44 Photos Of African Kingdoms Just Before European Colonialists Stormed In — And Just After

Published February 13, 2018
Updated June 5, 2020

Rarely-seen photos of African kingdoms taken just before and after European colonialists launched a wave of terror that would change the continent forever.

African Kingdoms Ethiopia
Queen Ranavalona African Kingdoms
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Ashanti Coronation In Kumasi
44 Photos Of African Kingdoms Just Before European Colonialists Stormed In — And Just After
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Before European colonialists took control during the 19th century, Africa was ruled by empires whose histories remain little-known today. Many of the great African kingdoms fell hundreds of years ago and so much time has passed that we may never fully understand what life was like in their worlds. A small group of these African kingdoms, however, stayed strong and kept their independence long enough to be documented during the age of photography.

Nations like the Ashanti Empire, for example, survived into the age of colonialism, holding off colonial rule, in fact, for hundreds of years. They were a nation so powerful that, when the first European visitors wrote home about what they'd seen there, most Europeans didn't believe that the empire really even existed.

The Ethiopian Empire, like the Ashanti, kept its freedom for centuries, reigning over its territory for nearly 800 years. For that empire, things turned dark when the fascist Italian army invaded in 1935. For a brief time, the land was conquered and its emperor, Haile Selassie, was forced into exile. The Italian colonialists, though, didn't keep their power for long. In short time, the Ethiopian Empire ruled once more.

Other African kingdoms weren't as lucky. The Merina Kingdom of modern Madagascar fell to the French in 1897, only surviving a short time, just long enough to leave photographs of their pre-colonial way of life. The French colonialists then swept through the Wadai Empire, which they conquered in 1909.

Other African kingdoms went through even worse conquests, like the kingdoms of Luba and Lunda, which were annexed into the Congo Free State. There, some of the worst atrocities in human history were inflicted against them.

For hundreds of years before this era, however, Africa was ruled by distinct empires, each one with its own government, culture, religion, and so on. Each of these African kingdoms was incredibly unique, just one corner of a land of unparalleled diversity — before foreign invaders conquered this land while simultaneously carving it up among themselves and lumping it all together into a single place they cared to know only as "Africa."

After this look at African kingdoms before and after European colonization, learn more about the horrors of Leopold II's reign over the Congo Free State. Then, read about how Queen Nzinga protected the Kingdom of Ndongo from colonialists and how Mansa Musa of Mali might have been the richest person in history.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer and teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Oliver, Mark. "44 Photos Of African Kingdoms Just Before European Colonialists Stormed In — And Just After." AllThatsInteresting.com, February 13, 2018, https://allthatsinteresting.com/african-kingdoms-before-colonization. Accessed June 22, 2024.