the process is the artwork

History piled upon history: lost kingdoms of Africa

“Africa. Where the human race began. Nearly a billion people live here. It’s a continent with an incredible diversity of communities and cultures, yet we know less of its history than almost anywhere else on earth. But that is beginning to change. In the last few decades, researchers and archaeologists have begun to uncover a range of histories as impressive and extraordinary as anywhere else on earth. It’s a history that has been neglected for years. And it’s largely without written records. But it is preserved for us in the gold, the statues, in the culture, art and legends of the people.”

– Gus Casely-Hayford

Art historian Gus Casely-Hayford explores the history of old African kingdoms in this BBC documentary-series Lost Kingdoms of Africa, guiding us through african pre-colonial art history and culture. It is an interesting introduction to the ancient African culture if you are, like me, embarrassingly unschooled in this vibrant subject.

Season 1 – Episode 1/4: Nubia.
The first episode looks at Nubia, in what is now northern Sudan, a kingdom that dominated a vast area of the eastern Sahara for thousands of years. Its people were described as barbarians and mercenaries, and yet Nubia has left us with some of the most spectacular monuments in the world. Casely-Hayford traces the origins of this fascinating kingdom back to 10,000 BC. He explores how it developed and what happened to it and its people, discovering that its kings once ruled Ancient Egypt and that it was defeated not by its rivals but by its environment (ref.)

Season 1 – Episode 2/4: Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, The birth place of Emperor Haile Selassie, was Historically known as Abyssinia. It is one of the oldest locations of human existence known to scientists and is widely considered the region from which modern humans first set out for the Middle East and points beyond.

Season 1 – Episode 3/4: Great Zimbabwe.
Great Zimbabwe is a ruined city in the southeastern hills of Zimbabwe near Lake Mutirikwe. When first discovered by Europeans, the ruins caused great controversy in the archaeological world which refused to believe it was constructed by African black people. Great Zimbabwe has since been adopted as a national monument by the Zimbabwean government.

Season 1 – Episode 4/4: West Africa.
West Africa, The Benin Empire was a pre-colonial African state in what is now modern Nigeria. The state developed an advanced artistic culture, especially in its famous artifacts of bronze, iron and ivory. These include bronze wall plaques and life-sized bronze heads depicting the Obas of Benin. «In Benin, history isn’t written by the victorious, but by the artists»

Season 2 – Episode 1/4: Kingdom of Asante.
Prior to Asante having contact with Europeans, trade between Asanteman and various African states flourished due to the Ashanti’s gold wealth. Asanteman trade with European states began after contact with the Portuguese in the 15th century AD. When the gold mines in the Sahel started to dry up, Asanteman began to rise to prominence as the major player in the gold trade

Season 2 – Episode 2/4: The Zulu Kingdom.
Shaka kaSenzangakhona, also known as Shaka Zulu was the most influential leader of the Zulu Kingdom. He is widely credited with uniting many of the Northern Nguni people, specifically the Mtetwa Paramountcy and the Ndwandwe into the Zulu Kingdom, the beginnings of a nation that held sway over the portion of southern Africa between the Phongolo and Mzimkhulu Rivers, and his statesmanship and vigour marked him as one of the greatest Zulu kings. He has been called a military genius for his reforms and innovations, and condemned for the brutality of his reign.

Season 2 – Episode 3/4: The Berber Kingdom of Morocco.
It’s easy to think of Islamic North Africa as Arab, rather than African. But the land that is now Morocco once lay at the centre of a vast African Kingdom that stretched from northern Spain to the heart of West Africa. It was created by African Berbers, and ruled for centuries by two dynasties that created tremendous wealth, commissioned fabulous architecture, and promoted sophisticated ideas. But art historian Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford reveals how the very forces that forged the kingdom ultimately helped to destroy its indigenous African identity.

Season 2 – Episode 4/4: Bunyoro and Buganda.
In this episode, Caseley-Hayford travels to Uganda to explore the rise and fall of two great kingdoms. For centuries Bunyoro was the region’s dominant power, using history and mythology to make a claim on the land. But its position was challenged by the rapid rise of Buganda, a neighbouring kingdom that had once been a collection of cultivators on the shores of Lake Victoria. Kingdoms of Africa goes in search of the fascinating reasons for the dramatic reversal of fortunes, and how with the arrival of Europeans, the two kingdom’s traditional disputes were used to their own advantage.

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