Abstract Recent studies in comparative rhetoric have brought much needed attention to traditions of rhetoric in non-Western cultures, including many in Africa. Yet the exclusive focus on contemporary African cultures limits understanding of the history of rhetoric in Africa. Although extensive data on African antiquity is lacking, we know that early Nubian and Ethiopian cultures were highly civilized, socially and politically. Literacy in the ancient cities of Napata, Meroe, and Axum, and in the medieval city of Timbuktu suggests that black Africa was not exclusively oral and not without recourse to a means of recording its uses of language. This essay adds a historical dimension to comparative studies of rhetoric in Africa, showing the depth and complexity of this little known aspect of African civilizations.
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