African Legacy

The Doors of Return - A Sankofa Journey

The Doors of Return: A Sankofa Journey is a transformative virtual museum exhibit where viewers will travel on an imaginary slave trading ship called the “Royal African Company” across a thematic journey of Africa’s influence around the world! 


The word Sankofa comes from the Akan people of Ghana, West Africa which literally means, “go back to the past and bring forward that which is useful.” One of the Adinkra symbols for Sankofa depicts a mythical bird flying forward with its head turned backward with an egg (symbolizing the future) in its mouth.


Beginning with pre-colonial Africa, we will explore Africa’s past by examining the Ancient Empires of Africa then travel through the horrific dark period of colonialism and the Transatlantic Slave Trade where the enslavement of unwilling African migrants were brutally forced to embark upon more than 40,000 voyages across the Atlantic ocean. 


Through this healing art installation, we’ll also celebrate the incredible achievements and resilience of the African diaspora acknowledging the contributions that African Americans have made for hundreds of years in the U.S.


Exhibit attendees will connect carthartically through unique art installations that uncover the triumphs, successes and the historical injustices caused by European colonization and the haunting African holocaust that is still affecting people of African descent around the world today. By connecting the past with the present and reimagining the future, we will make an impact on our collective future as citizens of the planet. 


This unique piece of found object art depicting the Sankofa bird symbol was created out of the rusted metal bars and broken stones from one of the slave dungeons inside the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana.


We begin this journey with The Doors of No Return which originated from one of the slave dungeons inside the Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, West Africa circa the 17th century. This pair of ancient wooden doors are the centerpiece of the virtual exhibit, a symbolic portal that represents over 40+ slave dungeons along the West African coast that have imprisoned millions of Africans before they were shipped as human cargo in a triangular trade that fueled Europe and America’s colonial empires.




A popular scientific theory, known as the ‘Out of Africa’ model, states that modern humans migrated out of East Africa and expanded around the world around 200,000 years ago, superseding all other hominid species. This hypothesis means that all modern humans are ultimately of African descent.

Africa is the second-largest and most populated continent with over 1.11 billion people, right after Asia. Its landmass holds 54 countries and nine territories. Throughout history, many nations tried conquering and colonizing African countries. Many succeeded as well, and in time, western influences left their mark on the continent. One of those is in the name of the continent itself.

According to researchers, Africa, which was renamed by the Romans and Greeks is not the original name of the continent. The original ancient name of Africa was Alkebulan. This name translates to “mother of mankind,” or “the garden of Eden.” Alkebulan is an extremely old word, and its origins are indigenous. Many nations in Africa used this word, including the Ethiopians, Nubians, Moors, and Numidians.

The earliest known recorded history of Africa arose in Ancient Egypt, and later in Nubia, the Sahel, the Maghreb and the Horn of Africa.



African empires is an umbrella term used to refer to a number of pre-colonial African kingdoms in Africa with multinational structures incorporating various populations and polities into a single entity, usually through conquest. Although there were many African empires throughout human history, we will focus on some empires of note that have contributed to the continent’s beauty and mystery.


Ancient Egypt (3100–650 BC)

Ancient Egypt was a civilization of ancient North Africa, concentrated along the Nile River, situated in the place that is now the country Egypt. Ancient Egyptian civilization followed prehistoric Egypt and coalesced around 3100 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under Menes. The history of ancient Egypt occurred as a series of kingdoms, known as: the Old Kingdom of the Early Bronze Age, the Middle Kingdom of the Middle Bronze Age and the New Kingdom of the Late Bronze Age.

Egypt reached the pinnacle of its power in the New Kingdom, ruling much of Nubia and a sizable portion of the Near East, after which it entered a period of slow decline. During the course of its history Egypt was invaded or conquered by a number of foreign powers, including the Hyksos, the Libyans, the Nubians, the Assyrians, the Achaemenid Persians, and the Macedonians under the command of Alexander the Great. The Greek Ptolemaic Kingdom, formed in the aftermath of Alexander’s death, ruled Egypt until 30 BC, when, under Cleopatra, it fell to the Roman Empire and became a Roman province.

The many achievements of the ancient Egyptians include the quarrying, surveying and construction techniques that supported the building of monumental pyramids, temples, and obelisks; a system of mathematics, a practical and effective system of medicine, irrigation systems and agricultural production techniques, the first known planked boats. Ancient Egypt has left a lasting legacy. Its art and architecture were widely copied, and its antiquities carried off to far corners of the world. Its monumental ruins have inspired the imaginations of travelers and writers for millennia. A newfound respect for antiquities and excavations in the early modern period by Europeans and Egyptians led to the scientific investigation of Egyptian civilization and a greater appreciation of its cultural legacy.

Kingdom of Kush (1070 BC–350 AD)

The Kingdom of Kush, with its capitals in what is now northern Sudan was located along the Nile River, the White Nile River, and the Blue Nile River in Northeast Africa just south of Ancient Egypt. It was first established around 1070 BCE when it gained its independence from Egypt. Lasting for over 1400 years, the Kingdom helped define the cultural and political landscape of northeastern Africa. Kush was a part of Nubia, which stretched from the Upper Nile to the Red Sea.The empire began to weaken after Rome conquered Egypt and eventually collapsed sometime in the 300s CE.



Kingdom of Mapungubwe (c. 1075–c. 1220)

The Kingdom of Mapungubwe (or Maphungubgwe) was a medieval state in South Africa located south of Great Zimbabwe. The name might mean “Hill of Jackals”. The kingdom was the first stage in a development that would culminate in the creation of the Kingdom of Zimbabwe in the 13th century, and with gold trading links to Rhapta and Kilwa Kisiwani on the African east coast. The Kingdom of Mapungubwe lasted about 80 years, and at its height the capital’s population was about 5000 people.


This archaeological site can be attributed to the BuKalanga Kingdom, which comprised the Kalanga people from northeast Botswana and western Zimbabwe, the Nambya south of the Zambezi Valley, and the Vha Venda in the northeast of South Africa. The Mapungubwe Collection of artifacts found at the archaeological site is housed in the Mapungubwe Museum in Pretoria.

Kingdom of Zimbabwe (1220–1450 CE)

The Kingdom of Zimbabwe was a medieval Shona (Karanga) kingdom located in modern-day Zimbabwe. Its capital, Lusvingo, now called Great Zimbabwe, is the largest stone structure in pre colonial Southern Africa. This kingdom came about after the collapse of the Kingdom of Mapungubwe.


The name “Zimbabwe” stems from a Shona term for Great Zimbabwe, an ancient city in the country’s south-east whose remains are now a protected site. The rulers of Zimbabwe brought artistic and stonemasonry traditions from Mapungubwe. The construction of elaborate stone buildings and walls reached its apex in the kingdom. The Kingdom of Zimbabwe controlled the ivory and gold trade from the interior to the southeastern coast of Africa. The Great Zimbabwe people mined minerals like gold, copper and iron. Asian and Arabic goods could be found in abundance in the kingdom.



Kingdom of Punt (2400–1069 BCE)

The Punt Civilization was first discovered through historical scripts in ancient Egypt. Deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphics indicate their extensive trade and socialisation. Gold from Punt is recorded in Egyptian history as early as the 4th century. They also traded with ancient Greece providing ebony, myrth, silk, gold, scented perfumes and other precious minerals.

Kingdom of Dʿmt (c. 980–400 BCE)

Around the 8th century BC, a kingdom known as Dʿmt was established in northern Ethiopia and Eritrea. Its capital was around the current town of Yeha, situated in northern Ethiopia. After the fall of Dʿmt in the 4th century BC, the plateau came to be dominated by smaller successor kingdoms, until the rise of one of these kingdoms during the 1st century BC, the Aksumite Empire, ancestor of medieval and modern Ethiopia, which was able to reunite the area.


The Mali Empire (1235–1645 CE)
The Mali Empire was the largest and richest empire in West Africa and emerged against the back-drop of Ghana’s decline under the dynamic leadership of the Malinke prince, Sundiata Keita from 1230-1255. Mansa Musa I was the ruler of the Mali Empire in West Africa from 1312 to 1337. During Musa’s reign, Mali may have been the largest producer of gold in the world. According to the British Museum, during the reign of Mansa Musa, the Mali empire accounted for almost half of the Old World’s gold. Musa is considered the wealthiest person that ever existed. Controlling territories rich in gold and copper, and monopolising trade between the north and interior of the continent, Mali grew extremely wealthy and Mansa Musa was said to have spent so much gold in Cairo that the value of bullion crashed by 20%. A Muslim like his royal predecessors, Mansa Musa brought back architects and scholars from his pilgrimage to Mecca who would build mosques and universities that made such cities as Timbuktu internationally famous. Mansa Musa’s 1324 stopover in Cairo, though, would spread Mali’s fame even further and on to Europe where tall tales of this king’s fabulous wealth in gold began to stir the interest of traders and explorers.
The Ghana Empire (300–1240 CE)

The Ghana Empire was located in the Sahel region north of the West African gold fields in what is now southeastern Mauritania, western Mali, and eastern Senegal, and derived its power from the control of trans-Saharan trade, particularly gold, salt, and ivory trade. The Empire was able to profit by controlling the trans-Saharan gold trade, which turned Ghana into an empire of legendary wealth.


“It is said that he brought with him 14,000 slave girls for his personal service. The members of his entourage proceeded to buy Turkish and Ethiopia slave girls, singing girls and garments, so that the rate of the gold dinar fell by six dirhams. Having presented his gift he set off with the caravan.” – Cairo born historian al-Maqurizi.


On Musa’s pilgrimage, there were eighty camels, each carrying three hundred pounds of gold. The emperor rode on horseback (preceded by 500 slaves carrying gold-adorned staffs). He brought along with him, considerable amounts of gold, some of which was distributed along the journey.


Mansa Musa also commissioned the design and construction of a number of stunning buildings such as; mosques, libraries, and universities, for example, the world’s oldest university called Timbuktu.

The Songhay Empire (1464–1591 CE)

In the fifteenth century Songhay rose to pre-eminence under Sonni Ali the Great, while Mali fell into a decline. His military forces consisted of a cavalry of expert horsemen, and fleets of canoes. He was a great military leader, with a keen understanding of tactics on land and water. He had the added advantage of being regarded as a leader with magical powers.


Songhay oral history portrays him as a conquering hero. Sonni Ali the Great expanded the territory of Songhay considerably, so that it stretched across the Niger valley, west to Senegal and east to Agades (modern Niger). He remained attached to the traditional rites of his mother’s birthplace, Sokoto. He captured Timbuktu from the Tuareg and disrupted the tradition of scholarship. His lack of respect for Islam gets him a bad press from Arab chroniclers who portray him as ruthless and oppressive.


On March 25, 1807. Great Britain passed the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act to abolish slavery throughout the British Empire.





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