Traditions and Encounters, AP Edition (Bentley), 5th Edition

Chapter 18: States and Societies of Sub-Saharan Africa


Agriculture and herding spread gradually throughout sub-Saharan Africa from about 2000 B.C.E. until the end of the first millennium C.E. through a process known as the Bantu migrations. After about 500 B.C.E. the knowledge of iron metallurgy was also disseminating throughout Africa. As a result of these movements, of the introduction of new nutritious foods such as bananas, and of long-distance trade, the population of Africa grew dramatically, and increasingly complex forms of government began to emerge. Most sub-Saharan African cultures were kin-based and organized into relatively small villages that were loosely allied into districts governed by a chief. Occasionally larger and more structured kingdoms and empires appeared. These larger states generally consolidated their position through controlling long-distance trade in their regions. In general, the history of sub-Saharan Africa from 1000 to 1500 C.E. is noted for the following:

  • The introduction and widespread dissemination of The Islamic religion. In many cases the belief in Islam supplemented rather than supplanted traditional religious practices. Some sub-Saharan societies became important centers of worship and learning in the Islamic world.
  • A regular and reliable flow of trade goods: gold, ivory, and slaves being the most important exports. These trade networks were both overland—particularly notable was the trans-Saharan camel caravan routes—and maritime, where east African city-states became important stops on the Indian Ocean seaways.
  • The emergence and growth of states that became highly influential in the cross-cultural interactions of this period. The states of Kongo, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Mali, and the Swahili city-states, became trade and religious centers whose fortunes were clearly tied into those of Eurasia.
Traditions & Encounters, 5e
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