In this first episode, Zeinab Badawi travels across the continent examining the origins of humankind; how and why we evolved in Africa – Africa is the greatest exporter of all time: every human being originated in Africa. During her journey Zeinab is granted rare access to the actual bones of one of the most iconic discoveries in the field of palaeontology, ‘Lucy’ in Ethiopia, or as she is known in Amharic, ‘Dinkenesh’, which means ‘you are marvellous’.
Zeinab also spends time in Tanzania with a tribe that is unique in the world because they live in the way our ancestors did, as hunters of big animals and gatherers. This community who have rarely been filmed provide a fascinating insight into how we have lived for most of our history.
Zeinab Badawi continues her journey through the history of human development travelling to meet the Maasai of east Africa – one of the best known of the continent’s ethnic groups. They help explain how human beings began to domesticate animals and become pastoralists.
Then in Zimbabwe with one lively farming family, Zeinab examines how humans also began to settle and make a living from farming. And she also looks at how the Iron Age transformed life in Africa and paved the way for the development of rich urban civilisations.
Zeinab Badawi’s quest to uncover the history of Africa takes her to Egypt where she explores the most famous civilisation on the continent that of the ancient Egyptians. Zeinab takes you beyond the usual coverage of the pharaohs, mummies and pyramids and examines the controversial question of who the ancient Egyptians actually were.
What was their ethnicity? What made such a great civilisation possible and how did the ancient Egyptians order their society? And she is also allowed to capture on film the mummy and treasures of the famous boy king Tutankhamun.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi travels to the country of her birth and the very region of her forefathers and mothers: northern Sudan where she sheds light on this little-known aspect of ancient African history, the great Kingdom of Kush. Its kings ruled for many hundreds of years and indeed in the eighth century BC they conquered and governed Egypt for the best part of 100 years.
Furthermore, Kush was an African superpower. Its influence extended to the modern day Middle East. Zeinab visits the best preserved of Sudan’s one thousand pyramids and shows how some of the ancient customs of Kush have endured to this day.
Zeinab Badawi travels to the rarely visited country of Eritrea and neighbouring Ethiopia to chart the rise of the kingdom of Aksum. Described as one of the four greatest civilisations of the ancient world Zeinab examines archaeological remains in both countries dating back many hundreds of years before our common era.
She explains how the kings of Aksum grew rich and powerful from their control of Red Sea trade and how they were one of the first civilisations in the world that officially embraced Christianity in the fourth century. Also find out why the Queen of Sheba and the secret of the Ark of the Covenant are so fundamental to Ethiopia’s history.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi focuses on the fall of the kingdom of Aksum and how the Christian kings who followed in the wake of its demise left powerful legacies especially that of King Lalibela who ruled in the 12/13th century. He is credited with building a complex of rock hewn churches which represent amazing feats of engineering at that time.
Zeinab also charts the arrival of Islam in this part of Africa and how the Christian kings and Muslim emirs co-existed. And she visits Harar, the most holy of Ethiopia’s cities for Muslims, where she observes the bizarre long-standing tradition of the ‘hyena men’ of Harar who feed these wild animals by hand.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi’s exploration of Africans’ rich history focuses on North Africa. She goes to Morocco to find out about the original inhabitants of the region in particular the Berbers or Amazigh as they prefer to be called. Zeinab visits Carthage in Tunisia and explains who the Carthaginians were and their place in Africa’s history.
She also looks at the great Berber kings and how they managed to retain their influence when North Africa came under Roman rule. Zeinab visits some of the most extensive and least visited ancient sites in Algeria built under the Romans.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi examines religion in Africa. First the enduring presence of Africa’s indigenous religions, to which millions of people on the continent still adhere. She travels to Zimbabwe to find out more about a remote community that follows traditional African religion.
In Senegal she meets a Muslim man who, like so many others in the continent, blends Islamic beliefs with his ancestral ones and enjoys talking to trees! She also charts the impact of Judaism and early Christianity in Africa and how Africans in particular made significant contributions to Christian thinking and practice through influential figures such as St Augustine who lived in what is today Algeria.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi visits rarely seen historic sites and magnificent ruins in Mali and Mauritania in west Africa. We hear from Africans about how trans-Saharan trade, mainly in gold, meant that by about the 7th century rich kingdoms became established in West Africa. These eventually gave rise to three of the greatest empires on the continent, including the Mali Empire which began in the 13th century. Under armed guard, Zeinab visits the fabled city of Timbuktu, which was overrun by extremists in 2012.
Mali’s ruler Mansa Musa was reputedly the wealthiest individual to have ever lived. She brings a rich narrative of a period in Africa’s history when it was a significant player in the world economy, and influenced global thinking through great centres of learning.
In this episode, we see how city states and kingdoms gave rise to rich and diverse civilisations, including some of the most iconic works of art on the continent: the Benin bronzes, dating back to the 13th century. Zeinab Badawi travels to Nigeria where she is granted a rare interview with the King of the Benin kingdom in southern Nigeria.
She meets the Queen Mother of Lagos, at her ancestral palace on Lagos Island where she relates the history of the Yoruba people. And Zeinab also has an audience with the former governor of Nigeria’s central bank who became the Emir of Kano, one of northern Nigeria’s Muslim city states.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi starts with a visit to some of the most sensational historic sites in Africa: the Swahili coastal settlements of Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique on Africa’s Indian Ocean coast. Zeinab then relates the tragic history of how the arrival of the Arabs in this part of Africa marked the start of an international trade in many millions of enslaved Africans.
The Arabs and their Swahili partners were the first outsiders to trade in humans on the continent from as early as the 7th century. She highlights how this trade differed from the much later trans-Atlantic slave trade, and how some Africans today view this painful period in their history.
In this episode, Zeinab Badawi travels to South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Zambia to find out about the powerful kingdoms of southern Africa and their rulers from 10th to 19th century, like the Mutapa kingdom that stretched across portions of eight modern-day southern African countries. We hear about one military ruler who repeatedly saw off Portuguese invaders, and we admire the incredible ruins of Great Zimbabwe, the largest stone settlement in Africa south of the Sahara.
Foreign visitors could not believe that this towering civilisation dating from the 1100s was built by Africans. The reality is that Great Zimbabwe is the most striking example of the kingdoms that flourished in southern Africa.
In this episode, Zeinab Badawi travels to Ghana and Cote D’Ivoire to find out about the Asante people and their kingdom. We examine the history, myths and legends of the Asante people. We attend the Akwasidae, a colourful festival where the King of the kings of the Asante – known as the Asantehene – has his gold regalia on full display as a way of projecting wealth and prestige.
And we hear about the great Asante queen who led the resistance against the invading British and hid the Asante’s most valued and sacred possession: the Golden Stool. The Asante serve as an example of how despite decades of colonial rule, Africans maintained their traditions and continue to revel in and perpetuate their heritage and customs.
In this episode, Zeinab Badawi provides an overview of how Africans lived before the arrival of Europeans. We see traditional religion in practice in Kenya, we meet a traditional medicine practitioner in Congo, and in Uganda, we witness traditional justice in action as community elders adjudicate in a matrimonial dispute. We hear from one local king who reminisces about how compassionate and ordered life was under the old ways and a local chief and his family in Zambia provide insights of traditional village life before the disruptive influence of Europeans.
The title describes a people who were becoming ‘no longer at ease’ in the run up to one of the ugliest chapters in human history: the trans Atlantic slave trade. The late acclaimed Nigerian author Chinua Achebe wrote a book with the same title.
Much is known about enslaved Africans once they arrived in the Americas and Europe, but in this episode Zeinab Badawi looks at the impact on Africa itself of one of the most evil chapters in human history: the trans Atlantic slave trade. She travels to several countries to see how, where and why this trade began in Cabo Verde in 1510.
She meets a man on the Senegalese island of Goree who for 35 years has been relating the story of slavery to thousands of visitors. And leading academics tackle the controversial subject of why some Africans helped sell their fellow Africans into slavery.
In this episode, Zeinab Badawi visits Ghana and sees how momentum in the trans Atlantic slave trade led to competition for enslaved Africans between European nations who built numerous slave forts along West Africa’s Atlantic coast. She hears about the inhumane conditions in which slaves awaiting shipment were kept and how women were selected and subjected to rape by their captors.
Also what do African academics believe were the main reasons behind abolition and why did many Africans return to the continent such as to Liberia? And how were they received by local communities?
In this episode, Zeinab Badawi travels to South Africa and Zimbabwe and sees how southern Africans gradually came to grasp the destruction and suffering that would be inflicted upon them by white settlers. We find out how the original inhabitants of the Cape tried to resist white settlers and the cruel reprisals they endured.
We hear about the story of Shaka, King of the Zulus from a descendant of his family and how he helped reshape the map of modern southern Africa as well as the heroic battles of Shaka’s successors against those intent on seizing their riches and land: the greed for diamonds, gold and other resources that impoverished Africans and enriched white settlers, likes Cecil Rhodes.
In this episode Zeinab Badawi travels to Angola, DRC and Congo in central Africa to bring the history of the great Kongo Empire. She hears about the critical role played by women in African history such as Queen Nzinga who battled the Portuguese for a quarter of a century in the 1600s and a few decades later Kimpa Vita who was burned alive after her failed resistance.
Why were Africans unable to resist the tide of European control? One woman of nearly 100 relates her memory of Belgian rule in the Congo, during what became known as the ‘Scramble for Africa’.
In the 20th episode Zeinab Badawi makes a huge and broad sweep across Africa examining the struggle for freedom, even in the face of bloody crackdowns: a veteran Mau Mau fighter in Kenya, a member of the resistance in Algeria’s brutal war of independence, from one African president whose ancestor fought the French and from the grandson of the Mahdi who defeated Britain’s General Gordon.
And she talks about that heady time of independence with the families of three of Africa’s best known independence leaders: Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, Congo’s Patrice Lumuba and Senegal’s Leopold Senghor as well as the son of the legendary Nigerian singer Fela Kuti.