The writing of Africa’s history has taken many forms over the centuries. The Ancient Egyptians, who invented one of the world’s oldest scripts, hieroglyphics, recorded their history on papyrus scrolls, on the walls of temples and tombs, and carved into solid pillars of rock. They certainly wanted people of the future to know about their history, even if it was often little more than lists of kings and fantastic stories of the military prowess of their rulers. The Nubian kingdoms of Sudan were literate from a similar age. Their successor Kingdom of Meroe kept literate records from at least the sixth century bce (Before the Common Era), although their script has not yet been deciphered. Ancestral Ethiopians too were literate from the fifth century bce, and from at least the ninth century ce (Common Era), Ethiopians recorded aspects of their history in religious and regal texts and in works of literature. The most prominent recorders of Africa’s history from the ninth to sixteenth century ce were Arabic-speaking north African scholars. They wrote both the history of their own societies and that of the peoples of а1-Sudan (the ‘land of the black people’) south of the Sahara, whom they had heard about through trading contacts or had visited themselves. But it was not only outsiders who wrote the history of al-Sudan. In the seventeenth century, a local Muslim scholar of Timbuktu, named Abd al-Rahman al-Sa’di, chronicled the history of the Songhay Empire in the Ta’rikh al-Sudan. Similarly, in the trading cities of the east African coast, local Swahili-speaking scholars recorded some of their history, writing Swahili in Arabic script. Much of these early forms of African history were heavily dependent on the local oral traditions of the time. Today, they form the basis of much of our understanding of those distant times.
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