Watch the documentary “Wonders of the African World: From Timbuktu to Great Zimbabwe” on YouTube.

Watch the documentary “Wonders of the African World: From Timbuktu to Great Zimbabwe” on YouTube.


Overview

Whether we consider our contemporary American houses to be pleasant and secure, we all bring baggage from them with us when we travel as far as Africa. Even when we inform suspicious flight staff that we are carrying nothing from unknown and perhaps hazardous parties, we tend to fall back on old thinking habits when we arrive in the heat of exotic locales.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. shows carefully picked American—and often extremely personal—styles in Wonders of the African World, whether it’s in the T-shirts on his back or the heart on his sleeve. Gates has been chastised elsewhere for the casualness of the trip clothing he wears on camera, some of which bore the legends “Harvard” and “Martha’s Vineyard” (spelled in Hebrew).

The series follows Gates’s journey into the legends and historical facts of Africa. His journey begins with a trip up the Nile to the Nubian and Mero ruins (dating from 1200 B.C.E. to 400 C.E. ), continues to the cosmopolitan commercial cities of Lamu and Zanzibar on Africa’s Indian Ocean Swahili coast (dating from the 9th to the 19th centuries), and ends at the notorious slave trade hubs of Elmina

He then travels back in time to the shrines of early Ethiopian Christianity at Axum (4th–6th century), Lalibela (12th–13th century), and Gondar (17th–18th century), crosses the continent to the renowned (16th century) West African university city of Timbuktu and the Saharan axis of transoceanic bullion flows at Great Zimbabwe, and ends up in southern Africa at the ruins of the enormous 14th–15th century stone-walled enclosure, dwellings, and fortifications at Great Zimbabwe, which was built on the profits of gold sent north through the Swahili towns.