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Chronology of African History – Colonizing Nations (19th – 20th Centries)
It is the purpose of this article to provide the general reader with a comprehensive picture of world’s greatest civilization originating in Africa, a continent leading modern scholars today refer to it as the ‘the cradle of civilization’. This chronology seeks to address sophisticated and intelligent readers who had never previously read anything serious about Africa, from the earliest times to the most recent. Most black people have lost their confidence, their true identity, because their history has been neglected, falsified and sometimes concealed. Diana Crawford Carson has been instrumental in the compilation of the chronology as she spent many hours synchronizing facts from many sources and verifying the language usage. Note: the century headings generally refer to the first date mentioned. Example: an entry covering the 14th to the 18th century will be found under ’14th Century, 1300s’. The numbers in the left hand column are arbitrary, to help those using the indexes.
THE BLACK HOLOCAUST
The Black Holocaust is one of the more underreported tragedies in the annals of human history. The Black Holocaust refers to the millions of African lives lost during the centuries to slavery, colonization and oppression. The Black Holocaust refers to the horrors endured by millions of men, women, and children throughout the African Diaspora and the slave trade, from the 17th century, and continuing for at least the next two centuries. (In other guise, from and to many nations, the tragedy of slavery continues.) In sheer numbers, depth and brutality, it is a testimony to the worst elements of human behaviour and the strongest elements of survival.
Unknown numbers of Africans (possibly more than 4 million) died in slave wars and forced marches even before the other captives could be shipped to other nations. Within central Africa itself, the slave trade precipitated massive migrations; coastal tribes fled slave-raiding parties, and captured slaves were punished and transported, or were sold to slave owners in other regions in Africa.
The African slave trade and slave labour transformed the world. In Africa, slave trade stimulated the expansion of powerful West African kingdoms, made possible by the funds and guns provided by the income from the slave trade. In the Islamic world, African slave labour on plantations, in seaports, and within families expanded the commerce and trade of the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf. In the Americas, both North and South, slave labour became the key component in trans-Atlantic agriculture and commerce, making possible the booming capitalist economy of the 17th and 18th centuries. The greatest demand came from Brazil (in South America) and the sugar plantations in the Caribbean islands.
84 THE RESISTANCE
Many Africans, such as Queen Nzingha of Angola and King Maremba of the Congo, fought valiantly, if vainly, against the European slavers and their African collaborators, without whom the massive numbers of men and women could not have been captured. Others resisted their captors by starting mutinies or even, in desperation, jumping overboard from slave ships during the horrendous ‘middle passage’ across the Atlantic Ocean. Many enslaved Africans destined for the Americas were subjected to a ‘breaking in’ process, often in the West Indies. Many of those captured, especially those of very strong spirit, were not ‘broken’, and managed to escape, eventually forming independent communities such as that of the Maroons (‘escapees’) in the West Indies. Some of these Maroon communities, numbering in the thousands in the Caribbean and South American, waged guerrilla warfare against slave hunters. If the escaped slave hunters were caught, they were terribly brutally executed.
85 THE DIASPORA: The forced and brutal dispersal of nearly thirty million Africans into foreign lands as slaves is the Black Diaspora. African slaves and their descendants carried with them their many skills and shared community values, rich cultural traditions, resiliency, and a resistance ethos that transformed and enriched the cultures they entered around the world. Thus, as African peoples were globally scattered, they carried their many strengths, and their traditions of cultural creativity and oral arts with them. This included a rich culture of music, using a wide variety of instruments, some primitive
and some very sophisticated, vibrant musical rhythms, dance, costumes in a rainbow of colours, almost an exploration of multi-coloured and diverse textures. There is enchanting use of repetition in poems, in the call-and-response of song, and story telling, all part of the rich traditions of most African peoples. African cultural musical and oral traditions
86 1789 A Nigerian slave from the Benin area of Nigeria, transported to the States (USA) as a young child, later achieved freedom and reached England. Somehow along the way, this young man, Equiano, learned to read and write, so that, once in freedom, he was able to write his autobiography. Perhaps as a matter of security, he wrote as Gustavo Vassa, though he used his true name in the title of his book, ‘The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano’. This fascinating and painful book by Equiano (who was also called Igbo) was a clear exposition of his life as a slave, and then in freedom. One most interesting facet is Equiano’s description of the difference between servitude under the African system, and the European ‘chattel’ slavery’. This was written in partial defence of the African system of servitude, as being more humane than the Europeans’ system of slavery, ownership of another person. As possibly the first autobiography of a slave or former slave, this book aroused much interest. Equiano’s book was followed by others, written by freed men, or smuggled out of slavery by those not yet free. All of these helped to stimulate the young but growing abolitionist movement in the States, and in Europe.
87 1790s The abolitionist movement (to abolish slavery) gained strength in England, and also in the USA.
88 1792 A slave uprising in Haiti (called Saint-Dominigue by the French), involving thousands of slaves, was led by Toussant L’Ouverture (1743-1803). His army eventually numbered 55,000 Africans, who waged guerrilla and frontal war against the British in Haiti for years.
89 Late 18th- mid 19th C European political, economic, and scientific interests stimulated another era of exploration, and a search for new markets. British explorer James Bruce reached the source of the Blue Nile in 1770, Scottish explorer Mungo Park explored (1795 and 1805) the course of the Niger River, Scottish missionary David Livingstone explored the Zambezi River and, in 1855, named Victoria Falls, and British explorers John Hanning Speke and James Augustus Grant, travelling downstream, and Sir Samuel White Baker, working upstream, located the sources of the Nile in 1863. Following the explorers (and sometimes preceding them) were Christian missionaries and European merchants.
90 1795 The British seized control of Cape Colony, South Africa, from the Dutch.
19th century, 1800s
91 1800s and throughout the century Poetry written in the language of the Swahili had long been focussed mostly on Arab (and Muslim) themes. The new Kiswahili poetry looked at, and used, traditional Bantu cultural material, such as their ritual songs, and more. The famed Swahili poet, Sayyid Abdallah Bin Masir, wrote a strong religious poem, ‘The Soul’s Awakening’ (‘Utendi wa Inkishafi’). This account of the fall of Pate, a city-state, presented a strong message about the futility of selfish earthly life.
92 1804 This was the year that the Black Republic of Haiti came into being.
93 1807 The Wilberforce Law inEngland banned the slave trade. (Slavery itself was banned in1835.)
94 1815 This was a time of continuing British immigration to South Africa,
some 20 years after wresting Cape Colony from the Dutch, and the settlement in which the British declared formal control over the former Dutch possession. Despite government resistance, the Boers began to move inland in search of better land and, after 1815, managed to escape British control.
95 1818-1828 Shaka, a strong Zulu chief, unified the Nguni peoples and forged an impressive fighting force, launching the ‘mfecane‘ (wars of crushing and wandering; pronounced ‘mm feh CAH neh) against the neighbouring black Africans and white Europeans throughout southern Africa. Shaka was assassinated in 1828, but Zulu power continued to rise.
96 1822 The American Colonization Society (ACS) was set up to enable free African-Americans to return to Africa, as an alternative to emancipation in the United States. In 1822, the society established a colony on the west coast of Africa. This became the independent nation of Liberia, in 1847. This resettlement programme continued such that, twenty years later, more than 13,000 ex-slaves had achieved freedom in Liberia, through the work of the ACS.
97 1830-1834 Seeking more land, the Boers, Europeans of Dutch descent (the word ‘boers’ means ‘farmers’) already settled in South Africa, began their ‘Great Trek’ north, migrating to areas, potential farmlands, beyond the Orange River and into Natal. This led to the ‘land transfer, or dispossession of the southern Nguni peoples (see 108).
98 1835 Slavery was banned in England, twenty-eight years after the slave trade itself was banned.
99 1839 West Africa’s people and states were challenged by the disruptions and distress caused by the Atlantic slave trade, and the resultant movements of African population.
100 1839-1842 These several years saw the reality of the Amistad (slave) Revolt, on which the 1997 Steven Spielberg film was based. The ‘Revolt’ was on shipboard, off the coast of Cuba. The impetus of this revolt had a serious effect even on the young United States, as the captured men of the revolt set in motion a battle, using the law, politics and public debate, to raise the public’s awareness of the terrible and inhumane aspects of slavery and the slave trade, and concern about the loss of the native homes of the slaves who had been stolen from Africa. Race was an aspect, as well, debating whether or not one race had the right to enslave another. The very fibre of the young American nation was affected.
101 The Amistad Revolt was an important episode in the interlocked histories of: (1) West Africa, whose peoples and states were made to feel uneasy/threatened (in 1839) by the massive loss of population caused by the terrible depredations of the Atlantic Slave Trade; and (2) Cuba, a Spanish possession (in 1839) and both a major sugar producer, perhaps the world’s biggest, and also then still a major slave-owning culture, the last in the Caribbean, and (3) a bit farther north, the still young but growing United States, in 1839 poised to become a significant political power beyond its borders, but increasingly torn asunder politically by its situation as half-free and half slave. There were those who believed there was a biblical basis for slavery (see 55 and 84), while perhaps an even greater number had themselves, or their long-remembered antecedents, come to the ‘New World’ in search of political, religious or other freedoms.
102 1832-3 The British abolished slavery in the West Indies, twenty-five years after banning the British slave trade, and two years before banning slavery itself (in 1835) in England.
103 1850s In midst of the mfecane (see 95), the white Boer Republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal were established.
104 1850s Black African journalists and other writers educated in Europe or in various mission and government schools in Africa, began to be recognized. One form of recognition was simply to be published, for one’s words to be in print. To this end, some newspapers published stories and poems, the latter in a ‘Poets’ Corner‘. The writings were published in a range of indigenous African languages, as well as in several European languages.
105 1853 David Livingstone travelled three hundred miles along the upper reaches of the Zambezi River, then set off from Linyanti in present-day Botswana to Luanda on the coast of Portuguese Angola. After recovering his strength, he retraced his path to Linyanti before embarking to Quilimane in Mozambique, making him the first European to traverse the continent from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean.
106 1863 The USA Emancipation Proclamation freed all slaves in the United States, even before the end of the Civil War.
107 1870s The Zulu people took up arms against the British.
108 1871 Livingstone witnessed a horrific massacre at a town called Nyangwe in Central Africa, where Arab slave traders pulled out their guns after an argument over the price of a chicken, and indiscriminately shot more than 400 people.
109 1871-1912 During thesedecades, European imperialism, in itsascendancy, was at its strongest and most powerful. The English were well ahead of the race in many respects, even as the other countries were endeavouring to carve themselves a piece of Africa, or establish that which they had already claimed. All the European countries set their own boundaries in Africa, totally heedless of the traditionally recognised boundaries, or tribal/ethnic lands already occupied/possessed by tribes, ethnic groups or even small nations.The long established rule among the colonizing nations was ‘divide and rule’. Europeans had begun taking over parts of Africa in the middle of the fifteenth century, raiding them for whatever wealth could be found or created. European actions exacerbated, even encouraged, existing tensions and hostilities between tribes/language groups/ethnic units.
110 This was also a time of ‘land reassignment’, or ‘land alienation’, which should more honestly be called ‘land grabbing’, or ‘theft of land’ long owned by local people, owned for generations, farmed, and used as pasture land for the farmer’s flocks, for generations. It was not ‘land alienation’; land cannot be ‘alienated’ It was the ‘alienation’ of defenceless and vulnerable Africans, forced to yield to the colonials’ powers. (see 76, 97)
111 At the same time, there was a resurgence of self-respect among many black African peoples, who saw the error of the European assumption that European cultures were of higher value than the indigenous, centuries-old cultures of Africa. The black Africans also were beginning to reject even more strongly being governed (and oppressed) by those who believed in ‘white supremacy’, at the cost of the integrity of black Africans.
112 1873 Livingstone died (a disappointed man) on May first, at Ilala, by the shores of Lake Bangweolo; the slave trade seemed at that point to be ineradicable. Yet, just over a month later, the open sore of slavery did begin to heal, when the Sultan of Zanzibar (5 June, 1973) signed a treaty with the British, pledging to abolish the East African slave trade. The Old Slave Market was sold to the Universities Mission to Central Africa; they erected a splendid cathedral above the old slave cells, a fitting monument to Livingstone’s posthumous success as an abolitionist.
113 1879 The British were defeated by the Zulu troops, at Isandhlwana. Not long after that, the Zulus lost to the British at Rourke’s Drift, in South Africa.
114 1880s This period saw a resurgence of African-pride writings and subsequent publication; this movement was sometimes referred to as ‘self-glorification’, but more properly it should be seen as glorying in one’s homeland, culture and traditions.
This period also saw increased strife between the colonizing nations and the Africans in many areas, and strong disagreements also between colonizing European nations themselves.
115 1882 At this time, Great Britain assertedits claimover Egypt.
116 1883Awareness of tensions (and respective rights) was rising among both Europeans and Africans, perhaps partially in response to theincreased concerns about the effects of colonization. There were numerous (and relevant) writers in English, foremost among them at that time being the South Africa writer, Olive Schereiner. Her novel, ‘The Story of an African Farm‘, deals brilliantly with the issues of relations between the races, and between men and women. This sensitive book was among the first in this field, and is often cited as a classic.
117 more on 1871-1912
By the end of the 1800s, and even into the 20th century, the partitioning of Africa, regardless of the wishes of the indigenous Africans, was seriously advanced. The new boundaries cut across traditional lines; this had begun as early as the 1400s, becoming ever more damaging to the local communities and culture. The boundaries were set for the convenience of the colonial powers; the opportunities for trade were paramount, often to the detriment of the local producers of the materials sought by the Europeans (some historians have used the word ‘steal’ to describe the ethics some of the Europe traders) who were protected by armies and armed ships. For many Europeans, the goal was cheap raw materials for European industries. Many also had a perverted ‘Christian’ ideology (see 55 and 84), tinged by self-righteous racism, seeing all non-whites as pagan heathens. The capitalist colonists followed the earlier footsteps of Christian missionaries, and the (sometimes) even earlier traders.
Tensions between colonizing nations rose, threatening the existing but sometimes fragile peace among theEuropean nations.
118 1884 The German Chancellor, Otto von Bismarck, announced a protectorate over the Bay of Angra Pequena (Namibia).
119 1885 In August, Bismarck sent four warships to Zanzibar demanding that the Sultan hand over his empire to Germany.
121 1884-5 The potential dangers to both African and European peace led to the calling of the Berlin conference. Not only all the European colonizing powers, but also the (fairly neutral) United States (where slavery had only recently ended) met to attempt to resolve some of these tensions. At the Conference, the colonizing nations corporately clarified the areas to which they laid claim. They also established ‘ground rules’ for future development, and also for the use of the Zaire and Niger rivers, important for shipping and other transport. In light of the attitudes of the colonizing nations, it is perhaps not surprising that no African nations were included in the deliberations; when agreements were reached at the Conference, no African nation signed these agreements. Undoubtedly, none were asked, but even had they been asked, they would not have signed and, indeed, did their best to invalidate those decisions, by their (African) opposition. Peace in Africa seemed a distant dream, as there were many revolts at about that same time, in Algeria, Ashantiland (Ghana), Dahomey, the Fulani Hausa states (these latter were finally defeated), and by the Matabele (Ndebele) and the Shona.
122 1885 The ‘New Era‘ newspaper began publication in Sierra Leone. It was the beginning of the independent African press, owned by local individuals, as was the ‘New Era‘, or by local consortia. This was a great step towards ensuring the publication of local views, including opposition to the ‘powers that be’, opposition to both the African and the non-African governors.
123 1895-1897 Among the new wave of African writers at this time, there was, in his native Boloki, a young man named Buntungu, who wrote of his experiences after a trip to England. His book is’Mokingi mwa Mputu‘, or ‘A Trip to Europe‘. The perceptions recorded in this book are of special value, being the observations of an indigenous young educated African.
124 1896 A contemporary and successful African resistance was seen when the Italians suffered a severe defeat by the Ethiopians, under the Emperor Menelik II. At the Battle of Adowa (or Aduwa), his troops wiped out the Italians.
125 1896-1897 There were problems in the British-dominated Rhodesia at this time, as recorded in the British South Africa Company Reports on ‘The Native Disturbances in Rhodesia‘.
126 Late 19th c Prior to this time, and into the next century, there was evidence of increasing awareness and rising public opinion, in the western countries (‘predominantly ‘white’ countries) against the European colonization and colonial practices.
127 1899-1902 Long periods of tensions finally led to the Anglo-Boer War in South Africa. Though the British officially won the war, it was a pyrrhic victory (one in which the victors are nearly worse off than those they defeated), for they had to make many concessions relating to internal policies. These were demanded (and won) by the Boer’s (Afrikaner farmers) political organization. These concessions created the way, eventually, for the white Afrikaners to shake off the shackles of British domination. It also gave the European-descent Afrikaners power over the black African majority at that time.
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