Outside the continent of Africa, the name brings different images to the minds of people. To those who have not set foot on the soil of Africa, it is a mixed feeling of either a land radiating with beautiful sunlight, filled with beautiful game and rustic life. To others, it is a place without any history, with no pedigree of any sort and no reasonable past to bother about.
There is an even worse sentiment among the younger generations of Africans, especially those who were not groomed in the history of the black continent.
Africa is the world’s second largest continent after Asia, both by size and by population. It is home to over 54 sovereign countries and has nearly 1.2 billion people who call it home.
Africa’s landmass is approximately 11.7 million square miles, stretching from the coasts of the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean sea.
In spite of these glowing features, one curious question on the minds of many people is why the name, Africa?
This question has become so critical that it troubles younger Africans and perhaps the older ones too. It is said that you cannot be proud of a name whose origin you do not know. So we are going to attempt to answer even corollary questions that derive from trying to trace the origin of the name Africa.
So, what is the origin of Africa? Was there a name it was called before it became Africa? At what time did it become Africa?
In Alkebulan history, the continent was called Alkebulan until the 17th century when it started bearing what is today known as Africa. Africa’s other names were Corphye, Ortegia, Libya and even Ethiopia, especially in Bible times.
It was also known by other names such as the land of Ham ( people with dark skin, because of the people of Cush or Kesh who arguably, are the people known today as Ethiopians), the garden of Eden and the Mother of Creation.
What is important to note is that it was not Africa until its name was changed. The other big question is why it is called Africa. What is known today as Africa was not a monolithic continent until the colonialists stepped in around the 1600 AD. Before then, Africa was used to refer to the northern parts of what is known today as a continent such as Egypt, Libya and Sudan. But as the colonialists and missionaries gained entry further into the hinterlands, they discovered similarities in cultures among the various peoples they had met. The word Africa became a handy word to tie these similar cultures together.
But why Africa?
Many schools of thought abound on the etymology of the word, Africa. We will attempt to look at a few reliable schools of thought on the word.
A school of thought believes that the word Africa comes from the Romans who ‘discovered’ a tribe on the edge of the Mediterranean called Afri. It was around the place widely known in the then world as Carnage, but today known as Tunisia.
According to this account, Africa is known as the land of Afri.
Another account seems to hold that the Greeks gave Africa its name. It is almost impossible to not believe that the Greeks named almost everything in the world, going by our history books.
This account holds that the name comes from the continent’s climate. The Greek, having found the land free from cold and horror, decided to name it Aphrike.
The Africus theory seems a very plausible angle offering an explanation for the name of the continent. According to this theory, a Yemenite chieftain called Africus invaded the northern part of the continent around the 2nd millennium BC and settled in the conquered territory. He named the place Afrikya and later ordered the entire continent named after him to immortalise himself.
Other historians believe that Africa as a word comes from the Phoenicians. They saw it as a land of corn and fruits.
There are as many explanations for the name of Africa as there are many historians. What is important is the role the continent played in world civilisation.
Africa ruled the world for 15,000 years. Surprised? Many people would be, too. But you read that right. For 15,000 solid years, Africa led the world on many fronts from military conquests to education and arts. It would come as a shock to many people that most of the universities across the world still study African civilisations. Hey, let us get into some real business of studying what Africa offered the world.
One of the greatest things Africa was known for is architecture. The pyramids of Egypt are still a wonderful testimony to the architectural dexterity of ancient Africa. Then there is the Thebes sitting on the coast of the Nile river, displaying the wonders of architecture in its temples. It is described by author C.H Vail in Ancient Mysteries thus: At a short distance from Danderah, now called Upper Egypt, is the most extraordinary group of architectural ruins presented in any part of the world, known as the Temples of the ancient city of Thebes.
The architectures in Memphis and Thebes became designs for churches and lodges for many years across the world.
According to Marx Muller (in Egyptian Mythology), “Egyptian temples were made of stone, the outer courts of mud bricks. Wide roads led to the temples for the convenience of processions, while the immediate entrance was lined with statues, consisting of sphinxes and other animals. The front wall formed two high tower-like buildings, called pylons, before which stood two granite obelisks. Immediately behind the pylons came a large court where the congregation assembled and watched the sacrifices. Immediately next to the hall of the congregation, came the hall of priests, and immediately following the hall of the priests, came the final chamber called the Adytum, i.e., the Holy of Holies, which was entered only by the High priest. This was the place of the shrine and the abode of God.”
In military might, Africa also presented outstanding leadership to the world. For instance, the kingdom of Axum was one of the strongest empires around the world during its era. Its military strength competed with the Romans and other ‘superpowers’ at the time.
The Axum empire stretched from Western Saudi Arabia, Yemen, modern day Djibouti, Ethiopia and most of what is today known as Eritrea.
In the late 1200s, the Abisinians, under the reign of the rulership of Yekuno Amalak conquered many kingdoms around the then known world. The kingdom remained strong for more than 300 years later and would, in collaboration with Portuguese armies, crush repeated Ottoman attacks in early and late 1500s.
Africa’s military might began crumbling with the defeat of Menelik II of Egypt after he suffered a decisive defeat at the hands of emperor Yohannes IV at the battle of Gura in 1868. By 1884, most of the powerful empires had begun to collapse as the colonialists pummeled them.
Ever heard of the University of Timbuktu? Yes, it existed. And it was on the soil of Africa. It existed around 982 CE in the city of Timbuktu in present day Mali.
It is a loose term used to hold together the teachings which took place in the great mosques of Sankore, Djinguereber and Sidi.
It was a scholastic endeavour that lasted many centuries and produced the world’s first organised university system.
Other enduring legacies of Africa include;
The university of Al-Kharaouni, Fes, Morocco which was established in 859 AD and the Al-Azhar University in Egypt established in 972 AD.
In trade and commerce, Africa provided gold and salt to the world. Gold was the principal means of exchange for goods and services in the then known world. African goldsmiths made gold plated jewelry worn by its beautiful women, crowns worn by kings and other beautiful things admired by the colonial powers when they set foot in the continent.
North Africans dealt in spices and the trans Saharan trade enriched the then known world. Traders came from as far as the Middle East and far East to trade.
In recent history, Africa has come to be known as a continent bedevilled by crises, misgovernance and poverty.
Even though many paleontologists consider it the oldest inhabited place on earth, its current evolution has left much to be desired. The continent of Africa is presumably 7 million years old, according to anthropologists who, in the mid 20th century, discovered fossils of human occupation dating as far back as the presumed time.
It is therefore imperative to state that a continent which has enriched the world on all fronts should be the cradle of modern civilization.
Let us take pride in our continent and make Africa the world leader once again.
God bless Africa.