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African Background of the Negro

By W.D. Weatherford
The Dark Continent. Africa next to Asia is the largest of the continents, having
an estimated surface of 12,000,000 square miles. This tremendous figure has lit
tle content for us, but one is immediately awakened to its meaning, when told th
at is it is sixty times as large as the German Empire and one hundred times as l
arge as the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Africa has long been called the "da
rk continent," which designation is finely descriptive if it is taken to mean a
continent about which almost nothing has been known. Next to Tibet perhaps no ot
her great expanse of the world's surface has been so tardily explored and descri
bed. there are evident reasons for the slow progress of African exploration.
Why Africa Is Unknown. First to be noted is that the African coast line is almo
st unbroken in its entire 15,000 miles. While the continent is three times as la
rge as Europe, its coast line is 4,000 miles shorter than that of its sister con
tinent. This is due to the great number of inlets, bays, peninsulars, and capes
of Europe, and the severe regularity of the African coast. In this respect Afric
a is the most forbidding of all of the continents, offering few sheltering bays
in which a vessel may find haven. Still again Africa is poorly supplied with nav
igable rivers. its great rivers are the Congo, the Zambezi,, the Niger, the Nile
. Its smaller rivers are the Senegal, the Ogowe, the Orange, and the Limpopo. Al
l of these rivers rise in the elevated interior and flow down through cascade af
ter cascade to the sea, thus making navigation well-nigh impossible.
The Congo. The Congo, which carries to the sea the largest quantity of water of
any of the African rivers, rises in the lake region toward the eastern coast, ma
kes a a long curve toward the north and then plunges down from the highland to s
ea level, through 200 miles of rocky brawles and picturesque cascades which made
Henry Stanley's journey up the river one of immense labor and danger. ocean ste
amers can ascend the Congo only 110 miles to Matadi.
The Niger. The Niger system rises in the northern portion of the West African Hi
ghland of Futa-Jallon, describes a great curve to the north, and drops into the
lowlands of the Bight of Benin, where it spreads out into a series of nineteen o
r twenty marshes and smaller rivers among which the Nun, the Forcados, Bonny and
cross rivers are alone navigable by boats of any considerable size. Each river
has its sandbar guarding the mouth, and between alluvial mud and rocky shoals th
e main bed of the streams are made almost useless for sea-going crafts. most of
the ivory and slave traffic of the upper Niger has been carried on across the de
sert rather than attempt to follow the river to the coast.
The Zambezsi and Others. The Zambesi River takes its rise in the far western par
t of the continent in southern Angola, sweeps across the central tableland, swer
ves suddenly northward toward Lake Nyasa, and then plunges down to the sea. Jame
s Bryce calls the Victoria Falls on the Zambesi "the only very grand natural obj
ect which South Africa has to show." These falls effectually cut off all navigat
ion and consequently help to lock the interior to the outer world.
The Nile, as is well known. serves navigation better, therefore from that direct
ion exploration and travel extend far up toward the heart of Africa, even as far
back as the reign of the Pharaohs.
On the whole the rivers of Africa have given little encouragement to the travele
r to explore the interior sections of Africa. "All the rivers," says Keane, "Nil
e, Congo, and Niger, are interrupted by cataracts and rapids which cut off from
outward intercourse populous regions whose fluvial systems ramify over many hund
red millions of acres."
"East of the Nile and of the great lakes there is no space between the plateau a
nd the coast for the development of large streams."
North of the Zambesi for 2400 miles there is not a great river and between the S
enegal and the mouth of the Nile, a distance of 4800 miles, no stream of importa
nce empties into the sea.
The Mountains and Desserts. Another barrier to the outside world is the system o
f mountains and deserts. Sahara, like the ring of fire, guarding the sleeping ma
iden in the early Norse myths, encircles central Africa from the north, cutting
off all penetration for centuries until at last the camel was introduced, giving
some access for trade, but not inviting exploration. the city of Timbuktu, long
known to fame through the coast tribes, was first visited by a white man, Major
Laing, in 1825, Mungo Park, having failed to reach it a few years before, being
drowned just on the eve of his arrival at this long looked for goal. To the sou
thwest of Sahara the high tablelands of Futa-Jallon, rising at its highest point
to the altitude of 10,000 feet, gives precipitousness to the upper reaches of t
he rivers, and forms an effectual barrier against easy exploration.
Sweeping on down the coast to the head of the gulf of Guinea, one finds the Kame
run Mountains, whose giant peaks, the "Three Sisters," attain an altitude of 14,
000 feet, which, because they are so formidable and are usually covered with sno
w are called by the natives the "Mountains of the Gods." These mountains pile th
emselves precipitously above the sea, and thus effectually bar a passage to the
interior, which otherwise might have been found through the sheltering bays of t
he gulf.
Still further south, not only do the rivers give poor facilities for navigation,
but the heat, the rainfall, the heavy growth of vegetation, the terrible fevers
, and insect pests of the torrid zone, have held the white man at a distance for
long centuries. The eastern coast is guarded by a long line of mountains and ta
blelands, culminating in Kilimanjaro and Kenya, both over 18,000 feet high, whic
h form the roof of the continent and through which mountain chains all the easte
rn rivers must pierce to find vent into the sea.
It is this general contour of the continent that causes Keane to remark, "The co
mparative absence of navigable waters, of islands and great harbors, combined wi
th the great extent of desert wastes, has mainly contributed to exclude Africa f
rom the general life of the commercial world." Like the mountain peoples of Tenn
essee, Kentucky and North Carolina, who for two centuries or more have been held
in isolation by their mountain fastnesses and hence have fallen two centuries b
ehind the procession of civilization, so the African peoples, shut in by the nat
ural barriers of their own continent for thousands of years, have dropped many c
enturies behind the progress of civilization, not altogether because of less cap
acity, but mainly, at least, because of less contacts.
Africa Land Unknown. Although Egypt was one of the cradles, if not he cradle, of
civilization, and the northern coast of Africa has been known during the whole
period of which history gives an account, still Africa as a continent was not at
all seriously considered until after the establishment of the English Society f
or the Exploration of Africa in 1788. A few more daring spirits had made journey
s down the west coast as early as the fourteenth century. Marco Pizzigami plotte
d part of the coast as early as 1367, and the people of Dieppe claim to have mad
e a settlement on the Guinea coast as early as 1364.
The Portuguese, under Prince Henry, deserve the credit of having really opened w
est Africa to exploration. in 1415 John I of Portugal and his five sons attacked
and captured Ceuta, a fort which faces Gibraltar. Henry, the youngest of five s
ons, following this initial exploit, determined to know more about the African c
ontinent and to Christianize its people. By 1445 his followers had explored the
coast as far south as Cape Verde, and in 1461, they reached the coast of Sierra
Leone. The death of Henry in 1460 did not dampen the Portuguese ardor, for in 14
70 we find them at the equator.
Cape Lopez, near the mouth of the Congo, and many other geographical points, bea
r the names of these early Portuguese explorers, such as Lopez Goncolvez.
"It is also certain that the Portuguese formed permanent settlements at several
points along the coast, and the remains have even been discovered of buildings a
nd of rusty guns in the island of Coniquet toward the center of the Gaboon Estua
ry. But for over three hundred and fifty years after the first discoveries, Euro
pean commercial relations were mainly confined to the slave trade, those engaged
in this nefarious business maintaining a studied silence and screening from the
eyes of the outerworld the scenes of their profitable operations."
Mungo Park. In 1796 the Society for the Exploration of Africa sent Mungo Park t
o the west coast to make an entrance through the Gambia River. His motives, as h
e declares, were "a passionate desire to examine into the productions of a count
ry so little known; and to become experimentally acquainted with the modes of li
fe, and character of the natives."
His directions from the society were "to pass on to the river Niger, either by w
ay of Bambouk, or by such other route as should be found most convenient. That I
should ascertain the course and if possible the rise and termination of that ri
ver. That I should use my utmost exertions to visit the principal towns or citie
s of its neighborhood, particularly Timbuctu and Haussa; and that I should be af
terward at liberty to return to Europe either by way of the Gambia or by such ot
her route, as, under the then existing circumstances of my situation and prospec
ts, should appear to me to be the most advisable."
Park reached the Niger, and proved that it flowed eastward, but he did not reach
Timbuctu either on his journey or his subsequent journey of 1805, nor was he ab
le to follow this river to its mouth. he did, however, arouse a tremendous amoun
t of enthusiasm for African exploration which led Laing, Caille, and Lander, and
later Barth, Vogel, Nachtigal, Livingston, and a score of others to give their
lives to the discovery of this great continent.
Africa and America. Unfortunately for Africa, dreams of fabulous wealth in Ameri
ca drew the attention away from Africa for two hundred years. Africa was only se
condary in that it furnished slaves to carry forward the work of the new contine
"When the New World was discovered," says Thornton, "west Africa was sacrificed
to America. . . . We would like, therefore, to point out some points of contrast
s and connection between the two. Firstly, the celebrated papal Bull of 1493 mar
ked off the eastern world for the Portuguese and the western world for the Spani
ard, so that at first each nation ran a different course.
"Next, while the West Indian Islands have comparatively a healthy climate, the w
est Africa coast is notoriously unhealthy for white men, and even its native inh
abitants suffer constantly from malaria. Hence, while the West Indies became a s
phere of European settlement, and one of the very few tropical ports of the worl
d where colonists from Great Britain have made a home, the west coast of Africa,
from first to last, has hardly been suitable even for temporary residence. Agai
n, West Indian colonies have always been colonies of produce. . . . West Africa,
on the contrary, though producing gold, palm oil, and jungle products, has, as
a whole, no definite system of cultivation, no regular agricultural settlements,
and no mining centers.
"Further, slavery in the West Indies promoted cultivation within certain limits,
and retarded it in West Africa. it was impossible to develop (that) part of the
world which was perpetually being drained of its labor supply." Thus it is agai
n seen how fortune retarded the development of a continent.
Climate of Africa. More of Africa lies within the Torrid Zone than that of any o
ther continent, though South America is a fairly close second. In addition, to A
frica's Torrid zone, however, there are two great desert regions, Sahara in the
north and Kalahari in the south. The trade winds, "blowing from the northeast in
the northern, from the southeast in the southern hemisphere, divert to the equa
tor most of the vapors crossing their path, leaving elsewhere clear skies and ar
id lands."
Were it not for the fact that great stretches of the continent rise to high plat
eaus, the heat of the continent would be unendurable. As it is the western coast
from the mouth of the Gambia River, at 12 degrees north latitude, is a section
of very heavy rainfall, heavy forestation, and humid climate. the annual rainfal
l in this section varies from 100 inches along the ivory coast, the gold coast,
the slave coast, and the Kamerun section, to between twenty and forty inches at
the altitude of Benguela. This is the section, as will be seen later, from which
most of the American slaves were drawn, and the influence of these climatic con
ditions on the development of the ancestors of our slaves will have a very vital
bearing on our studies.
The east coast of Africa is high and more open and the rainfall much lower, henc
e the climate is far more pleasant, varying from 50 degrees to 70 degrees mean t
emperature. The great section known as the Southern cattle zone, including the t
erritory south of a line drawn from Benguela to the mouth of the Zambesi is als
o high and has a rainfall not to exceed ten to twelve inches. The great central
section, known as the Sudan, stretching across the continent from the Atlantic c
oast to the Mile basin, between the lines of 15 degrees and 5 degrees north lati
tude, has in its northern section a high and dry climate. the central section of
the continent known as Uganda, Buganda, and neighboring territory, north and we
st of lake Victoria, is also high and therefore temperate in climate although lo
cated almost astride the equator.
These four sections in Africa which are high and temperate--the northern half of
the Sudan, the southern Cattle Zone, the central section, west of Victoria, and
the northeast coast, are very different from the lower sections of the continen
t in development, organization, and capacity of the people,
The Resources of Africa. Africa is rich in vegetable oils, fibres, gums, and har
dwood. "First among the trees of Africa is the oil palm, first in beauty, first
in utility, and first in fertility." "Is the traveler athirst and weary?--her lu
xurious foliage gives him shelter, whilst from her tree trunk pours forth a drau
ght of foaming wine. is the traveler without meat?--then her nut oil and palm ca
bbage provide a meal fit for a sylvan prince. What will you--merchant, traveler,
native?--a loin cloth, a tool, a mat, a roof, a wall, a house, a fortune, or a
sylvan picture?--these and more are to be found in the oil palm of West Africa."
The cocoanut palm which thrives only near the coast is also a very prolific tree
and grows in great profusion. from the oil palm we get "pure olive oil, lubrica
ting oil, the oil of soap, the base of margarine, and during the war one of the
ingredients of high explosives. from cocoanut palm, our cocoa-mats, materials fo
r making sacks and rope false horse hair for stuffing cushions and nut butter or
margarine." Ground nuts, from which the French manufacture salad oils, grow in
profusion. Cocoa originally secured from south America is now largely drawn from
The gum which is chief of all the products of Africa is rubber, which has turned
millions of dollars into European treasuries. Among the African fibres, cotton
easily holds first place and the annual value of the crop now runs into the mill
ions of dollars.
Precious Metals. South Africa is the world's greatest diamond field. It is estim
ated that $1,000, 000, 000 ($1 billion) would no more than cover the value of di
amonds taken from this section in the last fifty years.
Harris thinks that the immense sum of gold for Solomon's temple was secured in e
astern Rhodesia.
"The traveler through Rhodesia looks on in wonder at kopjes whose bowlders are l
inked together and then rendered impregnable to assault by hewn granite walls in
most cases several feet thick. In any single ruin there must be hundreds of tho
usands and in some cases millions of granite blocks shaped by some prodigious hu
man agency and then built into the walls and structures covering extensive areas
of the territory in the Zambesi valley. . . . It is clear--at least to most peo
ple--that these extensive structures were not the work of the indigenous African
, but that of some immigrant race--an immigrant race bent not upon civilization,
but the exploitation of the resources of the valley. . . . [This theory of some
foreign race building Great Zimbabwe has been abandoned. Editor's note. RL]
"Their implements remain to this day--not single instruments in a given spot, bu
t hundreds of them, scattered over the entire territory--the implements of the g
old seeker, picks, crucibles, gold wiring presses and metal engravers. Nor is th
is all, for many of the old workings remains today just as they were hurriedly f
orsaken on one tragic day many centuries ago, while scattered around in the debr
is are tiny fragments of pure gold, beads, wire and countless little nails all o
f solid gold."
Whether Harris is right in his conjecture or not, it is certain that Africa now
has three great gold fields, the Gold Coast with an output of seven to eight mil
lion dollars annually, Southern Rhodesia with an output of twelve or millions of
dollars annually, and the Randt, which is richer than either of the other field
s. Africa thus proves to be one of the very richest of the continents, with gold
, diamonds, cotton, rubber, ivory, and the great oil products as her chief contr
ibutions to the world's wealth.
The Inhabitants of Africa. Some anthropologists have attempted to classify human
ity on the basis of color, others on the basis of bodily form, others on the bas
is of mental characteristics, and still others as to cultural characteristics. O
ne does not have to follow many of these attempts to reach the conclusion that n
o classification can be made which is completely discriminatory and obviates all
overlapping and duplication. However, there are certain outstanding features of
various types that at least give basis of general groupings. in all classificat
ions there is recognition of the Negro as that part of humanity which has been d
eveloped under tropical conditions.
Humanity sprang from a common anthropoid which in prehistoric times was separate
d into various groups, which groups lived for continuous centuries under decided
ly different environments. The environments of each stamped itself upon the biol
ogical life of the group and gradually brought about racial differentiation. The
Negro is that group of people who, because of this long process of natural sele
ction and response to environment, has come to be the race best adapted to the h
eat and humidity of the tropics. It would normally be expected, therefore, that
there would be be wide differences between groups of the Negroid type, due to gr
eat differences of heat, rainfall, elevation, and products of the different sect
ions of Africa. this difference which we would naturally expect, we actually fin
d. [For a more current environmental perspective on the evolution and dispersal
of humanity based on modern genetic research, read: A Paler Shade of Black and
Tell the Truth.]
Classifications of Africans. Harris divides the inhabitants of Africa into seven
1. The Semitic family, along the north coast and in Abyssinia.
2. The Hamitic family, mainly in the Sahara, Egypt, Galla, and Somali Land.
3. The Fulah and Nuba groups, in western, central, and eastern Sudan.
4. The Negro systems, in western and central Sudan, Upper Guiea, and the Upper N
ile regions.
5. The Bantu family, everywhere south of about 6 degrees N. latitude, except in
the Hottentot domain.
6. The Hottentot group, in the extreme southwestern corner from the Tropic of Ca
pricorn to the cape.
7. The Malayo-Polynesian family, in Madagascar.

[The above map was prepared by Churchward, M.D, renowned British archaeologist a
nd authority on the origin of races, showing where civilization originated. It i
s the area marked the "Home of the Pigmies." Churchward has six groups in his sc
heme: 1) Pigmies, 2) Masaba Negro, 3) Nilotic Negro, 4) True Negro, 5) Bushmen,
6) Hottentot. The writer speculated that the Bushmen developed from the Pigmies
and traveled south and that the Hottentot evolved from Bushmen. He did not attem
pt in his scheme to account for the natives of Madgascar]
Professor Dowd divides the Negroes into five groups or types:
"First, the Negritos, including the dwarf races of the Equatorial regions, the B
ushmen of the Kalahari desert, and the Hottentots of the Southern Steppe.
"Second, the Negritians, including all the natives of dark skin and wooly hair,
occupying the territory of the Sudan.
"Third, the Fellatahs, a race supposed to have sprung from crossing the Berbers
of the desert with Negritians of Sudan,-- (occupying the northern portion of the
"Fourth, the Bantus, including a vast population of somewhat lighter color and l
ess Negroid features than the natives of the Sudan, occupying almost all of the
West Africa below the Sudan.
"Fifth, the Gallas, including all of the lighter colored people of east Africa f
rom the Galla country to the Zambesi river."
The second and fourth groups, that is the Negritians of the great western Sudan
and the Bantus of the west coast stretching from the Niger river to the southern
point of Angola, are the groups with which our study is concerned, for from the
se groups come most of our American slaves.
To be sure, some slaves were the introduced into Brazil and other sections of th
e new World, from the east coast of Africa, the chief point of traffic being Moz
ambique. "In 1645 the first slaves were exported from Mozambique to brazil. This
action was brought about by the fact that the province of Angola had fallen for
a time into the hands of the Dutch, and therefore their (Portuguese) supply of
slaves to Brazil was temporarily stopped. in consequence of this, Mozambique and
Zambesi for some years replaced West Africa as a slave market."
Negro Characteristics. The Negroes of Africa are not all black as most people ha
ve supposed. They vary in color from the brownish yellow of the Bushmen whom Joh
nson describes as a "light olive yellow--through which the mantling of the blood
can be seen in the cheeks" to the sooty black Negro of the Sudan and the neighb
oring lands. Nassau remarks: "Many of the Bantus have Caucasians-like features."
The Gallas of the east coast are almost all much lighter in color, due partly t
o difference in climate, and partly to intermixture with Semitic and Hamitic peo
The Negroes of Buganda and the region east of Victoria Nyanza are also tall, str
aight and of a lighter color, due perhaps to similar causes. Most Negro types ha
ve hair which is coarse and tightly curled, due to the elliptical shape of the h
air follicle and the oblique emergence of the hair from the skin. But here again
there is great divergence.
"Occasionally in the Pigmy or Forest races the hair is brownish or greenish grey
, or may even have a tinge of red." The author has frequently noticed that where
Negroes are of mixed blood, the blond or reddish hair of the Nordic races has g
iven decided tinge to the mulatto's hair.
The Negro of Africa does not have so much beard or bodily growth as the men of E
uropean type. the typical Negro head is long (dolichocephalic) and decidedly pro
gnathous, the width across the brow is usually less than across the cheek bone,
giving the face a hexagonal rather than an oval form as among Europeans. The nos
e is decidedly flat, because the nasal spine is poorly developed of often absent
. the lips are usually thicker and turned outward. Johnson thinks the Negro is b
roader across the chest than any other human species except the Caucasian.
There is much evidence that certain African tribes such as the pigmies are among
the most primitive living men. To all these descriptions there are decided exce
ptions. "The difference in color is due to the influence of climate. near the co
ast the greater forests and greater numbers of cloudy days protect the complexio
n from the sun and give it a lighter tint, while the open country of the north a
nd the predominance of clear days, cause the pigmentation of the skin to thicken
and darken, thus giving the complexion a deeper and more glossy black."
Certain tribes, such as the Waganda of central Africa, are not so dolichocephali
c, nor so prognathous, nor do they have such flat noses. they are lighter in col
or and many of the women are said to be very beautiful. it will readily be seen
that there is no uniformity of type, but great variety, due to climate, food sup
ply, labor and various other modifying causes.
Brain Capacity of Negroes. Painstaking investigations have been made to determin
e the comparative weight and also the comparative capacity of cranial cavity in
various races.
"There is sufficient data available to establish beyond a doubt the fact that th
e brain weight of the whites is larger than that of most other races, particular
ly larger than that of the Negroes. that of the white male is about 1360 grams.
the investigation of cranial capacities are quite in accord with these results.
According to Topinard, the capacity of the skull of males of the Neolithic perio
d in Europe is 1560 cc (44 cases); that of modern European is the same (347 case
s); that of the Mongoloid race, 1510cc (68 cases), of African Negroes 1405 cc (8
3 cases); and of the Negroes of the Pacific Ocean, 1460 cc (46 cases). Here we h
ave, therefore, a decided difference in favor of the white race."
Boas proceeds to show that the measurement of the heads of eminent men seems to
point to a larger brain capacity (1605cc as compared with 1560cc) and that the c
ranial capacity of forty-five criminals measured 1580cc or more than the average
. On the contrary, the brains of many eminent men are under the average in size,
and the brain of white women is on the average nearly 100cc smaller than the br
ain of white men.
Few men in our day would have the hardihood to assert that the brain of the whit
e woman is inferior to that of the white man. They are evidently different in qu
ality, but it would be foolish to assert superiority on either size. While, ther
efore, difference in size may indicate greater capacity for the larger brain, an
thropologists are very slow to assert this superiority. Besides there is wide va
riety among the Negroes themselves as to the brain capacity, making it impossibl
e to mark down the whole race as mentally inferior.
Source: W.D. Weatherford, Ph.D. The Negro from Africa to America by New York: G
eorge H. Doran, Co., 1924

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