Theories which explain the classification of people of West Africa.

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Geography is the study of the earth in all of its variety. Geography concerns the earth’s land, water and plant and animal life. It also tells us about the people who live on the earth, the place they have created and how these places differ. A study of geography can help us see why the people of the earth are diverse.

Geography and world history, world geography is especially important to the study of world history. Historian use geography to explain connections between the past and the present, They study how places looked in the past, how places and patterns of human activity have changed overtime and how geography forces have influenced these changes.

Geography and economy are responsible for locating the human settlement, due to geography characteristics determine the economic activities of any place, therefore both geography and economy influence the setting of peopling of West Africa. History of West Africa as of any other part of the world is closely related to geography and economy in which people have develop in past have always depend on it.

West Africa occupies an area2.4 millions square miles or approximately one fifth of Africa. It extends roughly from 5 degrees to 25 degrees north latitude and from 17 degrees west to 15 degrees east longitude. West Africa comprises countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory coast, Liberia, Mali Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal Togo, and Sierra Leone.

There are theories which explain the classification of people of West Africa, there is colonial theories of peopling of West Africa and the post colonial theory. Under colonial theory there are two sub-divided theories which are both trying to explain peopling of west Africa based on race and culture, the first colonial theory is evolutionary theory which was developed by Hegel who believed that all people live in west Africa came from different part of the world somewhere but not Africa, because he believed that Africa generally had no historical people, civilization in Africa brought by Asians and Europeans through interaction. Also another colonial theory is uniform process theory which views the process of human occupation in west Africa as asset of sequences like the presence of pygmies and san who had no culture, coming of negro from Asia brought some sorts of civilization and the coming of proto-hamites from north Asia brought full advanced civilization like the use of tools for cultivations and animal keeping.

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Under the post colonial theory, scholars including archeologists, linguistics had classified people of West Africa under five major linguistics group based on the language family or groups. They classified the West Africa people as the Mande speaking people Ghana, the Hausa speaking people of Nigeria, the Wolof speaking of Senegal, the Fulani speaking people of Mali, Niger and Nigeria and the Yoruba speaking people of Nigeria, Togo, and Benin.

The geographical and economic setting of peopling of West Africa, Geographical location and its characteristics influences can affect human settlement positively or negatively. In good  geographical position also economic activities are highly conducted,, the west Africa geographical position are like the coastal or forest belt, the savannah grassland belt and the desert belt all these influenced the settlement and classified of west Africa people in the following.

The coastal belt, it is located in lowlands between 0-200km, where Niger delta and its tributaries are found. It fall under equatorial climate which is characterized by receiving high rainfall, between 1500mm to 2000mm, high temperature throughout the year between 25 centigrade- to 30 centigrade. The  coastal belt is potential for supporting economic activities  like cultivation of root tubers like kola nuts and rubber also it is potential place  for finishing and trade, coastal belt is rich in mineral deposit like gold, diamond, iron, tin, coal, and potash.

Coastal belt influenced human settlement due to its potential conducive climate which supports different economic activities as shown. The societies which settled at this place were Ijo fishermen who involved in fishing for instance “Ijo fishermen of the Niger delta have proved so skillful in catching fish”[3] so due to presence of Niger River and its tributaries influenced the Ijo people to settle at this place.

Cultivation of tuber and rubber crops was conducted by the Akan people “the Akan farmers have done so well with the growing of the forest crops”[4] therefore the Akan made their settlement at coastal place influenced by fertile soil and good climate for their crops.  Before the 1000A.D the Yoruba formed institutions like Ile-Ife, they originated in Far East and settled at Ile-Ife Yoruba.

Trade also was conducted by the Nupe, Jukum and other people, this was due to involvement in handcrafts, iron smelting, brass work, cotton-weaving all these made commodities or good for exchange available hence trade was investable. Their early state began perhaps 11th C but took historical shape around 1400B.C.  The Nupe gained from their position along the river Niger because they became middlemen in trade between the north and the south. Other trader societies were like Mande traders, “the growth of Mande trade towards the coastlands led to the number of Mande pioneers carving out kingdoms for themselves in emulating of the major model of Mali. therefore the geographical and economic setting of the coastal belt influenced some of the societies immigration and to settle at this place as such Ijo,Igbo, Edo, Tekri, Ibidio, Efik and some Tiv and Fulan from the distant north they were used canoes for transport.

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The savanna belt, is located near equator, it covers 75% of historical West Africa it is characterized by receiving rains between 1000mm to 1500mm but sometimes may decrease to 750mm, plenty of trees, tall grasses and free from tsetse flies. The savannah belt is potential for conducting economic activities such as livestock keeping and cereal crop production and trade these economic activities influenced people to settle in savannah region such societies are Malinke, Soninke, Bambara who belonged to Mande speaking people and Mandingo’s speaking people.

In savannah region, there some societies who engaged in trading activities for instance, the Sonike society were involved in trade, where they established market centers. “ these were place in the grassland to the north of the upper waters of the Niger and the Senegal rivers” in the Niger river there were trading centers like Takrur and Sila in Futa Toro region and Gao along the Niger river, whereby they used to trade through caravan routes which crossed the Saharan from north Africa goods which were involved are like gold and ivory which were exchanged with salt from north Africa, therefore through this trade led to the civilization which in turn led to formation of states like Ghana empire.

Farming activities were carried out in the savannah region, for example the new cereal crops were developed in savannah between 4000B.C and 1000B.C due to the Neolithic revolution in which metal tools and weapons replaced those made of the earlier raw-materials like stone, wood and bone “especially perhaps between modern Ghana and Nigeria where today there is a gap in the tropical forest but where conditions did not favour the development of grain crops, the evolution was probably initially one of the vegeculture rather than agriculture proper such societies were Bamabra, Malinke, Mandika and Soninke.

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In the Sahel zone, there were animal keepers, like the Fulani who domesticated cattle were called cattle Fulani, as well as goats. The Fulani spread far across the grasslands of west Africa from their original home near the upper Senegal river and the upper Niger river “they had sent out nomad groups of cattle-breeders both eastwards and westwards” Fulani were divided into two groups, the Fulani who lived the old nomad life of countryside were called cattle Fulani and second group were the Fulani who preferred to live in towns called town Fulani, they overthrow the Ghana empire in 1559 and they formed their own state under Tenguella Koli who had the army called Fulan Mandika.

The desert zone, it is located in east of west Africa, characterized by trees are scarce rains range between 250mm and 500mm also there is sandy soils, hot throughout year. In desert zone the main economic activities was trade, although other activities were conducted like livestock keeping and cultivation of wheat. Trading activities in desert zone it begins around 8B.Cwas conducted by caravans of camels as the means of the transport through the desert. According Ibn Batuta explain that one caravan had average size of 10,000 to 12,000 of camels the trade caravan was guided by Berbers who knew the desert and could ensure safe passage. Also the Berbers groups used to exchange salt for gold with north traders like Sudan and Egypt through this contact led to emergence of the various tribes includes people like Nubians, Zaghawa and Kanuri. Also around 1297-1329 the Bono-Mandika traders of Mali the Dyula or Wangara made their base in central Guinea. The settlement of these various groups of people Saharan development of cities such as Agades, Ghat and Murzuk.

In generally these geographical and economic settings of peopling of West Africa facilities to the development of western Sudanic states such as Ghana empire, Mali empire as well as Songhai empire which gave the remarkable history.

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