Africa Before Europe: An Essay on Achievement

Africa Before Europe: An Essay on Achievement

A Story by Pen The Willows

This was a DBQ (document-based question) essay I had to write for my AP World History class.


            Africa is the second-largest and second-most populated continent. It is a place full of poverty, war, and disease. But it hasn’t always been this way. The African continent has a rich history of survival and splendor, though much of that has been depleted over time. However, in the time before the Europeans arrived in Africa in the late 15th century, the civilizations of Africa had already accomplished many great things.

            We have a multitude of unbiased accounts about the success and importance of many African empires, kingdoms, and cities. The Aksumite empire was an important international trading center, and was a major stop on many trade routes along the coast of the Red Sea, and inland towards the Nile River and the Sahara Desert. The ancient kingdom of Ghana, at one time in its history, was the controller of the trans-Saharan gold and salt trade, and made sure that the world knew it. The court of the Ghanaian king was described as a luxurious place filled with luxurious people; even the dogs wore collars of gold and silver. This description comes to us from an Arab scholar back in 1067. Timbuktu was filled with many learned men that the king paid very well; the city was full of literature, and were bought and sold for a higher price than many other things, as stated by a Moroccan traveler. A Muslim scholar and judge, after having visited Kilwa, described it as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and stated that many of the people that lived there enjoyed a luxurious lifestyle. This makes sense, because Kilwa controlled a section of overseas trade. I would like to see an unbiased document about a city in the Ethiopian empire.

            Most of the documents provided are from the point of view of outsiders. Two of them feature the ancient kingdom of Ghana, which is described as a rich place which had all the makings of a nation that could survive in the world today. Ghana is made out to be a place that had everything right, and these documents are provided by an Arab scholar from 1067 and an author from 1970. The Mali empire, which replaced the Ghanaian empire, is also described. One document, from an Egyptian official, says that the man responsible for expanding the Malian empire �" Mansa Musa �" gave money to many a person on his visit to Cairo, and is therefore a very generous man. A Muslim scholar and judge also visited Mali, and described it as a seldom unjust kingdom, which also provided complete security. I believe that it would be helpful to receive a document from a Malian or Ghanaian peasant.

            Two of the documents are biased, though the reader would not know it if they didn’t know who had written them. One of them is a document from an Egyptian official about the generosity of Mansa Musa. Though this document is biased (for the official most likely received some of the money that Mansa Musa gave away), it is interesting to see how a recipient viewed Mansa Musa. The other document features the oral account of a Hausa artisan. They are explaining a lost-wax process for making bronze sculpture, and make a few vain comments about their work. If one did not know it was an artist’s account of their own work, one would just think that it was an account from an art collector or someone of the like. It would be nice to have a biased document from either an extremely well-off person, or an extremely poor person.

            Though Africa has a long history, up until a certain point very little was written down. This lack of writings has put historians at a disadvantage, but they have learned to work with the documents that they have. And the documents that they have unearthed have provided quite a variety of information about a variety of places (and people) and from a variety of view-points. There is one thing that almost all of these accounts have in common, though. They all show Africa as a well-to-do continent that had much to offer the world.

© 2011 Pen The Willows

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Added on December 19, 2011
Last Updated on December 19, 2011


Pen The Willows
Pen The Willows


I'm 18 years old and I'm in my sophomore year of college. Most of the writings archived on here are from when I was in middle school and high school, and they aren't really very good. I wasn't going t.. more..