Ancient African Transportation

Everyone in history has needed a way to travel. The ancient Africans were no different. Each culture or tribe tended to make its own methods of transportation that suited the climate around them.

Most used one of four different ways of getting around: animals, boats, litters, or plain walking.


Humans have been using animals since the dawn of time to help them carry heavy loads and get around more easily.

After all, feet get sore and it’s difficult to carry supplies through harsh weather. Most ancient Africans relied on pack animals like camels, donkeys, and horses.

Camels were used in the desert regions of North Africa. These animals needed very little water and could store it using a special spot in their body.

Ancient Africans would ride camels through the hot sun and sand to reach towns and villages and carry trading goods in long lines called caravans.


Donkeys were popular in rough climates and throughout mid and southern Africa. Donkeys are hardy creatures capable of traveling through rough terrain.

They could be used in mountains, jungles, and just about everywhere else. Ancient Africans often rode donkeys or used them to carry food and water on long trips.

Horses were more special and not used as pack animals. Some of the cultures in North Africa used horses during war to pull chariots or carry warriors into battle.

They were treated well and considered essential to warfare. Some individuals might ride their horses as a sign of status and power.

Rafts and Boats

Rafts, boats, and ships were extremely important for individuals who lived near the coast or along rivers.

Water was a great way to travel and get goods for trading from one location to another. However, it was often dangerous. Animals like crocodiles and hippos lurked in rivers and would attack people.

Rafts and boats needed to be prepared, and many ancient Africans carried spears, bows, and slings to protect themselves.

But ships meant ancient Africans could interact with one another across the massive continent and transport goods for sale to Europe and Asia.


Few people travelled on them for pleasure or leisure. Instead, they were important as connections to other civilizations, societies, and tribes. Some of the places were boats were used were:

  • The Nile River
  • The Congo River
  • The Zambezi River
  • The Atlantic Ocean
  • The Indian Ocean
  • Lake Victoria
  • Lake Albert
  • Lake Edward

Litters or Palanquins

A litter or palanquin was a special seat carried by four people. One person was able to sit on it and avoid walking.

Their body was shaded so they didn’t have to worry about the sun, and their feet never touched the ground.

Only special people could use a litter or palanquin. These seats were reserved for royalty or rich chiefs who were above having to walk or be on the ground like everyone else.

A litter or palanquin was not used for long distances because it would hurt the people carrying it.

It was an impractical way to travel, but showed a person’s status. Almost everyone wished they were important enough to be transported this way.


While there were many different methods of transportation, the most common one was walking. There weren’t many easy ways for people to get around, especially if they were poor.

Farmers, soldiers, hunters, and regular people trading goods in villages walked wherever they needed to go.

This saved resources since animals didn’t need to be fed, and meant hunters could be stealthy. It was also inexpensive and available to everyone.


  • Which animals were commonly used for transportation?
    Camels, donkeys, and horses.
  • Who would be transported by a palanquin?
    A king, queen, or chief that was considered too important to walk.
  • Why was walking a popular form of transportation?
    Because it was available for everyone, used no resources for animals, and meant humans could be stealthy.
  • What were camels used for the most?
    Camels were used to carry goods in trade caravans and for desert travel.
  • What animal threatened humans on waterways?
    Crocodiles in the rivers.