African History – Benin

The final part of Gus Casely-Hayford’s search for the Lost Kingdoms of Africa takes us to Nigeria and Mali. The framing story of the program is the search for the origins of the magnificent bronzes looted from the fall of Benin and now to be found, of course, in the British Museum. My ancestors were the most appalling vandals.

What distinguished Benin from the more northerly kingdoms based around Timbuktu (see here) was resistance to the march of Islam and continuation of an animistic religion that dates back millennia. The city of Jenné-Jeno in Mali, abandoned after Islam arrived, is believed to date to around 250 BC. To get a glimpse of what those cultures might have been like, Casely-Hayford takes us to visit the Dogon people of Mali whose religious practices are extremely colorful and supposedly unbroken for hundreds of years, even since they fled to their current home on the Bandiagara Escarpment to escape the advance of Islam.

Possibly even more interesting are the mysterious Tellem people who lived in the area before the Dogon and created amazing cliff villages so daring that the Dogon were convinced they must be able to fly.

There’s so much history there that we’ve barely scratched the surface of, and plenty of powerful kingdoms every bit as impressive as those of medieval Europe. Someone needs to tell their stories.

As far as I know, none of the Lost Kingdoms of Africa programs are available in the US, but I’m sure they would be of tremendous interest, particularly to African-Americans. If you keep pestering PBS I’m sure they’ll turn up.

One thought on “African History – Benin

  1. Just a thank you note here – this whole series has been HUGELY helpful to some research I needed to do – it’s a great starting place for some writing i wanted to do :>.

    It’s also just a great series in general – I’ve found a lot of it on UT – and would love to get the series – so I’m off to pester PBS :>.


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