What was Africa like before European imperialism?

Bamum architecture (present-day Cameroon)

Henry Ritmo, who lived in Africa, Quora

Since there are so many ways this question could be answered I decided to use pictures. Many of these would be shortly before or shortly after colonization began seeing as the camera was not invented until the late 19th century and colonization in most of Africa started within that period but they come the closest to capturing what pre-colonial Africa looked like.


Bamum architecture (present-day Cameroon)

Merina Kingdom (present day Madagascar)

Hausa architecture (present day Northern Nigeria and Niger)


Fulani architecture

Asante architecture (present day Ghana and Ivory Coast. Last picture has been colorized)

Igbo Ọdịnanị temples (majority of the Igbo people like most other African nations that did not already follow an Abrahamic religion were converted to Christianity during colonization and indigenous spirituality is now relegated mostly to pockets of rural areas)

Igbo architecture

Yoruba architecture

Mali architecture (first one is University of Timbuktu, one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in Africa)

Nubian architecture

Burkina Faso architecture



Buganda tomb (present day Uganda)




Musgum architecture

Ethiopian architecture

Senegal straw architecture

African towns and villages

Zulu architecture



Ndebele houses (South Africa)

Illustration of Edo architecture (the kingdom got burned down and looted during the British invasion of 1897)

Ruins of Edo after the expedition (present day Southern Nigeria)


Sultan of Zanzibar’s children with guards

Colorized Bamum festival

Textile weavers

Crafts people

Hausa people

Emir of Kano


Pipe smoking (an art that was enjoyed throughout the continent)


Mauritania people

Bamum people

Maasai people

Queen Ranavalona III (last monarch of Merina kingdom)

Yoruba monarchs (the Yoruba people being one of the largest West African ethnic groups were divided into several kingdoms, empires and polities. Each kingdom had their own leaders and structures of government but often cooperated with each other especially on external matters)

Yoruba People

Afro-Brazilian Yoruba woman (beginning in the early 19th century freed slaves from Brazil began to return to their homelands in present-day Benin Republic and South-West Nigeria, many of them being of Yoruba descent)

Igbo people

Igbo priestly figures (These figures such as the Dibias or the Osu served as diviners, teachers, healers and advisors of their communities. The roles were sometimes hereditary)

Illustration of Igbo burial chamber (the Igbo people had a custom of burying their high ranking figures in underground chambers dressed in their full regalia and surrounded by relevant material possessions from when they were alive)



Bonny water festival

Merina kingdom people

Yoruba bride and groom on their wedding day

Kikuyu people

Herero woman

Metal workers


People of the Swahili coast (some have been colorized)

Egyptian snake charmer

Tutsi people

Indigenous African medicine

Surgical tools of the Kisii people (Kenya)

Palm wine (this was/is the most popular alcoholic beverage across several African cultures)

Palm wine tappers

Oba Ovonramwen, king of Benin kingdom shortly after the invasion of Edo, the capital city. He was exiled soon after (late 1800s)

Queen of Benin

Asante goldweights

Xhosa people

Zulu people

Bamum ceremonial throne

Ethiopian Emperor Melenik II

Musical instruments

Mwanga II last monarch of Buganda


Sudanese people


Wolof woman

Writing systems

West African Griot (people whose job was to document and pass down historical information from one generation to the next. The stories were usually told through song)

Artifacts from one of West Africa’s ancient iron civilizations, the Nok culture which dates back to at least 1500 BC (discovered in present day Nigeria)


Samori Toure (founder of the short lived Wassoulou empire before his capture and exile in 1898)

Two West African women holding an object that I can’t identify (if anyone knows what those objects are help me out in the comments. Edit: Kelechi Wachuku has pointed out in the comments that it is a musical instrument which was used by several African cultures. Igbo people call it ụbọ akwara and the French call it pluriarc)

Asante people

Illustration of Asante soldiers

Illustration of Egyptian soldiers

Illustration of Zulu soldier

Illustration of Ethiopian soldiers

Casablanca soldier (Morroco)

Malian horsemen


Entertainers with their instruments

Efik ceremony

Ibibio woman

Building a thatched house

Akan king and subjects

Akan sacred place

Kongo people

Dahomey people

Fulani people

Mandinka family

Egyptians in the Nile

Kanuri women

Kente (worn by Akan people)

Akwete (worn by Igbo people)

Dahomey warriors

Women’s Hairstyles (Women across African cultures held their hair in high regard and some of the very elaborate ways it was styled reflected this)


On this blog

100 African cities destroyed by European colonialism


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Filed under Africa, History, Sighting

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