African Empires of Ancient America

In ancient America there were many civilizations founded or influenced by people from Africa. In this Web pages we discuss many of these African/Black civilizations.

 

by

Clyde A. Winters

 

 

 

 

The "mother civilization" of ancient America is called the Olmec civilization. The Olmec civilization was founded by Mande speaking people who presently in West Africa. The Olmec civilization is characterized by giant heads of African kings.

 

 

During the neolithic period the western Sahara had many rivers. Today what we call the Niger river was divided into two rivers in c.5000 B.C. One was called the Upper Niger and the other the Lower Niger. The Upper Niger rose in the mountains on the border of Sierra Leone and flowed northeastward into a closed basin in the Sahara; downstream the river there were many wide marshes and several large lakes. The Lower Niger rose in the Hoggar mountains of the Saharan zone. It was fed by streams from the Adrar massif. Winds from the Atlantic ocean took rains into North and West Africa which supported much vegetation in neolithic times.

In the Tichitt region of Mauritania, an area which is now desert there was a river now dried up which flowed into the Senegal river. Lake Chad was then much larger with a river from the Hoggar called the Tafassasset emptying in it. Rivers also flowed from the Moroccan Atlas mountains into the western Sahara. It would appear that the people who most influenced the history of North and West Africa after 4000 B.C. originally lived in the Fezzan region of Libya.

The history of West Africa is no secret all you have to do is research it.

Archaeology allows us to gain keen insight into the origin of the Mande speaking people and there migration to Mexico in ancient times.

Agricultural revolutions and the resulting increased food production has been the principal catalyst for the wide spread dispersal of populations speaking similar languages.

Recent archaeological research in Africa suggest that although agriculture played a role in the spread of some African linguistic groups such as the Bantu and Cushitic speakers, cattle domestication led to the spread of other African groups across enormous parts of West Africa. This hypothesis suits the evidence we have regarding the spread of the Proto-Mande from the Saharan highlands in the east, to the shores of the Atlantic ocean in the west. (Winters 1986b)

Archaeological research from North Africa clearly illustrate the movement of semi-sedentary cattle herders from the Magreb and Saharan sites into West Africa. This agropastoral sedentary economy resulted in a growth in populations great enough to make it possible for the Mande speakers to expand across much of Northwest and West Africa between 5000 and 3000 years before the present (BP).

Archaeological evidence has increased in relation to prehistoric Africa in the past ten years. Linguistic material will be used to compliment the macrobotanical remains and evidence of material culture uncovered during archaeological excavation, so we can see clearly the subsistence and settlement patterns of the Proto-Mande.

The Mande speakers are often associated with the Niger-Congo family /superset of languages. Wm. Welmers (1971) has postulated an original homeland for the Niger-Congo Superset in the general vicinity of the Upper Nile. Ehret and Posnansky (1982) has suggested that the Mande diverged from the Kwa around 5000-4000 B.C. Dr. Welmers (1971) has hypothesized that around 3000 B.C. the Mande languages separated into Northern and Southeastern branches.

The Niger-Congo speakers probably inhabited the plateau and mountain regions of the Sahara: Air, Ennedi, Tibesti and Hoggar. These highland areas eight thousand years ago formed the "Saharan Fertile Crescent". The linguistic evidence suggest that the Nilo-Saharan, Chadic, Egyptian and other supersets and subsets of languages also lived in this highland paradise.

Greenberg (1970) believes that during the neolithic the Niger-Congo speakers had domesticated ovicaprids (sheep/goats). Winters (1986b) has illustrated that the Niger-Congo people utilized selected plant food including millet and rice .

Much of this discussion of the Proto-Mande migrations will involve discussion of the Mandekan or Manding languages of the Mande group of languages. (Platiel 1978; Galtier 1980) Mann and Dalby (1987) give Mande a peripheral status in the Niger-Congo superset.

The Manding languages include the Malinke-Bambara subset of the Northwestern Mande subgroup of languages. The original Manding lived in the southern Saharan highlands. (Winters 1986b)

Now the Mande are dispersed from the Sahara to the Atlantic Ocean in the so-called fragmentation belt of Africa.

The Manding languages have a high frequency of disyllabic roots of the CVCV,CV and CVV kind. Monosyllabic roots of the CV kind often reflect the proto-form for many Manding words. (Winters 1986b)

The Manding languages are genetically related to the Dravidian and Sumerian languages. (Winters 1983a,1985,1989) It also has affinity to Japanese (Winters 1983b), Coptic , and Magyar (Winters 1987; Zoltan 1985). Recently Winters (1988) has shown that the Manding languages may be the substratum language of Tokharian. In addition, Manding shares many topological features with Amerind languages, including SOV/SVO sentence pattern, monosyllabic roots and agglutination (Welmers 1970).

Controversy surrounds the classification of the Mande language family. Greenberg (1963) popularized the idea that the Mande subset was a member of the Niger-Congo Superset of African languages. The position of Mande in the Niger-Congo Superset has long been precarious and today it is given a peripheral status to the Niger-Congo Superset. (Bennett & Sterk 1977; Dalby 1988) Murkarovsky (1966) believes that the Mande group of languages do not belong in the Niger-Congo Superset, while Welmers (1971) has advanced the idea that Mande was the first group to break away from Niger-Congo.

The Mande languages are also closely related to Songhay ( Mukarovsky 1976/77; Zima 1989), Nilo-Saharan ( Boyd 1978; Creissels 1981; Bender 1981) and the Chadic group. Zima (1989) compared 25 Songhay and Mandekan terms from the cultural vocabulary to highlight the correspondence between these two language groups. Zima (1989:110) made it clear that "the lexical affinities between the Songhay and Mande languages are evident".

Mukarovsky (1987) has presented hundreds of analogous Mande and Cushitic terms. Due to the similarities between the Mande and Cushitic language families. Mukarovsky (1987) would place Mande into the Afro-Asiatic Superset of languages.

The traditional view of the dispersal of the Proto-Mande would place their original home in the woodland savanna zone of West Africa, in the area of the Niger Basin. (Ehret and Posnansky 1982:242) Bimson (1980) has proposed that the Mande migration waves originated from the Inland niger Delta around 2000 BC.

This is a most attractive theory but it does not conform with the archaeological data collected over the past decade in Africa, that illustrates that until the second millennium B.C. the Inland Niger Delta was sparsely populated.(McIntosh & McIntosh 1981 ,1986)

The original homeland of the Proto-Mande was probably the Saharan highlands. (Winters 1986b) The archaeological data suggest that the Proto-Mande migrated first north (westward), and then southward to their present centers of habitation. (Winters 1981b:81)

By the late stone age (LAS) black Africans were well established in the Sahara.(Winters 1985b) These blacks were members of the Saharo-Sudanese tradition. (Camps 1974) These blacks lived in the highlands. The early Fezzanese and Sudanese were sedentary pastoralist.

We call these blacks Proto-Saharans. (Winters 1985b) Most of the Proto-Saharans lived on hillocks or slopes near water. But some Paleo-Africans lived on the plains which featured lakes and marshes. During much of the neolithic/epipaleolithic period the Sahara resembled the Mediterranean region in climate and ecology.

Ceramics spread from the Central and Eastern Sahara into North Africa. These ceramics were of Sudanese inspiration and date back to the 7th millennium B.C. This pottery was used from the Ennedi to Hoggar. The makers of this pottery were from the Sudan. (Andah 1981)

In the Sahelian zone there was a short wet phase during the Holocene (c. 7500-4400 B.C.), which led to the formation of large lakes and marshes in Mauritania, the Niger massifs and Chad. The Inland Niger Delta was unoccupied. In other parts of the Niger area the wet phase existed in the eight/seventh and fourth/third millennia B.C. (McIntosh & McIntosh 1986:417)

There were few habitable sites in West Africa during the Holocene wet phase. McIntosh and McIntosh (1986) have illustrated that the only human occupation of the Sahara during this period were the Saharan massifs along wadis. By the 8th millennium B.C.

Saharan-Sudanese pottery was used in the Air. (Roset 1983) Ceramics of this style have also been found at sites in the Hoggar (McIntosh & McIntosh 1983b:230). Dotted wavy-line pottery has also been discovered in the Libyan Sahara (Barich 1985).

The inhabitants of the Fezzan were roundheaded blacks .(Jelinek 1985:273) The cultural characteristics of the Fezzanese were analogous to C-Group culture items and people of Nubia.( Quellec 1985; Jelinek 1985) The C-Group people occupied the Sudan and Fezzan regions between 3700-1300 B.C. (Close 1988)

These early Paleo-Africans of Libya were called the Temehu by the Egyptians.(Behrens 1984:30) Ethnically the Temehu had the same physical features of black African people. (Quellec 1985; Jelinek 1985; Diop 1984:72)

These C-Group people used a common black-and-red ware. B.B. Lal (1963) of the Indian Expedition in the Campaign to Save the Monuments of Nubia proved that the Dravidian people probably originally lived in middle Africa before they settled South India. A common origin for black Africans and Dravidians would explain the analogous cultural and linguistic features of these two groups. (Anselin 1982; Winters 1980,1981,1981b,1985a, 1985c)

The Proto-Mande speakers in the Saharan highlands were probably one of the numerous C-Group tribes settled in this area. If we accept this hypothesis the C-Group people would represent a collection of ethnic groups that later became the Supersets we now find in the fragmentation belt, such as the Niger-Congo speakers Greenberg (1970) believes early domesticated ovicaprids. The origin of the Mande among the sedentary pastoral C-Group ethnic groups supports the linguistic data indicating an early Mande domestication of cattle.

In the Sahara pastoralism was the first form of food production. Augustin Holl (1989) a specialist on western Africa believes that pastoralism was the first form of food production developed by post-paleolithic groups in the Sahara.

In the eastern Sahara it would appear that ovicaprid husbandry preceded cattle domestication because cattle were maladaptive to rocky lands. This is in sharp contrast to the western Sahara where cattle was the mainstay domesticate for sedentary pastoral economies.

Much of the evidence relating to this pastoral way of life comes from the discovery of cattle bones at excavated sites in the Sahara dated between 7000-2000 BC, and the rock drawings of cattle. (McIntosh &McIntosh 1981) In the western Sahara, sites such as Erg In-Sakane region, and the Taoudenni basin of northern Mali, attest to cattle husbandry between 6000 and 5000 BP. The ovicaprid husbandry on the other hand began in this area between 5000 to 3000 BP. Cattle pastoral people began to settle Dar Tichitt and Karkarichinkat between 5000 to 3500 BP.

The first domesticated goats came from North Africa. This was the screw horn goat common to Algeria, where it may have been deposited in neolithic times. We certainly see goat/sheep domestication moving eastward: Tadrart Acacus (Camps 1974), Tassili-n-Ajjer , Mali (McIntosh & McIntosh 1988), Niger (Roset 1983) and the Sudan. Barker (1989) has argued that sheep and goats increased in importance over cattle because of their adaptation to desiccation.

It would appear that all the Proto-Mande were familiar with the cultivation of rice, yams and millet. There are similarities in the Malinke-Bambara and Vai terms for plant domesticates. This suggest that these groups early adopted agriculture and made animal domestication secondary to the cultivation of millet, rice and yams. The analogy for the Malinke-Bambara and Dravidians terms for rice, millet and yams suggest a very early date for the domestication of these crops.

Most of the Soninke speakers , on the other hand, appear to have remained primarily pastoralist for a much longer time than the Malinke-Bambara. The Bozo specialized in fishing and the Marka were rice farmers.

The hypothesis that the ancestral homeland of the Proto-Mande was in the Saharan highlands best explains their migration routes into the Niger Basin, northwest and west Africa in general. (Winters 1986b.) This hypothetical migratory route for the Mande is supported by the diffusion of Saharan pottery styles dating from 2000-500 B.C., from the southern Sahara to the

Inland Niger Delta. (McIntosh & McIntosh 1979:246,1983)

The archaeological and linguistic evidence suggest that changes in the Mande subsistence economy resulted from a combination of factors including demographic stress and ecological change. It was ecological change which led to the Proto-Mande domestication of goats/sheep and cattle.

The Mande cultural lexicon makes it clear that animal husbandry, and not agriculture played a dominant role in the

expansion of the Proto-Mande. The deep internal divisions for names for cultivated crops reflect the limited role of agriculture in the Mande dispersals.

The linguistic evidence suggest that the Malinke-Bambara early adopted agriculture after they migrated westward from the Fezzan and Hoggar regions.(Winters 1986b) The Soninke and South Eastern Mande speakers , on the other hand remained primarily pastoralist. As a result they adopted the names of cultivated plants used by the Malinke-Bambara or of agriculturalists they met in their travels.

Migration to America

These Proto-Saharans came to Mexico in papyrus boats. A stone stela from Izapa,Chiapas in southern Mexico show the boats these Proto-Saharans used to sail to America. The voyagers manning these boats probably sailed down TAFASSASSET, to Lake Chad and thence down the Lower Niger River which emptied into the Atlantic. This provided the Mande a river route from the Sahara to the coast . These rivers, long dried up, once emptied into the Atlantic. Once in the Atlantic Ocean to Mexico and Brazil, by the North Equatorial Current which meets the Canaries Current off the Senegambian coast.

There are oral traditions and documentary evidence which support the early migration of the Mande people to Mexico, called the Olmecs by the Amerindians. The Olmecs probably called themselves Xi or Shi people.

Friar Diego de Landa, in "Yucatan before and After the Conquest", wrote that "some old men of Yucatan say that they heard from their ancestors that this country was peopled by a certain race who came from the East, whom God delivered by opening for them twelve roads through the sea".

This oral tradition of the Maya is supported by Stela 5, of Izapa. In Stela No. 5, we view a group of men on a boat riding the waves of an Ocean.At the right hand side of the boat we see a personage under a ceremonial umbrella. This umbrella was a symbol of princely status. Above his head is a jaguar glyph which according to Dr. Alexander von Wuthenau indicates that he was an Olmec. This personage has an African hairdo and a writing stylus in his left hand. This Olmec scribe proves that the Olmec had writing which was deciphered by Clyde Ahmad Winters in 1978.(Winters 1979;Wuthenau 1981)

In the center of the boat we find a large tree. This tree has seven branches and twelve roots. The seven branches probably indicates the seven major clans that form ed the Olmec nation. The twelve roots of the tree which extend into the waves of the ocean from the boat, probably signifies the "twelve roads through the sea" mentioned by Friar Diego de Landa.

Stela No.5, also illustrates the two principal Olmec cults. On the right hand side of the stela, we see the Jaguar Prince instructing a youth in the mysteries of the Jaguar cult. On the left hand side we see a number of birds.Here we also find a priest wearing a conical hat,also instructing a youth in the mysteries of the bird cult. It is clear that Stela No.5 from Izapa not only indicates the tree of life, it speaks to the origin of the Olmec from a nation across the sea. And that the Olmec people came to the New World during twelve migrations, as recorded by Friar de Landa.

In the Popol Vuh, the famous Mayan historian Ixtlixochtl, the Olmecs came to Mexico in "ships of barks"( probably a reference to papyrus boats or dug-out canoes used by the Proto-Saharans) and landed in Potonchan,which they commenced to populate.Mexican traditions claim that these migrates from the east were led by Amoxaque or Bookmen. The term Amoxaque, is similar to the Manding 'a ma n'kye':"he (is) a teacher". These Blacks are frequently seen in Mayan writings as gods or merchants.

The Decipherment of the Olmec Writing

It is generally accepted that the decipherment of an unknown language/script requires 1) bilingual texts and/or 2) knowledge of the cognate language(s). It has long been felt by many Meso-Americanist that the Olmec writing met non of these criteria because, no one knew exactly what language was spoken by the Olmec that appear suddenly at San Lorenzo and La Venta in Veracruz, around 1200 B.C.

This was a false analogy. For over 50 years there has ben evidence that the Olmec people probably wrote their inscriptions in the Manding language (Winters, 1979,1997) and the Manding writing from North Africa called Libyco-Berber, was used to write the Olmec (Winters, 1979, 1997) and Mayan (Rafinesque, 1832) language.

To decipher an unknown script it is unnecessary to reconstruct the Proto-language of the authors of the target script. In both the major decipherments of ancient scripts, e.g., cuneiform and ancient Egyptian, contemporary languages in their synchronic states were used to gleam insight into the reading of dead languages. No one can deny, that it was Champolion's knowledge of Coptic, that led to his successful decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphics.

The view that Africans originated writing in America is not new. Scholars early recognized the affinity between Amerindian scripts and the Mande script(s).

By 1832, Rafinesque noted the similarities between the Mayan glyphs and the Libyco-Berber writing. And Leo Wiener (1922, v.3), was the first researcher to recognize the resemblances between the Manding writing and the symbols on the Tuxtla statuette. In addition, Harold Lawrence (1962) noted that the "petroglyphic" inscriptions found throughout much of the southern hemisphere compared identically with the writing system of the Manding.

Rafinesque (1832) published an important paper on the Mayan writing that helped in the decipherment of the Olmec Writing. In this paper he discussed the fact that when the Mayan glyphs were broken down into their constituent parts, they were analogous to the ancient Libyco-Berber writing . The Libyco-Berber writing can not be read in either Berber or Taurag, even though these people use an alphabetic script similar to the Libyco-Berber script which is syllabic CV and CVC in structure.

The second clue to the Manding origin of the Olmec writing was provided by Leo Wiener in Africa and the Discovery of America

(1922,v.3). Wiener presented evidence that the High Civilizations of Mexico (Maya and Aztecs) had acquired many of the cultural and religious traditions of the Malinke-Bambara (Manding people) of West Africa. In volume 3, of Africa and the Discovery of

America, Wiener discussed the analogy between the glyphs on the Tuxtla statuette and the Manding glyphs engraved on rocks in Mandeland.

In Table 1, we show a comparison of the Libyco-Berber, Vai syllabic signs, and Olmec signs from selected sites to test the hypothesis of Lawrence (1961), Wiener (1922) and Winters (1979, 1983), that the Olmec writing is of Manding origin .

In the inscribed celts found at La Venta in 1955, at offering No.4, the inscribed jadeite celt from near El Sitio, and the Black Stone Serpent Scepter of Cardenas, Tabasco are fine examples of Olmec writing. All the translations of Olmec artifacts are based on the Manding dictionary of Delafosse (1921).

La Venta Offering #4

The celts of La Venta offering no.4, were discovered by Drucker in 1955. These celts show both the plain and cursive forms of the Olmec script. These inscribed celts were part of a collection of 16 figurines and jade and serpentine found in offering no.4 (Soustelle, 1984).

In La Venta offering no.4, fifteen figurines were arranged around a central figure. According to the inscriptions on the celts in this collection, the personage buried in this tomb was

P. The bold head of P suggest that he was their cult leader.

A pit had been dug over the incised celts and figurines, a hole leading from the earth's surface down to the burial cache suggest that this was used for pouring libations on the figurines. This view is supported by the fact that the inscriptions written in the plain Olmec syllabic style ( Fig. 1), mentions the fact that P tomb was to act as a talisman or protective shrine for the faithful.

The six celts found in La Venta offering no.4, were arranged in a semi-circle. Four of the celts were engraved. The first and last celts in the semi-circle were not engraved.

Transliteration of Symbols on Figure 1

F f mi p po gb

without breath void consumed P pure/holy below (in)

lu b ma

the family habitation lay low the celebrity (the) Lord (in)

yu ka-p ba ko

the big hemisphere tomb Ka-P the Great (in) the back of

se yu we

(to) possess for posterity the big hemisphere tomb Hence

ta lu ba i

this place the family habitation great/strong thine

gba ky be po

fixed in the ground inheritance/estate here pure/holy

mbe be

lay low the celebrity lay low the celebrity.

Translation

" Without breath. Void. Consumed (lies) the Hole P, below the family habitation. Lay low the celebrity, the Lord, in the hemisphere tomb. The Great Ka-P, in the back of the big hemisphere tomb, possesses (this place) for posterity. Thine inheritance (is) fixed in this ground. Here the pure celebrity lays low. Lay low the celebrity".

The fourth engraved celt from left to right in La Venta offering no.4, is written in the plain Olmec script (Fig. 1). This inscription declares that the tomb of P is a talisman of great power.

Transliteration of Figure 1

Ky gyo d gb

A man the leader of the cult indeed virtue

le gyo we mb to

to be consecration hence here place of rest

he gyo

good talisman.

Translation

 

"The man (was) the leader of the cult. Indeed (a man of) virtue to be an object of consecration. Hence here a place of rest (a) good talisman (protective shrine for the faithful)".

Hieroglyphic Writing

There are two forms of Olmec hieroglyphic writing : the pure hieroglyphics ( or picture signs); and the phonetic hieroglyphics, which are a combination of syllabic and logographic signs.

The characters written on the incised jadeite celt from El Sitio (Fig. 4) , and the blue celt for Cardenas Mexico was written in the hieroglyphic script.

Cardenas Celt

This hieroglyphic writing represents compound syllabic Olmec characters in an ornate style, which probably evolved into the Mayan and Izapan hieroglyphic scripts. This ornate style of writing usually has two or more syllabic signs joined together as illustrated in Figure 4.

 

Transliteration of El Sitio Inscriptions

Po ta tu b ta

Purity here take refuge B sacred object/solitary

tu to ta tu i

Ruler sequestered here place of rest thou/you

f b gb po

in the company unite the pure purity

po gba ta p ta

purity plant propriety to spread over this place

se ta a ta

to possess for posterity sacred object he this place

ma tu

ancestor/lord rest.

Translation

"Purity, take refuge here. B is here. The Ruler is sequestered (he who was righteous). Here is (his) place of rest. You are in the company (of the Deity). Unite with the purest of the Pure. Plant purity and propriety to spread over this place (and) to possess for posterity. He (is ) a sacred object. This place the Lord rest".

The Olmec civilization lasted from 1500 to 100 B.C. These Olmecs spoke an aspect of the Manding language.

It appears that some of the Olmec that later settled in Mexico may have come from Tichitt in southern Mauritania or the Arawan. At Tichitt there was a fairly large population of Mande speakers before desiccation forced these Proto-Manding people to modify their economy or move southward to better watered country. This Tichitt valley is also an area where the western line of rock engravings depicting the horse-drawn vehicles of pre-cameline times are located. The Proto-Manding established chariot routes from Libya down to the Niger Valley. It is intersecting to note that the Manding term for maize is "Ka", this agrees with the Mayan term for maize Kan.

The appearance of Proto-Saharans in Mexico 3800 years ago resulted from paleoclimate changes in West Africa after 2000 B.P. This view is supported by climatic studies of the Dar(Dhar) Tichitt region which show increasing trends towards desertification. The trend towards more severe dry seasons made much of West Africa unsuitable for permanent human settlement.(Holl 1985:88) Competition for decreasing arable land probably stimulated African migration to new lands across the Atlantic and West Africa.

Due to the preoccupation of the Proto-Mande with rainmaking during this period of climate change, led to the importance of the rain maker in African society, and the snake who gave man the secrets to harness nature.This hypothesis is supported by the fact that in the Manding and Olmec languages sa means both rain and snake. Commenting on the association of the snake and rain making in Proto-Mande culture Augustin Holl (l985:108) wrote that:

"In this regard the development of a symbolic mediator of stress in the form of rainmaking and its correlated snake cult seem a reasonable possibility. The general distribution of these features in Africa is strongly correlated with the distribution of the climatic pattern of two contrasting seasons"[ one long and dry the other short and wet]."

Mexican traditions recorded by Sahagun, claim that these Proto-Saharans landed in Mexico at Panotha, on the Mexican Gulf. Here they remained for a time until they moved "south in search of mountains". This traditions corresponds to the expansion of the Olmecs from the Gulf of Mexico to Chalcatzingo, in the Mexican Highlands.

The Olmec empire was spread from Yucatan in the East, to Guerrero and the Pacific coast on the west, through Guatemala, Salvador and Costa Rica on the Southwest. Here the Olmecs continued to use the Proto-Saharan script, which was later adopted by the Maya civilization.

 

References

 

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Wuthenau, A. von. (1980). Unexpected Faces in Ancient America. 2nd Edition. Mexico.

 

 

 

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