Kirkus Star


Email this review


The 20 years since J. D. Fage produced his pioneering Atlas of African History have seen an extraordinary advance in African studies, the results of which, packed into this vastly informed, rigorously analytical, and inescapably dense narrative, have the far-reaching effect, among others, of restoring the initiative in sub-Saharan Africa to the Negro Africans. Beginning with the prehistoric development of agriculture, Fage assigns to Saharan Negroes a role equal--or more than equal--to that of Saharan Caucasoids; notes that after the transformation of the Sahara into desert, the Neolithic Revolution in the Sudan diverged (""Negroes were the only people to be confined to a large land mass [almost] wholly within the tropics""); and demonstrates that, thereafter, innovations from North Africa and elsewhere were adopted quickly if they were useful--hence, for instance, the rejection of the wheel (in favor of waterways and pack animals) and the limited embrace of Islam. Similarly, he suggests that divine kingship evolved independently in ancient Ghana from the development of agriculture--as it had in Egypt--and, moreover, that the subsequent legends of great heroes coming from the north and east were an attempt by the Sudanic kingdoms to establish connections to ""the prestigeful world from which Islam had sprung."" And, far from the pastoral ""Hamitic"" incomers triumphing, it was the Negro agriculturalists who were the more advanced ""in almost all the arts of life""; far from Islamic universalism triumphing, ""the principles of Sudanic royal power remained pagan."" (""To profess that there was but one God for both kinsmen and strangers was treasonable; the ancestral religion of the people must be affirmed."") This is but one of the many strands in this intricately developed history--which, in detailing North African development too, fully elaborates on Islamic achievements. In the era of European expansion, it closely weighs the impact of the slave trade in different regions; apropos of the scramble for colonies in the 1880s and 1890s, carefully examines contending explanations; and, in the colonial period itself, assesses the divergent policies of English, French, and German officialdom. But there is no part of Africa, no period, no significant political grouping or economic factor that is not somehow accounted for. Basil Davidson's broader, more thematic Africa in History will continue to serve the needs of beginning students, in and out of school, but Fage's amplification and emendation will be essential knowledge--and his later, more accessible sections can be consulted separately.

Pub Date: Nov. 20th, 1978
ISBN: 0415252482
Publisher: Knopf