Why are Sub-Saharan, Native American and Oceanian military histories so deficient?

Nov 2017
789
Commune
Basically, when it comes to "Eurasian" (hate that term) military history we have far more detail than with Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America and Aboriginal Oceania. In fact, it almost seems as if historians just aren't all that interested for the most part. The most I've found is the author Ross Hassig on military histories of the Aztecs, but that's about it.
 

Duke Valentino

Ad Honorem
Jul 2017
2,340
Australia
Because there isn't many records at all, and most of it would be speculation, which isn't that fun (and quite dangerous) when you have a lack of solid facts.
 

Bart Dale

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
7,095
Basically, when it comes to "Eurasian" (hate that term) military history we have far more detail than with Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America and Aboriginal Oceania. In fact, it almost seems as if historians just aren't all that interested for the most part. The most I've found is the author Ross Hassig on military histories of the Aztecs, but that's about it.
In most.of those areas, writing was either absent entirely, or did not play a significant role in society. As a result, there is just not a lot of written records for those areas. Western historians treatoral history, which is often all we have for those regions, with skepticism​. And beyond a few generations, oral tradition.can get hazy;. Herodotus especialex a 3 generation reach back rule for oral history I think.

For example, outside of Mesoamerica, the Americas did.not do writing, and even theî Aztecs did not write much of their history. The one region of the Americas that did.have extensive writings, the Mayans, had all their books burned by a fanatical priest, so any records of battles stored their were lost.

In Sub Saharan Africa, outside of a few places like Timbuktu, we don't find a lot of writing either.. Same.gkes for Oceania, just no writing going on there to any significant degree, if at all.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,656
Benin City, Nigeria
Basically, when it comes to "Eurasian" (hate that term) military history we have far more detail than with Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America and Aboriginal Oceania. In fact, it almost seems as if historians just aren't all that interested for the most part. The most I've found is the author Ross Hassig on military histories of the Aztecs, but that's about it.
Is there a particular area of Sub-Saharan Africa for which you are looking for information about military history? Or the entire region?

There are several books and articles that have been written. Nothing comparable to the volume of literature that has been written for Europe, or for West or East Asia, but I wouldn't say that nothing has been written.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,656
Benin City, Nigeria
For example, outside of Mesoamerica, the Americas did.not do writing, and even theî Aztecs did not write much of their history. The one region of the Americas that did.have extensive writings, the Mayans, had all their books burned by a fanatical priest, so any records of battles stored their were lost.

In Sub Saharan Africa, outside of a few places like Timbuktu, we don't find a lot of writing either.. Same.gkes for Oceania, just no writing going on there to any significant degree, if at all.
The Mayans did indeed have almost "all their books burned by a fanatical priest" and the Inca also seem to have lost some set of records (that they had kept with their own method of recording information, which, even though not in books, was apparently still effective) as well.

Similar destruction of records occurred in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, due to invasions from various groups (both European and African). Only, this is much less well known.
 
Nov 2017
789
Commune
Is there a particular area of Sub-Saharan Africa for which you are looking for information about military history? Or the entire region?

There are several books and articles that have been written. Nothing comparable to the volume of literature that has been written for Europe, or for West or East Asia, but I wouldn't say that nothing has been written.
In particular prefer the military histories of non-Muslim and non-Ethiopian portions of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the medieval and early modern era.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,656
Benin City, Nigeria
So, for Sub-Saharan Africa, here's a list. I can't claim that it's somehow comprehensive or complete.

1. Richard Reid - Warfare in African History
Warfare in African History (Book, 2012) [WorldCat.org]
2. John Lamphear (ed.) - African Military History
African military history (Book, 2007) [WorldCat.org]
3. John Thornton - Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500-1800
Warfare in Atlantic Africa, 1500-1800 (Book, 2005) [WorldCat.org]
4. Robert Smith - Warfare & Diplomacy in Pre-colonial West Africa
Warfare and diplomacy in pre-colonial West Africa (Book, 1989) [WorldCat.org]
5. Manuel Barcia - West African Warfare in Bahia and Cuba: Soldier Slaves in the Atlantic World, 1807-1844
West African warfare in Bahaia and Cuba : soldier slaves in the Atlantic world, 1807-1844 (Book, 2014) [WorldCat.org]


6. Joseph Smaldone - Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate: Historical and Sociological Perspectives
Warfare in the Sokoto Caliphate : historical and sociological perspectives (Book, 1977) [WorldCat.org]
7. Murray Last - The Sokoto Caliphate
The Sokoto caliphate. (Book, 1967) [WorldCat.org]
8. R. A. Adeleye - Power and diplomacy in Northern Nigeria, 1804-1906: the Sokoto Caliphate and its enemies
Power and diplomacy in Northern Nigeria, 1804-1906; the Sokoto Caliphate and its enemies (Book, 1971) [WorldCat.org]
9. Paul Lovejoy - Jihad in West Africa during the Age of Revolutions
Jiha?d in West Africa during the age of revolutions (eBook, 2016) [WorldCat.org]
10. B. O. Oloruntimehin - The Segu Tukulor Empire
The Segu Tukulor empire (Book, 1972) [WorldCat.org]
11. Richard Roberts - Warriors, Merchants, and Slaves: The State and the Economy in the Middle Niger Valley, 1700-1914
Warriors, merchants, and slaves : the state and the economy in the Middle Niger Valley, 1700-1914 (Book, 1987) [WorldCat.org]
12. Michael Gomez - Pragmatism in the Age of Jihad: The Precolonial State of Bundu
Pragmatism in the age of Jihad : the precolonial state of Bundu. (Book, 2002) [WorldCat.org]
13. Michael Gomez - African Dominion: A New History of Empire in Early and Medieval West Africa
African dominion : a new history of empire in early and medieval West Africa (eBook, 2017) [WorldCat.org]
14. Aḥmad b. Furṭū, Dierk Lange - A Sudanic chronicle: the Borno expeditions of Idrīs Alauma (1564-1576) according to the account of Aḥmad b. Furṭū
A Sudanic chronicle : the Borno expeditions of Idri?s Alauma (1564-1576) according to the account of Ah?mad b. Furt?u? : Arabic text, English translation, commentary, and geographical gazetteer (Book, 1987) [WorldCat.org]
15. Kyari Mohammed - Borno in the Rabih years, 1893-1901: the rise and crash of a predatory state
Borno in the Rabih years, 1893-1901 : the rise and crash of a predatory state (Book, 2006) [WorldCat.org]
16. Robin Law - The Horse in West African History
The horse in West African history. (Book, 1980) [WorldCat.org]


17. Robin Law - The Oyo Empire, c.1600–c. 1836: A West African Imperialism in the Era of the Atlantic Slave Trade
The Oyo empire c. 1600 - c. 1836 : a west african imperialism in the era of the atlantic slave trade (Book, 1991) [WorldCat.org]
18. Robin Law - Contemporary Source Material for the History of the Old Oyo Empire, 1627-1824
Contemporary source material for the history of the old Oyo empire, 1627-1824 (Book, 1993) [WorldCat.org]
http://www.tubmaninstitute.ca/sites/default/files/file/LAW_Oyo_texts.pdf
19. J. F. Ade Ajayi, Robert Smith - Yoruba warfare in the nineteenth century
Yoruba warfare in the nineteenth century. (Book, 1964) [WorldCat.org]
20. I. A. Akinjogbin - Dahomey and Its Neighbours, 1708-1818
Dahomey and its neighbours, 1708-1818 (Book, 1967) [WorldCat.org]
21. Robin Law - The slave coast of West Africa, 1550-1750
The slave coast of West Africa, 1550-1750 : the impact of the Atlantic slave trade on an African society (Book, 2002) [WorldCat.org]
22. Stanley Alpern - Amazons of Black Sparta: The Women Warriors of Dahomey
Amazons of black Sparta : the women warriors of Dahomey. (Book, 2012) [WorldCat.org]
23. Robert Edgerton - Warrior Women: The Amazons of Dahomey and the Nature of War
Warrior women : the Amazons of Dahomey and the nature of war (Book, 2000) [WorldCat.org]
24. Thomas Maroukis - Warfare and society in the Kingdom of Dahomey: 1818-1894
Warfare and society in the Kingdom of Dahomey : 1818-1894. (Book, 1982) [WorldCat.org]
25. Festus Aboagye - Indigenous African Warfare: Its Concept and Art in the Gold Coast, Asante and the Northern Territories Up to Early 1900s
Indigenous African warfare : its concept and art in the Gold Coast, Asante and the Northern Territories up to early 1900s (Book, 2010) [WorldCat.org]
26. Robert Edgerton - The Fall of the Asante Empire: The Hundred-Year War For Africa's Gold Coast
The fall of the asante empire : the hundred-year war for africa's gold coast (eBook, 2014) [WorldCat.org]
27. John Fynn - Asante and Its Neighbours, 1700-1807
Asante and its neighbours, 1700-1807 (Book, 1971) [WorldCat.org]
28. Ivor Wilks - Asante in the Nineteenth Century
Asante in the nineteenth century : the structure and evolution of a political order / monograph. (Book, 2011) [WorldCat.org]
29. Prempeh I (King of Asante) - 'The history of Ashanti Kings and the whole country itself' and other writings by Agyeman Prempeh
'The history of Ashanti Kings and the whole country itself' and other writings by Agyeman Prempeh (Book, 2002) [WorldCat.org]


30. George Hatke - Aksum and Nubia: Warfare, Commerce, and Political Fictions in Ancient Northeast Africa
Aksum and Nubia : warfare, commerce, and political fictions in ancient Northeast Africa (Book, 2013) [WorldCat.org]
31. Sihab ad-Din Ahmad bin 'Abd al-Qader - Futuh Al-Habasha: The Conquest of Abyssinia
Futu?h? Al-H?abas?a : the conquest of Abyssinia (16th century) (Book, 2003) [WorldCat.org]
32. Richard Pankhurst - The Ethiopian royal chronicles
The Ethiopian royal chronicles. (Book, 1967) [WorldCat.org]
33. Richard Pankhurst - The Ethiopian Borderlands: Essays in Regional History from Ancient Times to the End of the 18th Century
The Ethiopian borderlands : essays in regional history from ancient times to the end of the 18. century (Book, 1997) [WorldCat.org]
34. Richard Reid - War in Pre-colonial Eastern Africa: The Patterns & Meanings of State-level Conflict in the Nineteenth Century
War in pre-colonial eastern Africa : the patterns & meanings of state-level conflict in the nineteenth century (Book, 2007) [WorldCat.org]


35. Linda Heywood - Njinga of Angola: Africa's Warrior Queen
Njinga of Angola : Africa's warrior queen (Book, 2017) [WorldCat.org]
36. John Thornton - The Kingdom of Kongo : civil war and transition, 1641-1718
The Kingdom of Kongo : civil war and transition, 1641-1718 (Book, 1983) [WorldCat.org]


37. S. I. G. Mudenge - A Political History of Munhumutapa: c1400-1902
http://www.worldcat.org/title/political-history-of-munhumutapa-c1400-1902/oclc/712644919&referer=brief_results
38. W. G. L. Randles - The empire of Monomotapa, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century
The empire of Monomotapa, from the fifteenth to the nineteenth century (Book, 1981) [WorldCat.org]
39. D. N. Beach - War and politics in Zimbabwe, 1840-1900
War and politics in Zimbabwe, 1840-1900 (Book, 1986) [WorldCat.org]
40. Timothy Stapleton - A Military History of South Africa: From the Dutch-Khoi Wars to the End of Apartheid
A military history of South Africa : from the Dutch-Khoi wars to the end of apartheid (Book, 2010) [WorldCat.org]
41. Adrian Greaves, Xolani Mkhize - The Zulus at War: The History, Rise, and Fall of the Tribe That Washed Its Spears
Zulus at War : the History, Rise, and Fall of the Tribe That Washed Its Spears. (eBook, 2018) [WorldCat.org]


42. John Iliffe - Honour in African History
Honour in African history (Book, 2005) [WorldCat.org]
43. Bruce Vandervort - Wars Of Imperial Conquest In Africa, 1830-1914
Wars Of Imperial Conquest In Africa, 1830-1914 (Book, 2012) [WorldCat.org]


For some of the titles listed above, despite the fact that their titles do not seem to be about warfare (such as Iliffe's book Honour in African History), they do actually discuss warfare in some parts, but just from a different perspective (such as economic or social effects) from most of the rest of the books on the list. Both Wilks' and Fynn's books about Asante are more about politics and government, especially Wilks' book, but military affairs are discussed at some points. For #37 and #38 (about Zimbabwe), the information in those books is also more political than military, but they are included because there is some discussion of wars.

I don't necessarily agree with or endorse everything in these books. Two examples of things I disagree with: 1) a claim in Robert Smith's book Warfare and Diplomacy in Pre-colonial West Africa (#4) that gun manufacturing was unknown in precolonial west Africa with only one exception isn't actually correct, since there are multiple other cases that the author misses, and 2) a claim near the end of Robin Law's book The Oyo empire (#17), about the main economic basis of the state and the cause of the state's collapse that I don't agree with either, based on the fact that I think the author has some misinterpretations or errors in reasoning. Those books are still quite informative and well researched in general despite there being a few things in them that I disagree with. For #18, there is a direct link to a pdf version below the worldcat link.

Thornton's book (#3 above) on almost the same subject as Smith's book (#4) is a bit better than Smith's earlier book, but Smith's book can still be read since there are a few areas it discusses that Thornton's book does not. Regarding #20 by Akinjogbin, there are certain errors in there which #21 serves as a partial corrective to, but it is still an informative book with regard to the wars that occurred in that area (the area of the modern day Republic of Benin, formerly called the Republic of Dahomey) in the 18th century despite those errors. Akinjogbin's book is available to be read on archive.org (if one creates a free account and requests to "borrow" it), though it can't be downloaded from there:

https://archive.org/details/dahomeyitsneighb00akin

Also, I think that Edgerton's Fall of the Asante Empire (#26) isn't really as objective at it has been described as being in certain reviews, and that it has some errors or instances where he takes certain erroneous claims in sources at face value despite other research from other scholars having already proven those claims to be incorrect with other/better sources. But it's an interesting and lively read, despite certain omissions or errors.

For the few books listed as e-books in the worldcat links I posted, they all have hard copy versions available, but the e-book versions are just what is coming up first for them on worldcat.

As I said above, this isn't meant to be a "complete" list and there's probably some stuff I'm missing.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,656
Benin City, Nigeria
In particular prefer the military histories of non-Muslim and non-Ethiopian portions of Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the medieval and early modern era.
For the early modern period, I think there are sources for multiple areas of Africa outside of the Muslim and Ethiopian areas, mostly from European sources, as European interaction with sub-Saharan Africa intensified, and on the basis of such sources, some historians have been able to delve into the military history of specific non-Muslim or non-Horn of Africa areas.

However, I think that for the medieval period, most of the militarily relevant information is only going to be extant for those parts of West Africa that were either Muslim or near to Muslims, or for Christian Ethiopia and Nubia.

For other areas (outside of Nubia or Ethiopia), they either failed to create, preserve, or defend any detailed non-Islamic or non-Christian records they may have had.

It's quite ironic that, despite producing the most detailed and exceptional visual representations of military figures anywhere on the entire continent, the kingdom of Benin may have seen its historical records (in whatever form they may have been recorded - an 18th century source describes them as being akin to "hieroglyphic figures") describing just such things as military campaigns (and other historical matters) eliminated and completely destroyed because of the kingdom's failure to withstand the British forces in the late 19th century.
 

Tairusiano

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,978
Brazil
In the part of Native American, there is a lack of the first-hand sources, with can give trouble to historians, another problem is the lack of interest, normally books on Native american history, were not very popular with can discourage people trying to write new things, but there is a new book on Inca warfare it is from this year, "The Incan Army: From Its Origins Until Its Destruction (Volume 1)", it is a very complete book, if someone has interest on how the Inca army worked it is the place to go.
 
Sep 2013
914
Chattanooga, TN
Basically, when it comes to "Eurasian" (hate that term) military history we have far more detail than with Sub-Saharan Africa, pre-Columbian America and Aboriginal Oceania. In fact, it almost seems as if historians just aren't all that interested for the most part. The most I've found is the author Ross Hassig on military histories of the Aztecs, but that's about it.
By definition, history is the study of the past through written records. Any time frame that predates the inception of written records in a region is archaeology. I know that the Incas had a form of "written language" (using the term written loosely) in the form of knots called Quipu. But the quipu language was basically just accounting records, not military records. There are basically no written records of Pre-Columbian America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Aboriginal Oceania. Therefore, the study of history does not include Pre-Columbian America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Oceania before outsiders brought a written language to those parts of the world. Pre-Columbian Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa before the arrival of Europeans and other outsiders, and Aboriginal Oceania before the arrival of a written language is archaelogy, not history.