African Contributions to Science, Technology and Development


Scientific discovery and the application of technology to the natural environment have been essential to the history of Africa and in the development of the African Diaspora throughout the world, and especially in the Americas. When Africans migrated, whether under conditions of slavery or as voluntary travellers, they took with them knowledge of agricultural techniques and skills in exploiting the nature environment that were necessary for development. As people have done elsewhere in the world as well, Africans depended for their survival upon the ability to adapt successfully to specific ecological settings and to apply acquired knowledge in a manner that increased production and otherwise enhanced the quality of life.

The African contribution to science and technology can be appreciated with respect to the impact on the development of the Americas, which suffered severe population destruction through disease and European conquest after 1492. Spain, Portugal and then other western European countries took advantage of military superiority and the demographic catastrophe in the Americas to confiscate vast tracts of land, which only needed labour and transferred technology for its development. Europeans empires and the generation of enormous wealth depended upon the combination of these ingredients – virtually free and very fertile land, labour and technology, largely from Africa, and the ability to garner huge profits through the reliance on slavery, in which workers were not paid for their labour or their technology. It is crucial to note that none of the major plantation crops in the Americas and only a few of the foodstuffs consumed by people in the Americas came from western Europe, while virtually all of the newly introduced crops originally came from Africa or were grown there before their introduction to the Americas. Sugar cane was first grown in the Mediterranean and in southern Morocco before spreading to other offshore islands and then to the Americas. Cotton was grown and made into textiles in the western Sudan and in the interior of the Bight of Benin for centuries before being introduced to the Americas, along with weaving, indigo dyeing, and the decorative arts Associated with textiles. Rice, indigenous to West Africa, was introduced into the sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia, as well as the Mississippi valley, Maranhão in northeastern Brazil, and elsewhere, while numerous foodstuffs and stimulants were transferred from Africa as well.

As Judith A. Carney and Richard Nicholas Rosomoff have established that Africans established “botanical gardens of the dispossessed,” in which they cultivated many familiar foods, including millet, sorghum, coffee, okra, watermelon, and the “Asian” long bean, for example, all of which were native to Africa. Archaeological records, oral histories, and even documentary evidence of European slave owners and merchants demonstrate that Africans in diaspora planted many of the same crops that were grown in Africa for their own subsistence, and in the course of doing so

African farms and gardens became the incubators of African survival in the Americas and Africanized the ways of nourishing the plantation societies of theAmericas.

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African Contributions to Science, Technology and Development

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The Sleepcoat League

Armchair anthropologist, sometime scribe, freelance philosopher, amateur artist, part-time poet, musical maven, alliteration aficionado.

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