Ancient African kingdoms

Ancient African kingdoms

=Yoruba kingdoms and Benin=

Historically the Yoruba have been the dominant group on the west bank of the Niger. Of mixed origin, they were the product of periodic waves of migrants. The Yoruba were organized in patrilineal groups that occupied village communities and subsisted on agriculture. From approximately the 11th century, adjacent village compounds called "ile" coalesced into numerous territorial city-states in which clan loyalties became subordinate to dynastic chieftains. Urbanization was accompanied by high levels of artistic achievement, particularly in terracotta and ivory sculpture and in the sophisticated metal casting produced at Ife.

The Yoruba paid tribute to a pantheon headed by an impersonal deity, Olorun, as well as lesser deities who performed various tasks. Oduduwa was regarded as the creator of the earth and the ancestor of the Yoruba kings. According to myth Oduduwa founded Ife and dispatched his sons to establish it.

Yoruban tradition, which has been backed by some historians and scholars, suggests that some of the Yorubans' ancestors may have migrated from the Arabian peninsula.Mazrui, Alamin M. and Mutunga, Willy. "Debating the African Condition: Ali Mazrui and His Critics". 2004, page 139-142] This theory cites numerous linguistic commonalities as evidence of Arabian origin, such as the word for "prayer", "Adua", and the word for "blessings", "Al-Barikah".

The Yorubas are believed to have followed their leader Odua, the great father of the Yoruba, down to Ife, where they settled, today known as Ile-ife, a large city, in the heart of the western part of Nigeria.

Oyo and Benin

During the 15th century Oyo and Benin surpassed Ife as political and economic powers, although Ife preserved its status as a religious center. Respect for the priestly functions of the "oni" of Ife was a crucial factor in the evolution of Yoruban culture. The Ife model of government was adapted at Oyo, where a member of its ruling dynasty controlled several smaller city-states. A state council (the "Oyo Mesi") named the "alafin" (king) and acted as a check on his authority. Their "capital city" was situated about 100 km north of present-day Oyo. Unlike the forest-bound Yoruba kingdoms, Oyo was in the savanna and drew its military strength from its cavalry forces, which established hegemony over the adjacent Nupe and the Borgu kingdoms and thereby developed trade routes farther to the north.

Yorubaland established a community in the Edo-speaking area east of Ife before becoming a dependency of Ife at the beginning of the 14th century. By the 15th century it became an independent trading power, blocking Ife's access to the coastal ports as Oyo had cut off the mother city from the savanna. Political and religious authority resided in the "oba" (king) who according to tradition was descended from the Ife dynasty. Benin, which may have housed 100,000 inhabitants at its height, spread over twenty-five square km that were enclosed by three concentric rings of earthworks. By the late 15th century Benin was in contact with Portugal (see Atlantic slave trade). At its apogee in the 16th and 17th centuries, Benin encompassed parts of southeastern Yorubaland and the western Igbo.

Northern kingdoms of the Savanna

Trade is the key to the emergence of organized communities in the savanna portions of Nigeria. Prehistoric inhabitants adjusting to the encroaching desert were widely scattered by the third millennium BC, when the desiccation of the Sahara began. Trans-Saharan trade routes linked western Sudan with the Mediterranean since the time of Carthage and with the Upper Nile from a much earlier date, establishing avenues of communication and cultural influence that remained open until the end of the 19th century. By these same routes, Islam made its way south into West Africa after the 9th century AD.

By then a string of dynastic states, including the earliest Hausa states, stretched across western and central Sudan. The most powerful of these states were Ghana, Gao, and Kanem, which were not within the boundaries of modern Nigeria but which influenced the history of the Nigerian savanna. Ghana declined in the 11th century but was succeeded by the Mali Empire which consolidated much of western Sudan in the 13th century.

Following the breakup of Mali a local leader named Sonni Ali (1464 -1492) founded the Songhai Empire in the region of middle Niger and the western Sudan and took control of the trans-Saharan trade. Sonni Ali seized Timbuktu in 1468 and Jenne in 1473, building his regime on trade revenues and the cooperation of Muslim merchants. His successor Askiya Mohammad Ture (1493 - 1528) made Islam the official religion, built mosques, and brought Muslim scholars, including al-Maghili (d.1504), the founder of an important tradition of Sudanic African Muslim scholarship, to Gao.Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, Cambridge 1988]

Although these western empires had little political influence on the Nigerian savanna before 1500, they had a strong cultural and economic impact that became more pronounced in the 16th century, especially because these states became associated with the spread of Islam and trade. Throughout the 16th century much of northern Nigeria paid homage to Songhai in the west or to Borno, a rival empire in the east.

Kanem-Bornu Empire

Borno's history is closely associated with Kanem, which had achieved imperial status in the Lake Chad basin by the 13th century. Kanem expanded westward to include the area that became Borno. The mai (king) of Kanem and his court accepted Islam in the 11th century, as the western empires also had done. Islam was used to reinforce the political and social structures of the state although many established customs were maintained. Women, for example, continued to exercise considerable political influence.

The "mai" employed his mounted bodyguard and an inchoate army of nobles to extend Kanem's authority into Borno. By tradition the territory was conferred on the heir to the throne to govern during his apprenticeship. In the 14th century, however, dynastic conflict forced the then-ruling group and its followers to relocate in Borno, where as a result the Kanuri emerged as an ethnic group in the late fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. The civil war that disrupted Kanem in the second half of the 14th century resulted in the independence of Borno.

Borno's prosperity depended on the trans-Sudanic slave trade and the desert trade in salt and livestock. The need to protect its commercial interests compelled Borno to intervene in Kanem, which continued to be a theater of war throughout the fifteenth and into the sixteenth centuries. Despite its relative political weakness in this period, Borno's court and mosques under the patronage of a line of scholarly kings earned fame as centers of Islamic culture and learning.

Hausa states

By the 11th century some Hausa states - such as Kano, jigawa,Katsina, and Gobir - had developed into walled towns engaging in trade, servicing caravans, and the manufacture of various goods. Until the 15th century these small states were on the periphery of the major Sudanic empires of the era. They were constantly pressured by Songhai to the west and Kanem-Borno to the east, to which they paid tribute. Armed conflict was usually motivated by economic concerns, as coalitions of Hausa states mounted wars against the Jukun and Nupe in the middle belt to collect slaves or against one another for control of trade.

Islam arrived to Hausaland along the caravan routes. The famous Kano Chronicle records the conversion of Kano's ruling dynasty by clerics from Mali, demonstrating that the imperial influence of Mali extended far to the east. Acceptance of Islam was gradual and was often nominal in the countryside where folk religion continued to exert a strong influence. Nonetheless, Kano and Katsina, with their famous mosques and schools, came to participate fully in the cultural and intellectual life of the Islamic world. The Fulani began to enter the Hausa country in the 13th century and by the 15th century they were tending cattle, sheep, and goats in Borno as well. The Fulani came from the Senegal River valley, where their ancestors had developed a method of livestock management based on transhumance. Gradually they moved eastward, first into the centers of the Mali and Songhai empires and eventually into Hausaland and Borno. Some Fulbe converted to Islam as early as the 11th century and settled among the Hausa, from whom they became racially indistinguishable. There they constituted a devoutly religious, educated elite who made themselves indispensable to the Hausa kings as government advisers, Islamic judges, and teachers.

Calabar States: Calabar Kingdom

Calabar Kingdom is an Ancient Kingdom that existed thousands of years before Christ. The City of Calabar was the seat of power of the Calabar Kingdom. According to Obong of Calabar, Edidem (DR./Professor Nta Elijah Henshaw), Calabar Kingdom covered the entire Akwa Ibom State, Cross River State, Western Cameroon, the offshore island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea), and extended into parts of present Abia State and Imo State (Vanguard, Monday, August 2, 2004, reported by George Onah). The indigenes of the old Calabar Kingdom were referred to as Calabar people (even at present day, some Nigerians still call indigenes of Akwa Ibom State and Cross River State as Calabar people).

The old Calabar Kingdom comprised of loosely governed states. The states included: Annang, Akamkpa, Efik, Ibibio, Ikom, Ogoja, Western Camaroon and the offshore island of Fernando Po (now Equatorial Guinea). The Kingdom was ruled by the Obong of Calabar, but his power was not very strong outside Calabar, that is outside the Efik State.

Leadership power in the Calabar Kingdom was derived from a major secret societies, the Ekpe Secrete Society. The Ekpe secret society of the Old Calabar Kingdom developed one of the major ancient African script, the Nsibidi written script.

The coastal ports of the Calabar Kingdom, especially the Calabar port made them the first group in southeastern parts of Nigeria to have contact with European traders and missionaries.

The Obong of Calabar signed a treaty with the British government in the 17th century that resulted in the Southern Protectorate of Nigeria with headquarter at Calabar, thus making Calabar the first Nigerian Capital City. After Nigerian independence in 1960, Western Cameroon opted to become a part of Cameroon because of the weakness and poor political leadership and relationship of people of the then Eastern Nigeria. Hence, parts of the Calabar people got divided into cameroon. The Calabar Kingdom produced the first Nigerian Professor, Professor Eyo Ita, who was the pioneer champion of youth movement in Nigeria for independence. He later became the first Premier of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, and a member of the Nigerian team that negotiated Nigerian independence in Britain.

During the Nigerian Civil War, the Calabar Kingdom became one of the original Nigerian twelve states, the Southeastern State of Nigeria which was later split into two states, the Cross River State and Akwa Ibom State.

The Igbo States

The Onitsha Kingdom, which was originally inhabited by the Igbo, was founded in the 16th century by migrants from Benin. Later groups like the Igalas and Igbo traders from the hinterland settled in Onitsha in the 18nth century. Another Igbo kingdom to form was the Arochukwu kingdom which emerged after the Aro-Ibibio wars from 1630-1720, and went on to form the Aro Confederacy which dominated midwestern and eastern Nigeria with pockets of influence in Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon.

Igbo gods, like those of the Yoruba, were numerous, but their relationship to one another and human beings was essentially egalitarian, reflecting Igbo society as a whole. A number of oracles and local cults attracted devotees while the central deity, the earth mother and fertility figure Ala, was venerated at shrines throughout Igboland.

The weakness of a popular theory that Igbos were stateless rests on the paucity of historical evidence of pre-colonial Igbo society. There is a huge gap between the archaeological finds of Igbo Ukwu, which reveal a rich material culture in the heart of the Igbo region in the 8th century, and the oral traditions of the 20th century. Benin exercised considerable influence on the western Igbo who adopted many of the political structures familiar to the Yoruba-Benin region. Ofega was the queen.

avanna states

During the 16th century the Songhai Empire reached its peak, stretching from the Senegal and Gambia rivers and incorporating part of Hausaland in the east. Concurrently the Saifawa Dynasty of Borno conquered Kanem and extended control west to Hausa cities not under Songhai authority. Largely because of Songhai's influence, there was a blossoming of Islamic learning and culture. Songhai collapsed in 1591 when a Moroccan army conquered Gao and Timbuktu. Morocco was unable to control the empire and the various provinces, including the Hausa states, became independent. The collapse undermined Songhai's hegemony over the Hausa states and abruptly altered the course of regional history.

Borno reached its apogee under "mai" Idris Aloma (ca. 1569-1600) during whose reign Kanem was reconquered. The destruction of Songhai left Borno uncontested and until the 18th century Borno dominated northern Nigeria. Despite Borno's hegemony the Hausa states continued to wrestle for ascendancy. Gradually Borno's position weakened; its inability to check political rivalries between competing Hausa cities was one example of this decline. Another factor was the military threat of the Tuareg centered at Agades who penetrated the northern districts of Borno. The major cause of Borno's decline was a severe drought that struck the Sahel and savanna from in the middle of the 18th century. As a consequence Borno lost many northern territories to the Tuareg whose mobility allowed them to endure the famine more effectively. Borno regained some of its former might in the succeeding decades, but another drought occurred in the 1790s, again weakening the state.

Ecological and political instability provided the background for the jihad of Usman dan Fodio. The military rivalries of the Hausa states strained the regions economic resources at a time when drought and famine undermined farmers and herders. Many Fulani moved into Hausaland and Borno, and their arrival increased tensions because they had no loyalty to the political authorities, who saw them as a source of increased taxation. By the end of the 18th century, some Muslim ulema began articulating the grievances of the common people. Efforts to eliminate or control these religious leaders only heightened the tensions, setting the stage for jihad.

References


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