An Introduction to the History of West Africa

An Introduction to the History of West Africa

An Introduction to the History of West Africa

An Introduction to the History of West Africa

Excerpt

For the purposes of this book, West Africa can be said to be that part of Africa which is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean in the west and south, by the Sahara desert in the north, and in the east by a line corresponding approximately to the present eastern boundary of the British colony of Nigeria. It is not, however, easy to define the northern and eastern limits of West Africa in geographical terms. Neither in the east nor in the north are there natural geographical barriers marking off this part of Africa from the rest of the continent. Neither the Sahara nor the great rivers--the Niger and the Senegal-- that flow close to its southern edge have ever proved a check to the movement of peoples or their trade. Moreover, as one approaches West Africa from the north it can be seen that the change from desert to habitable conditions is extremely gradual, and even the desert is not entirely uninhabited. In the east there are no natural geographical barriers until one reaches the swamps of the upper Nile or the highlands of Abyssinia.

Geographical divisions in West Africa are for the most part those brought about by the effect of climate, more particularly rainfall, on the vegetation. The desert receives so little rain (less than five inches a year on the average) that there is no permanent vegetation. Consequently man cannot grow crops, and only with difficulty can he pasture animals. It follows that the population of the desert is small and mainly nomadic. At the other extreme the southernmost parts of West Africa near the sea receive amounts of rainfall ranging between about thirty inches to over one hundred inches a year. Much of the land near the coast is consequently covered with thick forest, almost all of it can be successfully farmed, and so it can support a comparatively dense human population.

Between the desert and the coastal forests we can recognise a . . .

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