When Europeans arrived in Tanzania, they encountered small village communities like this Utiri village.
Usman dan Fodio ruled the Sokoto Caliphate, the largest empire in Africa since the fall of Songhai. At its height in the mid-1800s, it stretched for 1,500 miles and included 30 emirates, or smaller states. During this time, literacy increased, local wars were quieted, and trade improved. Their success inspired other Muslim reform movements in West Africa. Between about 1780 and 1880, other Islamic leaders replaced old rulers or set up new states in West Africa.
In the forest regions, strong states like the Asante (uh SAHN teh) kingdom had emerged. The Asante traded with both Europeans and Muslims. Asante power was limited, however. They controlled several smaller states that felt no loyalty to the central government. These tributary states were ready to turn to other protectors who might help them defeat their Asante rulers. European powers would exploit this lack of unity.
Islam had long influenced coastal regions of East Africa, from the Red Sea south to port cities like Mombasa (mahm BAH suh) and Kilwa (KEEL wah). These cities had suffered setbacks when the Portuguese arrived in the early 1500s.
Yet East African cities still sent trading ships to the Red Sea or Persian Gulf. The cargoes were human captives, who had been seized in the interior and marched to the coast. From there, they were shipped as slaves to the Middle East. Ivory and copper from Central Africa were also exchanged for goods such as cloth and firearms.
In the early 1800s, southern Africa was in turmoil as a result of the Zulu wars. The Zulu people had migrated into southern Africa in the 1500s. By the 1800s, they had emerged as a major force in southern Africa under a ruthless and brilliant leader, Shaka.
Shaka's war disrupted life across southern Africa. Groups driven from their homelands by the Zulus then adopted Shaka's tactics.
They migrated north, conquering still other peoples and creating their own powerful states. By the 1830s, the Zulus faced a new threat, the arrival of well-armed, mounted Boers, descendants of Dutch farmers who were migrating north from the Cape Colony.
In 1806, the Cape Colony had passed from the Dutch to the British. Many Boers resented British laws that abolished slavery and otherwise interfered with their way of life. To escape British rule, they loaded their goods into covered wagons and started north. Several thousand Boer families joined this “Great Trek.”
East African port cities often served as centers for the slave trade. This slave market was on the island of Zanzibar.