The two main races inhabiting Africa in early times were the Berbers of the Mediterranean coastlands and the Negroes of equatorial Africa. The Berbers (and the ancient Egyptians) were of Hamitic stock – racially Caucasian, with “European” facial characteristics. The Negroes included the small-statured Pygmies. The pygmies, and
a third race – the rather yellow skinned Bushmen – may have been widely spread over central and southern Africa until they were driven from the most fruitful lands by the Negroes. The descendants of the Pygmies now inhabit the forests of central Africa. Only small numbers of Bushmen now survive, mainly in the Kalahari desert in the south.
Between the northern coastlands and equatorial Africa is the Sahara desert. Until the end of the last Ice Age (about 8000 B.C.) the Sahara was a fertile grassland. It then started to dry up, much of it remaining habitable until about 2000 B.C. The early inhabitants of the Sahara were probably a mixture of Berbers and Negroes.
Recently discovered rock paintings show that cattle keeping was a major occupation in what appears to have been a peaceful life. The paintings also show that music and dancing were important to these ancient Africans – as they are to the modern Negroes.
Between about 4000 and 2000 B.C, as the desert spread, the peoples of the Sahara gradually emigrated to the north, east and south though some remained, learning to live with little water: their descendants are the Berber Tuareg of the desert today (whose men wear veils).
Those who went South settled in the western and central Sudan. (The term Sudan relates to the wide strip of grassland stretching across Africa, south of the Sahara and Egypt. The western Sudan is separated from the coast to the south by a belt of dense forest.)
In the Sudan the newcomers mixed with other Negro tribes to form
the Bantu-speaking peoples, who gradually spread into central, eastern and southern Africa.
In the eastern Sudan, south of Egypt, another civilisation arose, starting about 1000 B.C. – that of the Kushites, probably a mixture of Hamitic and Negro stock. Further east is Ethiopia. The Ethiopians were probably of Hamitic origin, mixed later with Arabs from Arabia.
Historical times, that is when history is known with reasonable accuracy and some detail, started on widely different dates in the different regions of Africa, very roughly as follows:-
Egypt – about 3000 B.C.
Nush – about 1000 B.C.
Berber North Africa – about 1000 B.C.
Ethiopia – about A.D. 0
Western and Central Sudan – about A.D. 300.
East Africa – about A.D. 700.
The Forest lands south of the Western Sudan – about A.D. 1000
As mentioned in the foreword, Egypt and Ethiopia (and modern Dutch and British South Africa) are the subjects of separate histories. The following chapters deal with the early histories of the peoples in the other five regions.