Guns, Germs, and Steel | Study Guide

Jared Diamond

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Guns, Germs, and Steel | Part 4, Chapter 19 : Around the World in Five Chapters (How Africa Became Black) | Summary

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Summary

In Chapter 19 Diamond turns for the first time to an extensive discussion of the history of Africa. In much the same way as his chapter on Asia, this chapter asks how black Africans came to dominate the continent and then how they, in turn, were conquered by invading Europeans. Linguistic and archaeological records are the primary tools he uses to uncover African prehistory, and again Diamond ties these patterns to geographic and environmental factors. He argues the African continent hosts five different sets of people: whites in the Mediterranean north, blacks in the Sahel and Congo, Pygmy peoples, Khoisan peoples (most famously the San, also known as Bushmen), and peoples of Austronesian descent who settled Madagascar. Using the linguistic record, Diamond traces the spread of the Bantu language family of black Africans as evidence of their growth and domination of the continent. Tied to this, Bantu-speaking blacks of the Sahel region were also the first to develop agriculture, and Diamond ties these population shifts to his broader geographic arguments.

Given the dominance on the continent by Niger-Congo, specifically the Bantu, why did Europeans come to conquer Africa? Europeans had a triple advantage: they had literacy, technology, and states, all of which helped facilitate imperial expansion. African peoples had less exposure to these factors because of their geography. Additionally, domesticated northern plants and animals could not survive in the south.

Analysis

This chapter mirrors the same themes and structures of the others in Part 4. Again, Diamond develops his geographic argument, supplementing it with linguistic evidence to support his larger claims about human development and social and political regimes. In the case of Africa, conquest came much later, largely because the geography of the continent—in particular its lethal diseases and infections—delayed European conquest by several centuries. This argument is only obliquely made in Chapter 19, as Diamond does not include "germs" as one of the advantages of European conquerors in the context of Africa. Still, his overall picture holds together, and Diamond concludes this section by surveying the major developments, from prehistoric times to modern times, of human population dispersal and domination in Eurasia and Africa.

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