By Annemette Kirkegaard
Encounter images in the meetings between Africa and Europe, edited by Mai Palmberg (Uppsala, 2001)
Introduction: In this paper I wish to explore as far as possible the influence of African peoples in the cultural history of the medieval world. I also hope to shed some light over the contribution of musicological research on the images of Africa as it must have appeared in medieval Europe.
My initial assumption is that in the Middle Ages, i.e. roughly in the years from the Muslim invasion of the Iberian peninsular to the coming of the Renaissance, the African, Arab, and European—at least the Southern European —cultures are connected and that they to a very high degree constitute a common cultural area. Cultural areas can be defined by a common religion or by common cultural forms. In this paper the presence of Islam defines the cultural area whether the populations converted or not. In this way even parts of Christian Europe and the non-Muslim African region would be part of the hegemony of emerging Muslims.
There are conflicts, unrests and upheavals and there are differences in viewpoints and powers, but generally within this common cultural area the image of the African or Arab was different from the post-renaissance attitudes which came to dominate for centuries. The notion of division by skin colour or ethnic origin—to use a contemporary phrase—was not yet present. Wealth, prestige, and good manners held higher priority in the social ranking.