The Negro
by W.E.B. Du Bois
1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse


W.E.B. Du Bois

New York: Holt, 1915

[Transcriber's Notes for e-book versions:

Hyphenation and accentuation are inconsistent, but are generally left as found in the edition used for transcription. This edition may or may not have completely replicated the 1915 edition of the book. Where changes have been made, they are noted below. If you are using this book for research, please verify any spelling or punctuation with another source.

A missing quotation mark was inserted at the beginning of this paragraph: "It is difficult to imagine that Egypt should have obtained it from Europe where the oldest find (in Hallstadt) cannot be of an earlier period than 800 B.C., or from Asia, where iron is not known before 1000 B.C., and where, in the times of Ashur Nazir Pal, it was still used concurrently with bronze, while iron beads have been only recently discovered by Messrs. G.A. Wainwright and Bushe Fox in a predynastic grave, and where a piece of this metal, possibly a tool, was found in the masonry of the great pyramid."]


Preface I Africa II The Coming of Black Men III Ethiopia and Egypt IV The Niger and Islam V Guinea and Congo VI The Great Lakes and Zymbabwe VII The War of Races at Land's End VIII African Culture IX The Trade in Men X The West Indies and Latin America XI The Negro in the United States XII The Negro Problems Suggestions for Further Reading


The Physical Geography of Africa Ancient Kingdoms of Africa Races in Africa Distribution of Negro Blood, Ancient and Modern




The time has not yet come for a complete history of the Negro peoples. Archaeological research in Africa has just begun, and many sources of information in Arabian, Portuguese, and other tongues are not fully at our command; and, too, it must frankly be confessed, racial prejudice against darker peoples is still too strong in so-called civilized centers for judicial appraisement of the peoples of Africa. Much intensive monographic work in history and science is needed to clear mooted points and quiet the controversialist who mistakes present personal desire for scientific proof.

Nevertheless, I have not been able to withstand the temptation to essay such short general statement of the main known facts and their fair interpretation as shall enable the general reader to know as men a sixth or more of the human race. Manifestly so short a story must be mainly conclusions and generalizations with but meager indication of authorities and underlying arguments. Possibly, if the Public will, a later and larger book may be more satisfactory on these points.


New York City, Feb. 1, 1915.


"Behold! The Sphinx is Africa. The bond Of Silence is upon her. Old And white with tombs, and rent and shorn; With raiment wet with tears and torn, And trampled on, yet all untamed."


Africa is at once the most romantic and the most tragic of continents. Its very names reveal its mystery and wide-reaching influence. It is the "Ethiopia" of the Greek, the "Kush" and "Punt" of the Egyptian, and the Arabian "Land of the Blacks." To modern Europe it is the "Dark Continent" and "Land of Contrasts"; in literature it is the seat of the Sphinx and the lotus eaters, the home of the dwarfs, gnomes, and pixies, and the refuge of the gods; in commerce it is the slave mart and the source of ivory, ebony, rubber, gold, and diamonds. What other continent can rival in interest this Ancient of Days?

There are those, nevertheless, who would write universal history and leave out Africa. But how, asks Ratzel, can one leave out the land of Egypt and Carthage? and Frobenius declares that in future Africa must more and more be regarded as an integral part of the great movement of world history. Yet it is true that the history of Africa is unusual, and its strangeness is due in no small degree to the physical peculiarities of the continent. With three times the area of Europe it has a coast line a fifth shorter. Like Europe it is a peninsula of Asia, curving southwestward around the Indian Sea. It has few gulfs, bays, capes, or islands. Even the rivers, though large and long, are not means of communication with the outer world, because from the central high plateau they plunge in rapids and cataracts to the narrow coastlands and the sea.

The general physical contour of Africa has been likened to an inverted plate with one or more rows of mountains at the edge and a low coastal belt. In the south the central plateau is three thousand or more feet above the sea, while in the north it is a little over one thousand feet. Thus two main divisions of the continent are easily distinguished: the broad northern rectangle, reaching down as far as the Gulf of Guinea and Cape Guardafui, with seven million square miles; and the peninsula which tapers toward the south, with five million square miles.

Four great rivers and many lesser streams water the continent. The greatest is the Congo in the center, with its vast curving and endless estuaries; then the Nile, draining the cluster of the Great Lakes and flowing northward "like some grave, mighty thought, threading a dream"; the Niger in the northwest, watering the Sudan below the Sahara; and, finally, the Zambesi, with its greater Niagara in the southeast. Even these waters leave room for deserts both south and north, but the greater ones are the three million square miles of sand wastes in the north.

More than any other land, Africa lies in the tropics, with a warm, dry climate, save in the central Congo region, where rain at all seasons brings tropical luxuriance. The flora is rich but not wide in variety, including the gum acacia, ebony, several dye woods, the kola nut, and probably tobacco and millet. To these many plants have been added in historic times. The fauna is rich in mammals, and here, too, many from other continents have been widely introduced and used.

Primarily Africa is the Land of the Blacks. The world has always been familiar with black men, who represent one of the most ancient of human stocks. Of the ancient world gathered about the Mediterranean, they formed a part and were viewed with no surprise or dislike, because this world saw them come and go and play their part with other men. Was Clitus the brother-in-law of Alexander the Great less to be honored because he happened to be black? Was Terence less famous? The medieval European world, developing under the favorable physical conditions of the north temperate zone, knew the black man chiefly as a legend or occasional curiosity, but still as a fellow man—an Othello or a Prester John or an Antar.

The modern world, in contrast, knows the Negro chiefly as a bond slave in the West Indies and America. Add to this the fact that the darker races in other parts of the world have, in the last four centuries, lagged behind the flying and even feverish footsteps of Europe, and we face to-day a widespread assumption throughout the dominant world that color is a mark of inferiority.

The result is that in writing of this, one of the most ancient, persistent, and widespread stocks of mankind, one faces astounding prejudice. That which may be assumed as true of white men must be proven beyond peradventure if it relates to Negroes. One who writes of the development of the Negro race must continually insist that he is writing of a normal human stock, and that whatever it is fair to predicate of the mass of human beings may be predicated of the Negro. It is the silent refusal to do this which has led to so much false writing on Africa and of its inhabitants. Take, for instance, the answer to the apparently simple question "What is a Negro?" We find the most extraordinary confusion of thought and difference of opinion. There is a certain type in the minds of most people which, as David Livingstone said, can be found only in caricature and not in real life. When scientists have tried to find an extreme type of black, ugly, and woolly-haired Negro, they have been compelled more and more to limit his home even in Africa. At least nine-tenths of the African people do not at all conform to this type, and the typical Negro, after being denied a dwelling place in the Sudan, along the Nile, in East Central Africa, and in South Africa, was finally given a very small country between the Senegal and the Niger, and even there was found to give trace of many stocks. As Winwood Reade says, "The typical Negro is a rare variety even among Negroes."

As a matter of fact we cannot take such extreme and largely fanciful stock as typifying that which we may fairly call the Negro race. In the case of no other race is so narrow a definition attempted. A "white" man may be of any color, size, or facial conformation and have endless variety of cranial measurement and physical characteristics. A "yellow" man is perhaps an even vaguer conception.

In fact it is generally recognized to-day that no scientific definition of race is possible. Differences, and striking differences, there are between men and groups of men, but they fade into each other so insensibly that we can only indicate the main divisions of men in broad outlines. As Von Luschan says, "The question of the number of human races has quite lost its raison d'etre and has become a subject rather of philosophic speculation than of scientific research. It is of no more importance now to know how many human races there are than to know how many angels can dance on the point of a needle. Our aim now is to find out how ancient and primitive races developed from others and how races changed or evolved through migration and inter-breeding."[1]

The mulatto (using the term loosely to indicate either an intermediate type between white and black or a mingling of the two) is as typically African as the black man and cannot logically be included in the "white" race, especially when American usage includes the mulatto in the Negro race.

It is reasonable, according to fact and historic usage, to include under the word "Negro" the darker peoples of Africa characterized by a brown skin, curled or "frizzled" hair, full and sometimes everted lips, a tendency to a development of the maxillary parts of the face, and a dolichocephalic head. This type is not fixed or definite. The color varies widely; it is never black or bluish, as some say, and it becomes often light brown or yellow. The hair varies from curly to a wool-like mass, and the facial angle and cranial form show wide variation.

It is as impossible in Africa as elsewhere to fix with any certainty the limits of racial variation due to climate and the variation due to intermingling. In the past, when scientists assumed one unvarying Negro type, every variation from that type was interpreted as meaning mixture of blood. To-day we recognize a broader normal African type which, as Palgrave says, may best be studied "among the statues of the Egyptian rooms of the British Museum; the larger gentle eye, the full but not over-protruding lips, the rounded contour, and the good-natured, easy, sensuous expression. This is the genuine African model." To this race Africa in the main and parts of Asia have belonged since prehistoric times.

The color of this variety of man, as the color of other varieties, is due to climate. Conditions of heat, cold, and moisture, working for thousands of years through the skin and other organs, have given men their differences of color. This color pigment is a protection against sunlight and consequently varies with the intensity of the sunlight. Thus in Africa we find the blackest men in the fierce sunlight of the desert, red pygmies in the forest, and yellow Bushmen on the cooler southern plateau.

Next to the color, the hair is the most distinguishing characteristic of the Negro, but the two characteristics do not vary with each other. Some of the blackest of the Negroes have curly rather than woolly hair, while the crispest, most closely curled hair is found among the yellow Hottentots and Bushmen. The difference between the hair of the lighter and darker races is a difference of degree, not of kind, and can be easily measured. If the hair follicles of a China-man, a European, and a Negro are cut across transversely, it will be found that the diameter of the first is 100 by 77 to 85, the second 100 by 62 to 72, while that of the Negro is 100 by 40 to 60. This elliptical form of the Negro's hair causes it to curl more or less tightly.

There have been repeated efforts to discover, by measurements of various kinds, further and more decisive differences which would serve as really scientific determinants of race. Gradually these efforts have been given up. To-day we realize that there are no hard and fast racial types among men. Race is a dynamic and not a static conception, and the typical races are continually changing and developing, amalgamating and differentiating. In this little book, then, we are studying the history of the darker part of the human family, which is separated from the rest of mankind by no absolute physical line, but which nevertheless forms, as a mass, a social group distinct in history, appearance, and to some extent in spiritual gift.

We cannot study Africa without, however, noting some of the other races concerned in its history, particularly the Asiatic Semites. The intercourse of Africa with Arabia and other parts of Asia has been so close and long-continued that it is impossible to-day to disentangle the blood relationships. Negro blood certainly appears in strong strain among the Semites, and the obvious mulatto groups in Africa, arising from ancient and modern mingling of Semite and Negro, has given rise to the term "Hamite," under cover of which millions of Negroids have been characteristically transferred to the "white" race by some eager scientists.

The earliest Semites came to Africa across the Red Sea. The Phoenicians came along the northern coasts a thousand years before Christ and began settlements which culminated in Carthage and extended down the Atlantic shores of North Africa nearly to the Gulf of Guinea.

From the earliest times the Greeks have been in contact with Africa as visitors, traders, and colonists, and the Persian influence came with Cambyses and others. Roman Africa was bounded by the desert, but at times came into contact with the blacks across the Sahara and in the valley of the Nile. After the breaking up of the Roman Empire the Greek and Latin Christians filtered through Africa, followed finally by a Germanic invasion in 429 A.D.

In the seventh century the All-Mother, Asia, claimed Africa again for her own and blew a cloud of Semitic Mohammedanism all across North Africa, veiling the dark continent from Europe for a thousand years and converting vast masses of the blacks to Islam. The Portuguese began to raise the veil in the fifteenth century, sailing down the Atlantic coast and initiating the modern slave trade. The Spanish, French, Dutch, and English followed them, but as traders in men rather than explorers.

The Portuguese explored the coasts of the Gulf of Guinea, visiting the interior kingdoms, and then passing by the mouth of the Congo proceeded southward. Eventually they rounded the Cape of Good Hope and pursued their explorations as far as the mountains of Abyssinia. This began the modern exploration of Africa, which is a curious fairy tale, and recalls to us the great names of Livingstone, Burton, Speke, Stanley, Barth, Schweinfurth, and many others. In this way Africa has been made known to the modern world.

The difficulty of this modern lifting of the veil of centuries emphasizes two physical facts that underlie all African history: the peculiar inaccessibility of the continent to peoples from without, which made it so easily possible for the great human drama played here to hide itself from the ears of other worlds; and, on the other hand, the absence of interior barriers—the great stretch of that central plateau which placed practically every budding center of culture at the mercy of barbarism, sweeping a thousand miles, with no Alps or Himalayas or Appalachians to hinder.

With this peculiarly uninviting coast line and the difficulties in interior segregation must be considered the climate of Africa. While there is much diversity and many salubrious tracts along with vast barren wastes, yet, as Sir Harry Johnston well remarks, "Africa is the chief stronghold of the real Devil—the reactionary forces of Nature hostile to the uprise of Humanity. Here Beelzebub, King of the Flies, marshals his vermiform and arthropod hosts—insects, ticks, and nematode worms—which more than in other continents (excepting Negroid Asia) convey to the skin, veins, intestines, and spinal marrow of men and other vertebrates the microorganisms which cause deadly, disfiguring, or debilitating diseases, or themselves create the morbid condition of the persecuted human being, beasts, bird, reptile, frog, or fish."[2] The inhabitants of this land have had a sheer fight for physical survival comparable with that in no other great continent, and this must not be forgotten when we consider their history.


[1] Von Luschan: in Inter-Racial Problems, p. 16.

[2] Johnston: Negro in the New World, pp. 14-15.


The movements of prehistoric man can be seen as yet but dimly in the uncertain mists of time. This is the story that to-day seems most probable: from some center in southern Asia primitive human beings began to differentiate in two directions. Toward the south appeared the primitive Negro, long-headed and with flattened hair follicle. He spread along southern Asia and passed over into Africa, where he survives to-day as the reddish dwarfs of the center and the Bushmen of South Africa.

Northward and eastward primitive man became broader headed and straight-haired and spread over eastern Asia, forming the Mongolian type. Either through the intermingling of these two types or, as some prefer to think, by the direct prolongation of the original primitive man, a third intermediate type of human being appeared with hair and cranial measurement intermediate between the primitive Negro and Mongolian. All these three types of men intermingled their blood freely and developed variations according to climate and environment.

Other and older theories and legends of the origin and spread of mankind are of interest now only because so many human beings have believed them in the past. The biblical story of Shem, Ham, and Japheth retains the interest of a primitive myth with its measure of allegorical truth,[3] but has, of course, no historic basis.

The older "Aryan" theory assumed the migration into Europe of one dominant Asiatic race of civilized conquerors, to whose blood and influence all modern culture was due. To this "white" race Semitic Asia, a large part of black Africa, and all Europe was supposed to belong. This "Aryan" theory has been practically abandoned in the light of recent research, and it seems probable now that from the primitive Negroid stock evolved in Asia the Semites either by local variation or intermingling with other stocks; later there developed the Mediterranean race, with Negroid characteristics, and the modern Negroes. The blue-eyed, light-haired Germanic people may have arisen as a modern variation of the mixed peoples produced by the mingling of Asiatic and African elements. The last word on this development has not yet been said, and there is still much to learn and explain; but it is certainly proved to-day beyond doubt that the so-called Hamites of Africa, the brown and black curly and frizzly-haired inhabitants of North and East Africa, are not "white" men if we draw the line between white and black in any logical way.

The primitive Negroid race of men developed in Asia wandered eastward as well as westward. They entered on the one hand Burmah and the South Sea Islands, and on the other hand they came through Mesopotamia and gave curly hair and a Negroid type to Jew, Syrian, and Assyrian. Ancient statues of Indian divinities show the Negro type with black face and close-curled hair, and early Babylonian culture was Negroid. In Arabia the Negroes may have divided, and one stream perhaps wandered into Europe by way of Syria. Traces of these Negroes are manifest not only in skeletons, but in the brunette type of all South Europe. The other branch proceeded to Egypt and tropical Africa. Another, but perhaps less probable, theory is that ancient Negroes may have entered Africa from Europe, since the most ancient skulls of Algeria are Negroid.

The primitive African was not an extreme type. One may judge from modern pygmy and Bushmen that his color was reddish or yellow, and his skull was sometimes round like the Mongolian. He entered Africa not less than fifty thousand years ago and settled eventually in the broad region between Lake Chad and the Great Lakes and remained there long stretches of years.

After a lapse of perhaps thirty thousand years there entered Africa a further migration of Asiatic people, Negroid in many characteristics, but lighter and straighter haired than the primitive Negroes. From this Mediterranean race was developed the modern inhabitants of the shores of the Mediterranean in Europe, Asia, and Africa and, by mingling with the primitive Negroes, the ancient Egyptians and modern Negroid races of Africa.

As we near historic times the migrations of men became more frequent from Asia and from Europe, and in Africa came movements and minglings which give to the whole of Africa a distinct mulatto character. The primitive Negro stock was "mulatto" in the sense of being not widely differentiated from the dark, original Australoid stock. As the earlier yellow Negro developed in the African tropics to the bigger, blacker type, he was continually mingling his blood with similar types developed in temperate climes to sallower color and straighter hair.

We find therefore, in Africa to-day, every degree of development in Negroid stocks and every degree of intermingling of these developments, both among African peoples and between Africans, Europeans, and Asiatics. The mistake is continually made of considering these types as transitions between absolute Caucasians and absolute Negroes. No such absolute type ever existed on either side. Both were slowly differentiated from a common ancestry and continually remingled their blood while the differentiating was progressing. From prehistoric times down to to-day Africa is, in this sense, primarily the land of the mulatto. So, too, was earlier Europe and Asia; only in these countries the mulatto was early bleached by the climate, while in Africa he was darkened.

It is not easy to summarize the history of these dark African peoples, because so little is known and so much is still in dispute. Yet, by avoiding the real controversies and being unafraid of mere questions of definition, we may trace a great human movement with considerable definiteness.

Three main Negro types early made their appearance: the lighter and smaller primitive stock; the larger forest Negro in the center and on the west coast, and the tall, black Nilotic Negro in the eastern Sudan. In the earliest times we find the Negroes in the valley of the Nile, pressing downward from the interior. Here they mingled with Semitic types, and after a lapse of millenniums there arose from this mingling the culture of Ethiopia and Egypt, probably the first of higher human cultures.

To the west of the Nile the Negroes expanded straight across the continent to the Atlantic. Centers of higher culture appeared very early along the Gulf of Guinea and curling backward met Egyptian, Ethiopian, and even European and Asiatic influences about Lake Chad. To the southeast, nearer the primitive seats of the earliest African immigrants and open to Egyptian and East Indian influences, the Negro culture which culminated at Zymbabwe arose, and one may trace throughout South Africa its wide ramifications.

All these movements gradually aroused the central tribes to unrest. They beat against the barriers north, northeast, and west, but gradually settled into a great southeastward migration. Calling themselves proudly La Bantu (The People), they grew by agglomeration into a warlike nation, speaking one language. They eventually conquered all Africa south of the Gulf of Guinea and spread their influence to the northward.

While these great movements were slowly transforming Africa, she was also receiving influences from beyond her shores and sending influences out. With mulatto Egypt black Africa was always in closest touch, so much so that to some all evidence of Negro uplift seem Egyptian in origin. The truth is, rather, that Egypt was herself always palpably Negroid, and from her vantage ground as almost the only African gateway received and transmitted Negro ideals.

Phoenician, Greek, and Roman came into touch more or less with black Africa. Carthage, that North African city of a million men, had a large caravan trade with Negroland in ivory, metals, cloth, precious stones, and slaves. Black men served in the Carthaginian armies and marched with Hannibal on Rome. In some of the North African kingdoms the infiltration of Negro blood was very large and kings like Massinissa and Jugurtha were Negroid. By way of the Atlantic the Carthaginians reached the African west coast. Greek and Roman influences came through the desert, and the Byzantine Empire and Persia came into communication with Negroland by way of the valley of the Nile. The influence of these trade routes, added to those of Egypt, Ethiopia, Benin, and Yoruba, stimulated centers of culture in the central and western Sudan, and European and African trade early reached large volume.

Negro soldiers were used largely in the armies that enabled the Mohammedans to conquer North Africa and Spain. Beginning in the tenth century and slowly creeping across the desert into Negroland, the new religion found an already existent culture and came, not a conqueror, but as an adapter and inspirer. Civilization received new impetus and a wave of Mohammedanism swept eastward, erecting the great kingdoms of Melle, the Songhay, Bornu, and the Hausa states. The older Negro culture was not overthrown, but, like a great wedge, pushed upward and inward from Yoruba, and gave stubborn battle to the newer culture for seven or eight centuries.

Then it was, in the fifteenth century, that the heart disease of Africa developed in its most virulent form. There is a modern theory that black men are and always have been naturally slaves. Nothing is further from the truth. In the ancient world Africa was no more a slave hunting ground than Europe or Asia, and both Greece and Rome had much larger numbers of white slaves than of black. It was natural that a stream of black slaves should have poured into Egypt, because the chief line of Egyptian conquest and defense lay toward the heart of Africa. Moreover, the Egyptians, themselves of Negro descent, had not only Negro slaves but Negroes among their highest nobility and even among their Pharaohs. Mohammedan conquerors enslaved peoples of all colors in Europe, Asia, and Africa, but eventually their empire centered in Asia and Africa and their slaves came principally from these countries. Asia submitted to Islam except in the Far East, which was self-protecting. Negro Africa submitted only partially, and the remaining heathen were in small states which could not effectively protect themselves against the Mohammedan slave trade. In this wise the slave trade gradually began to center in Africa, for religious and political rather than for racial reasons.

The typical African culture was the culture of family, town, and small tribe. Hence domestic slavery easily developed a slave trade through war and commerce. Only the integrating force of state building could have stopped this slave trade. Was this failure to develop the great state a racial characteristic? This does not seem a fair conclusion. In four great centers state building began in Africa. In Ethiopia several large states were built up, but they tottered before the onslaughts of Egypt, Persia, Rome, and Byzantium, on the one hand, and finally fell before the turbulent Bantu warriors from the interior. The second attempt at empire building began in the southeast, but the same Bantu hordes, pressing now slowly, now fiercely, from the congested center of the continent, gradually overthrew this state and erected on its ruins a series of smaller and more transient kingdoms.

The third attempt at state building arose on the Guinea coast in Benin and Yoruba. It never got much beyond a federation of large industrial cities. Its expansion toward the Congo valley was probably a prime cause of the original Bantu movements to the southeast. Toward the north and northeast, on the other hand, these city-states met the Sudanese armed with the new imperial Mohammedan idea. Just as Latin Rome gave the imperial idea to the Nordic races, so Islam brought this idea to the Sudan.

In the consequent attempts at imperialism in the western Sudan there arose the largest of the African empires. Two circumstances, however, militated against this empire building: first, the fierce resistance of the heathen south made war continuous and slaves one of the articles of systematic commerce. Secondly, the highways of legitimate African commerce had for millenniums lain to the north. These were suddenly closed by the Moors in the sixteenth century, and the Negro empires were thrown into the turmoil of internal war.

It was then that the European slave traders came from the southwest. They found partially disrupted Negro states on the west coast and falling empires in the Sudan, together with the old unrest of over-population and migration in the valley of the Congo. They not only offered a demand for the usual slave trade, but they increased it to an enormous degree, until their demand, added to the demand of the Mohammedan in Africa and Asia, made human beings the highest priced article of commerce in Africa. Under such circumstances there could be but one end: the virtual uprooting of ancient African culture, leaving only misty reminders of the ruin in the customs and work of the people. To complete this disaster came the partition of the continent among European nations and the modern attempt to exploit the country and the natives for the economic benefit of the white world, together with the transplanting of black nations to the new western world and their rise and self-assertion there.


[3] Ham is probably the Egyptian word "Khem" (black), the native name of Egypt. In the original myth Canaan and not Ham was Noah's third son.

The biblical story of the "curse of Canaan" (Genesis IX, 24-25) has been the basis of an astonishing literature which has to-day only a psychological interest. It is sufficient to remember that for several centuries leaders of the Christian Church gravely defended Negro slavery and oppression as the rightful curse of God upon the descendants of a son who had been disrespectful to his drunken father! Cf. Bishop Hopkins: Bible Views of Slavery, p. 7.


Having viewed now the land and movements of African people in main outline, let us scan more narrowly the history of five main centers of activity and culture, namely: the valleys of the Nile and of the Congo, the borders of the great Gulf of Guinea, the Sudan, and South Africa. These divisions do not cover all of Negro Africa, but they take in the main areas and the main lines in development.

First, we turn to the valley of the Nile, perhaps the most ancient of known seats of civilization in the world, and certainly the oldest in Africa, with a culture reaching back six or eight thousand years. Like all civilizations it drew largely from without and undoubtedly arose in the valley of the Nile, because that valley was so easily made a center for the meeting of men of all types and from all parts of the world. At the same time Egyptian civilization seems to have been African in its beginnings and in its main line of development, despite strong influences from all parts of Asia. Of what race, then, were the Egyptians? They certainly were not white in any sense of the modern use of that word—neither in color nor physical measurement, in hair nor countenance, in language nor social customs. They stood in relationship nearest the Negro race in earliest times, and then gradually through the infiltration of Mediterranean and Semitic elements became what would be described in America as a light mulatto stock of Octoroons or Quadroons. This stock was varied continually; now by new infiltration of Negro blood from the south, now by Negroid and Semitic blood from the east, now by Berber types from the north and west.

Egyptian monuments show distinctly Negro and mulatto faces. Herodotus, in an incontrovertible passage, alludes to the Egyptians as "black and curly-haired"[4]—a peculiarly significant statement from one used to the brunette Mediterranean type; in another passage, concerning the fable of the Dodonian Oracle, he again alludes to the swarthy color of the Egyptians as exceedingly dark and even black. AEschylus, mentioning a boat seen from the shore, declares that its crew are Egyptians, because of their black complexions.

Modern measurements, with all their admitted limitations, show that in the Thebaid from one-seventh to one-third of the Egyptian population were Negroes, and that of the predynastic Egyptians less than half could be classed as non-Negroid. Judging from measurements in the tombs of nobles as late as the eighteenth dynasty, Negroes form at least one-sixth of the higher class.[5]

Such measurements are by no means conclusive, but they are apt to be under rather than over statements of the prevalence of Negro blood. Head measurements of Negro Americans would probably place most of them in the category of whites. The evidence of language also connects Egypt with Africa and the Negro race rather than with Asia, while religious ceremonies and social customs all go to strengthen this evidence.

The ethnic history of Northeast Africa would seem, therefore, to have been this: predynastic Egypt was settled by Negroes from Ethiopia. They were of varied type: the broad-nosed, woolly-haired type to which the word "Negro" is sometimes confined; the black, curly-haired, sharper featured type, which must be considered an equally Negroid variation. These Negroes met and mingled with the invading Mediterranean race from North Africa and Asia. Thus the blood of the sallower race spread south and that of the darker race north. Black priests appear in Crete three thousand years before Christ, and Arabia is to this day thoroughly permeated with Negro blood. Perhaps, as Chamberlain says, "one of the prime reasons why no civilization of the type of that of the Nile arose in other parts of the continent, if such a thing were at all possible, was that Egypt acted as a sort of channel by which the genius of Negro-land was drafted off into the service of Mediterranean and Asiatic culture."[6]

To one familiar with the striking and beautiful types arising from the mingling of Negro with Latin and Germanic types in America, the puzzle of the Egyptian type is easily solved. It was unlike any of its neighbors and a unique type until one views the modern mulatto; then the faces of Rahotep and Nefert, of Khafra and Amenemhat I, of Aahmes and Nefertari, and even of the great Ramessu II, become curiously familiar.

The history of Egypt is a science in itself. Before the reign of the first recorded king, five thousand years or more before Christ, there had already existed in Egypt a culture and art arising by long evolution from the days of paleolithic man, among a distinctly Negroid people. About 4777 B.C. Aha-Mena began the first of three successive Egyptian empires. This lasted two thousand years, with many Pharaohs, like Khafra of the Fourth Dynasty, of a strongly Negroid cast of countenance.

At the end of the period the empire fell apart into Egyptian and Ethiopian halves, and a silence of three centuries ensued. It is quite possible that an incursion of conquering black men from the south poured over the land in these years and dotted Egypt in the next centuries with monuments on which the full-blooded Negro type is strongly and triumphantly impressed. The great Sphinx at Gizeh, so familiar to all the world, the Sphinxes of Tanis, the statue from the Fayum, the statue of the Esquiline at Rome, and the Colossi of Bubastis all represent black, full-blooded Negroes and are described by Petrie as "having high cheek bones, flat cheeks, both in one plane, a massive nose, firm projecting lips, and thick hair, with an austere and almost savage expression of power."[7]

Blyden, the great modern black leader of West Africa, said of the Sphinx at Gizeh: "Her features are decidedly of the African or Negro type, with 'expanded nostrils.' If, then, the Sphinx was placed here—looking out in majestic and mysterious silence over the empty plain where once stood the great city of Memphis in all its pride and glory, as an 'emblematic representation of the king'—is not the inference clear as to the peculiar type or race to which that king belonged?"[8]

The middle empire arose 3064 B.C. and lasted nearly twenty-four centuries. Under Pharaohs whose Negro descent is plainly evident, like Amenemhat I and III and Usertesen I, the ancient glories of Egypt were restored and surpassed. At the same time there is strong continuous pressure from the wild and unruly Negro tribes of the upper Nile valley, and we get some idea of the fear which they inspired throughout Egypt when we read of the great national rejoicing which followed the triumph of Usertesen III (c. 2660-22) over these hordes. He drove them back and attempted to confine them to the edge of the Nubian Desert above the Second Cataract. Hemmed in here, they set up a state about this time and founded Nepata.

Notwithstanding this repulse of black men, less than one hundred years later a full-blooded Negro from the south, Ra Nehesi, was seated on the throne of the Pharaohs and was called "The king's eldest son." This may mean that an incursion from the far south had placed a black conqueror on the throne. At any rate, the whole empire was in some way shaken, and two hundred years later the invasion of the Hyksos began. The domination of Hyksos kings who may have been Negroids from Asia[9] lasted for five hundred years.

The redemption of Egypt from these barbarians came from Upper Egypt, led by the mulatto Aahmes. He founded in 1703 B.C. the new empire, which lasted fifteen hundred years. His queen, Nefertari, "the most venerated figure of Egyptian history,"[10] was a Negress of great beauty, strong personality, and of unusual administrative force. She was for many years joint ruler with her son, Amenhotep I, who succeeded his father.[11]

The new empire was a period of foreign conquest and internal splendor and finally of religious dispute and overthrow. Syria was conquered in these reigns and Asiatic civilization and influences poured in upon Egypt. The great Tahutmes III, whose reign was "one of the grandest and most eventful in Egyptian history,"[12] had a strong Negroid countenance, as had also Queen Hatshepsut, who sent the celebrated expedition to reopen ancient trade with the Hottentots of Punt. A new strain of Negro blood came to the royal line through Queen Mutemua about 1420 B.C., whose son, Amenhotep III, built a great temple at Luqsor and the Colossi at Memnon.

The whole of the period in a sense culminated in the great Ramessu II, the oppressor of the Hebrews, who with his Egyptian, Libyan, and Negro armies fought half the world. His reign, however, was the beginning of decline, and foes began to press Egypt from the white north and the black south. The priests transferred their power at Thebes, while the Assyrians under Nimrod overran Lower Egypt. The center of interest is now transferred to Ethiopia, and we pass to the more shadowy history of that land.

The most perfect example of Egyptian poetry left to us is a celebration of the prowess of Usertesen III in confining the turbulent Negro tribes to the territory below the Second Cataract of the Nile. The Egyptians called this territory Kush, and in the farthest confines of Kush lay Punt, the cradle of their race. To the ancient Mediterranean world Ethiopia (i.e., the Land of the Black-faced) was a region of gods and fairies. Zeus and Poseidon feasted each year among the "blameless Ethiopians," and Black Memnon, King of Ethiopia, was one of the greatest of heroes.

"The Ethiopians conceive themselves," says Diodorus Siculus (Lib. III), "to be of greater antiquity than any other nation; and it is probable that, born under the sun's path, its warmth may have ripened them earlier than other men. They suppose themselves also to be the inventors of divine worship, of festivals, of solemn assemblies, of sacrifices, and every religious practice. They affirm that the Egyptians are one of their colonies."

The Egyptians themselves, in later days, affirmed that they and their civilization came from the south and from the black tribes of Punt, and certainly "at the earliest period in which human remains have been recovered Egypt and Lower Nubia appear to have formed culturally and racially one land."[13]

The forging ahead of Egypt in culture was mainly from economic causes. Ethiopia, living in a much poorer land with limited agricultural facilities, held to the old arts and customs, and at the same time lost the best elements of its population to Egypt, absorbing meantime the oncoming and wilder Negro tribes from the south and west. Under the old empire, therefore, Ethiopia remained in comparative poverty, except as some of its tribes invaded Egypt with their handicrafts.

As soon as the civilization below the Second Cataract reached a height noticeably above that of Ethiopia, there was continued effort to protect that civilization against the incursion of barbarians. Hundreds of campaigns through thousands of years repeatedly subdued or checked the blacks and brought them in as captives to mingle their blood with the Egyptian nation; but the Egyptian frontier was not advanced.

A separate and independent Ethiopian culture finally began to arise during the middle empire of Egypt and centered at Nepata and Meroe. Widespread trade in gold, ivory, precious stones, skins, wood, and works of handicraft arose.[14] The Negro began to figure as the great trader of Egypt.

This new wealth of Ethiopia excited the cupidity of the Pharaohs and led to aggression and larger intercourse, until at last, when the dread Hyksos appeared, Ethiopia became both a physical and cultural refuge for conquered Egypt. The legitimate Pharaohs moved to Thebes, nearer the boundaries of Ethiopia, and from here, under Negroid rulers, Lower Egypt was redeemed.

The ensuing new empire witnessed the gradual incorporation of Ethiopia into Egypt, although the darker kingdom continued to resist. Both mulatto Pharaohs, Aahmes and Amenhotep I, sent expeditions into Ethiopia, and in the latter's day sons of the reigning Pharaoh began to assume the title of "Royal Son of Kush" in some such way as the son of the King of England becomes the Prince of Wales.

Trade relations were renewed with Punt under circumstances which lead us to place that land in the region of the African lakes. The Sudanese tribes were aroused by these and other incursions, until the revolts became formidable in the fourteenth century before Christ.

Egyptian culture, however, gradually conquered Ethiopia where her armies could not, and Egyptian religion and civil rule began to center in the darker kingdom. When, therefore, Shesheng I, the Libyan, usurped the throne of the Pharaohs in the tenth century B.C., the Egyptian legitimate dynasty went to Nepata as king priests and established a theocratic monarchy. Gathering strength, the Ethiopian kingdom under this dynasty expanded north about 750 B.C. and for a century ruled all Egypt.

The first king, Pankhy, was Egyptian bred and not noticeably Negroid, but his successors showed more and more evidence of Negro blood—Kashta the Kushite, Shabaka, Tarharqa, and Tanutamen. During the century of Ethiopian rule a royal son was appointed to rule Egypt, just as formerly a royal Egyptian had ruled Kush. In many ways this Ethiopian kingdom showed its Negro peculiarities: first, in its worship of distinctly Sudanese gods; secondly, in the rigid custom of female succession in the kingdom, and thirdly, by the election of kings from the various royal claimants to the throne. "It was the heyday of the Negro. For the greater part of the century ... Egypt itself was subject to the blacks, just as in the new empire the Sudan had been subject to Egypt."[15]

Egypt now began to fall into the hands of Asia and was conquered first by the Assyrians and then by the Persians, but the Ethiopian kings kept their independence. Aspeluta, whose mother and sister are represented as full-blooded Negroes, ruled from 630 to 600 B.C. Horsiatef (560-525 B.C.) made nine expeditions against the warlike tribes south of Meroe, and his successor, Nastosenen (525-500 B.C.) was the one who repelled Cambyses. He also removed the capital from Nepata to Meroe, although Nepata continued to be the religious capital and the Ethiopian kings were still crowned on its golden throne.

From the fifth to the second century B.C. we find the wild Sudanese tribes pressing in from the west and Greek culture penetrating from the east. King Arg-Amen (Ergamenes) showed strong Greek influences and at the same time began to employ the Ethiopian speech in writing and used a new Ethiopian alphabet.

While the Ethiopian kings were still crowned at Nepata, Meroe gradually became the real capital and supported at one time four thousand artisans and two hundred thousand soldiers. It was here that the famous Candaces reigned as queens. Pliny tells us that one Candace of the time of Nero had had forty-four predecessors on the throne, while another Candace figures in the New Testament.[16]

It was probably this latter Candace who warred against Rome at the time of Augustus and received unusual consideration from her formidable foe. The prestige of Ethiopia at this time was considerable throughout the world. Pseudo-Callisthenes tells an evidently fabulous story of the visit of Alexander the Great to Candace, Queen of Meroe, which nevertheless illustrates her fame: Candace will not let him enter Ethiopia and says he is not to scorn her people because they are black, for they are whiter in soul than his white folk. She sent him gold, maidens, parrots, sphinxes, and a crown of emeralds and pearls. She ruled eighty tribes, who were ready to punish those who attacked her.

The Romans continued to have so much trouble with their Ethiopian frontier that finally, when Semitic mulattoes appeared in the east, the Emperor Diocletian invited the wild Sudanese tribe of Nubians (Nobadae) from the west to repel them. These Nubians eventually embraced Christianity, and northern Ethiopia came to be known in time as Nubia.

The Semitic mulattoes from the east came from the highlands bordering the Red Sea and Asia. On both sides of this sea Negro blood is strongly in evidence, predominant in Africa and influential in Asia. Ludolphus, writing in the seventeenth century, says that the Abyssinians "are generally black, which [color] they most admire." Trade and war united the two shores, and merchants have passed to and fro for thirty centuries.

In this way Arabian, Jewish, Egyptian, Greek, and Roman influences spread slowly upon the Negro foundation. Early legendary history declares that a queen, Maqueda, or Nikaula of Sheba, a state of Central Abyssinia, visited Solomon in 1050 B.C. and had her son Menelik educated in Jerusalem. This was the supposed beginning of the Axumite kingdom, the capital of which, Axume, was a flourishing center of trade. Ptolemy Evergetes and his successors did much to open Abyssinia to the world, but most of the population of that day was nomadic. In the fourth century Byzantine influences began to be felt, and in 330 St. Athanasius of Alexandria consecrated Fromentius as Bishop of Ethiopia. He tutored the heir to the Abyssinian kingdom and began its gradual christianization. By the early part of the sixth century Abyssinia was trading with India and Byzantium and was so far recognized as a Christian country that the Emperor Justinian appealed to King Kaleb to protect the Christians in southwestern Arabia. Kaleb conquered Yemen in 525 and held it fifty years.

Eventually a Jewish princess, Judith, usurped the Axumite throne; the Abyssinians were expelled from Arabia, and a long period begins when as Gibbon says, "encompassed by the enemies of their religion, the Ethiopians slept for nearly a thousand years, forgetful of the world by whom they were forgotten." Throughout the middle ages, however, the legend of a great Christian kingdom hidden away in Africa persisted, and the search for Prester John became one of the world quests.

It was the expanding power of Abyssinia that led Rome to call in the Nubians from the western desert. The Nubians had formed a strong league of tribes, and as the ancient kingdom of Ethiopia declined they drove back the Abyssinians, who had already established themselves at Meroe.

In the sixth century the Nubians were converted to Christianity by a Byzantine priest, and they immediately began to develop. A new capital, Dongola, replaced Nepata and Meroe, and by the twelfth century churches and brick dwellings had appeared. As the Mohammedan flood pressed up the Nile valley it was the Nubians that held it back for two centuries.

Farther south other wild tribes pushed out of the Sudan and began a similar development. Chief among these were the Fung, who fixed their capital at Senaar, at the junction of the White and Blue Nile. When the Mohammedan flood finally passed over Nubia, the Fung diverted it by declaring themselves Moslems. This left the Fung as the dominant power in the fifteenth century from the Three Cataracts to Fazogli and from the Red Sea at Suakin to the White Nile. Islam then swept on south in a great circle, skirted the Great Lakes, and then curled back to Somaliland, completely isolating Abyssinia.

Between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries the Egyptian Sudan became a congeries of Mohammedan kingdoms with Arab, mulatto, and Negro kings. Far to the west, near Lake Chad, arose in 1520 the sultanate of Baghirmi, which reached its highest power in the seventh century. This dynasty was overthrown by the Negroid Mabas, who established Wadai to the eastward about 1640. South of Wadai lay the heathen and cannibals of the Congo valley, against which Islam never prevailed. East of Wadai and nearer the Nile lay the kindred state of Darfur, a Nubian nation whose sultans reigned over two hundred years and which reached great prosperity in the early seventeenth century under Soliman Solon.

Before the Mohammedan power reached Abyssinia the Portuguese pioneers had entered the country from the east and begun to open the country again to European knowledge. Without doubt, in the centuries of silence, a civilization of some height had flourished in Abyssinia, but all authentic records were destroyed by fire in the tenth century. When the Portuguese came, the older Axumite kingdom had fallen and had been succeeded by a number of petty states.

The Sudanese kingdoms of the Sudan resisted the power of the Mameluke beys in Egypt, and later the power of the Turks until the nineteenth century, when the Sudan was made nominally a part of Egypt. Continuous upheaval, war, and conquest had by this time done their work, and little of ancient Ethiopian culture survived except the slave trade.

The entrance of England into Egypt, after the building of the Suez Canal, stirred up eventually revolt in the Sudan, for political, economic, and religious reasons. Led by a Sudanese Negro, Mohammed Ahmad, who claimed to be the Messiah (Mahdi), the Sudan arose in revolt in 1881, determined to resist a hated religion, foreign rule, and interference with their chief commerce, the trade in slaves. The Sudan was soon aflame, and the able mulatto general, Osman Digna, aided by revolt among the heathen Dinka, drove Egypt and England out of the Sudan for sixteen years. It was not until 1898 that England reentered the Sudan and in petty revenge desecrated the bones of the brave, even if misguided, prophet.

Meantime this Mahdist revolt had delayed England's designs on Abyssinia, and the Italians, replacing her, attempted a protectorate. Menelik of Shoa, one of the smaller kingdoms of Abyssinia, was a shrewd man of predominantly Negro blood, and had been induced to make a treaty with the Italians after King John had been killed by the Mahdists. The exact terms of the treaty were disputed, but undoubtedly the Italians tried by this means to reduce Menelik to vassalage. Menelik stoutly resisted, and at the great battle of Adua, one of the decisive battles of the modern world, the Abyssinians on March 1, 1896, inflicted a crushing defeat on the Italians, killing four thousand of them and capturing two thousand prisoners. The empress, Taitou, a full-blooded Negress, led some of the charges. By this battle Abyssinia became independent.

Such in vague and general outline is the strange story of the valley of the Nile—of Egypt, the motherland of human culture and

"That starr'd Ethiop Queen that strove To set her beauty's praise above The sea nymphs."


[4] [Greek: "autos de eikasa tede kai hote melanchroes eisi kai oulotriches."] Liber II, Cap. 104.

[5] Cf. Maciver and Thompson: Ancient Races of the Thebaid.

[6] Journal of Race Development, I, 484.

[7] Petrie: History of Egypt, I, 51, 237.

[8] From West Africa to Palestine, p. 114.

[9] Depending partly on whether the so-called Hyksos sphinxes belong to the period of the Hyksos kings or to an earlier period (cf. Petrie, I, 52-53, 237). That Negroids largely dominated in the early history of western Asia is proven by the monuments.

[10] Petrie: History of Egypt, II, 337.

[11] Chamberlain: Journal of Race Development, April, 1911.

[12] Petrie: History of Egypt, II, 337.

[13] Reisner: Archeological Survey of Nubia, I, 319.

[14] Hoskins declares that the arch had its origin in Ethiopia.

[15] Maciver and Wooley: Areika, p. 2.

[16] Acts VIII, 27.


The Arabian expression "Bilad es Sudan" (Land of the Blacks) was applied to the whole region south of the Sahara, from the Atlantic to the Nile. It is a territory some thirty-five hundred miles by six hundred miles, containing two million square miles, and has to-day a population of perhaps eighty million. It is thus two-thirds the size of the United States and quite as thickly settled. In the western Sudan the Niger plays the same role as the Nile in the east. In this chapter we follow the history of the Niger.

The history of this part of Africa was probably something as follows: primitive man, entering Africa from Arabia, found the Great Lakes, spread in the Nile valley, and wandered westward to the Niger. Herodotus tells of certain youths who penetrated the desert to the Niger and found there a city of black dwarfs. Succeeding migrations of Negroes and Negroids pushed the dwarfs gradually into the inhospitable forests and occupied the Sudan, pushing on to the Atlantic. Here the newcomers, curling northward, met the Mediterranean race coming down across the western desert, while to the southward the Negro came to the Gulf of Guinea and the thick forests of the Congo valley. Indigenous civilizations arose on the west coast in Yoruba and Benin, and contact of these with the Mediterranean race in the desert, and with Egyptian and Arab from the east, gave rise to centers of Negro culture in the Sudan at Ghana and Melle and in Songhay, Nupe, the Hausa states, and Bornu.

The history of the Sudan thus leads us back again to Ethiopia, that strange and ancient center of world civilization whose inhabitants in the ancient world were considered to be the most pious and the oldest of men. From this center the black originators of African culture, and to a large degree of world culture, wandered not simply down the Nile, but also westward. These Negroes developed the original substratum of culture which later influences modified but never displaced.

We know that Egyptian Pharaohs in several cases ventured into the western Sudan and that Egyptian influences are distinctly traceable. Greek and Byzantine culture and Phoenician and Carthaginian trade also penetrated, while Islam finally made this whole land her own. Behind all these influences, however, stood from the first an indigenous Negro culture. The stone figures of Sherbro, the megaliths of Gambia, the art and industry of the west coast are all too deep and original evidences of civilization to be merely importations from abroad.

Nor was the Sudan the inert recipient of foreign influence when it came. According to credible legend, the "Great King" at Byzantium imported glass, tin, silver, bronze, cut stones, and other treasure from the Sudan. Embassies were sent and states like Nupe recognized the suzerainty of the Byzantine emperor. The people of Nupe especially were filled with pride when the Byzantine people learned certain kinds of work in bronze and glass from them, and this intercourse was only interrupted by the Mohammedan conquest.

To this ancient culture, modified somewhat by Byzantine and Christian influences, came Islam. It approached from the northwest, coming stealthily and slowly and being handed on particularly by the Mandingo Negroes. About 1000-1200 A.D. the situation was this: Ghana was on the edge of the desert in the north, Mandingoland between the Niger and the Senegal in the south and the western Sahara, Djolof was in the west on the Senegal, and the Songhay on the Niger in the center. The Mohammedans came chiefly as traders and found a trade already established. Here and there in the great cities were districts set aside for these new merchants, and the Mohammedans gave frequent evidence of their respect for these black nations.

Islam did not found new states, but modified and united Negro states already ancient; it did not initiate new commerce, but developed a widespread trade already established. It is, as Frobenius says, "easily proved from chronicles written in Arabic that Islam was only effective in fact as a fertilizer and stimulant. The essential point is the resuscitative and invigorative concentration of Negro power in the service of a new era and a Moslem propaganda, as well as the reaction thereby produced."[17]

Early in the eighth century Islam had conquered North Africa and converted the Berbers. Aided by black soldiers, the Moslems crossed into Spain; in the following century Berber and Arab armies crossed the west end of the Sahara and came to Negroland. Later in the eleventh century Arabs penetrated the Sudan and Central Africa from the east, filtering through the Negro tribes of Darfur, Kanem, and neighboring regions. The Arabs were too nearly akin to Negroes to draw an absolute color line. Antar, one of the great pre-Islamic poets of Arabia, was the son of a black woman, and one of the great poets at the court of Haroun al Raschid was black. In the twelfth century a learned Negro poet resided at Seville, and Sidjilmessa, the last town in Lower Morocco toward the desert, was founded in 757 by a Negro who ruled over the Berber inhabitants. Indeed, many towns in the Sudan and the desert were thus ruled, and felt no incongruity in this arrangement. They say, to be sure, that the Moors destroyed Audhoghast because it paid tribute to the black town of Ghana, but this was because the town was heathen and not because it was black. On the other hand, there is a story that a Berber king overthrew one of the cities of the Sudan and all the black women committed suicide, being too proud to allow themselves to fall into the hands of white men.

In the west the Moslems first came into touch with the Negro kingdom of Ghana. Here large quantities of gold were gathered in early days, and we have names of seventy-four rulers before 300 A.D. running through twenty-one generations. This would take us back approximately a thousand years to 700 B.C., or about the time that Pharaoh Necho of Egypt sent out the Phoenician expedition which circumnavigated Africa, and possibly before the time when Hanno, the Carthaginian, explored the west coast of Africa.

By the middle of the eleventh century Ghana was the principal kingdom in the western Sudan. Already the town had a native and a Mussulman quarter, and was built of wood and stone with surrounding gardens. The king had an army of two hundred thousand and the wealth of the country was great. A century later the king had become Mohammedan in faith and had a palace with sculptures and glass windows. The great reason for this development was the desert trade. Gold, skins, ivory, kola nuts, gums, honey, wheat, and cotton were exported, and the whole Mediterranean coast traded in the Sudan. Other and lesser black kingdoms like Tekrou, Silla, and Masina surrounded Ghana.

In the early part of the thirteenth century the prestige of Ghana began to fall before the rising Mandingan kingdom to the west. Melle, as it was called, was founded in 1235 and formed an open door for Moslem and Moorish traders. The new kingdom, helped by its expanding trade, began to grow, and Islam slowly surrounded the older Negro culture west, north, and east. However, a great mass of the older heathen culture, pushing itself upward from the Guinea coast, stood firmly against Islam down to the nineteenth century.

Steadily Mohammedanism triumphed in the growing states which almost encircled the protagonists of ancient Atlantic culture. Mandingan Melle eventually supplanted Ghana in prestige and power, after Ghana had been overthrown by the heathen Su Su from the south.

The territory of Melle lay southeast of Ghana and some five hundred miles north of the Gulf of Guinea. Its kings were known by the title of Mansa, and from the middle of the thirteenth century to the middle of the fourteenth the Mellestine, as its dominion was called, was the leading power in the land of the blacks. Its greatest king, Mari Jalak (Mansa Musa), made his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324, with a caravan of sixty thousand persons, including twelve thousand young slaves gowned in figured cotton and Persian silk. He took eighty camel loads of gold dust (worth about five million dollars) to defray his expenses, and greatly impressed the people of the East with his magnificence.

On his return he found that Timbuktu had been sacked by the Mossi, but he rebuilt the town and filled the new mosque with learned blacks from the University of Fez. Mansa Musa reigned twenty-five years and "was distinguished by his ability and by the holiness of his life. The justice of his administration was such that the memory of it still lives."[18] The Mellestine preserved its preeminence until the beginning of the sixteenth century, when the rod of Sudanese empire passed to Songhay, the largest and most famous of the black empires.

The known history of Songhay covers a thousand years and three dynasties and centers in the great bend of the Niger. There were thirty kings of the First Dynasty, reigning from 700 to 1335. During the reign of one of these the Songhay kingdom became the vassal kingdom of Melle, then at the height of its glory. In addition to this the Mossi crossed the valley, plundered Timbuktu in 1339, and separated Jenne, the original seat of the Songhay, from the main empire. The sixteenth king was converted to Mohammedanism in 1009, and after that all the Songhay princes were Mohammedans. Mansa Musa took two young Songhay princes to the court of Melle to be educated in 1326. These boys when grown ran away and founded a new dynasty in Songhay, that of the Sonnis, in 1355. Seventeen of these kings reigned, the last and greatest being Sonni Ali, who ascended the throne in 1464. Melle was at this time declining, other cities like Jenne, with its seven thousand villages, were rising, and the Tuaregs (Berbers with Negro blood) had captured Timbuktu.

Sonni Ali was a soldier and began his career with the conquest of Timbuktu in 1469. He also succeeded in capturing Jenne and attacked the Mossi and other enemies on all sides. Finally he concentrated his forces for the destruction of Melle and subdued nearly the whole empire on the west bend of the Niger. In summing up Sonni Ali's military career the chronicle says of him, "He surpassed all his predecessors in the numbers and valor of his soldiery. His conquests were many and his renown extended from the rising to the setting of the sun. If it is the will of God, he will be long spoken of."[19]

Sonni Ali was a Songhay Negro whose father was a Berber. He was succeeded by a full-blooded black, Mohammed Abou Bekr, who had been his prime minister. Mohammed was hailed as "Askia" (usurper) and is best known as Mohammed Askia. He was strictly orthodox where Ali was rather a scoffer, and an organizer where Ali was a warrior. On his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1495 there was nothing of the barbaric splendor of Mansa Musa, but a brilliant group of scholars and holy men with a small escort of fifteen hundred soldiers and nine hundred thousand dollars in gold. He stopped and consulted with scholars and politicians and studied matters of taxation, weights and measures, trade, religious tolerance, and manners. In Cairo, where he was invested by the reigning caliph of Egypt, he may have heard of the struggle of Europe for the trade of the Indies, and perhaps of the parceling of the new world between Portugal and Spain. He returned to the Sudan in 1497, instituted a standing army of slaves, undertook a holy war against the indomitable Mossi, and finally marched against the Hausa. He subdued these cities and even imposed the rule of black men on the Berber town of Agades, a rich city of merchants and artificers with stately mansions. In fine Askia, during his reign, conquered and consolidated an empire two thousand miles long by one thousand wide at its greatest diameters; a territory as large as all Europe. The territory was divided into four vice royalties, and the system of Melle, with its semi-independent native dynasties, was carried out. His empire extended from the Atlantic to Lake Chad and from the salt mines of Tegazza and the town of Augila in the north to the 10th degree of north latitude toward the south.

It was a six months' journey across the empire and, it is said, "he was obeyed with as much docility on the farthest limits of the empire as he was in his own palace, and there reigned everywhere great plenty and absolute peace."[20] The University of Sankore became a center of learning in correspondence with Egypt and North Africa and had a swarm of black Sudanese students. Law, literature, grammar, geography and surgery were studied. Askia the Great reigned thirty-six years, and his dynasty continued on the throne until after the Moorish conquest in 1591.

Meanwhile, to the eastward, two powerful states appeared. They never disputed the military supremacy of Songhay, but their industrial development was marvelous. The Hausa states were formed by seven original cities, of which Kano was the oldest and Katsena the most famous. Their greatest leaders, Mohammed Rimpa and Ahmadu Kesoke, arose in the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries. The land was subject to the Songhay, but the cities became industrious centers of smelting, weaving, and dyeing. Katsena especially, in the middle of the sixteenth century, is described as a place thirteen or fourteen miles in circumference, divided into quarters for strangers, for visitors from various other states, and for the different trades and industries, as saddlers, shoemakers, dyers, etc.

Beyond the Hausa states and bordering on Lake Chad was Bornu. The people of Bornu had a large infiltration of Berber blood, but were predominantly Negro. Berber mulattoes had been kings in early days, but they were soon replaced by black men. Under the early kings, who can be traced back to the third century, these people had ruled nearly all the territory between the Nile and Lake Chad. The country was known as Kanem, and the pagan dynasty of Dugu reigned there from the middle of the ninth to the end of the eleventh century. Mohammedanism was introduced from Egypt at the end of the eleventh century, and under the Mohammedan kings Kanem became one of the first powers of the Sudan. By the end of the twelfth century the armies of Kanem were very powerful and its rulers were known as "Kings of Kanem and Lords of Bornu." In the thirteenth century the kings even dared to invade the southern country down toward the valley of the Congo.

Meantime great things were happening in the world beyond the desert, the ocean, and the Nile. Arabian Mohammedanism had succumbed to the wild fanaticism of the Seljukian Turks. These new conquerors were not only firmly planted at the gates of Vienna, but had swept the shores of the Mediterranean and sent all Europe scouring the seas for their lost trade connections with the riches of India. Religious zeal, fear of conquest, and commercial greed inflamed Europe against the Mohammedan and led to the discovery of a new world, the riches of which poured first on Spain. Oppression of the Moors followed, and in 1502 they were driven back into Africa, despoiled and humbled. Here the Spaniards followed and harassed them and here the Turks, fighting the Christians, captured the Mediterranean ports and cut the Moors off permanently from Europe. In the slow years that followed, huddled in Northwest Africa, they became a decadent people and finally cast their eyes toward Negroland.

The Moors in Morocco had come to look upon the Sudan as a gold mine, and knew that the Sudan was especially dependent upon salt. In 1545 Morocco claimed the principal salt mines at Tegazza, but the reigning Askia refused to recognize the claim.

When the Sultan Elmansour came to the throne of Morocco, he increased the efficiency of his army by supplying it with fire arms and cannon. Elmansour determined to attack the Sudan and sent four hundred men under Pasha Djouder, who left Morocco in 1590. The Songhay, with their bows and arrows, were helpless against powder and shot, and they were defeated at Tenkadibou April 12, 1591. Askia Ishak, the king, offered terms, and Djouder Pasha referred them to Morocco. The sultan, angry with his general's delay, deposed him and sent another, who crushed and treacherously murdered the king and set up a puppet. Thereafter there were two Askias, one under the Moors at Timbuktu and one who maintained himself in the Hausa states, which the Moors could not subdue. Anarchy reigned in Songhay. The Moors tried to put down disorder with a high hand, drove out and murdered the distinguished men of Timbuktu, and as a result let loose a riot of robbery and decadence throughout the Sudan. Pasha now succeeded pasha with revolt and misrule until in 1612 the soldiers elected their own pasha and deliberately shut themselves up in the Sudan by cutting off approach from the north.

Hausaland and Bornu were still open to Turkish and Mohammedan influence from the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the slave trade from the south, but the face of the finest Negro civilization the modern world had ever produced was veiled from Europe and given to the defilement of wild Moorish soldiers. In 1623 it is written "excesses of every kind are now committed unchecked by the soldiery," and "the country is profoundly convulsed and oppressed."[21] The Tuaregs marched down from the desert and deprived the Moors of many of the principal towns. The rest of the empire of the Songhay was by the end of the eighteenth century divided among separate Moorish chiefs, who bought supplies from the Negro peasantry and were "at once the vainest, proudest, and perhaps the most bigoted, ferocious, and intolerant of all the nations of the south."[22] They lived a nomadic life, plundering the Negroes. To such depths did the mighty Songhay fall.

As the Songhay declined a new power arose in the nineteenth century, the Fula. The Fula, who vary in race from Berber mulattoes to full-blooded Negroes, may be the result of a westward migration of some people like the "Leukoaethiopi" of Pliny, or they may have arisen from the migration of Berber mulattoes in the western oases, driven south by Romans and Arabs.

These wandering herdsmen lived on the Senegal River and the ocean in very early times and were not heard of until the nineteenth century. By this time they had changed to a Negro or dark mulatto people and lived scattered in small communities between the Atlantic and Darfur. They were without political union or national sentiment, but were all Mohammedans. Then came a sudden change, and led by a religious fanatic, these despised and persecuted people became masters of the central Sudan. They were the ones who at last broke down that great wedge of resisting Atlantic culture, after it had been undermined and disintegrated by the American slave trade.

Thus Islam finally triumphed in the Sudan and the ancient culture combined with the new. In the Sudan to-day one may find evidences of the union of two classes of people. The representatives of the older civilization dwell as peasants in small communities, carrying on industries and speaking a large number of different languages. With them or above them is the ruling Mohammedan caste, speaking four main languages: Mandingo, Hausa, Fula, and Arabic. These latter form the state builders. Negro blood predominates among both classes, but naturally there is more Berber blood among the Mohammedan invaders.

Europe during the middle ages had some knowledge of these movements in the Sudan and Africa. Melle and Songhay appear on medieval maps. In literature we have many allusions: the mulatto king, Feirifis, was one of Wolfram von Eschenbach's heroes; Prester John furnished endless lore; Othello, the warrior, and the black king represented by medieval art as among the three wise men, and the various black Virgin Marys' all show legendary knowledge of what African civilization was at that time doing.

It is a curious commentary on modern prejudice that most of this splendid history of civilization and uplift is unknown to-day, and men confidently assert that Negroes have no history.


[17] Frobenius: Voice of Africa, II, 359-360.

[18] Ibn Khaldun, quoted in Lugard, p. 128.

[19] Quoted in Lugard, p. 180.

[20] Es-Sa 'di, quoted by Lugard, p. 199.

[21] Lugard, p. 373.

[22] Mungo Park, quoted in Lugard, p. 374.


One of the great cities of the Sudan was Jenne. The chronicle says "that its markets are held every day of the week and its populations are very enormous. Its seven thousand villages are so near to one another that the chief of Jenne has no need of messengers. If he wishes to send a note to Lake Dibo, for instance, it is cried from the gate of the town and repeated from village to village, by which means it reaches its destination almost instantly."[23]

From the name of this city we get the modern name Guinea, which is used to-day to designate the country contiguous to the great gulf of that name—a territory often referred to in general as West Africa. Here, reaching from the mouth of the Gambia to the mouth of the Niger, is a coast of six hundred miles, where a marvelous drama of world history has been enacted. The coast and its hinterland comprehends many well-known names. First comes ancient Guinea, then, modern Sierra Leone and Liberia; then follow the various "coasts" of ancient traffic—the grain, ivory, gold, and slave coasts—with the adjoining territories of Ashanti, Dahomey, Lagos, and Benin, and farther back such tribal and territorial names as those of the Mandingoes, Yorubas, the Mossi, Nupe, Borgu, and others.

Recent investigation makes it certain that an ancient civilization existed on this coast which may have gone back as far as three thousand years before Christ. Frobenius, perhaps fancifully, identified this African coast with the Atlantis of the Greeks and as part of that great western movement in human culture, "beyond the pillars of Hercules," which thirteen centuries before Christ strove with Egypt and the East. It is, at any rate, clear that ancient commerce reached down the west coast. The Phoenicians, 600 B.C., and the Carthaginians, a century or more later, record voyages, and these may have been attempted revivals of still more ancient intercourse.

These coasts at some unknown prehistoric period were peopled from the Niger plateau toward the north and west by the black West African type of Negro, while along the west end of the desert these Negroes mingled with the Berbers, forming various Negroid races.

Movement and migration is evident along this coast in ancient and modern times. The Yoruba-Benin-Dahomey peoples were among the earliest arrivals, with their remarkable art and industry, which places them in some lines of technique abreast with the modern world. Behind them came the Mossi from the north, and many other peoples in recent days have filtered through, like the Limba and Temni of Sierra Leone and the Agni-Ashanti, who moved from Borgu some two thousand years ago to the Gold and Ivory coasts.

We have already noted in the main the history of black men along the wonderful Niger and seen how, pushing up from the Gulf of Guinea, a powerful wedge of ancient culture held back Islam for a thousand years, now victorious, now stubbornly disputing every inch of retreat. The center of this culture lay probably, in oldest times, above the Bight of Benin, along the Slave Coast, and reached east, west, and north. We trace it to-day not only in the remarkable tradition of the natives, but in stone monuments, architecture, industrial and social organization, and works of art in bronze, glass, and terra cotta.

Benin art has been practiced without interruption for centuries, and Von Luschan says that it is "of extraordinary significance that by the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries a local and monumental art had been learned in Benin which in many respects equaled European art and developed a technique of the very highest accomplishment."[24]

Summing up Yoruban civilization, Frobenius concluded that "the technical summit of that civilization was reached in the terra-cotta industry, and that the most important achievements in art were not expressed in stone, but in fine clay baked in the furnace; that hollow casting was thoroughly known, too, and practiced by these people; that iron was mainly used for decoration; that, whatever their purpose, they kept their glass beads in stoneware urns within their own locality, and that they manufactured both earthen and glass ware; that the art of weaving was highly developed among them; that the stone monuments, it is true, show some dexterity in handling and are so far instructive, but in other respects evidence a cultural condition insufficiently matured to grasp the utility of stone monumental material; and, above all, that the then great and significant idea of the universe as imaged in the Templum was current in those days."[25]

Effort has naturally been made to ascribe this civilization to white people. First it was ascribed to Portuguese influence, but much of it is evidently older than the Portuguese discovery. Egypt and India have been evoked and Greece and Carthage. But all these explanations are far-fetched. If ever a people exhibited unanswerable evidence of indigenous civilization, it is the west-coast Africans. Undoubtedly they adapted much that came to them, utilized new ideas, and grew from contact. But their art and culture is Negro through and through.

Yoruba forms one of the three city groups of West Africa; another is around Timbuktu, and a third in the Hausa states. The Timbuktu cities have from five to fifteen hundred towns, while the Yoruba cities have one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants and more. The Hausa cities are many of them important, but few are as large as the Yoruba cities and they lie farther apart. AH three centers, however, are connected with the Niger, and the group nearest the coast—that is, the Yoruba cities—has the greatest numbers of towns, the most developed architectural styles, and the oldest institutions.

The Yoruba cities are not only different from the Sudanese in population, but in their social relations. The Sudanese cities were influenced from the desert and the Mediterranean, and form nuclei of larger surrounding monarchial states. The Yoruba cities, on the other hand, remained comparatively autonomous organizations down to modern times, and their relative importance changed from time to time without developing an imperialistic idea or subordinating the group to one overpowering city.

This social and industrial state of the Yorubas formerly spread and wielded great influence. We find Yoruba reaching out and subduing states like Nupe toward the northward. But the industrial democracy and city autonomy of Yoruba lent itself indifferently to conquest, and the state fell eventually a victim to the fanatical Fula Mohammedans and was made a part of the modern sultanate of Gando.

West of Yoruba on the lower courses of the Niger is Benin, an ancient state which in 1897 traced its twenty-three kings back one thousand years; some legends even named a line of sixty kings. It seems probable that Benin developed the imperial idea and once extended its rule into the Congo valley. Later and also to the west of the Yoruba come two states showing a fiercer and ruder culture, Dahomey and Ashanti. The state of Dahomey was founded by Tacondomi early in the seventeenth century, and developed into a fierce and bloody tyranny with wholesale murder. The king had a body of two thousand to five thousand Amazons renowned for their bravery and armed with rifles. The kingdom was overthrown by the French in 1892-93. Under Sai Tutu, Ashanti arose to power in the seventeenth century. A military aristocracy with cruel blood sacrifices was formed. By 1816 the king had at his disposal two hundred thousand soldiers. The Ashanti power was crushed by the English in the war of 1873-74.

1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse