Google earth view of Africa, © Google
Today, over 680 million people live in Africa. Although some regions remain sparsely inhabited, others are densely populated. The West African nation of Nigeria, for example, has one-fifth of the entire continent’s population. About a third of all Africans live in large cities such as Lagos (Nigeria), the continent’s most populous city with 13.5 million people. Other major urban centers in contemporary Africa include Cairo (Egypt), Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo), Abidjan (Côte d’Ivoire), Dakar (Senegal), and Johannesburg, Cape Town, and Pretoria (South Africa). The majority of Africans, however, live in more rural areas where their lifestyle centers on agricultural activities.
In those parts of the continent that are not heavily urbanized, Africa’s geography and climate have especially impacted the development of different artistic traditions. In agricultural communities, seasonal patterns of rainfall and drought affect cultivation and, by extension, their cultural practices. An alternation between rainy and dry seasons is seen throughout much of Africa, in varying degrees. Dry seasons allow opportunities for part-time artisans to create artifacts and for people to organize festivals and other large-scale social events that employ such art forms. Certain areas, such as southwestern Africa and parts of eastern Africa’s interior, also had (and continue to have) frequent droughts. This has forced populations to migrate often or adopt a nomadic lifestyle. As a result, their artistic expression has focused on relatively ephemeral and personal traditions such as body ornamentation, rather than larger scale wooden sculpture.
Africa south of the equator, © Google
Throughout the continent, there is found a diversity of societies, languages, and cultures (here cultures refers to the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, behavior, and learning that transmits knowledge to succeeding generations). It is estimated that there are well over 1,000 distinct languages in Africa, making it the most linguistically varied of all the continents. In Nigeria alone, more than 250 different languages are spoken. Important regional languages, spoken over broad geographic areas by people of varied ethnicity, include Arabic in northern Africa, Swahili in eastern Africa, and Hausa and Mandinka in parts of western Africa. English, French, and Portuguese were introduced during the colonial period and remain in wide usage today.
A note on language
Culturally, Africans define themselves in many different ways: by occupational caste, village, kinship group, regional origin, and nationality. “Peoples” or “cultures” are the preferred terms when referring to ethnic identities; “tribe”—a word sometimes applied to African peoples or societies—is an inappropriate, even inaccurate term, and should be avoided. Based on a concept developed by nineteenth-century Western social theorists, “tribe” was used to describe a group of people sharing a common language, history, geographic region, and sociopolitical organization. In reality, ethnicity and social identity are much more complex, as Africans may identify themselves in multiple ways. For example, an individual may be simultaneously Nigerian, a resident of the Delta State, Ijo (a broad ethnic designation), and Kalabari (an eastern subgroup of the Ijo). Furthermore, the term “tribe” reflects misleading historical and cultural assumptions, as it often implies a kind of cultural backwardness with derogatory associations.
By Dr. Christa Clarke, for The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
© 2006 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (by permission)
Want to join the conversation?
- why is an artcal instead of a video(2 votes)
- There is an article rather than a video because articles are easier to write than videos to make (which requires someone writing a script first, anyway.)(7 votes)
- Is there north equator and south equator? Beacause it looks like the north equator is the equator in the middle of Ecuador .(1 vote)
- The nation of Ecuador is so named because it sits upon the equator. Since the equator iteself is an imaginary line, and lines have no width, the portion of the nation north of that line and the portion of that nation south of the line, though being very similar, occupy separate regions.(1 vote)
- Excuse me, but this article is not saying much and is actually quite wrong. For example, it has been said that the word 'tribe' is inappropriate but I don't see how as here in Africa Nigeria specifically, we all say we are from a specific tibe in different regions.
'The majority of Africans, however, live in more rural areas where their lifestyle centers on agricultural activities.' This is also false. Yes it is true that there happens to be Africans that live in rural areas but not majority. As the population in the urban areas of African countries are more than the population in their rural areas.
Thank you.(2 votes)
- The world bank reports 60% rural in Sub-saharan Africa.
Is ancient Important to The Nile river? If so why?(1 vote)
- The Nile River has been flowing since ancient times. It's important because that's a LOT of water.(1 vote)