Response to Davidson's Africa in History

Response to Davidson's Africa in History

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Response to Davidson's Africa in History


Africa, steeped in history, is often known as the "cradle of civilization." Civilization was most greatly nurtured during the Pleistocene era. The history pre-, proto-, and fully human unfolds mostly during the Pleistocene era. Stone tools caused an increase in population throughout Africa because of knowledge of fire, knowing how to carry burdens and live in caves (9). Around 10,000 B.C., Neanderthals, last of the hominids, disappeared and home sapiens took over (9,10). Between 5500 and 2500 B.C. there was a Makalian 'wet phase' where there was a great mixing of people, plenty of fish, wildlife and trees.

The author seems to believe in the authenticity of early African history. He dismisses the "Hamitic hypothesis" as "great nonsense" (ll,l2). The "Hamitic hypothesis" stated that the Hamites (Caucasians) were responsible for any process in history identifiable in Africa. The hypothesis stated that Negroes were too primitive to embark on any such processes of history (l2). >P> The first great civilization of Africa took place in Egypt. Egyptians started 3round the delta and were part of the Saharan Sudanese culture (l5). They became strong because they knew when the Nile River floods were coming and could cultivate their land with rich soil (13). The Egyptians built many notable stone monuments and created a pharaonic monarchy. For many centuries they were supreme military fighters and ruled Northern Africa through the Old, Middle and Late Kingdoms. During the Late Kingdom Egypt came under attack by the Kushites (33). Egyptians weren't able to defend themselves well in part because of lack of iron tools. Egyptians did not see iron as significant military weapons. Iron was seen as curiosity pieces for the pharaohs (37). Consequently, Kushites briefly became the dominant power in Africa.

Quite often scholars argued that the Egyptians of the Pharaonic Age were not black. This is an argument that the author argues "as little tenable as saying Serbers and Ethiopians weren't Negro" (25,26). My opinion is that scholars would not care if the Egyptians were black if they weren't such an important civilization.

Africa produced many significant civilizations such as the Egyptian, Songhay, Mali and Ethiopian but would see the fruits of labor manipulated and tortured during the Atlantic slave trade. Slavery marks one of the worst but important tragedies that beset my ancestors. The Atlantic Trade consisted mainly of slaves, firearms, gold, spices and indigo.

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African slave labor came into existence with the discovery of the Americas. People were needed to work the plantations and open mines. Unlike European slaves and Indians, Africans were skilled in tropical farming and mining (207). Indeed there was a form of slavery in Songhay and other empires, but slaves were not outcasts and were treated as partners in the community (209). Moreover, Africans helped sell Africans but without the idea that consequences would be on such a large and tragic scale (212). During the late seventeenth century brutality worsened (217). The fittest slaves endured the "Middle Passage," where they were crammed like sardines causing many diseases to spread along the month's journey to the Caribbean and the Americas (215). Slavery in England was abolished in the late 1700's due to the work of abolitionists like Sharp, Clarkson and Gregoire (217). In America, legal slavery continued until the mid-1800's. More importantly, though, the idea that Africans were subhuman and dispensable became deeply rooted in American society.

The long period of slavery is a source of pain for me, because Africans were treated like property. They were thought of as animals who were alive for their labor -- not their knowledge. The author seems to recognize the reasons why slavery thrived but also seems to feel remorse for its consequences. He says, "None of this reduced the inhimanitv of the system in itself" (214).

South Africa too has endured apartheid racism where this caste society made blacks separate and unequal. South Africans were put into shanty towns, closed off from the "white fortresses" (341) of government, education and wealth. The tide turned in 1991 with the freeing of Nelson Mandela and increasing pressure from other governments to end apartheid. South Africa has now ended apartheid under the leadership of Nelson Mandela and is fighting to become a country united.

In more recent times Africa's legacy has been that of tribal wars and political unrest. Through all her struggles Africa fights to be a continent known for its proud heritage and incomparable history. Basil Davidson has presented an unbiased, clear and concise history of Africa. Although Africa In History did not shed new light, it did make me feel an overwhelming sense of pride that my ancestors were so knowledgeable and brave.
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