Alternate History Africa without European Colonization
November 13, 2014 4:28 PM   Subscribe

Alkebu-lan 1260 AH (higher resolution) is an alternative history map of Africa in AD 1844, taking as its point of departure from our timeline an even deadlier medieval Black Death, killing almost all Europeans. It is made by Swedish artist Nikolaj Cyon, who explains some of his sources and thinking in this Prezi presentation. Cyon's thinking about alternative history is partly inspired by playing the computer game Civilization, and he has made a mod where you can play the medieval kingdom of Kongo
posted by Kattullus (28 comments total) 54 users marked this as a favorite
 
In case you were wondering, Cyon mentions that he was inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt.
posted by Kattullus at 4:29 PM on November 13, 2014 [16 favorites]


I love so much about this

Frangistan off to the bottom with a bunch of labeled strewn vaguely around a borderless wasteland of rocks and ice

Trigram decorations on the legend, why not

Omg the Prime Meridian is centered at Timbuktu
posted by theodolite at 4:38 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


... Actually, I was wondering that.
posted by Justinian at 4:39 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Omg the Prime Meridian is centered at Timbuktu

Is this from the book? I'd have thought Mecca.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:52 PM on November 13, 2014


Omg the Prime Meridian is centered at Timbuktu

Is this from the book? I'd have thought Mecca.


The caliphate didn't stay centered in Mecca for long in the real world, and the Mongols still smash Baghdad in 1258 in this timeline. I could see an African Muslim state became the locus of civilization.
posted by spaltavian at 4:57 PM on November 13, 2014


Just to be clear, other than the point of divergence from our timeline, the alternate history of Years of Rice and Salt is completely different from that of Cyon's Alkebu-lan 1260 AH. To compare, here are maps illustrating Years of Rice and Salt in AD 1915 and 2002.
posted by Kattullus at 5:00 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


If you had told me five minutes ago I'd be thinking about spending $155 for a map of pretend Africa right now, I'd've thought you were crazy. That is gorgeous.
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:16 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm confused. Where's Wakanda?
posted by brundlefly at 5:29 PM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


I was also wondering that, so thanks!

This is very neat.
posted by rtha at 5:34 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Civ has made me recently much more fascinated with African history than I ever was before, so this was well-timed. Also, I was having a conversation just last night about how frustrating (if understandable) it is that so many Civs are basically empires at the time of Europeans meeting them (Incans, Aztecs, Mayans, Mali, Songhai, Zulu, Polynesia, etc.)
posted by Navelgazer at 5:42 PM on November 13, 2014


Also, apparently in this version of history, the Ottomans didn't take over Constantinople, which is interesting...
posted by Navelgazer at 5:45 PM on November 13, 2014


Very neat, but I have a conworlding quibble: where are the empires? If the Europeans didn't create them, someone else would have. Actual African states seem to have been mostly at the kingdom level at the time the Portuguese started nosing about, but this is supposed to be 600 years later.
posted by zompist at 6:01 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Yeah, it seems a bit too fragmented to me too. That it starts out this way is likely, but developments in science, technology, and warfare would probably make empires inevitable.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 6:10 PM on November 13, 2014


I agree there probaly would have been African empires developing, or at least larger, regional states.

I myself saw this over on Strange Maps, where the commentary is, surprise, worth reading.
posted by happyroach at 6:48 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


The caliphate didn't stay centered in Mecca for long in the real world, and the Mongols still smash Baghdad in 1258 in this timeline

True enough, but the map is six hundred years after that, so....

Raises lots of other questions, though, not least of all that of transatlantic trade (which is a large reason that Timbuktu went into decline). Under what circumstances would it have continued to be significant? How much would the loss of Europe affect it economically?

And of course there would have to be a major rush to Europe. Once the dead are a distant memory, all that green and pleasant land is just begging to be exploited.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:25 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Also, apparently in this version of history, the Ottomans didn't take over Constantinople, which is interesting...

Er? It's called Konstantiniyye, which was one of the Ottoman names for the city; the other was Istanbul. The form given is more in line with official Ottoman nomenclature, although in the vernacular it would've been called Istanbul more often than not. The only implication I'd imagine that it remained under East Roman rulers would have been if it were called Konstantinopolis - although Konstantiniyye was just an Arabic form of the same name.
posted by graymouser at 9:35 PM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


brundlefly: I'm confused. Where's Wakanda?

If you look carefully, it's there. The name is just slightly different.
posted by Kattullus at 12:40 AM on November 14, 2014


This has come out at a perfect time for me, as in my cultural anthropology class this afternoon I'm talking about the challenges of elections and multi-ethnicity states using Ivory Coast as an example.

When I was there last year, we spent some time in the center of the country (near Bouafle in the Guro kingdom). We were watching Ivory Coast qualify for the World Cup and drinking with some local guys. When I explained that we were working on the western part of the country, he snorted. "Those guys aren't really Ivorian - they're just Liberians." And there they are - in Kroh, which is centered on the Cavally River (separating modern day Ivory Coast from Liberia). "But anyway, here is the only place where people are really Ivorian. The northerners - they're just Burkinabes and Malians" (Manding, Kong, and Wogodogo). "The Easterners - they're Ghanaian" (Asanteman).

"But us - we're the true Ivorians."
posted by ChuraChura at 5:30 AM on November 14, 2014 [3 favorites]


Er? It's called Konstantiniyye, which was one of the Ottoman names for the city; the other was Istanbul. The form given is more in line with official Ottoman nomenclature, although in the vernacular it would've been called Istanbul more often than not. The only implication I'd imagine that it remained under East Roman rulers would have been if it were called Konstantinopolis - although Konstantiniyye was just an Arabic form of the same name.

Maybe they wouldn't call it "Istanbul". Most common etymology for Istanbul is a Turkish translation of a Greek shorthand for Constantinople, meaning basically "to the city", in reference to it being the major city in the vicinity, and one of significant importance. Just like someone right outside any today city might refer to "the city", and we'd know which one they're talking about through context.

However, with say, 90%+ of Europeans wiped out, it's a depopulated shell. The Turks would still occupy the area, but does it have the symbolic significance it did in the real world? Would they still think of it as "the city"? It wouldn't have been a valuable commercial hub when, instead of straddling Europe and Asia, it's a ghost town on the fringe of a empty continent.

Raises lots of other questions, though, not least of all that of transatlantic trade (which is a large reason that Timbuktu went into decline). Under what circumstances would it have continued to be significant?

A big motivation for Europe to search for a western route to the indies was that the Eastern Mediterranean was a Turkish lake. Co-religionists had an easier time trading in Ottoman and Arabian lands. I figure Atlantic exploration would be delayed. My guess is that it would eventually be pursued by traders in places like Timbuktu.
posted by spaltavian at 6:49 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


However, with say, 90%+ of Europeans wiped out, it's a depopulated shell.

It was largely a shell when the Ottomans took it in 1453. They were content to pass the city by for decades while pushing into and consolidating their hold on bits of Europe, but still with an eye on it for both its symbolic value as Roman capital and its practical value as a sea port.

Co-religionists had an easier time trading in Ottoman and Arabian lands.


Hm. There was a lot of fighting between Ottomans and other Muslims - Mamluks of Egypt, sheikhs of North Africa, Persia. No war so bitter as a brother's war. By contrast, being Christian by it self was no bar to deals going down. It was simply that trade was defined by the Ottomans holding the whip hand. Over time and for various reasons they could and did permit trade with Venice, then France, then Genoa, then even England, and pull out the welcome mat on a whim. Spain and Portugal were not on the friends list, so had no choice but to find an alternative, either across the big blue or around Africa. Who's to say that, say, a truculent Morocco might not have considered facing west, or rather, south and around the continent.

I don't see that Timbuktu, being so far inland, would long retain its value if sea trade kicked in. You need a maritime tradition. It wasn't just the trans-Atlantics that put paid to the place, but the (Portuguese) round the African continent routes as well. Again, a lot of this is going to depend on a re-populated Europe that wants to buy what the east has on offer.

Repopulated and possessed of American gold and silver which ruined Spain but financed the Renaissance. Would that factor have played out in quite the same way? Impossible to know.
posted by IndigoJones at 7:21 AM on November 14, 2014


However, with say, 90%+ of Europeans wiped out, it's a depopulated shell.

It was largely a shell when the Ottomans took it in 1453.


Fifty-thousand people when it fell. Obviously a far cry of what it was earlier, but nothing to sneeze at by medieval/Early Modern standards. It wouldn't even have been that in this timeline though- it's not just the initial death toll, it's the the accompanying breakdown of civil society and trade across the continent. In the real world, Constantinople quickly recovered after the Ottomans captured it. There's no reason for that to happen without Europe. It would be a very historic fishing village.

Who's to say that, say, a truculent Morocco might not have considered facing west, or rather, south and around the continent.

What was to keep them from doing the same as it was? They didn't do it by 1492, so whatever the reason, Atlantic trade would have been delayed.
posted by spaltavian at 7:46 AM on November 14, 2014


Aside from the retention of all those little polities unchanged for centuries, it is absurd that presumably prosperous Muslim Andalus would have meekly stayed within its borders, allowing the wretched remnant statelets of Leon, etc., to remain as pests to its north. It would have gobbled them up and either taken over France or reduced it to a tributary. Cute idea, but needed more thinking through. Gorgeous map, though!
posted by languagehat at 8:43 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


In the real world, Constantinople quickly recovered after the Ottomans captured it. There's no reason for that to happen without Europe.

Not so sure about that. Mehmed took it largely for symbolic reasons (his next ambition was Rome) and he did a bunch of forced migration to repopulate the city. (And a lot of those 50,000 were refugees rather than full time citizens.)

True, Europe had its role to play in keeping the the trade engines turning over for Constantinople, but as I noted, any vacuum in Europe would have been filled and relatively quickly - the land is just too good - both, as languagehat notes via Andalusian Muslims and by Ottoman infusion via the Balkans. In either event, trade would have soon picked up again as soon as the new Europeans wanted sugar and spice and everything nice.
posted by IndigoJones at 10:33 AM on November 14, 2014


One thing that puzzles me about this and The Years of Rice and Salt is the notion of the Black Death being worse in Europe but leaving Islam and the Mongol Empire seemingly untouched. In the novel, Mongols show up in Europe to find it a mysterious wasteland. But in real life the Black Death was at least approximately as devastating to the Muslim world and certainly the Mongol Empire had experienced it and -- one theory goes -- it was carried by them. So it's kind of a weird spin on history that Europeans and only Europeans get completely stomped by a disease which did not come from anywhere else and spread to no-one else.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:10 AM on November 14, 2014


Immunity is at least partly inheritable. (There's a gene floating around some Europeans, for example, that gives them extra resistance to HIV.) It's been a while since I read The Years of Rice and Salt; but I'm pretty sure everyone still got the plague, but it followed the real world historical trajectory outside of Europe. So, I think it's supposed to be understood that the divergence was caused by unusual European susceptibility.
posted by spaltavian at 11:23 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


Another reason for a delay in cross-Atlantic explanation and colonization could be that a depopulated Europe could act as an alternate destination. Why yet battling their way across an unknown ocean to possibly hostile lands, when there's land and resources for the taking a well-known voyage north?

Also, it's quite likely that with direct access to Arabic knowledge, there wouldn't be the justification for exploration of "The world is much smaller than we thought, so China is right over there". In other words, there wouldn't be Columbus's idiocy to power the early travels.

Even without the same pursues
ontact would still eventually happen though, with the development of advanced sailing ships. Which means that the Americas would astill get exposed to the diseases that would cause their 90% population crash. Though the Americas may have a bit more time to recover.
posted by happyroach at 11:34 AM on November 14, 2014 [1 favorite]


So it's kind of a weird spin on history that Europeans and only Europeans get completely stomped by a disease which did not come from anywhere else and spread to no-one else.

But isn't this more or less what happened to indigenous North Americans (and South Americans to an extent)? I mean, I get that Europe and (northern) Africa are in closer contact and there are similar immunological developments, but it seems not all that unreasonable that a chunk of the Mongols or various northern African tribes might have immunity to something that Europeans didn't. (And a good time to see what happened to northern African populations during the time of the plague.)

Also, if you don't buy into this conceit, you don't get a book. So.
posted by aureliobuendia at 11:53 AM on November 14, 2014


I've also seen some discussion that the non-Europeans had better hygiene habits overall, which helped them avert the Black Death.
posted by divabat at 4:10 PM on November 14, 2014


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