Although a couple of our commenters have been citing a lot of the accomplishments of black Africa, Dr. Michael H. Hart paints a very different picture in his book Understanding Human History. Hart’s book was published in 2007 so some of his claims may no longer be accepted as the archeological record has since become more complete and politically correct.
For starters, Hart claims that farming was not practiced in Africa until it was brought to Egypt by Southwest Asians in 6000 BC and from there it spread to Ethiopia, Sudan and then West Africa by 3000 BC. Central and Southern Africa however, were still living in the paleolithic until 1000 BC, according to Hart.
By 600 BC iron smelting occurred in Nigeria. Hart writes “It seems probable that knowledge of iron work had been introduced from the North or brought from the eastern Sudan.” Introduced or brought in by Caucasoids?
Hart notes that prior to 1500, sub-Saharan Africa could be divided into two wildly different sections. The exposed zone and the secluded zone. The exposed zone was all the parts that were in contact with Caucasoids, such as West Africa, Ethiopia, Somalia, small remote parts of the Indian Ocean colonized by Arab traders, and parts of the Atlantic coast where Portuguese traders had set up shop. The rest of sub-Saharan Africa was the secluded zone. A terrifying region roughly twice the size of Europe.
While the exposed zone was not poor, and benefitted from written languages brought by Muslim slave traders, Hart feels the indigenous peoples still failed to make a single contribution to World civilization.
But it is the vast secluded zone that bears the brunt of Hart’s poison pen. Described as a primitive and backward region until as recently as the 19th century, Hart notes that there were:
-no wheeled vehicles, nor even the potter’s wheel
– no method of even joining together pieces of wood
-no beasts of burden or draft animals (though cattle was raised)
-not a single written language in the entire region, and thus no law codes, no philosophical works, no literature or even oral epic-poetry
-no coins or money
– no math beyond simple arithmetic,
-no cities beyond small towns, no temples, large monuments nor domes, arches, schools, hospitals, libraries nor paved roads. Hart credits the ruins of Great Zimbabwe as the most notable construction in the secluded zone, but feels it was nothing compared to the Machu Picchu in South America, or Cambodia’s Angkor Wat complex, or Mesoamerica’s large cities and religious buildings. Hart notes that the giant statues on the tiny isolated Polynesian Easter Island were more impressive than anything found in the entire, secluded zone of black Africa.
-Almost no maritime skills. Hart notes the stunning fact that it took Indonesians from the other side of the Indian Ocean, coming from 3000 miles away, to inhabit Madagascar in 500 AD, because Africans still had not reached it, even though it was only 250 miles off the East African coast. Nor did they reach the Cape Verde Islands, just a few hundred miles off the West African coast.
Hart also claims the secluded zone was primitive when it came to political and ethical matters, noting the lack of democracy and civil liberties and the common use of slavery and occasional cannibalism.
Why was the secluded zone of black Africa so far behind virtually everyone else on Earth? In Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond argues that black Africa was simply cut off from the rest of the World, and thus didn’t have access to advances in knowledge, however Hart rejects this explanation because Native Americans were even more geographically isolated than black Africans, yet their societies were so much more advanced.
Instead Hart favours the cold winters explanation. Races who left Africa tens of thousands of years ago, and got at least some exposure to the ice age, evolved higher intelligence to survive the cold, and once the ice age ended, this allowed them to create advanced culture and technologies.
Update Oct 1, 2017:
On Sept 25, 2017, commenter Jm8 wrote the following rebuttal to Hart’s narrative:
Some of his claims are no longer accepted because the archaeological and historical record has become more complete, but others were not accepted in 2007 (or were heavily doubted) either and have been undermined or unsupported by evidence prior to that.
Michael Hart is not a historian or an archaeologist, or anthropologist, etc (or has any similar such background, let alone a scholar of Africa) (apparently he is astrophysicist). And his statements on Africa (and perhaps his purpose in writing on the subject at all) seems likely to be primarily ideological and politically motivated more than anything else, since he had no backgroud in it or in any related field). Much of his activity outside of Physics has been in association with white separatist and other racialist and far right organizations.
“no literature or even oral epic-poetry”
The second is very untrue and such was known before 2007.
Epic poetry is found all over West Africa as much as Central Africa (especially, but not only among the Mande and other peoples of the Mali region, the Senegambia and Guinea, who have casted hereditary bards—a custom that originated with them and has been adopted by some neighboring tribes. The animistic hunters’ societies of many tribes, more primitive and believed to be extremely ancient and even older than the bardic tradition, have a specialized body/tradition of epic songs as well). Long form epics and oral history/mythology are also found among many of the non-Mande peoples of the Western savannah Burkina, N. Ghana, and further south in the forest region: (just to give a few examples) among the Ashanti/Akan, Ewe, Yoruba (who have a genre of oral literature called Oriki, as well as a body of sacred poems memorized by their Ifa priests). The Fang, Beti and the Bamileke (and Bamoum, Bafut, etc.) and neighboring tribes in Central Africa Cameroon and Gabon are also especially noted for their epics (traditionally played to a stringed instrument called the Mvet—especially associated with epics and battle songs), as are the peoples of the Lakes region of East Central Africa (The Baganda, Haya, BaRwanda, etc), and the peoples of parts of Congo (e.g. the Lianja epic of the Mongo people)
Most of West Africa was not in contact with caucasoids when its most notable civilizations formed (as I explained in the comments of the last post). Iron working in Nigeria predates 600 bc as well as ironworking in the lands of the nearest caucasoids (who thus are unlikely to have introduced it).
One written language was created in s Africa (Nsibidi), which show no sign of foreign origin (it is very unlike any other script and all surrounding regions had no scripts). Anyway independently invented scripts are rare historically (and there is no evidence of them in Europe).
“Native Americans were even more geographically isolated than black Africans, yet their societies were so much more advanced.”
This is generally not true (in many cases the reverse is true esp. of North America and South America outside the Andes). The argument could be made only of Native Americans in parts of Central America and (as mentioned) much of the Andes (in some respects it might be true in those cases, and in others not).
They claim about a lack of seafaring though (in a sense—that is relative to Europe and Asia), is largely true (the same could be said of Native American cultures, even the most advanced ones, and this likely has a lot to do with geography (Africa has few islands archipelagoes or island groups near the mainland of the kind where seafaring cultures usually evolve: like the Greeks in the Agean, Norse in N. Europe, or Polynesians and their seafaring Southeast Asian ancestors in SE Asia. The Mayans, Incas, and Aztecs/Toltecs did no real sea faring either—or really none at all for the most part. The Amerindians that traveled most by sea were the relatively non-advanced Carib and Arawak Indians (who settled the Caribbean from Venezuela) and, to a lesser extent, the Indians of the North American NorthWest Coast.
As for what did exist:
In Africa seafaring (among traditional non-influenced subsaharans) was not nonexistent and substantial seafaring boats made of joined wood—which did exist (about the same size and the extremely large canoes used by the US Indians of British Colombia) for deep sea fishing, travel to nearby islands, and trading along the coast (though not really ships) were used by peoples along the West Africa Coast (before European contact—some of the first Europeans described them when they arrived) by coastal tribes like the Wolof and Lebu of Senegal, the Fanta, Ga and Ashanti in Ghana, and some of the Bantu tribes of coastal Central Africa like the Cameroonian Douala. Ethnolinguist Roger Blench has proposed that early proto Bantu in Central Africa (or branches thereof) may have spread along the Gabon-Congo Coast (the Bantu ancestors of the Bantu Bubi tribe of the Fernando Po/Bioko islands colonized them from the mainland millennia before Europeans arrived. There is also some (albeit tentative) evidence that fisherman and traders of certain West Africa cultures (Parts of South east Nigeria) occasionally reached as far as Gabon and the Northern Congo. In the case of Cape Verde, it’s earliest confirmed (and most likely) discovery (I believe) is by the Portuguese. I have read claims that Lebu fisherman might have rarely visited it before, but I have found not confirmation of that so it may well not be true.
Large boats were built by the African groups that lived along large navigable rivers (like the Niger) and lakes (like lake Chad and the lakes of Uganda/Rwanda/Burundi.
Along the Malian Middle Niger long canoe-like cargo barges (make of pieces of wood sewn together) are traditional and are used by various tribes that have lived by fishing and/or riverine trade (the Bozo, Somono, Songhai)—these (the larger ones that is) likely go back at least to the times of Djenne Jeno and (the older) Dia when specialized groups of river traders began to exists (specialized fisherman, or course go back much further, but their boat may have tended smaller since they were not cargo bearing—although the ancestors of the Songhai with their traditions of hunting hippos and crocodiles by boat may have had larger craft earlier. The Ugandan Baganda kingdom had a fleet of boats made for joined wood, as did certain tribes of the S.E Nigerian Niger (some of which had a small deck/cabin at the front—also of joined wood)—though of course these were of course much smaller than ocean-going ships)
Joining pieces of wood was widely necessary an common in may regions, (aside for in the types of boats mentioned) as the common styles of house buildings usually required a wooden/timber frame (sometimes underlying adobe of mud/mud brick as in Central/Souther Nigeria and S. Ghana, or in structures largely made of wood or bamboo as in Central Africa.
Some of the structure-types common in the Cameroon grasslands (Bamileke, Bamoum, Bandjoun tribes, etc) of West Central Africa were shown by Phil in the comments of the last post. I linked a collection of images form Ashanti previously (under the last topic).
Some more architecture from that region—down past the first few ancient Nubian images at the top of the forum thread):
The agriculture claim is untrue, and was in doubt for a while before his book (except for the agriculture of N, E, Africa, much of the horn, and the Maghreb which did come from the Middle East through Egypt), and Most SS African agriculture does not come from Egypt or the Magreb and is a distinct tradition.
Michael Hart would probably dismiss a lot of the achievements Jm8 mentions because they occurred in the exposed zone which was in contact with Caucasoids from the Muslim and European worlds, but Jm8 seems to be implying that even when the achievements occurred in the exposed zone, they either predated the Caucasoid exposure, or were still somehow independent of it.
But that begs the question, why was the exposed zone of black Africa so much more advanced than the secluded zone, if the exposure to Caucasoid peoples had nothing to do with it?
As for oral epic poetry not existing in the secluded zone, perhaps this depends on how you define “epic”, as Hart cites the Iliad as an example of epic oral poetry.