The Lost Kingdoms of Africa

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This is an outstanding book that makes archaeology accessible and exciting to read.More than this, it takes us through a panoramic tour of the achievements and ancient history of the continent of Africa up to the modern day. Dr Gus Casely-Hayford visits a huge variety of the remains of different societies each of which developed around an aspect of production or trade with different lifestyles and belief systems and norms.

He looks at trade routes that linked these societies with the rest of the world. Nearly all of this fascinating past is denied by mainstream historians, curriculums and archaeologists. One example is how Rhodesian children were taught that the city of Greater Zimbabwe must have been built by escapees from Carthage — as apartheid could not conceive of black Africans being able to create a complex society in the Middle Ages.

Hayford’s style is compelling because he is both passionate and informed. Despite the vastness of his subjects he introduces us to individuals who are in the frontline of discovering or studying the archaeology of Africa. The book shows us artefacts and wonders, such as huge buildings carved from solid rock and items of art unique to African cultures from pre-Egyptian buildings, the societies of sub-Saharan Africa, inland Africa and on to the eastern and western coasts.

If I have a criticism it is that he is soft on imperialism. He describes the reason for the arrival of Europeans in Africa as “cultural curiosity”. No doubt they were curious, but the ransacking of the continent was driven by the new system of capitalism which required new sources of raw materials, markets and labour. The slave trade only gets a mention in the section about Ghana and North West Africa. We get a glimpse of the brutal oppression by the British massacring the people of Benin, but other than that the hundreds of years of invasion and theft are not the focus of this book.

And the question of why the economy of a continent, so rich in history, culture, people and raw materials, went backwards is unasked and unanswered.
This is a great book and it inspires further reading on this fascinating subject. A good subsequent read would be Walter Rodney’s How Europe Underdeveloped Africa — which answers the question of what happened to the Lost Kingdoms.