Africa is said to be, the beginning of the human race. The place that the first human beings originated from. This post explores 5 things that are known to have originated in Africa, or that Africans have been the first to have success in as far as we know.
Here goes, 5 extraordinary things Africans were pioneers at.... don't forget to like and comment on this post if you enjoy it or want a Part 2!
1. Africans were the first to organise fishing expeditions, over 90,000 years ago.
Katanda territory is one of the 5 territories that comprise the current Congolese province of Kasai-Oriental, alongside the city Mbuji-Mayi. This was the place where a series of harpoon points were discovered, created in then Zaire (now Congo DRC). Archeologists uncovered a well-crafted tool similar to a dagger from the site, which first suggested to them an early existence of an aquatic or fishing culture. Earlier humans in Central Africa used these Harpoon points to spear large catfish, archeologists described as "large enough to feed 80 people for 2 days", and weighing as much as 68 kilos.
The specific site in Congo known as the 'Katanda Harpoon', was made up of what was described as "complex barbed harpoon heads carved from bone", that were discovered on the Semliki River in 1988. The harpoons dated back to 90,000 years ago. Some archeologists were skeptical of the date of origin, because the condition of the harpoons were good, and they were still in fine shape. After conducting several tests on the artefact, it was confirmed dated back to 88,000 BCE, and as many archeologists travelled along the area, more identical harpoons were discovered.
A great paper you can read which talks about this in more detail: Yellen, et al., (1995) 'A middle stone age worked bone industry from Katanda, Upper Semliki Valley, Zaire'
2. Bakongo people and healing
It is said that the people who inhabited the historic Kingdom of Kongo devised preventative and curative methods for lead poisoning. On Kongolese metallurgy of the Middle Ages, one modern scholar wrote that: “there is no doubting . . . the existence of an expert metallurgical art in the ancient Kongo . . . The Bakongo were aware of the toxicity of lead vapours". Their methods were both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.
As well as this, Bakongo people native to the province of Uige in Angola are known for using plants and food treatments to increase the amount of breastmilk a woman lactates and also improve the quality of the breast milk. Maique, Gingenga, Ginguba, Maomao, Papayi, Gimboa, Couve were just some of the local names for natural plants and foods that were founded in a study conducted on Uige women, that were proven to increase lactation and cleanse the quality of their breastmilk. More details on the study can be found here: Jendras, et al., (2020)
3. Bling Culture
'Bling culture' or the idea of draping yourself in Gold, Silver and other fine materials is said to have originated in Africa, and there are many examples. We thought it would be interesting to include this one, because now, the extent of the bling culture we're referring to in this article is only really associated with monarchies of the western world. Meanwhile, ancient African monarchies were pretty much sickening when it came to what we call 'flexing'.
In West Africa, bling culture dates back to 1067 AD. A source wrote about an early encounter with the Emperor of Ghana, when he gave audience to his people. They wrote: “he sits in a pavilion around which stand his horses caparisoned in cloth of gold: behind him stand ten pages holding shields and gold-mounted swords: and on his right hand are the sons of the princes of his empire, splendidly clad and with gold plaited into their hair . . . The gate of the chamber is guarded by dogs of an excellent breed . . . they wear collars of gold and silver.” As in even the dogs were covered in gold.
Let's continue and look at 17th century Southern Africa and the Empire of Monomotapa. A scholar wrote that: “the people dressed in various ways: at court of the Kings their grandees wear cloths of rich silk, damask, satin, gold and silk cloth; these are three widths of satin, each sewn to the next, sometimes with gold lace in between, trimmed on two sides, like a carpet, with a gold and silk fringe, sewn in place with a two fingers’ wide ribbon, woven with gold roses on silk.” - I appreciate the details in these descriptions because it's really giving luxury. A Portuguese chronicler of the 16th century described women he encountered in early Tanzania, and wrote that: “they are finely clad in many rich garments of gold and silk and cotton, and the women as well; also with much gold and silver chains and bracelets, which they wear on their legs and arms, and many jewelled earrings in their ears”.
Likewise in mediaeval Sudan, even the dead were emulating Bling Culture. Archaeologists discovered an individual buried at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Old Dongola. He was clad in an extremely elaborate heap, consisting of costly textiles of various fabrics including gold thread. At the city of Soba East, there were individuals buried in fine clothing, including golden thread.
4. Caesarean operations in pre-colonial Uganda
A commonly known surgical practice which was routinely and effectively carried out by surgeons in pre-colonial Uganda. The surgeons routinely used antiseptics, anaesthetics and cautery iron.
A Ugandan caesarean operation appeared was witnessed by Robert W. Felkin, a Scottish medical anthropologist in 1879. The cesarean section was being performed by a native surgeon on a young woman in her 20s in Bunyoro. in the Edinburgh Medical Journal in 1884, cited for it's remarkable success and of course for studying purposes. An author wrote: “The whole conduct of the operation . . . suggests a skilled long-practiced surgical team at work conducting a well-tried and familiar operation with smooth efficiency".
He described the steps of the procedure:
"The operator washed his hands and the patient’s abdomen, first with wine and then with water. He then proceeded to make a rapid cut in the middle line.
“The whole abdominal wall and part of the wall of the uterus (womb) was severed by this incision, and the amniotic fluids (water which surrounds the baby) shot out.
“The bleeding points in the abdominal wall were touched with red-hot iron by an assistant. The operator then swiftly increased the size of the incision in the womb; meantime another assistant held separated abdominal walls with his hand, and proceeded to hold the separated wall of the womb with two of his fingers, but at the same time holding the abdominal wall apart".
"The child was rapidly removed and given to an assistant and the umbilical cord was then cut. The operator put his knife away and seized the contracting womb with both hands giving it a squeeze or two".
“He next put his right hand into the cavity of the womb and using two or three fingers dilated the part of the womb which connects to the vagina from within outwards.
“He then cleaned the uterus and uterine cavity of clots and lastly removed the placenta (afterbirth) which had separated by now".
When Robert Felkin returned to Britain with this account, it was met with shock and scepticism, as the cesarean section was then regarded in England as an operation of the greatest gravity only to be performed in the most desperate of circumstances. Seems like Africans were ahead of their time.
5. The Kenyan City of Gedi - Piped Water and Indoor Toilets
Gedi, near the coast of Kenya, is one of the East Africa's now "ghost towns". It lies on the coastal region of Kenya, 94 km north of Mombasa town (another historic town). Gedi was a small town built entirely from rocks and stones, and inhabited by Swahili people of East Africa. Its ruins, dating from the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, include the city walls, the palace, private houses, the Great Mosque, seven smaller mosques, and three pillar tombs.
Of what can still be identified, there is what's described as a dated coral tomb - it has Arabic script engraved with the date '1399'. From the tomb, you can see the a spectacular 50-metre-deep well, known as the "Well of the Great Mosque" - it's use is still widely debated among archeologists to this day. In the ruins of the Great Mosque, a water purifier made of limestone for recycling water, had been found by archeologists. Similarly, in the palace in the Kenyan city of Gedi contains evidence of piped water controlled by taps. In addition, it had bathrooms and indoor toilets, a concept that many around the world had not adapted due to constructional limitations.
No one knows exactly why this city was abandoned, there are a few theories: one is that it was overcome by an army from Mombasa on its way to attack Malindi around 1530 AD. Another theory suggests that the Galla people who were raiding southwards around 1600 AD made life unbearable. Or, it is also theorised that lack of water (drying of the wells) except the one which was outside the walls led to the city's abandonment.
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