Great/Amazing/Bizarre/Interesting historical figures who are not studied in the West?

A couple of years ago, I did a presentation on Zheng He and reading up on him I was enthralled by his travels, the enormous fleet, his life, etc. Though he pre-dated most (or all) European world explorers and his voyages were far-reaching and magnificent, I had never heard of him. I didn’t know anyone who had ever heard of him.

I’m wondering if there are other important figures in (Middle-)Eastern or African history that we in the West don’t really know much about.

I know that this is kind of vague…sorry.

Well, pretty much anybody in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly before the great age of colonialism. Until I went to college, my knowledge of sub-Saharan Africa started at the triangle slave trade, and I had excellent history classes in high school (they just never made it to Africa. Or for that matter a lot of Asia.)

I dunno about the rest of the world, but in my little town in Nevada, the mentality is “If it doesn’t have to do with Us, it doesn’t matter.” So world history mostly consisted of stuff that led up to the founding of the U.S. and that the U.S. participated in (WW2, for instance). It was pretty lame.


The Moroccan world traveler ibn Battuta isn’t nearly well enough known in the West. For a good account of his life and work see The Adventures of ibn Battuta: A Muslim Traveler of the 14th Century by Ross Dunn.

He was a contemporary of Marco Polo, whom we all know perfectly well, and the contrast between his writing and that of Polo illuminates differences between the Christian and Islamic civilizations of their era and afterward.

Hong Xiuquan, leader of the Taipings and brother of Jesus Christ.

Emperor Menelik II, who defeated the Italians at Adowa and maintained Ethiopian independence.

Shaka Zulu, founder of the Zulu empire in southern Africa.

Ranavalona I, the “Mad Queen of Madagascar.”

Afonso I, first Catholic King of the Kongo.

Tippu Tib, slave trader, ally of Henry Morton Stanley, and virtual ruler of central Africa for a while.

Yes, not studied, but It has to be mentioned that Shaka Zulu (1987) a South African TV miniseries, was a huge hit when shown in syndication in the US, making the name of Shaka famous at least back then.