I was asked: “What did Africa contribute to humanity?”

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Every now and then, we get either a genuine question or a loaded question.

A loaded question is a sarcastic question in which the person asking the question is trying to prove a point, or embarrass the group of people or the person that is receiving the question.

This question is posed in many ways: “Why was A. so primitive?”, “Europe contributed X, Y and Z to humanity, what did Africa contribute?”

The direct answer is 350,000 years of continuous contributions. Every item I mention can be supported with evidence from either Nature Magazine or Science Magazine. I invite you all to fact-check everything I say next.

Africa contributed the first humans (Homo Sapiens), and a diversity of genes which was essential for the ability to produce different heights, head shapes, nose shapes, and skin tones to suit a diversity of environments.

350,000 – 120,000 BCE:

  • Long distance trade & travel: Early humans exchanged goods and ideas, fostering cooperation and laying the foundation for future trade networks.
  • Seafaring: Navigating by sea allowed exploration of new territories and development of maritime cultures.
  • Beds (Blombos Cave, South Africa): Use of beds indicated settled lifestyles and improved well-being.
  • Spear throwers: Increased hunting efficiency led to better food supply and human expansion.
  • Cooking: The earliest evidence of cooking relates to giant land snails and dates to 170,000 years ago. Cooking increased the range of plants and animals humans could eat safely. It is a global contribution enjoyed every day by all humans.

120,000 BCE – 100,000 BCE:

  • Language in Africa: Enabled communication, knowledge sharing, and human cooperation.
  • Clothes: Provided protection and cultural identity.

100,000 BCE – 80,000 BCE:

  • Hafting (the combination of one tool to another tool to make new tools): Enhanced tool versatility.
  • Harpoons (Katanda cave, DRC): Revolutionized fishing and dietary diversity.

80,000 BCE – 70,000 BCE:

  • Art, paint & early proto-writing (Blombos cave): Showcased human creativity and abstract thinking.
  • Algorithmic thinking & Workshops (the Blombos cave): Early development of step-by-step manufacturing recipes.

70,000 BCE – 60,000 BCE:

  • Bows and arrows (Sibudu cave): Revolutionized hunting and warfare.
  • Burials: Symbolic thought and respect for the deceased.

60,000 BCE – 50,000 BCE:

  • Written communication: The Diepkloof Rock Shelter in the Western Cape revealed over 270 fragments of ostrich eggshells engraved with geometric designs, dated to 60,000 years ago, considered the earliest form of written communication on earth.
  • Javelin: Expanded hunting strategies and adaptability.
  • Sewing needle (Sibudu cave): Improved clothing and cultural expressions.

50,000 BCE – 40,000 BCE:

  • Mining (Eswatini): Understanding and extraction of resources for various purposes.

40,000 BCE – 30,000 BCE:

  • Religion: Emergence of complex belief systems.
  • Timekeeping: The first evidence of time keeping is the Lebombo bone. It enabled humans to track migration patterns of animals, and was the foundation for developing the solar calendars and stellar calendars. This was the earliest start of astronomy and dates to 35,000 BCE.
  • Counting (Ishango bone 20,000 BCE): Early numerical systems.

20,000 BCE – 10,000 BCE:

  • Towns (Qadan culture): Transition to settled communities and early civilizations.
  • War (Lake Turkana): Complexity of human interactions and territoriality.

10,000 BCE – 3,000 BCE:

This was an eventful period and Africa’s contributions exceed a list of 100 things. For instance, in science, pyrotechnology was used to develop pottery around 10,000 BCE to 9,500 BCE in Mali, iron was developed in West Africa around 4,300 years ago (over 500 years before Egypt), various key stars were identified by the Dogon and the East Saharan pastoralists of Nabta Playa which led to the development of sidereal and solar calendars around 7,500 BCE, inoculation was known to West Africans, surgery was practiced in Sudan around 7,000 years ago, circumcision was developed around 7,000 BCE, mummification was performed in Libya at exactly the same time as the earliest date in Egypt, and agriculture in Sudan and the Dakhleh Oasis predates the earliest dates of agriculture being developed in Egypt.

What about the last 5,000 years?

  • Mathematics: African civilizations, like Ancient Egypt, developed advanced math systems. They even introduced concepts like geometry, fractions, and algebra.
  • Literature and Art: From the Instructions of Amenemope to recent works by Chinua Achebe, Africa has produced many works of literature and art. Instruction of Amenemope (also called Instructions of Amenemopet, Wisdom of Amenemopet) is a literary work composed in Ancient Egypt, most likely during the Ramesside Period (ca. 1300–1075 BCE); it contains thirty chapters of advice for successful living, ostensibly written by the scribe Amenemope son of Kanakht as a legacy for his son. Writers like Chinua Achebe and artists have shared African culture with the world. African art has influenced global art movements, such as Cubism when Picasso and other “Western” artists saw and took concepts of figurative art from African masks.
  • Medicine: African doctors and healers have made significant contributions to medicine. Some discovered important things about diseases and remedies. Read the book Secret Cures of Slave by Stanford academic Londa Schiebinger for more information.
  • Science and Technology: African scientists have excelled in fields like fiber optics, nanotechnology, physics, chemistry, and engineering, contributing to scientific progress.
  • Peace and Independence: Leaders like Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have worked for peace and equality. They helped their countries gain independence and prevent world wars.
  • Military manpower: The First World War had a great impact on Africa. The immediate consequence for Africa of the declaration of war in Europe was the invasion by the Allies of Germany’s colonies. Neither side had prepared for war in Africa. Indeed there was short-lived hope that it might be isolated from the war. The West African Frontier Force, drawn from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Nigeria and Gambia played a key role in the campaign. East Africa and Southern Africa also got involved. According to UNESCO, the total estimate of colonial personnel contributed by Africa to World War 1 was millions. “All in all over 2.5 million Africans, or well over 1% of the population of the continent, were involved in war work of some kind.” Africa also contributed millions to world war 2 and independence movements have pro-longed post-world war 2 peace. These sacrifices were written out of every Remembrance Day, every tribute, out-of-balance retelling of facts, except that records were not destroyed.

African contributions are everywhere, even in things we use every day like mobile phones and the uranium for the atomic bomb or which powers the electricity grid of France. Africans have had a huge impact on our world, and it’s important to recognize and appreciate their incredible contributions.

These significant contributions show that the world is interconnected and every continent has contributed something significant to humanity’s knowledge base. There isn’t any human that doesn’t like art, or music. There isn’t any human that doesn’t bury their parents or other loved ones. There isn’t any human that doesn’t cook their food or sleep on a bed. There isn’t any human that doesn’t use a tool of some kind.

This answers the question for the genuinely curious, but to those who believe in a racial hierarchy, the existence of a hierarchy is demonstrated to be a social construction not supported by the facts of world history. All this information is freely available public information and anyone with a curious mind can discover these facts.

This well-researched and informative answer offers a valuable perspective on Africa’s role in shaping humanity’s knowledge base and cultural heritage. It provides a solid foundation for understanding Africa’s historical significance and ongoing contributions to our global society.

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I was asked: “What did Africa contribute to humanity?”

by Editorial Team time to read: 5 min