In the modern world there are many famous Black people. However which names can we name prior to 1500?

There were ethnically Hellenic thinkers and politicians based in North Africa as well as native North Africans but the question is not about them.

I have heard of Mansa Musa and several Black Sahabah. Are there any surviving historical written records about Black individuals in African languages other than the Afro-Asiatic ones?

I have encountered the names Eze Nri Ìfikuánim and Nyatsimba Mutota but as far as I understand information about them was preserved orally.

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    Yo may start with link below, although details are sketchy because of lack of literacy in those states. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_empires
    – rs.29
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 8:57
  • Ethiopia, or earlier Aksum and Kush might also be good starting points.
    – Jan
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 9:32
  • You tagged "south Africa". Are you interested only in that geographical area ? Otherwise, of course, there are many dark-skinned individuals in pre-colonial history, from pharaos from the Nubian dynasty, Southern India kings, Mandinga kings, as well as in old European myths (Othello, Balthazar...)
    – Evargalo
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 9:51
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    Thank you for your question; please consider revising it to be more in line with our community expectations. Like other stacks, we expect questions to provide evidence of prior research. That helps us to understand the question, and avoids our repeating work you've already done. Our help center, and other stacks provide additional resources to assist with revisions. Please revise your question to document your preliminary research.
    – MCW
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 10:33
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    @Evargalo: Judging by the OP's explicit exclusion of European and Afro-Asiatic writings, characteristic of North Africa, and the presence of a potentially misplaced south Africa tag, it would seem that sub-Saharan Africa is the intended cultural space.
    – Lucian
    Commented Oct 29, 2021 at 15:43

2 Answers 2


The problem we run into here is that very few sub-saharan languages developed their own writing system prior to the colonial era. Specifically, we have Ancient Merotic (probably), Old Nubian, Nsibidi, Adinkra, and Lsona. Of those, the later two are sort of mnemonic devices more than full-blown general-purpose writing systems, and the third was a semi-secret system that we today don't know the full secret of anymore. That leaves us only Merotic and Old Nubian from which we could derive any natively-recorded personal information that isn't mostly mythical.

The Merotic language has been extinct for 1700 years now, and isn't well-understood. Its still under debate if it was Afroasiatic or Nilo-Saharan, or perhaps an isolate. Given its geography, and the fact that its writing system required accounting for most vowels, I'd be inclined to lean towards the non-Afro-Asiatic theories, but AA wouldn't be completely unreasonable either.

Further complicating matters, one of the names I could dig up that we know from those sources was the king of an Afroasiatic people. Given its corpus, there exist oddles more, but I think these sources are still being worked (and in some cases still being found). There should be oodles of names in these sources, but they just aren't that popularly known at this time. For instance, the above link mentions a "Lady Maliwarase", and an "Adatalabe", both related to royalty.

Old Nubian was a successor system to Merotic, and is much better understood. It was an Eastern Sudanic language, with makes it either Nilo-Saharan or its own major language family, but either way not Afroasiatic. I had trouble digging up any specific names to give you, but as a large amount of the existing corpus is legal documents, it will certainly be full of local names.


Yes, maybe not exactly on the spot, but here's what I could dig up.

-Kebra Nagast, A Ge'ez language book that serves as both an epic (mainly fictional/dramatized, but there's also a genealogy in the book of the Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia.) Generally considered to be a historically accurate record.

-The Monumentum Adulitanum, both Ge'ez and Greek, in Eritrea, while I don't know about its accuracy, it's still a historical text.

-Ezana Stone Various Languages, including Ge'ez.

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