Written by: Newton Mathews
The documentary tells about the prosperity and rich culture of ancient Africa, which is very different from modern Africa, experiencing the economic difficulties that we see; this shows what made Europeans plunder this land and turn it into the ruins of Africa today. It was a country of magnificence, opulent palaces, a well-developed culture, intellectually advanced scientists, and famous architecture.
Long before the Europeans reached Africa, there was already a well-established trading system with such remote regions as China and India, both by land and by water. Mali, Ghana, Kenya, and Zimbabwe, which are currently one of the poorest countries, were once highly profitable regions and the world’s trading center about 600 years ago due to their high gold reserves in West Africa (Davidson, 2020). Evidence of their ancient flourishing trade in gold is still available today among the heaps of gold jewelry worn by local people to demonstrate their wealth level.
The documentary also sheds light on how the Islamic religion played an essential role in shaping trade and culture in Africa. It all started with the influence of the ruler of Mali, who, after his pilgrimage, promoted Islamic teachings and laws and turned his province of Timbuktu into a center of learning and religion (Davidson, 2020). The scientific books of Islam have become an essential part of the trade, as well as itself. Islamic preaching gave a strict law and code of conduct for people and provided a better structure for their trading practices.
Africans found new gold reserves and developed a kingdom distribution system, making people living near these gold reserves very prosperous. The current king may not have any political powers, but he still adorns the gold jewelry and gives an idea of the wealth of the ancient kingdoms when the king and all his court people adorned gold in various forms. The Niger River banks have become quite a prosperous and developed port because it is a center for trading in all goods, such as ivory, gold, iron, copper, food, where traders from all over the world come here for business (Davidson, 2020). The Niger River has also become a distribution center for fish, where smoked fish are dried for long-term storage and then sent to various regions for trade.
Many ancient travelers wrote about the prosperity of West Africa, which describes how there was a stable rule for 1000 years in the kingdoms of Ghana, Mali, and others (Davidson, 2020). Despite the high availability of gold reserves, there was complete security in Africa, where women could flaunt their prosperity without fear with the help of their vast gold jewelry.
Africans have developed sophisticated and intellectually advanced trading methods. Camel caravans could transport goods through places in the Sahara desert, traveling for 60 days, sometimes without interruption. Cairo is the destination of these caravans; it has become a center of commerce with the whole world. To trade with the distant markets of China and India, Africans became experts in sailing using innovative sailing technologies, such as tilting the sails against the wind and sailing ships through a stormy ocean, before Europeans even learned about sailing; this, in turn, made the port of Kenya a center of trade with China, India, and the Persian Gulf (Davidson, 2020). The influence of these oriental crafts is in the merger of Chinese paintings in African architecture. Even knowledge of African architecture was far ahead of the rest of the world, which one could see in their well-designed houses built for merchants in the port.
Among the clans, there were local fights for power, but they united against foreign enemies. The kings of North Africa even extended their Islamic rule in several parts of Spain. Cairo became the capital and center of art and commerce at the end of the 14th century, spreading Islamic teachings around the world (Davidson, 2020). The image of Africans in European Renaissance paintings depicts the unity of humanity during trade relations with Europe. However, the news of the wealth and gold of the interior of West Africa also reached Europe.
The Portuguese ship, led by Vasco da Gama, marked the beginning of a European invasion of Africa. Many wealthy countries of ancient Africa, such as Zimbabwe, which housed the royal palaces and Islamic Swahili monuments, were looted by Europeans. They arrived through South Africa in search of gold and stole other goods. Many died resisting.
Davidson, B. (2020). AFRICA Episode 3 Caravans of Gold Written & Presented by Basil Davidson Executive Producer Mic. Retrieved 11 March 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSoZ07LXnKo