African written history?

Oct 2016
30
United States
#1
Just to clarify, I'm not referring to Africa south of the Sahara. I hear numerous accounts about written scripts found in Sub-Saharan Africa. From the Mali Empire, Songhai, and Hausa kingdoms and all of the Swahili states that minted their own coins bearing Arabic scripts. And of course the Ethiopians who still use their own indigenous script to this day. I'm already well aware that there were plenty of literate states in S.S Africa. However any and every time there are any references to the history of Africa (including the previously mentioned states) it seems to always reference North African, Arabic, or European sources. Were the S.S. nations simply not using their script for recording history? Was it used specifically for math, science, and religion? Timbuktu has over 700,000 manuscripts dating from the 1200s yet all references I see about the empire come from Egypt, Morocco, and griots. Why not refer to the 700,000 scripts in Mali? The Swahili coast were very advanced with stone buildings, sewage systems, sail ships and used Arabic writing systems. Where are all of their books? Were they not used for recording history? Yet again... where are the written accounts of these places? The Gedi Ruins are lost to history due to lack of written records. Why?
 
Last edited:
Jun 2015
5,620
UK
#2
they often used oral histories.

peopel say this is an inferior method, but in reality written records can be distorted, and we find this all the time with embellishments of documents or half-truths.
 

Tulun

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
3,724
Western Eurasia
#3
they often used oral histories.

peopel say this is an inferior method, but in reality written records can be distorted, and we find this all the time with embellishments of documents or half-truths.
and can't you say the same about oral history? :D it is not about superior or inferior methods. oral history is used where there is no sufficient written material, the earliest narrative written sources also base their stories on the oral histories of the time of their recordings. So the only question when is oral history first written down, lets say the 13-14th century or only the 19th-20th century? The earlier the literal source then it preserve an earlier version, closer to the original event. And if there is a sufficient corpus of them we can apply textual criticism, track the evolution of them and later distortions better, can apply comparisons between different textual traditions and so on. and then this is only about narrative written sources, written documents can cover much wider topics depending on their genre, be they financial documents, legal ones etc do not think only about chronicles...
 
Last edited:
Jun 2015
5,620
UK
#4
and can't you say the same about oral history? :D it is not about superior or inferior methods. oral history is used where there is no sufficient written material, the earliest narrative written sources also base their stories on the oral histories of the time of their recordings. So the only question when is oral history first written down, lets say the 13-14th century or only the 19th-20th century? The earlier the literal source then it preserve an earlier version, closer to the original event. And if there is a sufficient corpus of them we can apply textual criticism, track the evolution of them and later distortions better, can apply comparisons between different textual traditions and so on. and then this is only about narrative written sources, written documents can cover much wider topics depending on their genre, be they financial documents, legal ones etc do not think only about chronicles...
Medieval and earlier peoples had no financial docs though, not as we would use/know now.

However, the point comparing oral and written histories stands. Archaeology can both prove and disprove written histories, so neither is really more superior.
 
Oct 2016
30
United States
#5
they often used oral histories.

peopel say this is an inferior method, but in reality written records can be distorted, and we find this all the time with embellishments of documents or half-truths.
I know they used oral history. In the OP I did mention griots. Griots are oral historians, basically human books in illiterate African societies.. I'm not referring to illiterate societies though. I'm referring to the ones that DID have writing. I thought I made it pretty clear int he OP. I'm asking why the LITERATE societies of Africa didn't record their history and if they did... where is it? Why do we only rely on North African, Arabic, and European sources?
 
Oct 2016
226
Greece
#6
Oral history does not exist! It is an oxymoron

Not one shred of evidence or study ever conducted points to the existence of oral traditions. Every single study has concluded that oral transmission beyond living memory is impossible. That means that any information allegedly passed down this way has come down through writing or is completely made up.
 
Oct 2016
30
United States
#7
Medieval and earlier peoples had no financial docs though, not as we would use/know now.

However, the point comparing oral and written histories stands. Archaeology can both prove and disprove written histories, so neither is really more superior.
Written is superior strictly because once it's on paper, it never changes unless it's rewritten. Oral history can change on a literal day to day basis by the same person let alone other people that it has to pass through (after the griot passes away). Also if an area is conquered, the oral history goes with it, hence why sites like the Gedi ruins have no history. Just artifacts and a few brief mentions by literate societies to the North.
 
Oct 2016
226
Greece
#9
I know they used oral history. In the OP I did mention griots. Griots are oral historians, basically human books in illiterate African societies.. I'm not referring to illiterate societies though. I'm referring to the ones that DID have writing. I thought I made it pretty clear int he OP. I'm asking why the LITERATE societies of Africa didn't record their history and if they did... where is it? Why do we only rely on North African, Arabic, and European sources?
Where do you think the Griots memorize their poems from? From written records, therefore everything is recorded in writing.
 
Oct 2016
226
Greece
#10
Written is superior strictly because once it's on paper, it never changes unless it's rewritten. Oral history can change on a literal day to day basis by the same person let alone other people that it has to pass through (after the griot passes away). Also if an area is conquered, the oral history goes with it, hence why sites like the Gedi ruins have no history. Just artifacts and a few brief mentions by literate societies to the North.
Oral traditions cannot exist outside a written tradition in the first place.
 

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