African Cultures

Africa is one of the world’s largest, most populous and fascinating continents. It is home to approximately one-seventh of the world’s population (almost 1 billion people as of 2011) who, together, form hundreds of different cultures. Culture is difficult to define, but basically refers to various ways of life that are shared by certain groups, giving them their unique identity. The elements of any specific culture include:

• Arts and crafts
• Music, song and dance
• Clothing
• Cuisine
• Folklore
• Religion
• Languages
• Social activity or etiquette
• Philosophies (these may coincide with religion)

Cultures develop over generations, taking decades, even centuries, to become so associated with one or two groups that it actually defines them. The different elements of any given culture develop for a number of reasons. They may have been introduced by immigrants or colonialists, they may be associated with a certain religion in the area, or they may have come about because of the mingling of two or more different ethnic groups, who would incorporate their individual cultures to form a new, unique one. Alternatively, they may simply have developed slowly as the group progressed through the ages.

Of the many cultures that exist all over the great continent of Africa, the following ethnic groups make up the largest (comprising at least 10 million people):

• Arab (approximately 180 million people)
• Berber (approximately 65 million people)
• Hausa – found predominantly in Nigeria, Niger, Ghana, Chad, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire and Sudan (approximately 30 million people)
• Yoruba – found in Nigeria and Benin (approximately 30 million people)
• Oromo – found in Ethiopia and Kenya (approximately 30 million people)
• Igbo – in Nigeria and Cameroon (approximately 30 million people)
• Akan – found mainly in Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire (approximately 20 million people)
• Amhara – in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Eritrea and Djibouti (approximately 20 million people)
• Somali – found mainly in Somalia, Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya (about 16 million people)
• Ijaw or Ijo – Nigeria (approximately 14 million people)
• Kongo – found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Angola and the Republic of the Congo (approximately 10 million people)
• Fula or Fulani – in Guinea, Nigeria, Cameroon, Senegal, Mali, Sierra Leone, the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Benin, Niger, Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Ghana, Chad, Sudan, Togo and Côte d’Ivoire (approximately 10 million people)
• Shona – Zimbabwe and Mozambique (approximately 10 million people)
• Zulu – found in South Africa (approximately 10 million people)

Although these ethnic groups are unique, each displaying their own form of culture, religion and language, there are literally hundreds more that can be explored. This makes Africa a continent of undeniable intrigue, contributing much to the rich diversity of the land and its anthropological value.

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Effects Of Climatic And Environmental Changes On Ancient African Civilisations

Hundreds of thousands of years ago, the entire planet earth looked very different to what modern man experiences today. Continents were not yet divided, and the vegetation and animals were different. Significantly, the climate was also vastly different to what it is today. Climate plays an integral role in determining the plants and animal that live in a certain areas, as well as how habitable a place is for human beings.

In fact, even the theory of the evolution of man was dependent largely on the climatic influences on our ancient ancestors. It is hypothesised that the ancient versions of man were forced to walk upright, lose body hair and develop their coordination for survival in a changing environment. New skills also needed to be learned as farming techniques and living habits had to be adapted.

Ancient Africa experienced major vacillations between mega-droughts and Ice Ages, although these fluctuations occurred over thousands and thousands of years. As humans continued to develop and evolve through these phases, they needed to make major adaptations, not only to their ways of life, but also to their personal body structure. Prior to 135 000 years ago, the whole of Africa was lush and fertile, with a tropical climate. Then, the most intense mega-drought ever to occur hit the continent in the period referred to as the early part of the Late Pleistocene epoch. This is believed to have led to the migration of most of our human ancestors into other areas that were more habitable and fertile. Lake Malawi has been used by scientists as a rain gauge to ascertain water levels in ancient times. Research has shown that, during this mega-drought, the lake’s level dropped at least 1968 feet, or 600 metres! Evolutionists claim that this severe lack of water not only pushed ancient man from the area, it also forced aquatic animals (such as fish) to develop the facilities to be able to survive on dry land, thus evolving into land animals.

As people flocked out of the continent, only a very small proportion of this specific generation remained. Humankind as we know it is widely believed to have come from these few remaining on the continent, who evolved significantly and in response to the climatic changes.

These conditions continued until about 70 000 years ago, when the climate was again characterised by wetter conditions. These led to the growth and renewal of fresh vegetation, as well as an increased water supply to the region. More people were in the area during this time of abundance, and the population grew. This increase in numbers eventually led to migrations due to space limitations and the ownership of land.

Then, about 20 000 years ago, an Ice Age overcame the entire earth. This meant that the planet underwent a long-term period of cold temperatures over most of its surface. In places like North America and Eurasia, giant ice sheets covered enormous proportions of the land, making it impossible to farm and, sometimes, even live in these areas. This final Ice Age lasted for about 9 500 years. It forced most of the populations to migrate to the highlands, where they would be relatively protected from the ice sheets. Again, these civilisations had to adapt their farming methods, and change their diet, social habits, clothing and migratory patterns. This forced an evolution to a certain extent. Body hair was necessary to keep people warm, their skin lightened due to a lack of the harsh rays of the sun that they experienced during the mega-droughts, etc…

When this Ice Age came to an end 10 500 years ago, areas like the Sahara were left fertile and healthy. This made it and the other areas like it the ideal spots in which to settle as ancient man began to descend from the highlands. Animals and plants thrived in this environment, which made it very desirable in the eyes of mankind. The abundance of food, water and sunshine again changed the habits and physical structures of our earliest forefathers.

These conditions lasted for some time, but the Sahara in particular continued to experience fluctuations between humid and dry conditions. These eventually left the entire area unable to yield crops or sustain life for any extended period of time. Today, it remains a large stretch of desert. Then, approximately 2500 years ago, the group of people who had made their home in the Sahara began to follow the direction of the Nile River, which held promise of a rich water supply. The arid conditions of the Sahara and its surrounds continue to the present day.

Africa has, since prehistoric times, proven to be a place of fascination, life and evolution. Changes in the climate were often dramatic, and these were, to a great extent, responsible for determining the ancient civilisations that inhabited this vast continent. It is no wonder that many researchers and scientists maintain that Africa is the Cradle of Mankind, and research continues to yield fascinating evidence of this theory.