Today many “white supremacists historians”, would have us believe that Africa was a continent of subhumans, who had tails, practiced cannibalism and lived in primitive conditions. Accounts given by some Arab and European explorers on their first visits and interactions with the native Africans, would seem to say otherwise.
For example the Empire of Ghana situated in the Sudan. The first reference to it, was made by Al-Fazari, an Arab astronomer in the eight century AD.
The first map of the Empire of Ghana appeared about A.D 830 however, the Empire was destroyed in 1240. Most of the people in the empire were Soninke; a division of the Mandingo speaking people. The Ghanian government was very efficiently administered. There was a court of justice and one of appeal. There was also what would now be called a cabinet of ministers. There was one officer who was in charge of the imperial territory and a governor, looked after the capital town.
The Ghanian empire was followed by the great empire of Mali. According to one account, this empire centered round a small estate called kangaba. The reign of Mansa Musa (1307-1332) is usually regarded as the the golden age of Mali. The empire included the city of Timbuktu and its world famous University. During the fourteenth century, the legend of Timbuktu, as a rich cultural center spread through the world. The beginning of the legend can be traced to 1324, when the Emperor of Mali made his pilgrimage to Mecca via Cairo. In Cairo, the merchants and traders were impressed by the amount of gold carried by the emperor, who claimed that the gold was from Timbuktu.
Furthermore, in 1354 the great Muslim explorer Ibn Batuta wrote of his visit to Timbuktu and told of the wealth and gold of the region. Thus, Timbuktu became renown as an African El Dorado, a city made of gold. Ibn Batuta traveled from Morocco to Mali. In his account of his travels he described the empire, its size, its riches and the safety which travelers enjoyed. He thought highly of the music and dancing and other entertainments. He met African lawyers and learned men, judges and teachers.
Another kingdom was known as the Benin kingdom. Benin was an extremely civilized kingdom long before Europeans came visiting it. This kingdom entered its golden age under the rule of Ewuare the great (1440-1473) during whose reign, fine city streets were built and the influence of Benin spread far and wide. Ewuare”s reign ended in tragedy for on the death of his two sons he tried to force Benin to mourn for three years. The mourning laws were so harsh that many people migrated and others revolted. His servant, Edo,saved his life during this revolt. This could explain the attempt to change the name of Benin to Edo N”Evbo ahire (meaning the city of love)
Another important reign was that of Esigie (1504-1550). During this period art flourished and for a time, diplomatic relations were established with Europe. Esigie welcomed Portuguese explorers, traders and missionaries and even sent an ambassador to Lisbon (capital of Portugal). He himself learned to speak Portuguese and his son, Orogbua became the first ruler to be educated in a European school. The first English expedition to Benin was in 1553 under Windham and Pinteado, a Portuguese. They came in two ships, the journey taking six months. They were conducted on their arrival to the king who spoke to them in Portuguese. He promised to fill their ships with pepper and to allow them to buy on credit if they did not have enough merchandise to pay. They stayed for 30 days drinking palm wine (a local west African alcoholic beverage).
Only forty of the one hundred and forty members of the expedition returned to England, while the rest remained in Benin. What were the impression of these early European visitors? Desiccant a Dutchman spoke of enormous broad streets. John Ogilby said there were thirty straight broad streets, each one a hundred and twenty feet wide. They recorded that the king had many soldiers and a great number of chiefs and and many wives as well. Dr Dapper said in his account published in 1688 that “The Benines are all decent people and living peacefully together under good laws and justice. Jean Barbot wrote in 1732, “The natives are friendly to Europeans and we feel very much safe when in Benin”. At the end of the 18 century captain crow wrote “I was much pleased with the gentle manner of the natives who are truly a fine tractable people”.
In Nigeria there was the Igbos, who had a very well structured democratic society. Unlike many other African kingdoms the Igbos had no kings, though in a few areas, they were and still are kings, though often, in little more than name only. Traditional Igbo political organization was based on a quasi-democratic, republican system of government. In tight knit communities, this system guaranteed its citizens equality, as opposed to a feudalistic system with a king ruling over subjects. The Igbos were a very democratic group at a time when Europe was autocratic. They had a council of elders presided by the head of the senior lineage. They dealt mainly with offenses against religion, or with offenses that might damage relations within the group.
The Igbos of Southern Nigeria have also produced great men in past history and an example is Jubo Jubogab of Opobo, known as jojo ubam by the interior Igbos and as jaja of opobo by the Europeans. He”s been described as the first nationalist of the 19th century. He was handsome, efficient, rich and always well dressed. He was tall with an upright gait,very fluent in the English language and the most enterprising and accomplished of all African merchant princes of the west African coast.
In the middle of the 19th century. Jaja of Opobo was a slave. In 1860 he was a member of the house of Annie pepple. In the city of Bonny. Around 1860 there were a number of trading associations called houses, of which Annie pepple was one. Anyone could become head of the house whether a slave or a freeborn. The qualification was not birth but ability. It was personal merit that made it possible for Jaja to secure, in about 1869 the leadership of the house in which he had been a slave. Jaja later settled near the Opobo river where he founded a new territory settlement. It was not long before he was recognized as chief of the settlement by European merchants, because he grew in wealth and power. Jaja developed a sort of friendship with the Europeans and that could explain why he sent some of his soldiers, to help the British in the Ashanti war in the Gold coast (now Ghana).Queen Victoria showed her appreciation by presenting Jaja with a sword of honor. Ten years later however, he also clashed with the British.
The scramble for Africa during this period led the British to persuade the coastal chiefs to sign treaties of protection. Such treaties were means of enforcing British rule on areas of British concern. Since other coastal chiefs signed, Jaja also signed. It was the British Consul Hewett, who negotiated the treaties. However; when in 1885 the British declared a protectorate over the territory in the gulf of Guinea, Jaja alone among the chiefs, demanded an explanation. Because of this he was falsely accused by the British consul of terrorizing the natives of the hinterland. This was a well known British method of discrediting those who opposed them; It also happened in 1861 in Lagos, when king kosoko was accused of various crimes ranging from slave raiding to human sacrifices, just because he refused to sign a dubious treaty with the British. Hewett did not succeed in his initial attempts to coerce Jaja and he was relived in 1877 and replaced by Harry Johnston.
Johnston took an active part in the plot against Jaja, which lead to the deportation of Jaja. He invited Jaja to a naval vessel for discussion and promised that he would be free to leave when ever he wished, but then he showed his deceptive white side, by breaking his pledge. Jaja was deported to the gold coast and later the West Indies. Jaja appealed against this deportation and at last Lord Salisbury, the British prime minister sent out a special commissioner to look into the matter. As a result Jaja was set free. Unfortunately he died on his way home and his body was buried in Opobo.
This and other evidence, show that Africans had a well structured society of self government before the coming of the Europeans and they were not the primitive and cannibalistic people, pictured by many modern day white historians.