Africa is the second largest continent and the most populous after Asia. More than one billion people live in Africa. Origins of humans and hominids are traced back to Africa, making it the oldest inhabited region. It has a diverse geography ranging from deserts to snow capped mountains. Tropical rain forest is present in the equatorial region. Due south are found the grasslands which give way to the coastal plains. Long rivers such as Nile, Niger, Zaire, and Zambezi drain the continent. The continent consists of more than 50 countries, and occupies a large amount of land divided into distinct ecological zones.
In colonial times Africa was exploited for its natural wealth, which led to major consequences such as slave trade, indentured labor and forced migration of people. To understand this further, consider the words of Dr. Marimba Ani, "The continuity of African cultural identity has been interrupted by the experience of slavery. We as people, have not been allowed to find our way back to the sense of cultural identity and continuity needed to function in the world with a collective consciousness."
People and Culture
When one thinks of Africa, many ideas come into the mind. Its culture consists of largely tribal communities living in harmony with nature, with unchanged lifestyles. Also, other popular themes about Africa emphasize its natural wealth in the terms of flora and fauna over diverse landscapes such as deserts, grasslands, rain forest and coastal plains. Africa even today stands out as a continent marked by violence, AIDS, underdevelopment and poverty, amidst vast resources of minerals and natural wealth.
Africa has a rich and diverse presence of humanity which has adapted to different ecological zones, complex socio-economic spheres and has managed to still preserved its culture and traditions in the face of a hoary and often turbulent past. Linguistic diversity is seen in the number of languages and dialects spoken in Africa, up to two thousand. Numerous tribes, ethnic and social groups, are indigenous to Africa, some representing very large populations consisting of millions of people and other smaller groups of a few thousand. Some of the tribes and ethnic groups are engaged in different forms of activities such as hunting and gathering, pastoralism, horticulture and farming. Other social groups are engaged in activities such as trade and commerce.
Many different social groups and tribes are found across the continent of Africa - with their culture varying from tribe to tribe. Some of the tribes have traditions of clothing and accessories in the form of jewelry's, beads, shell and apparel that reflect their traditional origin. Tattooing, piercing, scarring and otherwise enhancing some part of the body through accessories is common. Circumcision, largely male, but sometimes female is practiced in some parts of Africa as a rite of passage. Masks, elaborate headgear, hunting gear, weapons, ritualistic artifacts, etc. are used to mark identity, special abilities and status of the individuals. There are many social events associated with the tribal cultures such as courtship, weddings, initiation into warrior groups, coming of age, feasting and other traditional celebrations.
Word of mouth is very important in Africa, and oral literature consists of myths, origin fables, folklore, history, genealogy, folk remedies and is very popular with the people of Africa, who previously did not store this knowledge in written records, but rather passed it from generation to generation by word of mouth. Singing and storytelling are very popular and highly prized in their society.
Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts have a rich tradition in Africa. Wood, metal, and leather are used for fashioning all types of work. African arts and crafts include sculpture, paintings, pottery, ceremonial and religious headgear, ritual articles, musical instruments, weapons, and dresses.
Religion and Beliefs
African religions include many beliefs including animism, spiritual beliefs, witchcraft and Shamanism. Some are also influenced but not completely taken over by modern religions such as Christianity and Islam, which are often added to the core belief systems, and traditional rituals. Modern religions such as Islam and Christianity still have a large number of traditional adherents. There are many other religions and belief systems in Africa.
African cuisine largely consists of local influences and colonial additions and includes vegetables, fruit, meat and dairy products. Grains, cassava and yams form the basis for many meals. Stews of vegetables and meat are quite popular. Influences from migrants and immigrants such as Arabs, Indians, Europeans, etc. add to the kind of food and cuisine available.
It would be possible to write more, but to do justice to such an exercise it would be necessary to undertake a lot of research and fieldwork. Even focusing on a region of Africa such as culture in South Africa would be challenging. Hope this piece has provided you a certain picture of the complex patterns of African traditions.