Ancient African Villages

It’s difficult to determine exactly what life was like in an ancient African village because there were so many different tribes and cultures on the continent.

North Africa was not the same as South Africa, and East Africa was not like West Africa. However, there were some similarities.

In general, many ancient Africans lived in small towns or villages of only 5-50 homes.

african villages

The standard group might be of 200-300 people, while some might be as small as 50. There were other similarities as well.

The Structure of the Village

The life in a small village was different from that of a city in ancient Africa. In cities, individuals managed to become members of special professions or castes.

This gave them a higher social status and meant they were considered better than other members of the town. In a rural village, everyone had to work together to survive and few were considered more important than others.

This kept life peaceful and meant the ancient African villagers shared in one another’s hardships.

A classic example of this shared social status was buildings. Everyone in a rural village lived in similar houses made of mud, wood, and reeds.

Sometimes there would be stones, but not often. These houses were simple and everyone had one. Even the chief lived in the same type of home.

Political Power

In modern times, many people believe the chief of a village was the most important and made decisions for everyone.

Historians now believe that ancient African villages were quite democratic. Almost everyone was allowed to voice their opinion about decisions.

Some of the ideas that the villagers needed to agree upon were food distribution, trade, hunting, and having social relationships with other nearby peoples.

The chief still had the power to make final decisions in extreme cases, especially if there was a physical threat to the village.

Some villages put great emphasis on women and gave them a say. Some even had women as leaders.


Many others did not let women have a great say in warfare, but did let them discuss food and raising children.

At the end of the day, power was something that belonged to everyone in ancient African villages.

It depended on the tribe and how individual members reacted to one another. Power dynamics could shift wildly, but people needed to rely on one another.


One thing true of almost every centralized state, tribe, or village is the concept of taxes. Taxes could be paid in cash, but most of the villages didn’t have regular currency.

Money for goods was something seen in cities or large kingdoms like ancient Egypt.Instead, most villages collected taxes as products produced.

So, each member of the village might be required to commit something to a communal pool. This could be food like yams or rice, textiles, or some other good.

In some villages, people might have even traded slaves if they had captured many in a war.

If the village was part of a larger state, then these goods would be given to whoever was in charge of the state or the bigger tribe.

What Happened to the Village?

Villages were a great way for people to survive the harsh environment of the African continent. They protected families and individuals from animals, poor harvests, and bad weather.

Over time, villages would attract more people and become towns, then cities. There are now cities in Africa that started as villages and have become full-fledged cities that still exist today. Some of them include:

  • Luxor
  • Tangier
  • Tripoli
  • Constantine
  • Benghazi
  • Axum
  • Berbera
  • Alexandria


  • How many homes would be in a village?
    Between 5 and 50.
  • How many people lived in a village?
    Between 50 and 300.
  • What goods could be paid as taxes?
    Money, food, textiles, and even slaves could be used to pay taxes.
  • What were village homes made of?
    Most homes were built out of mud, reeds, and some wood.