Chapter 26 - Africa and the Atlantic World

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Overview

For thousands of years, sub-Saharan Africa was a remote and isolated region, cut off from much of the outside world by vast oceans and the Sahara Desert. In the eighth century Muslim caravans reached west Africa, and in the tenth century Arab merchant ships began trading with the Swahili city-states of east Africa (see Chapter 19). These contacts were, for the most part, mutually beneficial to both African rulers and Muslim merchants. Traders sought gold, ivory, exotic foods such as kola nuts, and slaves. Africans, in turn, gained horses, salt, and other manufactured goods and were also introduced to the religion, law, and culture of Islam. Several African societies, such as the Songhay, the Kongo, and the Ndongo, shifted from band level units to larger, more formal kingdoms.

This political evolution was disrupted after the fifteenth century, when Portuguese mariners reached the west coast of Africa. Direct European contact brought rapid and dramatic changes, which profoundly affected all sub-Saharan societies.

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