European nations including Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Germany, France, and Britain, were vying for power over Europe. Unsuccessful at comprising among themselves, these nations set out to divide Africa for their own avaricious ends. The result of their efforts to invade Africa was the period known as the Scramble for Africa (1881-1914). Even as early as the 16th Century, there were rebellions against European authority. Prior to the Scramble for Africa, European nations entered territories throughout the world in an effort to accomplish their goals of expanding their respective empires. This post intends to highlight the skirmishes, battles, and encounters between European Expansionists and Africans throughout the world. Learning about these events presents the idea that enslaved Africans and American Blacks were not willing participants in their subjugation. Far too often the histories of these great men who challenged the authority of their European counterparts go overlooked. Here now are some of their stories.
Gaspar Yanga (b. 1545)
In Mexico, during the reign of Phillip II of Spain, Gaspar Yanga, an enslaved African from Gabon led other enslaved Africans, from bondage, into the highlands of Mexico where they remained in seclusion for thirty years. By 1609, the Spanish identified the area occupied by Yanga and his fellow band of rebel Africans as territory it wanted to acquire. Yanga and his men rebelled and through that rebellion sent a clear message that the Spanish could not defeat them. The Spanish acquiesed and ceded victory to the formerly enslaved Africans. The rebellion led by Yanga subsequently came to be known as the first organized rebellion by Africans against a colonial power in the Americas. 50 years after the rebellion, Gaspar Yanga became known as El Primer Libertador de las Americas — The First Liberator of the Americas.
Toussaint Louveture (b. 1743) & Jean Jacques Dessalines (b. 1758)
Toussaint Louveture was an excellent soldier who used his military acumen to lead slave rebellions throughout Haiti at a time when the island was overrun by French, Spanish, and British forces all of whom vied from control over the island. His efforts were successful in instilling hope that a free Black state would one day exist. Although he was captured by Napolean’s army and died in France, Louveture’s efforts inspired his successor, Jean Jacques Dessalines, to fulfill their dream of a free Black state. Dessalines declared Haiti an independent nation in 1804, three years after Louveture’s death. The leadership these men provided laid the groundwork for decisive battles between colonial forces that led to the foundation of the first free Black state.
Nat Turner (b. 1800)
Nat Turner was an enslaved American Black who led an armed rebellion against American white slavers in SouthHampton, Virginia. His efforts to exact revenge against an unjust system of enslavement has stood as a testament to the harshness of slavery as an institution.
Joseph Cinque (b. 1814)
Cinque led a rebellion onboard the slave vessel, La Amistad. The enslaved Africans rebelled against their slavers who were participating in the illegal Atlantic Slave Trade. Cinque and the other enslaved Africans murdered the ships crew. The men were prosecuted in a court of law and their case went to the US Supreme Court. Cinque and the other men were acquitted, freed, and funds were raised to send them back to Africa as free men.
Menelik II (b. 1844)
At the Battle of Adwa, during his reign, Menelik II decicisively defeated the Italian army when they invaded Ethiopia in 1896. Menelik’s defeat of the Italians was a historic victory that solidified the reputation of Ethiopia as the only African nation to defeat a European nation. Were it not for this military defeat, Ethiopia would have been colonized by Italy, and perhaps today the first or second national language of the Ethiopians would be Italian.
Muhammad Ahmad bin Abd Allah (b.1844)
Muhammad Ahmad was a Sudanese religious leader who led forces against the British and won a decisive battle against the then de facto rulers over Egypt.