Nigerian History in Pre-colonial Times-southern Nigeria
Over the years however, researches by African scholars and some objective European historians have been able to prove that the African continent had a glorious history of its own just like Europe and the Middle East.
Introduction: this chapter introduces students to the pre-colonial history and peopled of southern Nigeria. This period witnessed major epochal developments in the history of the people. This was when major empires Oyo, Benin and lgbo states emerged in the area. The period also witnessed major social, political and economic relation between the peoples.
The topic is an attempt to debunk the Hamitic Hypothesis- the theory which has it that everything of significance that took place in Africa south of the Sahara was brought about by the Hermits, allegedly a branch of the Caucasian white race. This theory was formulated by C.G Seligman 1930 in his book Races of African and it says that:
Apart from relatively late influence….the civilization of Africa are the civilizations of the hamits, its history the records of these people and of their interaction with two other African stocks, the hegroes and the bushman, whether this influence was exerted by highly civilized Egyptians or by such wider pastoralist as are represented at the present day by the Beja and Somali…the incoming Hamites were pastoral ‘Europeans’ – arriving wave after wave – better armed as well as quicker witted than the dark agricultural Negroes. The racist view of Africa was first propagated by the early Europeans that visited the continent. They were so amazed by the massive and spectacular development that took place in the continent that they felt that the development could not have been invented by the Africans themselves. The European did not believe that the civilization and structures such as the pyramids in Egypt, Nubia, Kush, Napata, meroes, Axum, the great wall of Zimbabwe as well as the NOK, life, Benin and Igbo ukwu, were built and developed by the Africans. They did not also accept the fact that the African could independently invent the use of iron without external European) influence. They did not believe that the African could have invented agriculture without external influence. The Europeans did not accept that the great kingdoms and empires and the complex systems of government they found in the continent were independently evolved by the Africans. So amazed were they that they concluded that their ancestors (early Europeans) who visited the continent in the distant past must have introduced these developments to the continent.
It has been proved that the great centres of civilization from Egypt through Nok to Zimbabwe were independently invented by Africans without external (European civilization, the people of African had evolved agriculture, irrigation, writing, stone building and effective and complex administrative structure. It has been proved that African was the centre of civilization (a form of Garden of Eden) because the oldest evidence of Homo sapiens was found in African – East Africa.
Research by renowed scholars such as Walter Rodney (1972) in his epochal book how Europe underdeveloped Africa has shown that by the fifteenth century when Africa first had contact with the Europeans, the development in the two continents (Europe and Africa) was at par equal. The underdevelopment which Africa witnessed from the sixteenth century onward was the handiwork of the Europeans. It was the Europeans that introduced the Trans –Atlantic slave trade- a trade which lasted for three centuries and has been described as the greatest forced migration in history – into the continent. This inhuman trade between the Europeans and their local collaborators (kings, oba, Emirs etc) greatly devasted the continent and nearly reduced it to rubble. Through the trade, able bodied men and women – (the workers, traders, farmers, priests, craftsmen etc) – those involved in the social and economic wellbeing of the society were carted away to the Americans. It was in the course of this inhuman trade that the Europeans now saw Africans as sub-humans whose ancestors could not have built any meaningful civilization. This erroneous view by the European and other colonial and imperialist scholars continued from early period up through the period of imperialism/colonialism to independence of African countries. Since the decolonization of African countries, new light about the history of the continent has emerged.
In order to substantiate their claims of the early accomplishments of the Africans before and after the coming of Europeans, Africanist historians have had to depend on a number of sources such as written records, archaeology, cultural history or ethnology, historical linguistics, physical anthropology and oral tradition (okpu: n.d.; onwuejeogwu, 2000). Let us now examine these sources briefly – restricting it to Nigeria.