Ancient African Culture and Art

One of the things that many of us use to judge or decide if a culture or a people are advanced and sophisticated is their culture and their art and their music. This section shares just a sneak preview of this subject. And its just scratching the service! Enjoy and share it!


Culture and Art – Nigeria

  • In the mid-nineteenth century, William Clarke, an English visitor to Nigeria, remarked that:
  • As good an article of cloth can be woven by the Yoruba weavers as by any people … in durability, their cloths far excel the prints and home-spuns of Manchester.







  • Yoruba art “would stand comparison with anything which Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece and Rome, or Renaissance Europe had to offer.”








  • Benin art of the Middle Ages was of the highest quality. An official of the Berlin Museum für Völkerkunde once stated that:






  • These works from Benin are equal to the very finest examples of European casting technique. Benvenuto Cellini could not have cast them better, nor could anyone else before or after him … Technically, these bronzes represent the very highest possible achievement.






Giraffes As Gifts of Diplomacy – Kanem Borno and Malindi

  • In 1246 AD Dunama II of Kanem-Borno exchanged embassies with Al-Mustansir, the king of Tunis.
  • He sent the North African court a costly present, which apparently included a giraffe.
  • An old chronicle noted that the rare animal “created a sensation in Tunis”.


Kanem Borno Royal delegation















  • In 1414 the Kenyan city of Malindi sent ambassadors to China carrying a gift that created a sensation at the Imperial Court.
  • It was, of course, a giraffe.



Kush – Textiles, Pottery, Cutlery and Religious Artefacts

  • The empire of Kush/Aethopia and Ancient Sudan wasn’t poor by any stretch of the imagination. Not even close. Archaeologists found an individual buried at the Monastery of the Holy Trinity in the city of Old Dongola.
  • He was wearing in an extremely elaborate outfit made up of expensive textiles of various fabrics including gold thread.
  • Style and fashion was obviously imporant in mediaeval Sudan.
  • Meroitic Cylinder -25th Dynasty

    A dignitary at Jebel Adda in the late thirteenth century AD was interned with a long coat of red and yellow patterned damask (patterned weaving, with designs) folded over his body.

  • Underneath, he wore plain cotton trousers of long and baggy cut.
  • A pair of red leather slippers with turned up toes lay at the foot of the coffin.
  • The body was wrapped in enormous pieces of gold brocaded striped silk.
  • Meroitic Cylinder -25th Dynasty -Found at Mereo -Used to pour libations of traditional Nile water, milk, and wine







  • Ballana Silvery Crown

    Ballana Silvery Crown -Date: 4th-6th CE

  • -Unearthed from a cemetery at Ballana in Lower Nubia. Found at the head of a burial mound. Depicts a frieze of Horus hawks at the base and at the front is a crescent moon supporting a rod.
  • -the red/ruby jewels are believed to have come from the Black Sea.






Hathor earrings

hathor pendant


  • Gold double Hathor earring Nubian, Meroitic Period, 90 B.C.–50 A.D.
  • “Hathor headed crystal pendant,” Nubian, Napatan Period, reign of Piye (Piankhy), 743–712 B.C. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.







Congolese – Art, Textiles and Fashion

  • Kongolese textiles were also really high quality and rich. Various European writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wrote of the delicate crafts of the peoples living in eastern Kongo regions, who manufactured damasks, sarcenets, satins, taffeta, cloth of tissue and velvet (look those up).
  • Professor DeGraft-Johnson made a surprisingly humble and weird comment: “Their brocades, both high and low, were far more valuable than the Italian.”
  • On Kongolese metallurgy (science of making metals) 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. They devised preventative and curative methods, both pharmacological (massive doses of pawpaw and palm oil) and mechanical (exerting of pressure to free the digestive tract), for combating lead poisoning.”



Zimbabwe and South Africa

  • the Horniman Museum in London had exhibits of headrests with the caption:
  • “Headrests have been used in Africa since the time of the Egyptian pharaohs.
  • Remains of some headrests, once covered in gold foil, have been found in the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and burial sites like Mapungubwe dating to the twelfth century after Christ.”
  • Dr Albert Churchward, author of Signs and Symbols of Primordial Man, found writing in one of the stone built ruins:
  • “Lt.-Col. E. L. de Cordes … who was in South Africa for three years, informed the writer that in one of the ‘Ruins’ there is a ‘stone-chamber,’ with a vast quantity of Papyri, covered with old Egyptian hieroglyphics.
  • A Boer hunter discovered this, and a large quantity was used to light a fire with, and yet still a larger quantity remained there now.”


  • The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (1075–1220) was a pre-colonial state in Southern Africa located at the confluence of the Shashe and Limpopo rivers, south of Great Zimbabwe.
  • The kingdom was the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdo
  • Elites within the kingdom were buried in hills.
  • Royal wives lived in their own area away from the king.
  • Important men maintained prestigious homes on the outskirts of the capital.
  • Gold objects were uncovered in elite burials on the royal hill ( Mapungubwe hill) of Zimbabwe in the 13th century,
  • Gold trading links to Rhapta and Kilwa Kisiwani on the African east coast.
  • The Kingdom of Mapungubwe lasted about 80 years, and at its height its population was about 5000 people.
  • The Mapungubwe Collection is a museum collection of artifacts found at the archaeological site and is housed in the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.
  • Most speculation about society continues to be based upon the remains of buildings, since the Mapungubweans left no written record.
  • The kingdom was likely divided into a three-tiered hierarchy with
  • the commoners inhabiting low-lying sites
  • district leaders occupying small hilltops
  • the capital at Mapungubwe hill as the supreme authority.




  • All quotes and excerpts below are from the books of Robin Walker and PD Lawton
  • Another culture ruled in southern Africa as well, call the empire of Monomotapa. Visitors in the 17th century historically recorded that they found that :
  • The people dress 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 width four covados [2.64m], 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.
  • An eighteenth century geography book provided the following data:
  • “The inside consists of a great variety of sumptuous apartments, spacious and lofty halls, all adorned with a magnificent cotton tapestry, the manufacture of the country.
  • The floors, ceilings [sic], beams and rafters are all either gilt or plated with gold curiously wrought, as are also the chairs of state, tables, benches &couches.
  • The candle-sticks and branches are made of ivory inlaid with gold, and hang from the cieling by chains of the same metal, or of silver gilt.”



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