Why Western Africa?

Or “Is Africa really an acceptable choice for a SCAdian persona?” or “Are you going topless now?”

The biggest problem with medieval Africa seems to be that not too many people acknowledge that it exists.

An example, please bear with me: I was reading a couple of posts on a mailing list I follow for the SCA. A knowledgeable, nameless poster was attempting to encourage a newbie (who happened to be a POC) to choose whatever culture they felt most comfortable with. Roughly “we can choose all types of cultures. Japanese, Mongol, all of Europe, the Middle East, the New World, and even Africa.”

Even Africa.

Surely there is no more of a preposterous culture to personify in the Middle Ages as Africa, complete with its bands of savages and mud huts, yes? Not Japan, whose roster of people visiting medieval Europe (correct me if I’m wrong) was about six during the tail end of the 16th century, while Africans as far as the Congo and modern day Nigeria had been living and corresponding with Portuguese settlers and merchants since the 1400s and earlier, in some cases.

Don’t believe me?

Here

And Here

Oh, and Here

Wait, wait, wait…This, too

And don’t forget this, this, this, and this

I know what you’re thinking. “Kehinde, if medieval western Africa were such a big deal, wouldn’t everyone know about it?”

Of course everyone knows about it. It’s not a giant black-hating conspiracy. I think it might be rather the opposite, though. A lot of ignorance I’ve encountered has been from people whose education on African history is limited to slavery in the United States. They’ve spent childhoods and adolescence being told that Africans were slaves.

“Essentially, Europeans were perpetrators and Africans were victims, and that’s terrible. The end.”

Nevermind that the slave trade was thriving during the High Middle Ages so that local chiefs could trade members of their chiefdoms for things like, oh, I dunno…crossbows. With the permission of Catholic leaders, newly converted chiefs and kings could do business with the Portuguese without worrying about becoming slaves themselves. Granted, some kings objected, but local leaders were only to happy to bypass them and set up new contracts with the Portuguese. Africans and Portuguese lived together at that point, with Africans taking Portuguese wives and visiting court and everything.

“From the very beginning the King of Kongo was treated with great respect by the Portuguese; the Ambassador who arrived in 1491 kissed his hand according to the custom of the Portuguese court, and brought assurances of friendship from John II. But the Europeans never doubted that the Kongo Authorities would wish to remodel their way of living upon the pattern of that of their Portuguese visitors as soon as possible. Masons, carpenters and artisans came out with the 1491 expedition; they arrived furnished with all the tools of their trade, and in many cases their wives accompanied them, bringing Portuguese cooking utensils.”

And also:

“In all Affonso sent more than twenty of his children, nephews and grandchildren to Portugal to study, but he was also anxious to make provision for the children who remained in Africa, building schools and pleading for Portuguese missionaries and teachers. In 1515 a newly arrived missionary reported enthusiastically on the school at Mbanza Kongo, where over a thousand sons of the Kongo nobility were learning to read and write, and were studying grammar, the humanities, and the Christian faith.”

And….

“It appears that the relationships between Portuguese and Kongo People in the Reign of Dom Affonso usually continued to be those of mutual respect. When Simon da Silva went to the Kongo as Portuguese Ambassador in 1513, he was ordered to treat Dom Affonso as a King, not as a tributary of the Portuguese crown; he was not to govern but to aid and advise the King of Kongo; he was to model the Kongo court on the pattern of Lisbon but always at the wish and with the consent of Dom Affonso, for the King of Portugal did not wish to occupy and conquer the Kongo, but only to open the way for Portuguese trade and for Christian missionaries.’ Europeans followed the same etiquette at the court of the King of Kongo as they would have done at Lisbon.”

So, now what?

Several medieval kingdoms of Western Africa are now cool to play with. Yoruba kingdoms and republics, Edo, Benin, the Kongo, even Portuguese-heavy settlements like Badagry (Gbagle) and Lagos (Eko). Research to your heart’s content; it’s good for you. There are nearly two centuries of completely free reign for people interested in Africa beyond the Muslim spread up north. Jump in! It’s gonna be a blast.

You’ll be glad you did. Promise.

As a footnote, the source for the quoted areas can be found here, along with maps and some language information. Until I get more definitive sources to back them up, go ahead and take it with a grain of salt. If any of this information is found to be false, please bring it to my attention so that I may remove it.

4 Comments

  1. sofyachy said,

    06/15/2012 at 14:49

    This may be the best argument I’ve read yet in favor of including Western African personas in the SCA. Thanks for sharing the link (in a comment on my blog) — now I’m sharing it on Facebook. 🙂 Love your look in the zombie photo, too…that’s one serious makeup job!

  2. THL Bran Chandler said,

    06/15/2012 at 15:47

    We are all taught in school the Columbus sailed the Atlantic to find an alternate sea route to India. Just exactly where do people think that was an alternate route to, if not around Africa?

  3. remzical said,

    06/19/2012 at 21:12

    Sorry about the late reply. Haha. I am a terrible blogger.

    They weren’t just looking to go around Africa; Africa was, in fact, a valid destination itself. Ivory, palm oil, exotic fruits and animals, spices, and gold (not to mention labor) were all highly sought after.

    Thanks for your comments. I hope to make this blog better and bigger soon. One baby step at a time! =D

  4. 11/01/2013 at 10:23

    Yeah, there were other places besides Europe with history happening in the Middle ages and Renaissance. I like to point this out with films like Adanggaman and ErĂ©ndira. And those questions…OMG.


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