Sacred Texts  Africa  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Negro, by W.E.B. Du Bois, [1915], at

p. 46


We have already seen how a branch of the conquering Bantus turned eastward by the Great Lakes and thus reached the sea and eventually both the Nile and South Africa.

This brought them into the ancient and mysterious land far up the Nile, south of Ethiopia. Here lay the ancient Punt of the Egyptians (whether we place it in Somaliland or, as seems far more likely, around the Great Lakes) and here, as the Egyptians thought, their civilization began. The earliest inhabitants of the land were apparently of the Bushman or Hottentot type of Negro. These were gradually pushed southward and westward by the intrusion of the Nilotic Negroes. Five thousand years before Christ the mulatto Egyptians were in the Nile valley below the First Cataract. The Negroes were in the Nile valley down as far as the Second Cataract and between the First and Second Cataracts were Negroes into whose veins Semitic blood had penetrated more or less. These mixed elements became the ancestors of the modern Somali, Gala, Bishari, and Beja and spread Negro blood into Arabia beyond the Red Sea. The Nilotic Negroes to the south early became great traders in ivory, gold, leopard skins, gums, beasts, birds, and slaves, and they opened up systematic trade between Egypt and the Great Lakes.

The result was endless movement and migration both in ancient and modern days, which makes the cultural history of the Great Lakes region very difficult to understand. Three great elements are, however, clear: first, the Egyptian element, by the northward migration of the Negro ancestors of predynastic Egypt and the southern conquests and trade of dynastic Egypt; second, the Semitic influence from Arabia and Persia; third, the Negro influences from western and central Africa.

p. 47

The migration of the Bantu is the first clearly defined movement of modern times. As we have shown, they began to move southward at least a thousand years before Christ, skirting the Congo forests and wandering along the Great Lakes and down to the Zambesi. What did they find in this land?

We do not know certainly, but from what we do know we may reconstruct the situation in this way: the primitive culture of the Hottentots of Punt had been further developed by them and by other stronger Negro stocks until it reached a highly developed culture. Widespread agriculture, and mining of gold, silver, and precious stones started a trade that penetrated to Asia and North Africa. This may have been the source of the gold of the Ophir.

The state that thus arose became in time strongly organized; it employed slave labor in crushing the hard quartz, sinking pits, and carrying underground galleries; it carried out a system of irrigation and built stone buildings and fortifications. There exists to-day many remains of these building operations in the Kalahari desert and in northern Rhodesia. Five hundred groups, covering over an area of one hundred and fifty thousand square miles, lie between the Limpopo and Zambesi rivers. Mining operations have been carried on in these plains for generations, and one estimate is that at least three hundred and seventy-five million dollars' worth of gold had been extracted. Some have thought that the older workings must date back to one or even three thousand years before the Christian era.

"There are other mines," writes De Barros in the seventeenth century, 1 "in a district called Toroa, which is otherwise known as the kingdom of Butua, whose ruler is a prince, by name Burrow, a vassal of Benomotapa. This land is near the other which we said consisted of extensive plains, and those ruins are the oldest that are known in that region. They are all in a plain, in the middle of which stands a square fortress, all of dressed stones within and without, well wrought and of marvelous size, without any lime showing the joinings, the walls of which are over twenty-five hands thick, but the height is not so great compared to the thickness. And above the gateway of that edifice is an inscription which some Moorish [Arab] traders who were there could not read, nor say what writing it was. All these structures the people of this country call Symbaoe

p. 48

[paragraph continues] [Zymbabwe], which with them means a court, for every place where Benomotapa stays is so called."

Later investigation has shown that these buildings were in many cases carefully planned and built fortifications. At Niekerk, for instance, nine or ten hills are fortified on concentric walls thirty to fifty feet in number, with a place for the village at the top. The buildings are forts, miniature citadels, and also workshops and cattle kraals. Iron implements and handsome pottery were found here, and close to the Zambesi there are extraordinary fortifications. Farther south at Inyanga there is less strong defense, and at Umtali there are no fortifications, showing that builders feared invasion from the north.

These people worked in gold, silver, tin, copper, and bronze and made beautiful pottery. There is evidence of religious significance in the buildings, and what is called the temple was the royal residence and served as a sort of acropolis. The surrounding residences in the valley were evidently occupied by wealthy traders and were not fortified. Here the gold was received from surrounding districts and bartered with traders.

As usual there have been repeated attempts to find an external and especially an Asiatic origin for this culture. So far, however, archeological research seems to confirm its African origin. The implements, weapons, and art are characteristically African and there is no evident connection with outside sources. How far back this civilization dates it is difficult to say, a great deal depending upon the dating of the iron age in South Africa. If it was the same as in the Mediterranean regions, the earliest limit was 1000 B.C.; it might, however, have been much earlier, especially if, as seems probable, the use of iron originated in Africa. On the other hand the culmination of this culture has been placed by some as late as the modern middle ages.

What was it that overthrew this civilization? Undoubtedly the same sort of raids of barbarous warriors that we have known in our day. For instance, in 1570 there came upon the country of Mozambique, Farther up the coast, "such an inundation of pagans that they could not be numbered. They came from that part of Monomotapa where is the great lake from which spring these great rivers. They left no other signs of the towns they passed but the heaps of ruins and the bones of inhabitants." So, too, it is told how the Zimbas came, "a strange people never before seen there, who, leaving their

p. 49

own country, traversed a great part of this Ethiopia like a scourge of God, destroying every living thing they came across. They were twenty thousand strong and marched without children or women," just as four hundred years later the Zulu impi marched. Again in 1602 a horde of people came from the interior called the Cabires, or cannibals. They entered the kingdom of Monomotapa, and the reigning king, being weak, was in great terror. Thus gradually the Monomotapa fell, and its power was scattered until the Kaffir-Zulu raids of our day. 1

The Arab writer, Macoudi, in the tenth century visited the East African coast somewhere north of the equator. He found the Indian Sea at that time frequented by Arab and Persian vessels, but there were no Asiatic settlements on the African shore. The Bantu, or as he calls them, Zenji, inhabited the country as far south as Sofala, where they bordered upon the Bushmen. These Bantus were under a ruler with the dynastic title of Waklimi. He was paramount over all the other tribes of the north and could put three hundred thousand men in the field. They used oxen as beasts of burden and the country produced gold in abundance, while panther skin was largely used for clothing. Ivory was sold to Asia and the Bantu used iron for personal adornment instead of gold or silver. They rode on their oxen, which ran with great speed, and they ate millet and boney and the flesh of animals.

Inland among the Bantu arose later the line of rulers called the Monomotapa among the gifted Makalanga. Their state was very extensive, ranging from the coast far into the interior and from Mozambique down to the Limpopo. It was strongly organized, with feudatory allied states, and carried on an extensive commerce by means of the traders on the coast. The kings were converted to nominal Christianity by the Portuguese.

There are indications of trade between Nupe in West Africa and Sofala on the cast coast, and certainly trade between Asia and East Africa is earlier than the beginning of the Christian era. The Asiatic traders settled on the coast and by means of mulatto and Negro merchants brought Central Africa into contact with Arabia, India, China, and Malaysia.

The coming of the Asiatics was in this wise: Zaide, great-grandson of Ali, nephew and son-in-law of Mohammed, was banished from

p. 50

[paragraph continues] Arabia as a heretic. He passed over to Africa and formed temporary settlements. His people mingled with the blacks, and the resulting mulatto traders, known as the Emoxaidi, seem to have wandered as far south as the equator. Soon other Arabian families came over on account of oppression and founded the towns of Magadosho and Brava, both not far north of the equator. The first town became a place of importance and other settlements were made. The Emoxaidi, whom the later immigrants regarded as heretics, were driven inland and became the interpreting traders between the coast and the Bantu. Some wanderers from Magadosho came into the Port of Sofala and there learned that gold could be obtained. This led to a small Arab settlement at that place.

Seventy years later, and about fifty years before the Norman conquest of England, certain Persians settled at Kilwa in East Africa, led by Ali, who had been despised in his land because he was the son of a black Abyssinian slave mother. Kilwa, because of this, eventually became the most important commercial station on the East African coast, and in this and all these settlements a very large mulatto population grew up, so that very soon the whole settlement was indistinguishable in color from the Bantu.

In 1330 Ibn Batuta visited Kilwa. He found an abundance of ivory and some gold and heard that the inhabitants of Kilwa had gained victories over the Zenji or Bantu. Kilwa had at that time three hundred mosques and was "built of handsome houses of stone and lime, and very lofty, with their windows like those of the Christians; in the same way it has streets, and these houses have got terraces, and the wood-work is with the masonry, with plenty of gardens, in which there are many fruit trees and much water." 1 Kilwa after a time captured Sofala, seizing it from Magadosho. Eventually Kilwa became mistress of the island of Zanzibar, of Mozambique, and of much other territory. The forty-third ruler of Kilwa after Ali was named Abraham, and he was ruling when the Portuguese arrived. The latter reported that these people cultivated rice and cocoa, built ships, and had considerable commerce with Asia. All the people, of whatever color, were Mohammedans, and the richer were clothed in gorgeous robes of silk and velvet. They traded with the inland Bantus and met numerous tribes, receiving gold, ivory, millet, rice, cattle, poultry, and honey.

On the islands the Asiatics were independent, but on the main

p. 51

lands south of Kilwa the sheiks ruled only their own people, under the overlordship of the Bantus, to whom they were compelled to pay large tribute each year.

Vasco da Gama doubled the Cape of Good Hope in 1497 and went north on the east coast as far as India. In the next ten years the Portuguese had occupied more than six different points on that coast, including Sofala. 1

Thus civilization waxed and waned in East Africa among prehistoric Negroes, Arab and Persian mulattoes on the coast, in the Zend or Zeng empire of Bantu Negroes, and later in the Bantu rule of the Monomotapa. And thus, too, among later throngs of the fiercer, warlike Bantu, the ancient culture of the land largely died. Yet something survived, and in the modern Bantu state, language, and industry can be found clear links that establish the essential identity of the absorbed peoples with the builders of Zymbabwe.

So far we have traced the history of the lands into which the southward stream of invading Bantus turned, and have followed them to the Limpopo River. We turn now to the lands north from Lake Nyassa.

The aboriginal Negroes sustained in prehistoric time invasions from the northeast by Negroids of a type like the ancient Egyptians and like the modern Gallas, Masai, and Somalis. To these migrations were added attacks from the Nile Negroes to the north and the Bantu invaders from the south. This has led to great differences among the groups of the population and in their customs. Some are fierce mountaineers, occupying hilly plateaus six thousand feet above the sea level; others, like the Wa Swahili, are traders on the coast. There are the Masai, chocolate-colored and frizzly-haired, organized for war and cattle lifting; and Negroids like the Gallas, who, blending with the Bantus, have produced the race of modern Uganda.

It was in this region that the kingdom of Kitwara was founded by the Calla chief, Kintu. About the beginning of the nineteenth century the empire was dismembered, the largest share falling to Uganda. The ensuing history of Uganda is of great interest. When King Mutesa came to the throne in 1862, he found Mohammedan influences in his land and was induced to admit English Protestants

p. 52

and French Catholics. Uganda thereupon became an extraordinary religious battlefield between these three beliefs. Mutesa's successor, Mwanga, caused an English bishop to be killed in 1885, believing (as has since proven quite true) that the religion he offered would be used as a cloak for conquest. The final result was that, after open war between the religions, Uganda was made an English protectorate in 1894.

The Negroes of Uganda are an intelligent people who had organized a complex feudal state. At the head stood the king, and under him twelve feudal lords. The present king, Daudi Chua, is the young grandson of Mutesa and rules under the overlordship of England.

Many things show the connection between Egypt and this part of Africa. The same glass beads are found in Uganda and Upper Egypt, and similar canoes are built. Harps and other instruments bear great resemblance. Finally the Bahima, as the Galla invaders are called, are startlingly Egyptian in type; at the same time they are undoubtedly Negro in hair and color. Perhaps we have here the best racial picture of what ancient Egyptian and upper Nile regions were in predynastic times and later.

Thus in outline was seen the mission of The People--La Bantu as they called themselves. They migrated, they settled, they tore down, and they learned, and they in turn were often overthrown by succeeding tribes of their own folk. They rule with their tongue and their power all Africa south of the equator, save where the Europeans have entered. They have never been conquered, although the gold and diamond traders have sought to debauch them, and the ivory and rubber capitalists have cruelly wronged their weaker groups. They are the Africans with whom the world of to-morrow must reckon, just as the world of yesterday knew them to its cost.


47:1 Quoted in Bent: Ruined Cities of Mashonaland, pp. 203 ff.

49:1 Cf. "Ethiopia Oriental," by J. Dos Santos, in Theal's Records of South Africa, Vol. VII.

50:1 Barbosa, quoted in Keane, II, 482.

51:1 It was called Sofala, from an Arabic word, and may be associated with the Ophir of Solomon. So, too, the river Sabi, a little off Sofala, may be associated with the name of the Queen of Sheba, whose lineage was supposed to be perpetuated in the powerful Monomotapa as well as the Abyssinians.

Next: VII. The War of Races at Land's End