A Few Notable Passages from the Cambridge History of Africa

Vols. 3-4 from c. 1050 to c. 1790

In a hunt for an overarching story for my fantasy novellas (and hopefully novels), I turned to Cambridge’s histories of the continent. I’m not sure how much true history I’m looking to include. I’m interested in West Africa’s history for its own sake. If there happens to be inspiration for some power dynamics, that’s a plus.

Published between 1975 and 1977, these two volumes are part of eight that start from the Pilo-Pleistocene age right up to 1975, the year Portugal retreated from their colonial wars following the left-wing military coup and popular revolution at home.

Volume 3, from c. 1050 to c. 1600

On iron in the Eastern Maghreb and the Central Sudan:

As the iron-working of the Nok culture in Nigeria, to the west, began considerably earlier, it seems likely that this craft derived, not from Meroe, but from North Africa, perhaps from Carthage. The appearance of iron at Daima was apparently not linked to any overall cultural dislocation; metallurgy seems to have spread gradually from one established village to another.

On horses:

For cavalry charges, the small local horses were obviously inadequate: indeed, it has been suggested that animals commemorated in the Saharan rock art, from which Sudanic horses — if the foregoing argument be correct — descended, drew light chariots because they were too small to carry a rider at all.

On guns:

It is likely that there has been a tendency for scholars to overemphasize the impact of fire-arms, for even in those armies of the central Sudan which possessed guns, other developments in tactics were of equal or greater significance. In addition, grave problems of maintenance and replacement may have led to a cyclical pattern in which guns were introduced and then gradually petered out, to be reintroduced again later.

Volume 4, from c. 1600 to c. 1790

On the Mani in the Guinea Coast:

With their military reputation and skill at building fortifications, it is not surprising that Mani war ‘medicines’ and their other ‘fetishes’ were held in awe, but the dominance which they acquired over the indigenous inhabitants in key aspects of metaphysical belief must have been subsequently more important than their military prowess.

On the secret societies:

Highly organized and powerful secret societies survive among the Loma, Kpele, Gola and Vai; and their strength wanes farther north and west. The Temne say that the poro society was borrowed from the Bullom, who are to the southeast on the route whence the Mani came, and its female counterpart (the bundu) is derived from the Sande of the Mende. Furthermore, Portuguese contemporaries stated that the poro was brought by the Mani.

On trade of the Mande:

Coastal trade was itself probably one of the factors drawing the Mande closer to the sea.

On the early jihad movement of the Futa Jalon:

The non-Fulani inhabitants of the Futa Jalon — Dyalonke, Tenda and Landouma — were subjugated, and their conquered villages turned into rundes, villages of serfs or slaves. These servile subjects, the rimaibe, formed the majority of the population of the Futa. Under the supervision of their own chiefs, who in turn were responsible to their Fulani masters, the rimaibe cultivated the land. The surplus of their agricultural products was taken over by the Fulani aristocracy, for their own consumption and for trade with the Europeans.

Bai Bureh’s Photo

Bai Bureh is recognized as the leader of a rebellion against British colonial rule in northern Sierra Leone.

Inscribed on the photo is: Bai Bureh, Chief of the Timini when a prisoner at Sierra Leone in 1898. An original photograph by Lieutenant Arthur Greer West India Regiment who died August 7, 1900, when storming a blockade after the relief of Kumassie.

From the Historical Dictionary of Sierra Leone:

After the British protectorate was declared over the Sierra Leone interior in 1896, a house tax was imposed, which many of the rulers and their people opposed, in addition to imposing the new laws the British were trying to implement. The British reaction was a forceful show of authority, including arresting, deposing, and brutalizing some of the local rulers. Bai Bureh was believed to be one of the rulers staunchly opposed to the tax and thus faced inevitable confrontation with the British who determined to make an example of him. This led to a major war of resistance in 1898 between the British and a Bai Bureh–led coalition that lasted for 10 months.

This is the only known photograph of Bai Bureh. It was discovered by Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Gary Schulze, who found the photo on eBay. Before this, there was only a pencil sketch of Bureh from a British army officer named H.E. Green.