The Return of BBC’s Lost Kingdoms of Africa

January 13, 2024
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By Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson

Tuesday, January 31, 2012.

The first series of Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford’s Lost Kingdoms of Africa was one of BBC’s highest rated factual programmes ever. And a second series is also about to begin for those who want to learn more about the motherland of human civilisation.

Broadcast in the UK in 2010 and hosted by art historian, Dr. Gus Casely-Hayford, Lost Kingdoms of Africa looked at the history of Africa through four of its well known civilizations: Nubia, Ethiopia, Great Zimbabwe and West Africa.   If you missed the first series you can pick up the DVD – due for release early February.

Examining the archaeological ruins and relics and still existing relics of these era’s ancient cultures Dr. Casely-Hayford navigated their fascinating stories through interviews with specialists, archaeologists and religious figures. Lost Kingdoms also explored how each culture developed and grew, and how the landscape and geography evolved in each area from ancient times to the contemporary period.

Episode one focuses on Nubia in Eastern Africa travelling between the desert region of Khartoum in modern-day Sudan to the ancient site in Kerma to investigate a kingdom which scientists believe was adversely affected by climate change.

Episode two moved on to Ethiopia and examined that land’s ancient art, language and architecture; as well as exploring claims that the country’s emperors descended directly from the Biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. Episode three surveys Africa’s interior and looks at the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and an ancient gold trading route that travelled inland from the eastern coast of the continent. The final episode focuses on Nigeria and Mali and the metal working which influenced the world famous Benin Bronzes.

In an article that he wrote for The Huffington Post UK, Dr Casely-Hayford points out that the international response to the films as the first series has wended its way around the world has changed his understanding of the power of these histories.

 “People wrote, often in emotional terms, of how much Lost Kingdoms meant to them, about how long overdue the series was, of how they wanted to show the films to their children – but what we heard over and over again, particularly from African audiences was of how much more there remains to tell. And I knew they were right,” he says. “Even though the brief for the second series was unchanged, expectations had shifted, making it impossible to make quite the same series again. Whilst we had intense debates about how we could pare down all the options to four contrasting, multi-dimensional histories, perhaps the greater consideration was how we could both keep a successful formula and strengthen the historical narrative. Part of that was answered in the choices of subjects. Asante, Zulu, the Almohads and Almoravids, and the Buganda and Bunyoro offered deep, deep, historical interpretation and a profound quality of material culture and customs. But most importantly, they offered opportunities for complex debate, to be able to paint rich pictures of these Kingdoms.”

In this new series, the Dr Casely-Hayford and his film crew visit the Asante Kingdom in Ghana, South Africa’s Zulu Kingdom, the Berbers in Morocco and Uganda’s two great kingdoms, Bunyoro and Buganda. He says the things he discovered on these trips reveal  how profound and rich African history is, and how history affects what is happening today in contemporary Africa.

The second series of Lost Kingdoms of Africa begins on BBC 4 on January 30 at 9 pm.

DVD Release Date: 6 Feb 2012

Run Time: 240 minutes

Shaun Ajamu Hutchinson is The New Black Magazine’s arts editor and a London-based freelance journalist.

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