South Africa (Namibia)
Timeline: South Africa
300000 BC
AFRICA
 
African Continent

Second-Largest
Continent 
in the World
Africa is the world's second-largest continent and has the second largest human population at 1.1 billion people, representing 15% of the world's population.

Birthplace of Humanity
Scientists, who study the origin of all things earthly and human, have determined that the African continent is the first place on earth inhabited by human beings, with Central Eastern Africa being widely accepted as the specific place of origin.

Despite this fact, for thousands of years of its history, the continent of Africa was mainly populated by the San (hunter-gatherers) and the Khoikhoi (cattle breeders) people. Collectively, the San and Khoikhoi, who share the common use of "click" sounds in their language, are referred to as the "Khoisan" people. 

During a period when the entire population of Africa was shifting, the Khoisan migrated out of North East Africa, and soon, after the Sahara transformed into a hot, inhospitable desert, creating a barrier within the continent, they became isolated from the other peoples of Africa, for thousands of years.

However, genetic scientists have determined that it is the Khoisan people who are the closests relatives, or links, to the common ancestor from which all human beings on earth are descended. 

Gun-bearing Europeans:
Colonize|Genocide|Enslave
Divide the Africa Continent
Among Themselves

By the late 1800s, European countries had colonized the African continent,  and brutalized, launched genocide, proselytized, and enslaved its people.

And to forestall vicious attacks among themselves, agreed to divide the land, water, and wealth of mineral resources among themselves.  

Most modern states in Africa today originate from a process of achieving independence from European colonial rule.

World's Youngest Population
Today, Africa's population is the youngest amongst all the continents; the median age in 2012 was 20 when the worldwide median age was 30.

18000 BC
AFRICA
South Africa
 
San Girls of Present-Day Namibia

The Khoisan
First Inhabitants of South Africa

Khoisan
The first human beings in southern Africa were the hunter-gathering San (or Saan) people and the sheep and cattle herding Khoikhoi (once called Hottentots) people.  Although two very distinct groups, The San and The Khoikhoi are collectively known as the Khoisan people. Both groups are distinguished by the "click" sound in their language.

The San
The San, who are also called Bushmen or Basarwa, were the first to inhabit the Southern Africa, in the territory of what is now Botswana. Stone tools and rock art paintings found in Botswana and dating back to 18,000 BC, have been attributed to the San. The ancient rock paintings and carvings are found all over Southern Africa in caves and on rock shelters. The San depicted non-human beings, hunters, and half-human half-animal hybrids

The Khoikhoi 
Several thousand years after the San, the cattle and sheep hearding Khoikhoi (sometimes spelled Khoekhoe) people began to appear in southern Africa. Archeological evidence shows that there was a steady migration of Khoikhoi who traveled east and west from nothern Botswana to the coastal regions of the south-western Cape. 

It was the Khoikhoi who gave the original people of southern Africa the name "San", from the Khoikhoi language, meaning "people without cattle" or "people who forage for food".

5000 BC
AFRICA
Sahara Desert
 
Satellite Image of the Sahara Desert

Climate Change
Alters the Fate of the 
African Continent

The physical geography of Africa has played a huge role in the human experience of the African people and how civilizations developed and evolved.  African people adapted their cultures to their geographical surroundings  -- every cultural course taken was an evolution in direct response to the environment. 

Jungles, mountains, plains, and deserts each demanded different courses and provided varying rewards and opportunity.

Although directly impacted by contact and interaction with people of the Mediterranean, Egypt, and Persia, that came with trade, the environment remains the primary influence upon African cultures.

The Sahara

The size of the Sahara has historically been extremely variable, with its area rapidly fluctuating and at times disappearing depending on global climactic conditions.

11,000 BC The Sahara is a
Lush, Green Fertile Valley

In about 11,000 BC, the Sahara was a green fertile valley, and African populations migrated from the interior and coastal highlands of Sub-Saharan Africa. Rock art paintings discovered, depicting a fertile Sahara and large populations is dated to this period.

5,000 BC The Sahara
Has Change in Climate
However, the warming and drying climate meant that by 5000 BC, the Sahara region was becoming increasingly dry and hostile.

3,500 BC The Sahara:
Largest Desert in the World
Around 3500 B.C., due to a tilt in the earth's orbit, the Sahara experienced a period of rapid desertification, and well on its way to becoming the largest hot desert in the world.

The surface area of the Sahara is comparable in size to the surface area China or the United States, taking up most of North Africa.  It stretches from the Red Sea in the east and the Mediterranean in the north, to the Atlantic Ocean in the west, where the landscape gradually transitions to a coastal plain.

Rainfall in the Sahara Desert is virtually non-existent.  Clouds do not form, and there is no evaporative cooling -- it is sunny, warm, dry and radiates heat.

The Sahara Desert: Natural 
Barrier Between North-East
and South-West Africa

The vast Sahara created a barrier between the lands to the south—called sub-Saharan Africa—and the peoples in the north and east.

This barrier isolated the people living in the southern region (the San) from other Africans for thousands of years.

With this autonomy, the San developed deeply rooted customs and traditions, making them highly resistant to change.

Alone in the vast open space, the San encountered very little conflict, as each coul "immediately" find alternative locations that provided the resources needed for survival.

Without any real drivers, there was little in the life of the San to compel them towards deep exploration and expansion.

Geography of Africa 
and the African People
Geography strongly influenced where and how people lived in ancient Africa.  It also determined when and where civilizations and cities grew. Proximity to rivers, farmland, the ocean, or the sea was the overriding factor in determining a society's occupations, trade goods, building materials, and crops.

There are five different vegetation zones in the African continent:
  1. Northern Africa is dominated by the vast Sahara Desert
  2. Northern Savanna is a grassy plain, sometimes called the Sudan.  It stretches across the continent just south of the Sahara.
  3. East Africa Savannas are patches of savanna interspersed with mountains in East Africa.
  4. Southern Savanna is the grassy plain that runs east and west across the southern half of the continent, north of the Kalahari Desert.
  5. Jungle is between the northern and southern savannas, in the region of the equator. Here, heavy rainfall permitted the cultivation of some nutritious crops, but soils were not very fertile. The rain forests also produced many dangers for humans and animals.
Generally, the most habitable and hospitable regions have been the savannas, where both agriculture and transportation have flourished.

The Spread of Agriculture
Linguistic studies and archaeological investigations suggest that controlled farming began independently in Ethiopia, the central Sudan, and in the upper Niger region centuries before the Sahara became a desert. And by 1600 B.C. a number of native crops—-including millet, sorghum and rice—-were cultivated in the western savannah. These crops eventually diffused south, where they were augmented by the African yam.

Farming Allows Permanent Homelands to Established 
With the development of farming techniques, some African were able to abandon hunter-gatherer practices in favor of cultivation.

Such people, such as the Bantu-speaking people, came together in farm villages.  Herders began breeding and enlarging their flocks, and an abundance of food was produced, all impacting population growth.

With expanding populations, explorers and adventurers would leave settled villages and move south and east. In this way, farming practices, tribal customs, and specialized crafts spread throughout Africa.  

All of this took thousands of years to transpire.

4000 BC
AFRICA
West Africa
 

Bantu Appear
in West Africa

Bantu-speaking people appear in West Africa, in the area on the border of modern Nigeria and Cameroon, in about 4,000 BC.

3000 BC
AFRICA
West Africa
 

Earliest Known Migration
of Bantu-speaking People 

Small bands of Bantu-speaking people begin a slow migration in southwest and southeast movements out of Western Africa.

Heading south west will take them to the forest lands, and traveling south east will bring them to the Great Lakes region.

These Bantu-speaking people are destined to overpower and absorb many of the populations that they encounter during their journeys.

3000 BC
ASIA
India
 
Spice Trade Begins
Destined to Change
Fate of All Mankind

The spice trade refers to the trade between historical civilizations in Asia, Northeast Africa and Europe.

Spices such as cinnamon, cassia, cardamom, ginger, pepper, and turmeric had been used for commerce, in the Eastern World, far into ancient history. 

Prehistoric writings and stone age carvings of neolithic age obtained indicates that India's southwest coastal port Muziris, in Kerala, had established itself as a major spice trade center from as early as 3000 B.C, which marked the beginning of the spice trade.

These spices finally found their way into the Middle East before the beginning of the Christian era. To gain trade advantage, Middle Eastern traders kept the true source of the spices a secret and instead, created fantastic tales about how they were obtained.

3000 BC
EUROPE
England
 

Stonehenge
Construction Begins

Stonehenge is an ancient monument in England. Most evidence suggests that the ring of standing stones was a burial ground. Deposits containing human bone date from 3000 BC and continued until about 2500 BC.

Stonehenge was produced by a culture that left no written records, and many aspects of Stonehenge remain subject to debate.

There is little or no direct evidence revealing the construction techniques used by the Stonehenge builders, which proves to be a mystery as the stones appear impossible to move due to their massive size, especially for prehistoric people. During the time frame in which they were built, there is no evidence of the wheel or pulley system being in use.

1000 BC
AFRICA
West Africa - Northern Nigeria
 
The Bantu Expansion:
Nok Culture
of Northern Nigeria

The Nok culture dominated most of what is now Northern Nigeria of Western Africa.  Nok's social system is thought to have been highly advanced. 

Legacy of Terracotta Statues        
The Nok culture is considered to be one of the earliest African producers of life-sized Terracotta, and they left a legacy of terracotta statues and megaliths, which have been discovered intact, in relationship to mining efforts, in Sokoto, Kano, Birinin Kudu, Nok and Zaria.

  

Iron Workers
The Nok's were one of the earliest known peoples to independently develop iron mining, smelting and the practice of iron working, making iron tools and weapons.

This knowledge played an integral part in the expansion and advancement of the entire Bantu-speaking population.

With the new iron tools, they were able to efficiently clear forests to create more open land and prepare the soil for farming.  In addition, the iron weapons gave them a strong advantage among other populations.  
The availability of iron tools and weapons made survival much easier, and the Bantu-speaking population sharply increased.  As their population grew, so did the rate of migration. And, for several hundred years, the Bantu slowly, but powerfully, pushed their way throughout southern Africa, absorbing other populations, creating over 500 distinct Bantu ethnic groups, each differentiated by more than five hundred distinct Bantu languages dialects.

Agriculture
Along with the language, Bantu methods of agriculture were also spread.  They brought  new crops and domesticated animals to wide regions of Africa.

Political-Social Community
Most Bantu speakers lived in agricultural communities of several hundred individuals ruled by chiefs.

Within the society, there were also age sets, groups of individuals about the same age, who wielded considerable political and military power.

Religion
Bantu speakers believed in a creator god but primarily worshipped their ancestors and local spirits. It was necessary to keep these deities happy or disaster might occur. Bantu religious beliefs were quite flexible so when Bantus encountered different religious beliefs, components were incorporated into the belief system.

Extinction
The Nok vanished under unknown circumstances around 300 AD in the region of West Africa.

The Kwatarkwashi culture, a variant of the Nok culture centred mostly around Zamfara in Sokoto Province is thought by some to be the same or an offshoot of the Nok.

0
AFRICA
South Africa
 


Recorded History of the
Khoisan Peoples

There indigenous people of South Africa left no written record of their lives from the pre-colonial period.

Anthropological and archaeological research are the only tools available for obtaining a relatively clear picture of the people and culture.

The only other sources of information are ships journals and the diaries of European visitors written from 1488 to 1652.

In some cases, these sources represent the most unfortunate and unreliable source references about a people, as over time it has been revealed that particular cultural and factual details about the African people have hidden or distorted, by both professional and laymen, so as not to challenge pre-existing biases against people of Black African descent.

0
AFRICA
South Africa
 
Life of the San
In  and Around the
Kalahari Desert Territory

Link to Common Ancestor
of "All" Human Beings

The San are regarded as the earliest inhabitants of Southern Africa, who settled in the area of what is now Botswana.  And, at one time, when the population of the earth was in the range of one million, the San were the largest group of humans on earth, thriving in what was then a favorable climate. Geneticists have determined that all other peoples on the planet, Europeans, Black Africans, Asians, North and South Americans, Australians are all descendants from these original San people, by gene type.


The Name
'San' refers to a diverse group people who have no collective name for themselves.  Instead, these indigenous hunter-gatherer people self-identify by using the names of their individual nations:
ǃKung
ǀXam
ǂKhomani
Nusan (Nǀu)
Khwe (Khoi Kxoe)
Naro
Haiǁom
Tsoa
Auen
Juǀ'hoan
Kua
Gǀu and Gǁana
"Click" sounds of their language indicated by the symbols "!", "|", and ǂ

San or Saan
Historically San was a derogatory name applied by their rivals, the Khoikhoi, and is derived from the word “saa”, meaning picking up from ground.  The term became associated with people without cattle or people who stole cattle, and is still an ethnic slur in the central Kalahari.

In the 1970s, many Western anthropologists adopted the term San (or Saan) to refer to the people collectively.  In 1996, several San language groups of Namibia met and agreed to allow the term San to be used externally to refer to them collectively, and the term has been used in Namibia since then.

Basawra
The term Basarwa derived from a Tswana word meaning “those who do not rear cattle”, as was generally meant to indicate a people of a “lower class”.  It is commonly used in Botswana

Bushmen
The term “Bushmen” was a name used by Europeans to refer to the San, and one which the San used to self-identify for a time, but has since been abandoned, being considered derogatory, regardless of race.

Political Structure
Unlike the Khoikhoi, the hunting and foraging society of the San was largely egalitarian.  They had no formal authority figure or chief, political structure, or military organization. They considered all people equal, without a need for a social hierarchy -- none  were subservient to another.  Each person was in charge of governing themselves, with the option to yield to group decisions made by consensus.

Leadership among the San was kept to those who have lived within a particular group for a long time, who have achieved a respectable age, and good character.
Social Structure
The social structure of the San was based upon the kinship system, where a person’s social obligations were tied to paternal and maternal family ties.  Close relatives were distinguished from more distant ones, and the nuclear family (a man and woman, and their dependent children) was the primary relationship, and basic social unit.  Close family members assigned unique labels that were not extended to distant relatives.

The San shared all resources with the group.  Land was usually owned by the group, and rights to land inherited by both male and female. Membership in a group was determined by residency.  As long as a person lived on the land of his group he maintained his membership. It was possible to hunt on land not owned by the group, but with permission obtained from the owners.

Language
The San people, as all Khoisan people, us a “click language” in which clicks sounds are used in the fashion of English consonants.

Later European
Impressions of the San Language


"I could learn no more from them but that they speak very clumsily, like the folk in Germany .. who suffer from goitre..."
Cornelis de Houtman, 1595

"... their speech it seemed to us inarticulate noise, rather than language, like the clucking of hens, or the gabbling of turkeys..."
Edward Terry, 1616

"When they speak they fart with their tongues in their mouths, yet, although their speech is almost without seperation of word from word, they understand each other very readily"
Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, 1649

Food & Water    
The San would eat anything available, both animal and vegetable. Their selection of food ranged from antelope, Zebra, porcupine, wild hare, Lion, Giraffe, fish, insects, tortoise, flying ants, snakes (venomous and non-venomous), Hyena, eggs and wild honey. They would boil or roast the meat on a fire.  Abd every part of the animal is utilized, the hides are tanned for blankets and the bones are cracked for the marrow.


Because the San are constantly on the move, water is hard to come by. Usually during the dry season, they collect their moisture by scraping and squeezing roots. If they are out hunting or travelling, they dig holes in the sand to find water. They also carry water in an ostrich eggshell.

Food Sharing
Hunting is a team effort for the San, and the man whose arrow kills the animal has the right to distribute the meat to the tribe members and visitors who, after hearing about the kill, arrive soon afterwards to share in the feast. According to San tradition, they were welcome to share the meal and would, in the future, have to respond in the same way.

However, plant foods, gathered by the womenfolk, are not shared but eaten by the woman's immediate family.

The San make use of over 100 edible species of plant. While the men hunt, the women, who are experts in foraging for edible mushrooms, bulbs, berries and melons, gather food for the family. Children stay at home to be watched over by those remaining in camp, but nursing children are carried on these gathering trips, adding to the load the women must carry.

Hunting Methods
Poisons
The San do some trapping, but are excellent hunters, with bows and arrows.  The San arrow does not kill the animal straight away. It is the deadly poison, which eventually causes the death. For small animals, death comes within a couple of hours, but for larger animals, like antelope, it may take 7 to 12 hours, but sometime they must track the animal for days. 

Today the San make the poison from caterpillars and the larvae of a small beetle but will also use poison from plants, such as the euphorbia, and snake venom. Poisons can be highly toxic and are greatly feared by the San and they take great caution in preventing fatal accidents. 

However, the poison does not contaminate the whole animal. The spot where the arrow strikes is cut out and thrown away, but the rest of the meat is fit to eat.  The effect of the poison is not instantaneous, and the hunters frequently have to track the animal for a few days.

Trapping
When catching small animals such as hares, guinea fowls, Steenbok or Duiker, traps made of twisted gut or fibre from plants were used. These had a running noose that strangled the animal when it stepped into the snare to collect the food that had been placed inside it.

Religion

The San belief system generally observes the supremacy of one powerful god, while at the same time recognizing the presence of lesser gods along with their wives and children. Homage is also paid to the spirits of the deceased. Among some San, it is believed that working the soil is contrary to the world order established by the god. Some groups also revere the moon. The most important spiritual being to the southern San was /Kaggen, the trickster-deity. He created many things, and appears in numerous myths where he can be foolish or wise, tiresome or helpful.

The word '/Kaggen' can be translated as 'mantis', this led to the belief that the San worshipped the praying mantis. However, /Kaggen is not always a praying mantis, as the mantis is only one of his manifestations. He can also turn into an Eland, a hare, a snake or a vulture - he can assume many forms. When he is not in one of his animal forms, /Kaggen lives his life as an ordinary San.

Rituals
Boys
Boys become an adult when they kill their first large antelope, preferably an Eland. Once caught, the Eland is skinned and the fat from the animal's throat and collarbone is made into a broth.

Girls
Girls' endure a puberty ritual, where they are isolated in their huts at the first menstruation. The women of the tribe perform the Eland Bull Dance where they imitate the mating behaviour of the Eland cows.

Marriage
As part of the marriage ritual, the man gives the fat from the Elands' heart to the girls' parents. At a later stage, the girl is anointed with Eland fat.

Oral Traditions
and Morality Tales

San people have vast oral traditions, and many of their tales include stories about the gods that serve to educate listeners about what is considered moral San behaviour.

Music & Dance

Of prime importance in all San groups is a ritual dance that serves to heal the group. The great 'medicine or healing dance' and the rain dance were rituals in which everyone participated.



Primary Source of Information:
"San", Siyabona Africa, Kruger National Park - Ethnic People, http://www.krugerpark.co.za/africa_bushmen.html

25
AFRICA
South Africa
 
Life of the Khoikhoi
On Southern Coast 

The name “Khoikhoi” is the self-identifying name of the Khoikhoi people, meaning “real people”, which is how they distinguish themselves from other groups.  The Dutch settlers labelled them Hottentots, in imitation of the sound of the Khoekhoe language, but this term is considered derogatory today.

They speak from the throat, and seem to sob and sigh when speaking. Their usual greeting on meeting us is to dance a song, of which the beginning, the middle, and the end is 'hautitou'. Agustin de Beaulieu, 1620

Migration from Northern Area
The Khoikhoi herdsmen originated in the northern territory of Southern Africa, but began a steady southward migration, inhabiting areas near the major rivers across all of Southern Africa before eventually reaching the southern coastal area of the Cape.  Khoikhoi subgroups formed along the way and include the Namaqua (Nama) in the west, and the Korana of mid-South Africa.

The San Driven Out
There appears to have been some level of mingling between the San and Khoikhoi, but for the most part the San were driven out of the river areas into the mountain and remote desert areas with less water.

Cattle Breeders and Herders
Unlike the neighborhing San people, the the Khoikhoi have traditionally practiced pastoral agriculture ( form of agriculture that requires management of the grazing of animals to produce livestock, rather than growing crops).  They were nomadic herders who maintained large herds of sheep, goat, and Nguni cattle.   The breeding of sheep, goats and cattle grazing in fertile valleys across the region provided a stable, balanced diet, and allowed the Khoikhoi to live in larger groups in a region previously only occupied by the subsistence hunter-gatherers, the San. 

Social Organization
and Political Life

Water and livestock, particularly cattle, played a central role in the culture of the Khoikhoi people. Their religious, political, economical and social life was intricate; strict rules and social control governed every individual. Birth, puberty, adulthood, marriage and death were accompanied by rituals and rites of passages.

The Haves and Have Nots
Khoikhoi society was hierarchial.  Those who owned stock were regarded as "wealthy"; there were servants (without stock) and those who would work as herdsmen as a form of hired labor.  A herdsman would recieve a lamb in payment for service.

Clans and Tribes
The Khoikhoi lived in villages, based upon a patrilineal clan system, which was based upon the relationship to male members. Each village recognized the authority of a headman which was a heriditary position passed on from father to eldest son  Several villages were usually united into a much larger unit called a tribe, which could range in size from a few hundred to several thousand.

Land Rights and the
Importance of Water

Local clans could move around and use pasture, water resources, game, wild fruit and vegetables within the tribal area. Unrelated clans from another tribe, however, had to obtain permission from the local chief to use local resources.

A good water supply was essential for the Khoikhoi herders, since adequate grazing is of little value without water. It was understood that outsiders could move into another tribal area, as long as they requested permission and paid some form of tribute to the chief.  However, the chief did not “own” the land or the resources on it, as land could not become the property of individuals.  The rights granted to outsiders were temporary.

Marriage 
Marriage partners were always chosen from a different village, or clan, making sure that alliances were constantly being formed between clans.  This practice was regarded as being necessary for survival of the people.

There was some intermarriage between the Khoikhoi living around what is today Cape Town and some the San. However the two groups remained culturally distinct as the Khoikhoi continued to graze livestock and the San to subsist on hunting-gathering.

300
AFRICA
South Africa
 
Bantu Migrate Into
Southern Africa Joining
Khoikhoi and San

The Bantu-speaking people began pushing their way out of Western Africa as early as 3000 BC. But, it was the development of iron works by the Nok of Western Africa (today's Northern Nigeria), that pushed the population growth of all Bantu-speaking people, and fueled one of the most formative events in African history -- the migration of the Bantu from West Africa into Southern Africa.

Starting in 1000 BC, a continual stream of Bantus flowed across the continent, absorbing other African peoples, and eventually populating all of the southern half of Africa.

Master Farmers,
Iron Workers and
Tribal Administrators

The Bantu were master farmers , having originated in the fertile lands of Western Africa.  And with the Nok advancements in iron working, they were provided with tools that allowed them to perfect their methods of farming and soil maintenance.

The use of iron simplified survival, and as a result, there was a sizeable increase in the Bantu-speaking population, forcing them to innovate a more disciplined, structured way of managing their communities.

As they made their way across the continent, they were equipped to create great empires on the lands that they settled, including great empires like the Great Zimbabwe and Zulu kingdom.

The Bantus brought farming knowledge and advanced social ideas to a regions filled  mostly with foragers, hunter-gatherers and herders.  And their superior iron weapons allowed them to seize the best locations, allowing for greater expansion opportunities.

Bantu vs Khoisan

In about 300 AD,  after migrating from settlements in the north-eastern region, Bantu-speaking agriculturalist finally cross the Zambezi River and enter Khoisan territory in Southern Africa, meeting up with indigenous  Khoikhoi and San.

They displaced, conquered and absorbed the Khoikhoi and San peoples.

The Bantu continued to move, committing genocide of the Khoisan, and in some cases integrating with them.

The Xhosa people, who developed as the southern most Bantu group, incorporate certain linguistic traits from the earlier Khoisan people in their language. 

The Xhosa reached the Great Fish River, in today's Eastern Cape Province. As they migrated, they displaced or assimilated earlier peoples.

In the East, the  incoming Bantu and San mixed and intermarried, with the Bantu adopting the click sounds of the Khoisan languages.  However, in the western-most regions, the San and Khoikhoi retained their autonomy.

The mingling of the indigenous San and the Khoiski and Bantu immigrants leads to the formation of the powerful Zulu, Xhosa, Tswana, and Sotho chiefdoms whose descendants form the large majority of South Africa’s population today.

Today, South Africa’s dominant cultures and languages are all shaped by this contact.

800
ASIA
China - Tang Dynasty
 

Chinese Invent Gunpowder
Destined to Shape
the Modern World

800s Black Gunpowder Invented
The Chinese invent gunpowder, the first chemical explosive, by mixing sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter.  With the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, and the saltpeter as an oxidizer to contribute to their combustion.

900s The Fire Lance
Ancestor of Modern Gun 
Ming Dynasty Firelance: Spear with two flamethrowers attached.  Diagrams, illustrations and books from the 900s show the fire lance being used in battle
.
The first gun prototype, using gun powder, was the fire lance,  a black-powder-filled bamboo tube tied to the end of a spear and used as a flamethrower.   Upon firing, the charge ejected a shrapnel (metal fragments) or poison dart along with the flame.  These firelances had a range of only a few feet and were considered disposable.  They were was primarily used in hand-to-hand combat with the gunpowder shot designed to give an edge.  Often they were held in racks on city walls and gave Chinese defenders a tremendous tactical advantage, especially when dealing with enemies trying to scale city walls, or for holding the enemy at bay behind a breached gate.

1000s Ancestor of the Modern Hand Grenade Invented
“Greek fire” in use against another ship

The idea of hand grenades or the use of incendiary weapons was not knew.  In the late 600s, the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, would spray pressurized fire onto their enemies; and later in Rome, stone, ceramic and glass containers were filled with an incendiary mixture to toss upon enemies.

However, during the Song Dynasty, beginning in 960 AD, weapons known as Zhen Tian Lei (震天雷, "Sky-shaking Thunder") were created when Chinese soldiers packed gunpowder into ceramic or metal containers.  1044, a military book Wujing Zongyao ("Compilation of Military Classics") described various gunpowder recipes in which one is the prototype of the modern hand grenade. The Chinese also discovered the explosive potential of packing hollowed cannonball shells with gunpowder.

1200s 1st Firearm Device 
Chinese Hand Cannon Late 1200s

The original fire lances were improved by increasing the amount of saltpeter in the propellant to maximize explosive power.  And, to better withstand that explosive power, bamboo  was replaced by metal.  And to take full advantage of that power, the shrapnel was replaced by projectiles whose size and shape filled the barrel more closely.

With this, the three basic features of the gun emerged: a barrel made of metal, high-nitrate gunpowder, and a projectile which totally fills the muzzle so that the powder charge exerts its full potential in propellant effect.

1200s
Chinese Firearm Technology Introduced to "World" by a Growing Mongol Empire
The original ruler of the Mongols and his descendants sent out invasions in every direction, conquering lands and kingdoms, and would become the largest contiguous land empire in history.

After their invasion of China, with the Mongol leader Kublai Khan become ruler of all of China, and with that, inheritied the gunpowder and weapon making technology of the Chinese, and became very aggressive in its use to conquer nation after nation.  They became notorious for their use of gunpowder bombs.

This new weaponry technology was first introduced to the Arab Islamic world, and then somehow made its way to Europe, inspiring the scientific minds of each nation to become engaged in replicating the technology, from any samples left behind.

The rest is history: Fleets of canon-bearing warships were built and became the pride of imperialistic powers; military ranks grew, men of low character and low means set out in an entrepreneurial spirit, near and abroad, to acquire the saltpeter needed to supply massive military efforts undertaken, and in general, new strategies for wealth acquisition and exploration were inspired and implemented.

1497
AFRICA
South Africa
 
 

Vasco da Gama
Encounters Khoikhoi People

1453 Ottoman Empire
In Sole Control of Spice Trade
Silk Road - Spice Trade Route

In 1453, the Ottoman Empire was in sole control of the spice trade route that existed at the time, which put them in a favorable position to charge hefty taxes on merchandise bound for Western European countries. The Western Europeans, not wanting to be dependent on an expansionist, non-Christian power for the lucrative commerce with the east, set about to find an alternate sea route around Africa.

Alternate Route to Spices
Sought by Europeans

Portugal, who had already begun exploring Northern Africa, were actually the first country to attempt to circumnavigate Africa in the early 1400s.  One of the consequences of these early attempts was the discovery of the North and South American continents by European explorers.

1487 Vasco da Gama
Reaches South Africa

In 1497, Vasco da Gama embarked upon a voyage with a fleet of four ships (including a storage ship) and a crew of 170 men, that lasted two years, and became the longest known ocean voyage of that time.  He was the first European to reach India by sea, achieving what sailors had attempted for decades, with thousands of lives and dozens of vessels lost. 

Vasco da Gama's Route to India

By finally landing in Calicut, India in 1948, Europe and Asia were linked for the first time by an ocean route.   Da Gama’s discovery of the sea route, around the Cape of Africa, to India opened the way for an age of global imperialism and for the Portuguese to establish a long-lasting colonial empire in Asia.

Journey to the Cape

On the first leg of his journey, Da Gama followed the route pioneered by earlier explorers along the coast of Western Africa, and after about a month at sea, he reached Sierra Leone, in West Africa, as previous explorers had also done.
Sierra Leone, West Africa

After refreshing the crews and water supplies in Sierra Leone, Da Gama took a course south into the open ocean, crossing the Equator and seeking the South Atlantic westerlies (prevailing winds from the west toward the east) that Bartolomeu Dias had discovered in 1487. 

This course proved successful and on November 4, 1497, after three months of sailing in open ocean, the expedition made landfall on the African coast, which gave Da Gama the distinction of completing the longest known journey out of sight of land.

1497 Da Gama Encounters the
Khoikhoi of Coastal South Africa
Reconstruction of Khoikhoi life
from the South African Museum

When da Gama’s crews landed in Southern Africa to replenish their water reserves, they found themselves in contention the the indigenous Khoikhoi herders. Traditionally, at any given time, each group of Khoikhoi was in charge of particular watering hole, and permission was required for any other use the water.  

Even though the Khoikhoi welcomed the travelers, and even shared their meals with them, it is likely that issues arose with the Da Gama’s crews carried away water without Khoikhoi permission and engaged in other infringements. 

“…small in stature, ugly of face, and when they speak it seems as if they hiccup.”
Vasco da Gama Journal, 1497

By the time Da Gama and his crew left Khoikhoi territory they were engaged in conflict, and once aboard their ships, retaliated by firing on the Khoikhoi with crossbows.

1st European to Sail
Into the Indian Ocean
from the Atlantic

By December 16, 1497, the fllet passed the Eastern Cape of South Africa – where Bartolomeu Dias had turned back – and sailed into waters previously unknown to Europeans.  And as they rounded the Cape, da Gama and his crew gave the final Eastern leg of the coast the name Natal (in honor of the birth of Christ, as it was nearing Christmas).

From March 2 – March 29, 1498, Da Gama spent time in the vicinity of Mozambique Island, an Arab-controlled terrior on the East African coast, that was an integral part of the network of trade in the Indian Ocean.

Continuing along the coastal region of East Africa, they took some advantage by looting unarmed Arab trading vessels.  

In some cases, they were met with general hostility when they landed in the coastal cities.  However, upon landing in the port of Malindi on April 14, 1498, the leaders who in conflict and opposition with other groups along the coast, were very welcoming, which proved to be fortuituos for the travelers. 

In Malindi, da Gama and his crew noted that there was evidence of Indian traders, which prompted them to contract with a man who had knowledge of the monsoon winds to guide the expedition the rest of the way to Calicut, India, located on the southwest coast of India.  After about a month’s voyage, the fleet arrived in Calicut, India on May 20, 1498.

Hero’s Welcome Upon
Return to Lisbon

After three months in Calicut, Vasco da Gama left India to return to Lisbon.  Traveling against the wind, ignoring the local knowledge of monsoon wind patterns, it took da Gama five times as long to cover the same terriorty, 5-1/2 months vs 23 days.  This move caused da Gama to loose at least half of his crew and two ships.  By April 1499, they had reached the West African coast.

Upon his return, da Gama received a hero’s welcome and was showered with honors for opening a direct sea route to Asia.  The spices brought back were sold at an enormous profit to the crown.

Portuguese India Armadas

Da Gama’s sea route would be followed thereafter by yearly Portuguese India Armadas.  And for a long time, the sea rout to India via the Cape of Good Hope was dominated by the Portuguese India armada.  Between 1497 and 1650, there were 1033 departures of ships at Lisbon for India.