Home > Summer School > Summer School 2022 > PHILOSOPHY, POLITICS > Precolonial connections from Afria to Asia


Dr Jade Gibson, PhD Anthropology, MA Anthropology of Art, BSc Hons. Biomedical Science, BA Hons. Fine Art

Africa was part of the world system of the Silk Routes and Indian Ocean via different routes; via overland trade, including the slave trade routes and the Indian Ocean via ship. The interconnections extended to southern Africa. The first lecture explores what is known about these possible connections and understandings around the presence of ceramics from thirteenth to fourteenth century China in the Mapungubwe ruins and the contribution of precolonial Africa to world trade. We will look at Sherratt’s maps of the world and the growth of interconnections and flows between cities and places. The second lecture looks at different possibilities for musical connections and where these may have existed – from ship musicians to the journey of the King of Mali to Mecca as well as performers and dancers along the Silk Roads. It explores Chinese ceramics from the seventh to ninth centuries depicting these connections and the relevance of music to the afterlife for those along the boundaries of China on the Silk Roads.

The third lecture examines the richness of visual and other material in relation to animals with cultural interconnections, lifestyles and influences in precolonial times. This encompasses the stories of the giraffes travelling from Africa to China and their connection with the unicorn, the gold rhino in Mapungubwe, the visual depictions of dragons found in Kilwa from Chinese ceramics, descriptions of giant birds,s the lion dance, and women riding horses in medieval China. The fourth lecture examines the Belitung wreck and what its contents tell us about interconnections and how these reveal the international trade that spanned continents and cultures. It also considers speculative and material evidence for factors such as the plague and possible environmental impacts within the precolonial world system.

For the fifth lecture, we explore what we can learn about the travellers’ tales who moved between Africa, Persia, India and China in precolonial times? What about those taken involuntarily? The fragments of written histories and the stories suggest a rich, interconnected cultural world of influence and exchange outside of Europe. The lecture will end with what genetics tell us of an interconnected precolonial world history and an early African Diaspora.


Lecture titles

1.  Trade routes and African connections in a precolonial world system

2.  Musical and dance interconnections

3.  Animals and their influence in a precolonial world

4.  Shipwrecks, artefacts and intercontinental links in precolonial worlds of transport and trade

5.  Travellers’ tales, merchant, slave and other journeys and links with Africa





DATE: Monday 24–Friday 28 January
TIME: 9.15 am
COURSE FEES: R375 (online)/R550 (in person)