Maritime Travel in Ancient Africa

Ancient African Kingdoms used sea travel for exploration, transport, trade, and warfare, with sophisticated canoes, ships, and sails. Around 5000 BCE, the ancient Egyptians mastered how to make ships from wooden planks stuffed with reeds and grass to seal the seams. An example is the Khufu ship, which measures 43.6 m long and 5.9 m wide, built around 2500 BCE.

Trade was a common reason for sea travel. On the Eastern African coast, the major trading hubs were Mogadishu, Mombasa, and Kilwa. The Ajuran Kingdom in present-day Somalia used Beden, a sail made of wood sewn together by treenail and coconut fiber, to carry out their trade in Arabia, Java, China, etc. Among the Swahili Kingdoms, dhows made by sewing wood with coconut fiber were used to travel up and down the East African coast.

War also spurred innovation in maritime travel. In West Africa, around the Niger Delta, the Sierra Leone River, and the Guinea Coast, communities used silk cotton trees to build war canoes. The complexity of the canoes ranged from holes carved into logs to large vessels (up to 24 m long) that could carry up to 100 men. The Ajuran Kingdom, with their Ajuran boats, defeated Portugal in naval combat in the early 16th century.

Perhaps the most famous African marine explorer was Abubakari II, King of the Mali Empire in the 14th century, who commanded a fleet of about 2000 ships and abdicated his throne in order to explore the Atlantic Ocean. According to Guyanese-born professor Ivan van Sertima and Malian researcher Gaoussou Diawara, he may have managed to arrive in America about 200 years before Christopher Columbus.

By Edel Were

(Image: Africa Geographic, Wikimedia, Ancient Pages)

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