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At the Beginning

Time period:

(About 7 million years ago)

Today's countries:

Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa

Long, long ago in the African land,
wild and wonderful, free and grand,
where the sands blow in the wafting winds:
This is where our tale begins.

It’s a history ages and ages old
before words were written or stories told,
a mystery of which almost nothing is known,
but that which can be read from bones.

The oldest primate bones, we’re told,
are seven million, long years old.
Fragile and fragmented, they were found
in the Djurab desert, scattered around.

These ancient, ape-like beings who roamed
underneath the skies of their African home
are thought the first to stand like men.
And so, we call them hominin.

How long is seven million years?
If you’re seven years old,we can make it clear.
It’s seven time ten, times ten,times ten,
times ten, times ten, times ten again.

In another three or four million years,
other primate species appeared.
Ethiopia and South Africa revealed th
e remains of Little Foot and Lucy, by name.

Prehistoric primates from more recent days were
found in South Africa’s Rising Starcaves Two to
three hundred thousand years old,
they even buried their loved ones, it’s told.

About how much is two hundred thousand years?
If you’re seven years old, we can make it clear.
Take seven times three times ten,
and then times ten times ten times ten again.

Then about seventy thousand years past,
Homo sapiens appeared at last.They were
human beings,just like you,
eventually spreading the whole earth through.

Leaving behind them tools and art,
we know they were social, creative, and smart.
They learned how to garden, to hunt,
and to speak. And, finally, even to write and read.

To the African land, so great and wide the first
people were born, and lived, and died,
they who came long before you, names unknown.
And their stories are sung in Africa’s bones.

Trading Across the Sands

Time period:

(1st Century AD - 19th Century AD)

Today's countries:

Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, Northern Mali, Northern Niger

The Amazigh were among the first, not a singlekingdom,
but tribes dispersed. Twenty thousand years ago
these populations began to grow.

Across North Africa from east to west,
they made their homes where they thought best.
beside the Nile, beside the sea,
or across the grasslands, wild and free.

They hunted or fished to sustain their lives,
mined chert to create arrows and knives.
Where the soil was fertile --and plenty of rain,
they learned to plant and harvest grain.

Savannah gave way to desert, dry,
For rarely a cloud ever crossed the sky.
There was no more farming or hunting meat,
but they needed, still, a way to eat.

Trading_Across_The_Sands-_1_Artboard-2-copy-2-removebg-preview (1).png__PID:5cf3ccac-28eb-471d-bd11-23048deb03f2

With their camels some traveled across
the sandstrading treasure with faraway lands…
salt and spices, beads and gold,all their camel
packs could hold.

Over the barrens these tribes would roam,
nomadic peoples, their camps their homes,
forever moving -- and why? Can you think?
To find enough water for all to drink.

Ages passed, kingdoms rose:Rome after Greece
after Egypt’s pharaohs.The Amazigh were
no longer alone;To the Romans, as
Berbers they were known

That name is still remembered, quite,
and speaks of a people, colorful, bright.
With their very own language and culture
they cometuned to the beat of their own, joyful drums.

Together, Amazigh, year after yearshared their own,
special stories with loved ones, dear.Children’s
children still live todaywhere their ancient
fathers made their way

River of Life

Time period:

(3100 BC–30 BC)

Today's countries:

Sudan, Egypt

As learning was shared and languages formed,
Earth’s earliest civilizations were born.In Africa,
Egypt and Nubia rose,Beside the great
path where the Nile River flows.

A ribbon of green through the desert sands,
the Nile brought life to this dry, arid land,
rich soil for farming, palms for shade,
and a waterway for transport and trade.

Egypt is famous for four epic things:
it’s pyramids, its Pharaoh-kings,Its hieroglyphs
and one more --let’s think! Oh, yes!
We mustn’t forget the sphinx!

Reigning over his people, great and small, like a god,
Pharaoh was honored by all.The pyramids and
the sphinx would tellof their greatness,
and mark their graves as well.

Hieroglyphs are writings preserved in stone,
symbols arranged in columns and rows.
These, too, tell the stories of gods and kings,
showing weapons and tools and everyday things. 

One Pharaoh of most notable fame was only a child!
King Tut was his name.His body still lies in his tomb today,
(and scientists have taken his DNA. / while its rare
treasures stand on display.)


Cleopatra, the original drama queen,
assumed Egypt’s throne at the age of eighteen.
A woman of mystery, romance,
and intrigue,as a ruling power, she was truly big-league!

Brave Amanirenas called Nubia home.
This warrior queen stood up to Rome.
As a diplomat she was no fool;she would not
bow to Roman rule.

This ‘Kandake’ of Nubia, ‘land of the bow’,
with her archer warriors, was a dreadful foe.
A bundle of golden arrows she sentto Caesar:
“Choose friendship or war,” it meant.

These two great cultures long agowere
sometimes friends and sometimes foes.
They were trading partners, history has told:
Egypt’s grain for Nubia’s gold.

Side by side along the Nilethese peoples lived for
a very long while.Their ancient stories,
true and grand,are preserved in Africa’s barren sands.

…strange and true,preserved in Africa for you.

The Rise of the Mighty Kingdoms

Time period:

(Ghana Empire: 300 AD–1200 AD, Mali Empire: 1230 AD–1670 AD)

Today's countries:

Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Senegal

Centuries passed, the story goes…To the west,
the Ghana Empire rose.A king of kings sat
upon Ghana’s throneRuling the people as his own.

On its wealth of shining goldGhana Empire was built,
it’s told.Other goods were gained through trades,
in gold, ivory, or captives paid.

Ghana exploited to its gainThe traders with their camel trains.
Gold and textiles, salt and tools, Came and went by Ghana’s rules.

Tribute to the kingdom must be made,And import-export taxes paidFor every camel caravan that Trafficked goods through Ghana’s land.


In glorious grandeur reigned the king,
Sparing himself no costly thing.
Ten guards behind and princes beside,
with gold-studded regalia supplied…

Officials before him on the ground,
ten gold-tinseled horses posted around.
The doorway fine gold-collard dogs attend,
Ever ready to defend.

Out of Ghana Empire Mali arose
When Sogolon’s Sundiata conquered his foes.
Though a king predestined, he was born weak and lame,
and faced mockery, ridicule, exile and shame.

With his mother’s firm urging and by setting his mind,
From little mouse to “Lion King” the prince climbed,
Fulfilling the prophecy long ago conveyed:
Of Sogolon’s son, a king would be made. 

Like Ghana before it, Mali Empire was grand.
Occupying even more gold-bearing land
And controlling more trade routes than ever before,
Mali’s army was greater, its wealth even more!

When the Lion King died, who was to be king?
A son was chosen, Sundiata’s offspring.
And many descendents after him reigned.
The ninth to the throne brought great progress and change.

Mansa Musa, a nephew, is remembered still
For the wealth he possessed, the culture he’d build,
and the pilgrimage made to a holy land,
With his thousands of servants, and gold in his hands.

To the world, Musa’s travels made Mali known.
And when he returned, he brought the world
homein ideas about learning and commerce and law.
Even greater improvements, now, Mali saw.

Ghana and Mali, two kingdoms of old Built on trade and trading, especially gold…Kings, warriors, merchants, and children, too,A people as real as me and you.


The Heartbeat of the Rainforest

Time period:

(Ancient times to present)

Today's countries:

Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Gabon, Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda

IIn the tropics/center of Africa, in the jungle, deep,
a people to themselves did keep.Within its lush and leafy shade
They were born and raised, and a good life made.

The rainforest’s plants and fruits and trees
Satisfied the peoples’ needs.All they ate or used or wore as clothes,
Of trees, or fruits or plants composed.

Since the people often moved,Hut-building skills were practiced
and proved. Domed structures of interwoven canes
Covered with leaves kept out the rains.

Each with his own melody, the Pygmy people sing,
And all throughout the jungle, their joyful music rings.
Just as they work together in peaceful harmony,
Their many songs together create a symphony.


A people noted for being small,In heart, mind,
and soul they stand great and tall.
Kind and respectful each one to another,
They love their tribespeople as sisters and brothers.

The jungle’s secrets are theirs to this day,
And scientists sometimes study their ways,
Using bark, roots, and herbs to heal their diseasesfrom fever, to nausea, to sniffles and sneezes.

Friends of the forest, joy in the air,Together they work,
with each other they share.In Africa’s heart,
they are still burning bright;
The Pygmy people: a shining light.

Splendors of the Savanna

Time period:

(11th Century AD–15th Century AD)

Today's countries:


Out of Africa’s grasslands, Great Zimbabwe arose.
On a mountain of granite and down below.
Zimbabwe: “Big Stone House” its given name,
its city walls all built of the same.

Great Zimbabwe’s Mambo ruled over the land
From the fortress on the mountain, grand
With his royal sister close beside
To help him consider and decide.

On the plain below lived all the rest,
In the great enclosure, the nobles, blest…
And the commoners outside the walls of stone
Had mud-brick houses of their own.

Herders and craftsmen and growers were they,
men who mined or hunted for pay,
Traders of gold and ivory to lands far and wide,Arabia, Persia,
and China beside!

Great Zimbabwe shone brightly for many years--
And then her people disappeared,
Leaving many unanswered questions at hand.
But one thing we know! Her walls yet stand


Warriors and Cattle Keepers

Time period:

(15th Century AD to present)

Today's countries:

Kenya, Tanzania


Once a mighty people arrived from South Sudan.In Kenya-Tanzania,
a new life they began North of Great Zimbabwe,
and several centuries later, They made camp on the savannah,
just south of the equator.

The Maasai’s bright shukas, their clothing complete,
Are as red as the dirt lying under their feet.
Once dyed to conceal them from beasts of preynow colorful
patterns are worn every day.

Bright beads adorn body, head, or ear. Men stand firm with
staff or spear.Herders or warriors, these men,
strong and brave, Their tribe to protect and herds to raise.

The women build huts dry,
safe and snugof poles and grass,
cow dung and mud.They care for the children,
fetch water and wood.Beading, too, is an art of womanhood.

Warrior Morans, straight and tall, Perform the jumping dance for all.Two by two they bounce, higher, higher
As sing other warriors, the Adumu choir.

Living with nature, day by day, year by year,
The tribe respect this earth, so dear,
And hold firmly to their tribal ways,|
The bright Maasai, until today.


Art, Ancestors, and Beliefs

Time period:

500 B.C onwards

Today's countries:

Southwestern Nigeria, Benin, and Togo.


Once a mighty people arrived from South Sudan.
In Kenya-Tanzania, a new life they began
North of Great Zimbabwe, and several centuries later,
They made camp on the savannah, just south of the equator.

The Maasai’s bright shukas, their clothing complete,
Are as red as the dirt lying under their feet.
Once dyed to conceal them from beasts of preynow
colorful patterns are worn every day.

Bright beads adorn body, head, or ear.
Men stand firm with staff or spear.Herders or warriors,
these men, strong and brave,
Their tribe to protect and herds to raise.

Revered ones do watch and guide,
and in the people’s hearts abide.
From starry skies, their wisdom flows,
Blessing their people as it goes.

In clothes of bright and varied hue
The Yoruba’s love of life shines through.
Woven into each stitch and seam,
Their faith, their hearts, their hopes and dreams.

Oduduwa, creator of earth,
To all Yoruba gave life and birth.
To Ile Ife, their holy land,
They return Olojo, Ife’s festival, grand!
The placing of the Aare crown,
Oldest crown of all, renowned,Upon the head of Ooni,
king, A fitting way of honoring.

There are drums and singing,
blessings and prayers,Costumes, dancing,
and artisans there,All to remember the dawn of creation,
And the origin of the Yoruba nation.


Wole Soyinka, a wordsmith, wise, Was honored
with the Nobel Prize / for Africa, a source of pride.
A Yaruba voice ringing clear and true,
In poetry read the whole world through.

In every village, in every home,
Wise, old sayings freely roam.
To raise a child in the proper way,Takes a village,
they love to say.And in this sunny land, so dear,
Yoruba echoes you can hearFrom far away
across the seaWhere, too, that spirit is reigning free.

Through arts and faith the tale unfolds
Of a people, brave and bold.Wherever they are,
whatever they do, In each a Yoruba heart beats true.

Voices from the Mountains

Time period:

(1816 AD to present)

Today's countries:

South Africa

In the hills and highlands of Africa’s southeast
Two centuries ago a kingdom increased.
Not just another tribe or band,
But the heart and soul of Zululand.

A mighty chief, Shaka Zulu stood,
Raised warriors as only Shaka could.
With every victory, his kingdom grew,
More warriors he took --and more land, too.

From enemy tribes, the spoils of war,He built a kingdom --
and even more.As a single people they arose
Strong as the river that ever flows.

Homes like hives, of grass so neat
Circled their cows, a kraal complete,
Songs and laughter filled the air
As families lived together there.

The Zulu kings were matched by none,
Outshining all except the sun.They were warriors,
brave and bold,Their people and their land to hold.


The old folks share their tales of yore,
Of Zulu life, of peace and war.
Their story, like a precious gem Is passed
along to younger kin.

Arrayed in feathers, furs, and seeds,
And intricately fashioned beads
Of many colors, shining bright
To celebrate, young and old unite.

Joy and warmth in them are found,
As they share ubuntu all around,
Humanness it is, goodwill toward others,
Friends and neighbors, sisters, brothers.

Out of the heart, this goodwill springs
As the Zulu folk, their stories sing.
For the spirit of the people of the sky
Comes to life in tales of days gone by.

Cultural Symphony

Time period:

As early as 10,000 BC - Present

Today's countries:

Nigeria, Ghana, Niger, and Benin

To Africa we can ascribe many peoples, many tribes.
From ancient times until today
They live and work and dance and play.

Somali, Benin, Hausa, Hutu Igbo,
Anhara, Fulani too. Akan and Aromo…
three thousand in all Far too many for us to recall.

And from among these, as in other places,
Have come writers and thinkers, well-known faces,
Athletes, politicians, and musicians as well,
Each with a different story to tell.

Azikiwe, a thinker and revolutionary,
Of British occupation, wary.
Helped bring his country into its own:
As an independent Nigeria, known.

Amina of Zazzau, the warrior queen
For the Hausa, the first woman ruler seen.
Many neighboring lands she would win and hold
Gaining wealth from farming, slave trade, and gold.


Oba Euware, a warrior fearless and gritty,
Secured his reign in walled Benin City.
He greatly expanded the empire, then,
Conquering neighboring towns and men.

Yaa of Ashanti, the queen mother she,
Delivered her speech so eloquently
That thousands, inspired, came, weapons in hand, T
o defend the golden stool and the spirit of their land.

Kwame Nkruma could surely boast
Of his statesmanship in Ghana’s Gold Coast.
A thinker, a speaker stirring African souls
To win back for their countries their own control.

Another Ghanaian, Kofi Annan,
Brought to many the light of dawn.
He fought oppression with humanity
Through health care, peacekeeping, and democracy.

For those unfamiliar with African ways,
Two Ghanaian authors make it clear as day.
In Aidoo’s words, through Armah’s pen,
The life comes to light again and again.

The Big Journey

Time period:

(15th Century AD–19th Century AD)

Diaspora in countries such as:

USA, Brazil, Haiti, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela, etc

In the 1800s and long before
When African tribes engaged in war,
The defeated who from death were saved,
Were sometimes held and sold as slaves.

Without a choice, without a say,
From Africa they were shipped away
And sold to other lands in trade.
For each one a price was paid.

Enslaved were millions, it’s sad but true,
Sent to places strange and new.
Barbados, Jamaica, the U.S., Haiti, Trinidad and Tobago, some would see…

In Cuba and Columbia, too,
They were given the hardest work to do,
Separated from their kin
And owned like goods by other men.

These were years of challenge and strife,
As they longed for a better life.
But they held to hope. They persevered.
They stood strong, laughing through their tears.


Diaspora, a big, big word Means scattered,
like a flock of birds, driven by winds across the seas
To wherever their landing places might be.

Where they were put, they carried on
From dawn to dusk, from dusk to dawn.
Despite all the hardship, their numbers grew
Spreading Africa the whole world through.

In these new lands they made their start,
Africa’s drumbeats in their hearts.
Her rhythms and dancing came to life
In the midst of labors, sorrows and strife.

And the hotter, the harder, the leaner, the longer,
Africa’s spirit grew truer and stronger. It’s people were steadfast, resilient, and clever;
They would not be bound in chains forever.

All alone, by candlelight
Some learned how to read and write.
Secret signals to others they sang.
Through the fields their musical messages rang.

Some worked to “buy” their freedom
and freedom for others; Wives, parents, sisters, brothers.
From some masters, freedom could not be bought
Slaves were born to be slaves, or so they were taught.

Some slaves ran away at the risk of their lives;
Knowing they be free if they only survived.
Others conspired to see slavery end
Alongside free people who made themselves friends.

So many heroes shone big and bright. Queen Nanny
literally brought the fight. Holding freedom higher
than her fear, led her people in battle year after year.

Olaudah Equiano, a prince made a slave,
Honest, hardworking, intelligent, brave,
Bought his own freedom and then wrote his story
Of hardship, triumph, and freedom’s glory!


Harriet Tubman, strong as a tree,
Flew from chains to liberty --
then turned around and came right back
To help others escape on freedom’s track.

She led them away by dark of night,
the North Star as her guiding light,
And took them for rest before break
of day into friendly homes along their way.

Voices like Frederick’s, and Sojourner’s,
too, Spoke up for freedom for me, for you.
And Toussaint L’Ouverture, a warrior, bold,
Fought to rid his people of slavery’s cruel hold.

Booker T. Washington, born a slave,
His life to the cause of his people he gave.
In politics, in education, And at Roosevelt’s
table he influenced our nation.

All these heroes and many besides
Lived for freedom, and some died.
To build for slaves a road ahead Out of slavery,
to sweet freedom instead.

Shining Stars: Here and There

Time period:

20th Century AD to present


The world

Though ancient days are now long past,
Their stories, songs and wisdom last.
Traditions and cultures stand as well
Wherever Africa’s children dwell.

Far from home, yet oh, so near,
Their age-old tales we love to hear.
Words of wisdom for the young
In their own languages, sweetly sung.

The clothes they wear, a wonderful sight Ankara prints,
and beads, so bright! Music, dance and fashion, too,
Speak of Africa’s heart, joyful and true.

In music and arts they stand so tall,
In track, in field, in playing ball.
Some as pastors and teachers excel,
Some as leaders and statesmen as well.

Many are her stars, and bright,
Their accomplishments impressive, quite!
Martin Luther King, a voice so strong,
Stood for fairness and hope against the wrong.


Du Bois, Achebe, Kofi Annan,
fought with their words instead of cannons.
Miriam Makeba’ songs, sweet and low,
Warmed hearts wherever they did go.

As the first black woman on the shuttle’s crew to fly,
Mae Jemison traveled far beyond the sky
Olympic runner Usain Bolt was soaring, too.
Feet skimming the ground, like the wind he flew!

Back in Africa, too, giants stand tall
Mandela and Maathai dreamed of a better world for all. Achebe, Dangote, and Dr. Mukwege,
Each in his own expertise did succeed.

In Africa, new countries rise Strong and free
under broad, blue skies, Quick as a wink,
fast like a hare, Growth and change are everywhere.

Paying by phone, flying drones up high.
In Africa, bright ideas fly. For better lives,
for a greener earth, To better ways these ideas give birth!

 So, students, remember, wherever they are
Africa’s children near and far Are learning growing,
doing, and winning, too!
And her history lives in me and you.


This project was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts