Position:Letter to the Editor

Where did the name Africa come from?

Midjima Muhammed, writing from Istanbul Turkey (NA, Letters, Feb), asked where did the name Africa come from, what does it mean, which language it came from, and whether Africans themselves named the continent Africa?

Africa is the name the Romans gave to Carthage, its historic rival, after Carthage was captured and sacked by the Roman General Sciopio at the conclusion of the third and final Punic War in 146 BC.

At the time, Rome was not yet an empire; it was still a mere collection of Latin tribes who, inspired by the fear of another Etruscan domination and the need to seek allies, had embarked upon a slow but inexorable consolidation of its power and imperial ambitions in the Mediterranean world. It is conjectured that 'Africa" is a Romanised version of a Berber or Tunisian name or place.

At any rate, the name "Africa" came to signify Tunisia and Western Libya during the Roman time. Algeria and the western part of Tunisia were collectively known as Numantia, while Morocco and parts ofAlgena were referred to as Mauretania.

The landmass south of the Sahara or Musalamii (as the Romans called the Sahara) was simply known as Ethiopia, land of the burnt-faces, which derives from the Greek "ethios" for burnt and "ops" for faces. According to the Greek historian Herodotus (c480425 BC), Ethiopia was regarded by the ancient Greeks and Romans as the "utmost part of the earth."

As recently as the Medieval Ages, the Southern Atlantic was known to cartographers as Oceanus Ethiopicus. It appears that present-day Yorubaland and the ancient City of Meroe, the second capital of the Kushite Kingdom which laid 100 miles from Khartoum, were integral parts of Ethiopia. Meroe, which was founded around 200 BC, was a famous iron founder and the site of early pyramids and hieroglyphics.

Like Africa, the concept of "Europe" did not exist in ancient times. During the Roman Empire, Europe included the Roman province of Africa and the present-day Europe south and west of the Rhine-Danube divide. The idea of Europe as distinct from continental Africa and Asia emerged only during the Early Middle Ages (500-1000 AD), following the collapse of the Roman Empire.

Since the Egyptian imperial epoch dating back to around 1500 BC, during Pax Aegyptiaca, when Egyptian economic and military supremacy in the Aegean world was unrivalled, the Mediterranean world constituted a common realm.

This changed, however, with the circumnavigation of the tip of Southern Africa by Vasco da Gama in 1498. Since then, the landmass south of the Mediterranean has assumed an increasing and interlocking Pan-African identity.

Ochoro E. Otunnu

Scarsdale, New York, USA

* In her 1994 book, Black Women, Writing & identity: Migrations of the Subject, Carol Boyce Davies notes that Africa comes from Afriki or Afriqi, and used to be the name of a people/tribe living in northern Africa. The name gradually came to be used to denote a geographical area. Later on, it came to represent the whole of the continent and its peoples. I am writing this from memory, so please check the book for accuracy and details of sources provided by Carol Boyce Davis.

Mekonnen Tesfahuney

Oslo, Sweden

* Africa is not a Roman word. It is Phoenician. Romans called the north "Lybia" (as the Greeks did) or Punicians, and the south Nigritia (meaning the land of the Blacks -- from negro = black). This is the name that appears on maps near the famous "hic sunt leones" (here live the lions).

Africa means instead the land of the slaves. I am not sure that such explanation may be "politically correct" nowadays, but at least it reflects the use...

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