Africa Before Slavery: Tales of Great Civilizations

Written by Reve Fisher

By Winfred Mukami

“For far too long a majority of Africans have been indifferent to misrepresentations about who they are. They have remained ‘objects’ of the ill-informed caricatures of a once glorious heritage disfigured by colonial and post-colonial predators”

Chido Nwangwu

Long before the white man set foot in Africa, before the holocaust caused by the devastating transatlantic slave trade, there were several great civilizations in Africa, a people clothed in wealth, knowledge and nobility. It was not sitting in wait for the white man; it was industrial, organized, active in trade, and well-endowed with wealth-generating materials.

africaAfricans were skilled in art and technology, medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. They made items using ivory, gold, and bronze which they later traded in.

Over 5,000 years ago, ancient Egypt was a flourishing kingdom and its neighbor, Nubia, was a powerful kingdom as well. The Chinese traded with Africans at the east African shores during the Ming Dynasty. Ancient Egypt civilization existed 2,000 years before the Roman Empire was constructed. Timbuktu was a meeting place for the world’s wisest; it had a university and libraries which scholars immensely enjoyed.

The Ghanaian kingdom, which was then called “Ghanata” or “Wagadugu,” was rich in gold, salt and pepper. They traded with the Berbers who lived North in the Sahara. It was an organized kingdom with laws to abide to and a thriving economy. The King had over 200,000 soldiers in his army.

In the 15th Century, the Songhai people lived on both sides of the Niger River. Their capital city, Gao, was cosmopolitan and they traded in kola nuts, gold ivory, copper, and horses. The king’s cavalry was well-trained and armored with iron breastplates. They had trumpeters who produced music. There was a royal court that dealt with issues of the kingdom’s administration. The king had 700 eunuchs in his service and the people of the kingdom paid taxes to him.


The Ashanti empire was a wealthy kingdom. They had adopted firearms early on, which ensured that they had great military prowess. They conquered weaker kingdoms and the kingdom stretched from modern-day central Ghana to modern-day Ivory Coast. They traded in gold bars, kola nuts, cocoa, and kente, which was a brightly colored cloth. They had a sophisticated culture and celebrated the yam festival as a sign of unity.

The kingdom of Axum, located in modern-day northern Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Sudan, was a major trade center. The kingdom was famous for building stelae, which are tall towers. Throughout the region, the people traded in salt, gold and cloth, and also had minted coins. They developed their own language. Irrigation was widely practiced in Axum.

The kingdom of Kush, which was known as the “Land of bow and arrow” due to its excellence in archery, existed in what is now Sudan. Kush was an epicenter of trade and innovation. They traded in ivory, gold, iron, incense, animal hides, and grain. They built pyramids in the city of Meroe, which exist to date.

Africa before slavery flourished on its own. The African people were noble, intellectual, and skilled, and their societies were powerful. There has been archeological evidence of black pharaohs in Egypt. Color did not dictate the level of power in ancient Africa.

Though most of African history was not written down, it has been passed on in song and story. Now with archeological proof to back it up, it is no longer hidden that African and Africa was civilized.


Connah, G., African Civilizations: An Archaeological Perspective, Cambridge, 2001

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Reve Fisher

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