Africa has never laid claim to a homogenous indigenous style of architecture; rather, its architectural styles are as varied as the numerous influences that had inspired them.
Each traditional tribal state in pre-colonial Africa had its unique architectural morphology, iconography and construction methodology, each one influenced and shaped by its own peculiar socio-cultural narratives.
In northern Nigeria, for instance, the traditional Hausa architecture (Tubali) was chiefly inspired by Sudano-Sahelian architecture of the ancient Songhai Empire; while that of the southern tribal states, like ancient Oyo, Benin or Nri Kingdoms in the south, were also shaped by their own peculiar cultural influences.
These pieces of indigenous architecture both highlighted the individuality of each of these tribal states and reflected their social structures, cultural heritage, religious and ethnic values, and local customs.
Perhaps the most well-known architectural wonders of Africa are those in ancient Egypt, including the monumental obelisks, the pyramids at Giza, and the Great Sphinx from the period between 2,000 BCE and 100 CE.
Usually, when people think of ancient Egyptian architecture the image that comes to mind is great pyramids and temples that were built by people whose skin color was lighter than the complexion of people who reside in sub-Saharan Africa.
The implication is that, culturally speaking, these people with lighter skin color are entirely distinct from those with very dark skin, and, as such, those with very dark skin produced nothing in antiquity.
On the contrary, and backed by strong archaeological evidence, Elleh argues that early Egyptian dynasties and their monumental architecture were built by ancient African kings. Thus, indigenous African architecture includes pyramids, temples, clay (adobe) structures, tent structures, huts made of grass and reeds, and a combination of multiple building materials, and the tectonics of each structure depended on its geographical location and the time in which it was conceived and produced.
For example, Elleh emphasizes that monumental architecture such as the pyramids did not just develop in ancient Egypt overnight. It evolved slowly following the desiccation of the Sahara Desert, whereupon certain building traditions from the Sahara were transferred to the newly founded kingdom of Egypt by Menes (fl. c. 2925 B.C.E.), the pharaoh whom archeologists identify as Narmer.
By the third and fourth dynasties, when Djoser’s Step Pyramid and the Great Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops) were built, the pharaohs were African kings, and their monumental productions were indigenous African productions. This proposition could be extended to the Middle Kingdom (2000–1786 B.C.E.) when most of the powerful pharaohs ruled Egypt.
The evolution of ancient Egyptian dynastic architecture shows that long before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia, in 332 B.C.E., the Assyrians had taken over around 670 B.C.E., followed by the Persians in 525 B.C.E.
This leads one to recognize that the early structures built before the invasions were all proposed and constructed by indigenous African monarchs. J. C. Moughtin’s book Hausa Architecture (1985) sheds light on the relationships between certain ancient Egyptian architectural motifs and the motifs that are used by Hausa adobe builders.
The relationships between Hausa building traditions and Islamic building traditions within the West African region was studied by Prussin in Hatumere: Islamic Design in West Africa (1986). Also important are Peter Garlake’s contributions on the architecture of Great Zimbabwe, the site of ruins within Zimbabwe dating from as early as the eleventh century C.E.
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