There is so much to tell regarding what Africans achieved before the arrival of the Europeans. From advanced architecture, ancient civilisations of Egypt and the Mandinka of West Africa, to the sterling trade that far exceeded all other economies at the time, the continent was blessed with so many forms of innovations long before colonialism set in.
Here are innovations that existed in Africa before colonization:
Before colonialism, Africa had herbalist healers who were treating all ailments. The African traditional healers went by many names such as Inyanga and Isangoma in Zulu, Ixwele and Amaquira in Xhosa, Nqaka in Sotho and Toor-dokter, bossie-dokter or kruie-dokter in Afrikaans.
Even now, these healers can be found across the continent, providing often better and cheaper alternative to western medicine. Some of these healers, apart from being knowledgeable about herbs, plants, and their medicinal purposes, were also spiritually endowed.
In terms of childbirth, Africans also recorded one of the amazing cesarean section way back in 1879. Bunyoro, a kingdom in Western Uganda performed a highly developed surgical procedure; a cesarean section that saved mother and child in pre-hospital days. This was received with shock 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. There is also a story of how an African, Onesimus, curbed the smallpox epidemic in an American city, Boston in 1721.
Some of the earliest evidence of human civilisations comes from Africa. Ancient Egypt prospered for almost 3000 years and is believed to have been one of the longest lasting civilisations in history.
The Ancient Egyptians produced the first 365-day calendar that was based on flooding of the Nile. They also invented a form of picture writing called hieroglyphics. They further believed that there was life after death, and hence realized that bodies of the dead had to be preserved for the afterlife. They subsequently built pyramids to house their dead.
History also says that people in East Africa had around 1400 BC started producing steel, using techniques that were not developed in Europe until so many years later. Ethiopia, Nigeria and Tanzania were believed to have been experiencing the Iron Age as early as the 6th century BC, which later spread across the continent.
The Bantu people who occupied an area around the borders of modern-day Nigeria and Cameroon were thought to have spread metalworking and agriculture as they were moving from around 3000 BC to eastern and southern areas of Africa.
Reading and writing
Before the Europeans arrived, African had its own writing system as mentioned above with the Egyptian form of picture writing called hieroglyphics. Ethiopia had poetic forms such as the Qene and Mawandes as early as 1BC, predating Christianity and Islam.
In West Africa, there were the griots, who were basically storytellers, singers, and oral historians. As custodians of history, these griots kept records of all the births, deaths, marriages through the generations of the village or family.
The Bantu of Southern Africa had a language of symbols comparable to the Egyptian hieroglyphs. For the nomads of Southern Africa, they left cave paintings which tell stories of hunting methods and other cultural practices in pictograms.
There is also Ibrahim Njoya, the African king who created his own writing system that was destroyed by the French
Egypt has the best-known African architecture with its beautiful pyramids. One of its oldest building, a stepped stone pyramid, dates to around 2650 BCE and is part of the necropolis, or cemetery.
Apart from the Great Sphinx of Giza, the temple complex of Karnak is also one of the most impressive sites in all of Egypt and it’s the largest religious compound ever built by man. There is also the Nubian pyramids, that were built from the fourth century B.C. to third century A.D by the rulers of the ancient Kushite kingdoms.
East Africans following their trade with India during the Middle Ages also became rich enough to build stone palaces, city walls, mosques and churches. Ethiopian and Sudanese often cut their churches out of the living rock instead of quarrying stone.
By around 1200 AD, as trading increased, people in South Africa became rich to build in stone at Mapungubwe and Thulamela (in modern South Africa) and Great Zimbabwe.
Of the buildings of the continent south of the Sahara, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe are one of the best known. It is believed that the Great Zimbabwe ruins hold the key to the mystery of the lost civilization of ancient Africa. Built by Shona cattlemen, the site covers about 720 hectares with its huge granite walls, conical towers and fortresses.
In West Africa, the new cities of Oualata and then Timbuktu (in modern Mali) were mostly built out of mudbrick and at Djenne, there was a much bigger mudbrick mosque. By the late Middle Ages, Mansa Musa in Mali had brought home a Spanish architect to build baked brick buildings.