bottom of the furnace was filled with charred swap reeds. This technique allowed temperature in the furnace to exceed 1800°C. Charcoal and iron ore would hen be added to the top of the furnace. This process led to the formation of carbon steel.

This technology, invented by Africans 2,000 years ago was extremely advanced for its time. As Avery explains, ‘It’s a very unique and original process that uses a large number of sophisticated techniques. This is really semi-conductor technology- the growing of crystals- not iron-smelting technology.’ (5)


Africans had developed different mathematical theories and skills to varying degrees of complexity and usefulness. Here we will discuss the Ancient Egyptian system of mathematics, probably the most advanced system of mathematics in the world for their time. By 2,600B.C, they had mastered problems that deal with the equilibrium of the lever. By 1,500 B.C they had invented the scale which and in doing so participated in the fist rigorous scientific application on the theory of leverage.

Before we discuss the contribution of Ancient Egyptians in great detail, it is very important to know that a great deal of the stock (especially the 12th Dynasty which is largely considerd one of Egypt’s most remarkable Dynasty because of its achievements) were Black. As Diop states, Gaston Maspero (1846-1916), sums up the opinions of all ancient writers on the Egyptian race saying that: ‘By the almost unanimous testimony of ancient historians, they belonged to an African race [read Negro] which first settled in Ethiopia on the Middle Nile’.(6) Herodotus (484-425 BC?), a Greek traveller who visited Egypt says ‘The Egyptians are black skinned and have woolly hair…’.(7) It is only later in history, when Black Africans were being carted onto ships during slavery, that Africans began to be looked down upon. Those who enslaved Africans knew nothing of their ancient history and created their own ideas about the African. It is during this time that the African started to be called primitive, backward and nothing more than evolved monkeys. It is this misinformed and racist depiction of the African that led later historians and Egyptologists to raise questions as to whether the Ancient Egyptians were Black. They could not see how such as ‘primitive’ people were capable of accomplishing the wondrous feats accomplished by the Ancient Egyptians. (8) For more information on this topic click here

Therefore, this discussion will be based on the premise, overwhelmingly supported by archaeological and historical evidence, that the Ancient Egyptians were Black Africans. Please read a book titled Black Spark White Fire by Richard Poe for a more comprehensive and therefore convincing discussion on this subject.

The Ancient Egyptian system of mathematics

The Ancient Egyptians has a working value of pi (π) as 4X(8/9)2= 3.1604, the most accurate of ancient time. It varies by 0.0189012 to the modern value. The Egyptians were using this incredibly accurate value of π 2,000 years before Archimedes came up with his less accurate value of 3.14. (9)

The Papyrus of Mosow* show the following calculations of various volumes, areas and surfaces(10):

Surface for half a sphere: S= 2 x (8/9)2 x (2r)2 = 2 x 4 (8/9)2 r2 = 2 π r2 (remember π= (4 x (8/9)2

  • Surface of a rectangle S= Lxl
  • Surface of a circle: S= π d2/4 = π r2
  • Surface of a sphere S=4 π r2
  • Volume of truncated pyramid as V= h/3 (a2 +ab+ b2)
  • In terms of algebra, the Ancient Egyptians had a clear understating of mathematical series and their properties. Problem 79 of the Rhind Papyrus shows a problem which gives the sum of a geometric progression as S= a rn -1/ r-1. Problem 64: Working with a problem that applies the formula of an arithmetic progression: l= a + (n-1) d where l= last term a= first term, and d= common difference. (11)

    The Egyptians knew how to extract the square root from whole or fractional numbers and the term knbt was used to designate the square root. The so-called Pythagorean Theorem is an Egyptian mathematical concept. As Diop eloquently states, ‘Pythagoras was neither the inventor of irrational numbers…nor of the theorem that bears his name: he took all these elements from Egypt where he had been, as reported by his biographers (cf. Jamblichus), a pupil of the priest for twenty-two years.’ (12)

    In terms of trigonometry, the Rhind Papyrus shows working to find the slope of a pyramid (13):

    Where a is the angle of the slope, the height = 250 cubits and the base = 360 cubits

    sin a=250/360

    cos a=360/2= 180

    tan a= 250/180

    cot a= 180/250 = 1/2 + 1/5 + 1/50

    The scribe multiplies this result by seven to express it in palms (1 cubit = 7 palms).

    So cot a = 7x (1/2+ 1/5+1/50) = 5 palms 1/25

    These examples clearly illustrate that Ancient Egyptians Africans were engaging in serious mathematical work and research which led to the creation of mathematical theorems and rules on which subsequent mathematics was built. Where would the field of mathematics be today is these Africans, did not make the phenomenal contributions that they did? As Zaslavsky states:

    ‘Western culture owes a great debt to Egypt…The ancient Greeks have been regarded as the fathers of Western civilization. But many centuries before their time, the Egyptian priests has developed a complete curriculum for the training of their members…The extensive Egyptian libraries were available for visitors. No doubt a great deal of the learning of centuries was written down by the Greeks Thus they have been credited with discoveries that they merely transmitted form Egypt and the East.’ (14)

    For more information in Egyptian mathematics click here

    The Yoruba system of numbers

    This is a system for computation and is very unique because it involves addition, subtraction and multiplication to express one number. It especially relies on subtraction to a very high degree. (15) For example:

    45= (20X3)-10-5



    The computations are usually performed mentally. This system of computation clearly illustrates that Africans were capable of repeatedly performing complex mathematical problems in their mind. Indeed, this mathematical system is so complex that ‘one must be a mathematician to learn from this system.’ (16)



    1. Lynch, B.M and L.H Robbins. Namoratunga: the first archeoastrnomical evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa. Van Sertima, Ivan (ed). Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983. p.55.
    2. Adams II, Hunter H. African Observers of the Universe: The Sirius question. Van Sertima, Ivan (ed). Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983. p. 27
    3. Adams, Van Sertima, Ivan (ed). Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983. p. 28[1]
    4. Shore, Debra. Steel making in Ancient Africa. Van Sertima, Ivan. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983. p157.[1]
    5. Shore, Van Sertima, Ivan. Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983.pp 161-162
    6. Diop, Cheikh Anta. The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality? (Paris, Presence Africaine, 1974) p.2
    7. Diop, 1974. p.1
    8. See The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or reality by Cheikh Anta Diop for a convincing and exhaustive discussion of the issue of the Blackness of the Ancient Egyptians.
    9. Diop. 1981, p.243,

    * Please note that the Ancient Egyptian Papyri are named after the person who found them, or the country where they are housed. No mention is made of the people who actually wrote on the papyri!

    1. Diop. 1981. pp. 235, 236, 251, 266.
    2. Diop 1981. p 270
    3. Diop. 1981. p. 260
    4. Diop. 1981. p. 261
    5. Zaslavsky, Caludia. The Yoruba Number System. Sertima, Ivan Van.(ed) Blacks in Science: Ancient and Modern. New York: Journal of Africa Civilization Ltd. Inc, 1983.p 115
    6. Zaslavasky. 1983. p. 119
    7. Ibid.

    Previous comments on this post:

    Afro said…

    Wow! Brilliant, brilliant brilliant. Thank you!

    1:26 AM

    Afro said…
    oh, forgot to say that i am looking forward to part 2 etc..
    1:28 AM
    sokari said…
    Thank you for this. I look forward to reading more. However, it would be even more helpful if you could include some links eg Namoratunga “Cushities” and so on.
    7:18 PM
    rasx() said…
    I am exceedingly pleased to see Africans IN AFRICA respecting their ancestors because we are a stiff necked people…Many Africans, in Africa, did not learn about Martin Luther King until years after his death. Many Africans, in Africa, kneel before the European son of a barrel maker and allow him place little white cookies into their mouths.I am exceedingly pleased that you eat of the wisdom of your ancestors. Continue to walk and talk in the cool of the day with them…
    10:52 PM
    J.R. Woodward said…
    Wow, amazing pictures and a wonderfully informative blog. Thanks for taking the time to make such meaningful posts!JR Woodward
    10:21 PM
    mshairi said…
    Hi AfrikanEye.International Women’s Day is on Thursday March 8. I am writing to ask if you would like to write a short post about a woman you would like to celebrate or honour on this day – this could your mother, sister, a famous artist, politician, activist, friend, etc. The post should just be a few lines – no more than 5 or 6 and will then be included in the African Women’s roundups on Global Voices Online that week.
    11:44 PM
    Waveintheocean said…
    This is fascinating. I had never heard of Namoratunga before. Thank you for the knowledge you are transmitting through your blog. One of Afrika’s (to use your spelling of the word) greatest problems is low self-esteem due to the distortion or destruction of knowledge that would make Afrikans proud of themselves and able to propel themselves forward. In some of your other posts I notice some comments that reflect an ignorance that many people have about Afrikans’ intelligence and ability. The knowledge you pass on will help counter such ignorance.
    7:05 AM
    africanmessiah said…
    Great job african eye……..great job…..show the pride of being an African………one more topic to pound my friend is “Religion” i have been thinking about this for years………..we africans had our own religions before the colonialists/missionaries/the arabs e.t.c came to africa…….and now our religions are known as “paganism”……..go for it african eye!!…..in general, it’s nice to bring awareness to the world that even though africa is considered third world but without it in some aspects, there would not be the so called “First world”!! 8:15 PM