The earliest evidence found for the Meroitic writing in ancient Kush (Sudan) dates back to the early second century BC. The Meroitic script (as shown on the stela above)is composed of twenty-three characters, four vowels, fifteen consonants, and four syllabus signs. Meroitic had a flexible, yet advanced, hieroglyphic system. Both, the hieroglyphic and the cursive versions are read in the direction that the figures face. However, most of the cursive writings found are read from right to left and the hieroglyphs from top to bottom. Words are uniquely separated by two or three dots. Examples of deciphered Meroitic words that are commonly found in Meroitic texts include qor for ruler, kdi for lady, ste for mother, and mk for god. Deciphering Meroitic would be of immense value to our knowledge of the Kushite civilization.
Queen Amanirenas (no images of her are available) is one of the most famous kandakes because of her role leading Kushite armies against the Romans in a war that lasted five years, from 27 BCE to 22 BCE. She was described as brave and blind in one eye. Meroitic inscriptions give Amanirenas the title of qere as well as kandake suggesting that she was a ruling queen. She is usually considered to be the queen referred to as "Candace" in Strabo's account of the Meroitic war against the Roman Empire. Her name is associated with those of Teriteqas and Akinidad. Amanirenas and her son, Akinidad, defeated Roman forces at Syene and Philae, and drove the Jews from Elephantine Island. They returned to Kush with prisoners and loot, including several statues of Emperor Augustus. (Pictured above is the bronze head of Augustus, which was found buried in a temple at Meroe) It is now in the British Museum. The Kushites were driven out of Syene later in the year by Publius Petronius.
During the colonial era in the late 1800s, history was written in European languages or in Arabic. But societies in the Sahel and Savanna regions of West Africa, told their history in their own languages, orally, in the form of epics. In many parts of West Africa, this job is carried out by the griot. Griots, masters of words and music, have been around for a millennium. Over time, the griots' function changed as society evolved. Once, the male griots and female griottes were historians, genealogists, advisers to nobility, entertainers, messengers and praise singers. Today, they perform on television and radio and record CDs.
Taharqa (also spelled Tirhakah, Taharka, Manetho's Tarakos) was king of Egypt, and a member of the Nubian or Twenty-fifth dynasty of Egypt, whose reign is usually dated 690 BC to 664 BC. He was also the son of Piye, the Nubian king of Napata who had first conquered Egypt. Scholars have identified him with Tirhakah, king of Ethiopia, who waged war against Sennacherib during the reign of King Hezekiah of Judah (2 Kings 19:9; Isaiah 37:9). It was during his reign that Egypt's enemy Assyria at last invaded Egypt. Esarhaddon led several campaigns against Taharqa, which he recorded on several monuments. His first attack in 677 BC, aimed to pacify Arab tribes around the Dead Sea, led him as far as the Brook of Egypt. Esarhaddon invaded Egypt proper in Taharqa's 17th regnal year, after Esarhaddon had settled a revolt at Ashkelon. Taharqa defeated the Assyrians on that occasion, but three years later (671 BC) the Assyrian king captured and sacked Memphis, where he captured numerous members of the royal family. Taharqa fled to the south, and Esarhaddon reorganized the political scene in the north, establishing Necho I of the 26th dynasty as king at Sais.
Sundiata Keita (c. 1217 – c. 1255) was the founder of the Mali Empire and celebrated as a hero of the Mandinka people of West Africa in the semi-historical Epic of Sundiata. The epic of Sundiata is primarily known through oral tradition, by generations of Mandinka griots. Sundiata was crippled from childhood and his mother, Songolon, was constantly teased and ridiculed openly for her son's disability. To escape persecution and threats on her son's life, Sogolon took her children, Sundiata and his sisters, into exile where they eventually ended up in Ghana, in Mema, where the king of Mema granted them asylum. Sundiata was admired by the King of Mema for his courage and tenacity. When King Soumaoro Kanté of Sosso conquered the Mandinka people, messengers were sent to persuade Sundiata to come back to liberate the Mandinkas and their homeland. On his return, he was accompanied by an army given to him by the King of Mema. At The Battle of Kirina, Sundiata and his allies defeated the Sosso king and became the first Emperor of the Mali Empire and the first of the Mandinka line of kings to adopt the royal title Mansa (King of Kings)
In medieval Christendom's struggle against Islam, the possible existence of an African Christian priest-king named Prester John helped fuel European exploration of Africa and India. The legend of Prester John persisted in Europe from the 12th to the 17th century, thanks to a letter (c. 1145) that described a lost Christian kingdom thought to be somewhere in India or Asia (as depicted on the map above). The letter was copied and distributed throughout Europe over many years, and the legend grew to include exotic and enticing details: Prester John was descended from one of the Magi; he had magical abilities and ruled over a great area full of riches and strange creatures; and, perhaps most significantly, he had been victorious over Muslim armies and could be counted as an ally in the battle for territory, resources and souls.
In Blacks in Antiquity, Frank Snowden examined the later Greek and Roman tradition tying Memnon to African "Ethiopia." Snowden notes that according to Greek tradition, Memnon was the progenitor of the Ethiopians, which in this context referred to African people. Through changing depictions of Memmnon on vase paintings and scenes of the Trojan War, Snowden shows that the Asiatic portrayal of Memnon was abandoned in favor of an African origin. Literary accounts of the Trojan war, as well as numerous Roman authors, consistently describe Memnon with African characteristics as an Ethiopian from Sudan and Egypt.
The Maasai (sometimes spelled "Masai" or "Masaai") are a Nilotic ethnic group of semi-nomadic people located in Kenya and northern Tanzania. The Maasai are among the best known of African ethnic groups, due to their residence near the many game parks of East Africa, and their distinctive customs and dress. They speak Maa, a member of the Nilo-Saharan language family that is related to Dinka and Nuer, and are also educated in the official languages of Kenya and Tanzania: Swahili and English. The Maasai population has been reported as numbering 841,622 in Kenya in the 2009 census, compared to 377,089 in the 1989 census. The Tanzanian and Kenyan governments have instituted programs to encourage the Maasai to abandon their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle, but the people have continued their age-old customs, including the "warrior dance" pictured above. Recently, Oxfam has claimed that the lifestyle of the Maasai should be embraced as a response to climate change because of their ability to farm in deserts and scrublands. Many Maasai tribes throughout Tanzania and Kenya welcome visits to their village to experience their culture, traditions, and lifestyle.
The iconic Zimbabwe Bird is an emblem of Zimbabwe. It has appeared on the national flags and coats of arms for Zimbabwe and previously Rhodesia as well as on banknotes, coins and stamps. The bird is used by the national sports teams and is part of numerous badges and logos of various Zimbabwean institutions and organizations. The original birds, carved from soapstone in a unique and distinctive style, once stood proudly on guard atop the walls and monoliths of the ancient city of Great Zimbabwe. The exact origins of this stone city are shrouded in mystery but it is believed to have been built sometime between the 12th and 15th centuries by ancestors of the Shona. The word Zimbabwe is derived from the Shona words dzimba dza mabwe and means "house of stone." When the ruins of Great Zimbabwe were excavated by treasure-hunters in the late nineteenth century eight carvings of soapstone birds were unearthed. One bird was sent to Cecil Rhodes at his Groot Schuur home in Cape Town and, somewhat controversially, still remains there. This is the only bird not currently in Zimbabwe.
This mosaic image comes from the Qasr Libya Museum ('Castle of Libya'), in Eastern Libya (Cyrenaica), and dates to before the Arabs arrived in North Africa. The Castle's history goes back to, at least, the 4th century. The picture above clearly shows a musical instrument very much like the present-day guitar, and proof that the instrument was in use in North Africa by the Berbers long before the Arabs arrived in Libya in the 7th century AD.
'Mitochondrial Eve': Mother of All Humans Lived 200,000 Years Ago. In the field of human genetics, the name Mitochondrial Eve refers to the matrilineal most recent common ancestor (MRCA) of all currently living anatomically modern humans, who is estimated to have lived approximately 140,000–200,000 years ago. This is the most recent woman from whom all living humans today descend, on their mother’s side, and through the mothers of those mothers, and so on, back until all lines converge on one person. Because all mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) generally (but see paternal mtDNA transmission) is passed from mother to offspring without recombination, all mtDNA in every living person is directly descended from hers by definition, differing only by the mutations that over generations have occurred in the germ cell mtDNA since the conception of the original "Mitochondrial Eve". Mitochondrial Eve is named after mitochondria and the biblical Eve. Unlike her biblical namesake, she was not the only living human female of her time. However, her female contemporaries, except her mother, failed to produce a direct unbroken female line to any living woman in the present day. Mitochondrial Eve is estimated to have lived between 140,000 and 200,000 years ago, most likely in East Africa, when Homo sapiens sapiens (anatomically modern humans) were developing as a population distinct from other human sub-species. Mitochondrial Eve lived later than Homo heidelbergensis and the emergence of Homo neanderthalensis, but earlier than the out of Africa migration. The dating for "Eve" was a blow to the multiregional hypothesis, and a boost to the hypothesis of the origin of modern humans in Africa and spread from there, replacing more "archaic" human populations such as Neanderthals. As a result, the latter hypothesis became dominant. Analogous to Mitochondrial Eve, Y-chromosomal Adam is the man from whom all living humans are descended patrilineally. The inherited DNA in the male case is his nuclear Y chromosome, rather than the mtDNA.
Victoria Falls (or Mosi-oa-Tunya (Tokaleya Tonga: the Smoke that Thunders) is a waterfall in southern Africa on the Zambezi River at the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe. David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary and explorer, is believed to have been the first European to view Victoria Falls on 16 November 1855 from what is now known as Livingstone Island, one of two land masses in the middle of the river, immediately upstream from the falls on the Zambian side. Livingstone named his discovery in honour of Queen Victoria, but the indigenous name, Mosi-oa-Tunya—"the smoke that thunders"—continues in common usage as well. The nearby national park in Zambia, for example, is named Mosi-oa-Tunya, whereas the national park and town on the Zimbabwean shore are both named Victoria Falls. The World Heritage List officially recognizes both names. While it is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world, it is classified as the largest, based on its width of 1,708 metres (5,604 ft) and height of 108 metres (354 ft), resulting in the world's largest sheet of falling water. Victoria Falls is roughly twice the height of North America's Niagara Falls and well over twice the width of its Horseshoe Falls. In height and width Victoria Falls is rivalled only by Argentina and Brazil's Iguazu Falls. See table for comparisons.