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Understanding Africa
An Overview: Africa and Its People.

Africa MapAfrica is not a country; Africa is a large continent, which holds 53 independent countries. This continent is vast and diverse, in terms of its peoples, cultures, wildlife and so forth. Africa is also extremely rich in its culture, which changes from country to country. Within one individual country, it is common to find different cultures coexisting. At the same time, there is great similarity between African people and their cultures - one common thread that ties all of Africa together.

EthnicMost Africans traditionally center their activities on their communities, families and ethnic groups. Africa’s cultural activities actually help strengthen the religious and social patterns that shape the Africa people. These activities include arts and craft, dance, music, as well as oral and literary culture. In fact, African countries have everything from national dances and traditional clothing to music groups and museums and artists; all fostering Africa's cultural heritage. African people enjoy a continuous sense of closeness and are proud of their heritage, struggles and history, despite the various problems they may encounter.
The Diversity of Africa

Many Africans, whether from a village, town or city, speak more than one language. In many African countries languages spoken by the former colonial powers have become the official medium of communication. These languages are mainly French, English and Portuguese. In the Northern African countries, such as Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, the Arabic language is fairly widespoken because of their long history with Arabia. Some African countries also have a common national language, for example the language of Kiswahili, spoken in the East African region. But, for the majority of African countries, various tribal languages are widely spoken within one country. In Ghana, for example, people from different parts of the country speak different tribal languages, such as the Akan, Moshi-Dagomba, Ewe, and Ga languages. The same applies for Nigeria, where the main tribal languages are Hausa, Yoruba, Igbo (Ibo). Over 1,000 different languages are spoken in Africa. Somalia is the only country in Africa where all the citizens speak one language, Somali.

Cultures and Religions

MosqueAfrica is a melting pot of cultures and religions because of its history. Arabs migrated to Africa from the Arabia and settled in parts of Northern Africa. They brought Islam and Islamic way of life which, over time, was incorporated into the African cultures. The Arabs also moved to East and Central Africa where they settled, traded and married. ChurchThis led to the creation of the Swahili culture, evident in the Eastern coast of Africa. Europeans who migrated to regions of Western, Eastern and Southern Africa to trade later became the colonizers of Africa. Also, many South Asians (Indians) also migrated to Africa during the colonial period in parts of present day Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa. The European, Arab and Indian cultures were somewhat integrated into the African cultures as the immigrants married indigenous Africans. The religions of Islam and Christianity that came with the immigrants and missionaries had and continue to have a profound impact on African peoples. Many converted to these religions while a huge proportion of Africans maintained and continue to maintain their traditional beliefs.


LionDid you know that no other continent in the world has such diverse wildlife? From national parks to game reserves, Africa offers a diverse wildlife, allowing people to come to close proximity to its animals. African countries have created numerous national parks to preserve their wildlife. ElephantsSome famous national parks include: the Ngorongoro Crater, Kilimanjaro National Park and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania; Kruger National Park and the Addo Elephant National Park in South Africa; The Central Kalahari Game Reserve and Chobe National Park in Botswana; The Kafua National Park in Zambia, to name just a few.


Food and Fruits
Fruits TanzaniaAnyone who has visited Africa knows that Africa is home to a variety of delicious tropical fruits and mouthwatering foods. Tropical fruits range from pineapples, passion fruits, mangos and oranges, amongst many. For many parts of Africa, fruits are also grown in seasons; there’s the mango season, the orange season and so forth. Africans Food Uganda enjoy seafood, especially fish. In Western Africa, cassava is a common food that is eaten in this region. In Northern Africa and Egypt, for instance, the food is highly influenced by Arab food. Couscous is common in these countries. Eastern Africa enjoys a variety of spicy food. Clearly, the Indian culture has influenced the East African cuisine, specifically in the coastal regions. Beef and chicken curry and chapatti are a few examples of this. The British also influenced East Africa, with their practice of drinking tea, which continues to this present day.


Festivals and Weddings

Is Africa really known as the Festival Continent? It surely is! Africa is home to some vibrant festivals. In many countries, villages and cities, festivals take place during different times of the year. Festivals celebrate the musical, religious and cultural aspects of different communities. In many small towns and villages, harvests are usually celebrated too in colourful festivals. In modern cities, festivals cover a diversity of grounds including music, dance, drama and film.


Did you know that it is almost unacceptable and nearly impossible to have a small wedding in Africa? It’s fairly uncommon to have a small wedding because weddings are known to bring families, extended family members, friends and relatives together. They are all expected to be invited to weddings and it is very common for friends and relatives to play a role in the ceremonies. Some weddings in certain parts of Africa may take up to seven days, if not more. And of course, each celebration is full of dances, traditional clothing as well as tasty food and drinks.

Appreciating Africa

There are many misconceptions about Africa. Some people think that all Africans live in bushes and villages and that all Africans are poor and helpless. This is not the case! Yes, many Africans live in villages and small towns but at the same time, many Africans live in cities too; cities as big as Ottawa, if not bigger!

Like many other countries, there are urban and rural areas in African countries. In rural areas, people follow a more traditional lifestyle and cultures remain fairly untouched by urban and Western lifestyles. The urban areas, such as towns and cities are rather modernized. Many households have televisions where they watch western films and soap operas as well as follow the national and international news. Urban areas are also bustling with internet cafes and cell-phone users; technology is clearly making its way to these parts of African countries. Different kinds of schools, from nursery schools to universities, are found in urban regions, such as capital cities. Shopping centers with imported foods and fashionable clothes are scattered in different parts of urban areas, catering to the nationals as well as the foreigners. Although there is a degree of modernity in these regions, cultural practices are still preserved. Urban areas are a blend of African lifestyles with some elements of modernization.

If there is one thing you should know about Africa, it is this: Africa is a diverse continent; from the cultures, religions, foods and people.

And most importantly, please remember that Africa is not a country; Africa is a continent, a warm and very welcoming continent.