Before the 19th century, when European colonists took control, Africa was once ruled by empires. Before the way of life within African kingdoms could be properly documented hundreds of years ago, several of them fell.

In fact, we sadly may never fully comprehend what life was like in ancient African kingdoms due to so much time without accurate documentation passing. Which truly puts us at a loss when it comes to our history.

However, fortunately, we were able to document a few groups during the ages of photography due the strength and perseverance within these African Kingdoms.

Below is an exact look at we’ve been able to capture within these historic kingdoms.

For example, the Ethiopian Empire, like the Ashanti, survived into the age of colonialism, holding off colonial rule, in fact, for hundreds of years.

The Ashanti nation was so powerful that, when the Englishman Thomas Bowdich stayed there for several months wrote a book, Mission from Cape Coast Castle to Ashantee about what he had seen there, most Europeans didn’t believe as it contradicted prevailing prejudices.





The Ashanti, which was established in the late 17th century by king Osei Tutu and his adviser Okomfo Anokye with the Golden Stool of Asante as a sole unifying symbol, managed to keep its freedom for centuries, reigning over its territory for nearly 800 years.

During this period, the Ashanti defeated the British Empire’s invasions in the first two of the four Anglo-Ashanti Wars, killing and keeping British army general Sir Charles MacCarthy’s skull gold-rimmed drinking cup in 1824.

Unfortunately for that empire, things turned dark when the fascist Italian army invaded in 1935, the land was conquered, and its emperor, Haile Selassie, was forced into exile.

The Italian colonialists didn’t keep their power for long, and In a short time, the Ethiopian Empire ruled once more.

Other African kingdoms like The Merina Kingdom of modern Madagascar weren’t as lucky.

It was conquered by the French in 1897, only surviving a short time, just long enough to leave photographs of their pre-colonial way of life.

On the other hand, other African kingdoms, like Luba and Lunda’s kingdoms, went through even worse conquests.

These kingdoms were eventually annexed into the Congo Free State. There, some of the worst human rights violations in history were inflicted against them.

For hundreds of years before the era of colonization in Africa, Africa was ruled by distinct empires, each with its own culture, government, religion, etc.

Each of these African empires was astonishingly unique, just one corner of the 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.”

Here is an in-depth look on some of the rarely-seen photographs taken from within African kingdoms just before and just after a wave or horror and terror was initiated by European colonists that would end up changing the continent as it was known forever.

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An Ethiopian Empire dignitary can be seen standing, before Italy overthrew the Ethiopian Empire in the year 1941, 1934.

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The last ruler of the Merina Kingdom, which is presently known as Madagascar, Queen Ranavalona III, before France overthrew it in 1898. Circa 1890-1895.

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A woman of the Ethiopian Empire, 1934.

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King Otumfuo of the Ashanti Empire sitting on his throne.

The Ashanti Empire’s independence was won over Britain in the year 1931, after having been forced into a life as a British Protectorate for three decades.

Kumasi Ashanti Empire, 1953.



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Found in the palace of the king, the Great War drum of the Ashanti. The displayed skulls in view are from kings who were previously defeated by the Ashanti Empire, circa 1870-1879.

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Three women who belong to the Dahomey Kingdom. Dahomey would be entirely colonized by the French just four years later, 1900.

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A Dahomey chief, circa 1900.

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Aunt of Queen Ranavalona III of Merina, Princess Ramasindrazana, circa 1890.

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King Bell of the Duala People, which is presently known as Cameroon, 1874.

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Priests can be seen training in the Ethiopian Empire, 1934.

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The King of Kongo, which is part of Angola today, Mfutila, 1892.

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An Ethiopian church, 1934.

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Dahomey kingdom chiefs watching a festival, circa 1890.

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A young girl can be seen within an Ethiopian village, 1934.

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Dahomey Priests, circa 1900.

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The Ethiopian emperor’s daughters in Addis Ababa, 1934.

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Chief Alvnah of the Ashanti Empire next to his followers, circa 1890.

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Radama II, King of Merina, 1861.

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A Duala man located in Dido Town, which is presently known as Cameroon is seen posing for a photo, circa 1874.

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Residents of an Ethiopian town working with one another to help build a home. They can be seen readying a thatched roof here, 1934.

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Surrounded by his followers, the last king of Wadai Empire can be seen, circa 1910.

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An Ethiopian dignitary seen on horseback, 1934.

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Decorated cars seen in Kumasi, leading a procession to the coronation of the Ashanti king, 1937.

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Dahomey chiefs can be seen getting ready in Porto Novo for a party, circa 1900.

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Ethiopian soldiers can be seen preparing for war on horseback against the fascist Italian army, 1936.

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Female soldiers in the Kingdom of Dahomey, date unspecified.

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Two Ethiopian men look out from a terrace, 1934.

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The mausoleum of Emperor Menelik I of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, 1934.

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Adjiki, son of King Tofa of the Kingdom of Dahomey, circa 1890-1900.

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A French colonialist relaxes as men of the Kingdom of Dahomey carry him, circa 1890.

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Colonists teaching their French language to young children in Upper Senegal-Niger, circa 1900.

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Congolese men can be seen holding up their mutilated hands in order to show the world what life for them is like under the Belgian rule in front of the camera. Congo Free State, 1904.

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Dahomean Chiefs, now under French rule, publicly make amends to the French government for a colonial administrator’s death, 1912.

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A man known as Nsala in Congo Free State, staring at the hands of his daughter which have been severed, who was cannibalized and murdered as punishment for her father Nsala’s failure to meet his rubber quota, 1904.

Colonialism impacted the African continent socially, politically, and economically both positively and negatively.

On the one hand, it facilitated the building of infrastructures like medical facilities, transport and communication network, schools, and more African jobs were created as some of the people learned a new trade.

On the other hand, however, African traditional religions were diluted and destroyed due to Christianity’s introduction.

Africans were taken as slaves; families were torn apart, Europeans seized land from the Africans to establish plantations to grow cash crops, and forced them to work on these plantations for meager stipends.

African slaves were subjected to inhuman treatments like whipping, shackling, hanging, beating, burning, mutilation, branding, r*pe, and imprisonment. These African empires never fully recovered even after slavery was abolished.

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