Africa has the largest number of countries in the world, each with its own unique culture and traditions. This blog post explores the rich and diverse aspects of African culture. Discover Africa's food, clothing, religions, arts and crafts as well as the music and much more.
Africa is the second-largest continent on the planet and home to many diverse cultures in over 50 countries.
African culture has the longest history of any other place on Earth. Human life began here more than 2 million years ago! This rich heritage is reflected in the wide variety of cultural traditions practiced across the continent today. Historically speaking, Africa is the birthplace of the human race.
Food in Africa varies from one region to another, but there are some dishes that can be found all over the continent. Maize is a staple and widely used ingredient in many African dishes.
Here are some African firm favourites:-
Nshima or Ugali, a thick porridge made with water or milk and cornmeal. It is a traditional Zambian food but is cooked throughout Africa.
Fu-fu consists of boiled cassava served with peanut butter. Fufu is a West African dish that typically includes fresh or fermented cassava and various veggies, spices, meat, or fish. It can be found in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia, Cote D'Ivoire (Ivory Coast), Benin, Togo, Nigeria, the Congo (Zaire), Cameroon, the Central African Republic
Mageu, a drinkable sour porridge made from fermented cornmeal is a traditional Southern African, non-alcoholic drink. It is popular among many of the Chewa/Nyanja, Shona, Ndebele, Nama Khoikhoi and Damara people, Sotho people, Tswana people and Nguni people.
The drink is still popular in home brewing, but it may also be found at many supermarkets and made in factories. The beverage's flavour is largely derived from lactic acid produced during fermentation, although commercial mageu is frequently flavoured and sweetened much like commercially available yogurt. In other areas of Africa, similar beverages are prepared.
Here are 12 basic ingredients found in most African dishes
The types of clothes people wear also vary greatly depending on the region one goes to. However, the most popular type of clothing for men is the Dashiki which can be seen all across the African continent. Women also wear traditional African clothes like the kaftan, the caftan or the kanzu that are worn in many different countries. The main difference between these garments and western dress is colours; traditional fabrics tend to use brighter and more vibrant colours.
The History of clothing in Africa
This is quite difficult to trace owing to the lack of a written record and actual historical evidence. Much is derived from diverse sources such as traditional robes being passed down through generations, word-of-mouth (oral history), theater (masquerades) and artwork and artifacts that depict sculptural representations of apparel.
In contrast to the European part of the world, clothing was not necessary for warmth or protection in most regions of Africa because of its pleasant and welcoming climate, and many ethnic groups in fact wore very little.
Seashells, bones, ostrich eggshell fragments, and feathers were used to create jewellery and headwear.
The video below is a collection of African attire from across the continent.
Africa is a vast continent with numerous religions, and within the same tradition, there have been significant variations. The primary three religious traditions are African traditional religion, Christianity, and Islam.
According to the most recent studies, Christianity and Islam each represent around 40% of Africa's population. Christianity is more prevalent in the south, whereas Islam is more prevalent in the north.
Traditional African religions are more about lived traditions than faith traditions. They are more focused on rituals, ceremonies, and lived practices rather than teachings.
Largely common throughout Africa is animism. Animism is the view that everything, including people and creatures, has a distinct spiritual essence. Animism may perceive all things—including animals, plants, rocks, rivers, weather systems, human handiwork, and even words—as alive and animated. Animism is a term used in the anthropology of religion to characterize many Indigenous people's belief systems.
African Art and Crafts
Traditional art forms in African culture include pottery which is created by moulding the clay and the use of the potter's wheel. Popular art forms include paintings, drawings, calligraphy and sculptures which are all used to express the inner self or tell a story about Africa's rich culture.
One of the most famous forms of art that come from Africa are masks that were used for many different purposes such as ceremonies, rituals, dances or even to scare off enemies!
As a means of maintaining social stability, African artwork was used (and still is in some cultures) as a tool for religion, social order, and social control. Art that has a function can be found in Western as well as non-Western civilizations.
The history and culture of the world have been strongly influenced by African art. The notion that Africa is the birthplace of human history is almost unquestionable.
The history of African art dates back to ancient times and is lost in the mists of time. Rock paintings are hundreds of years old, while shell beads made for a necklace have been found in a cave on the south coast of South Africa's most distant point that are estimated to be 75 000 years old.
Below are some images of African arts and crafts, a big part of African culture. Click on the images to view in full size.
Traditional African music was mostly religious in nature but also served the purpose of entertaining the community as well as the hunters during the hunt. Traditional instruments included drums, flutes and the lute-like instrument called the Kora.
The primary difference between African music and other forms of music is that African singers make use of a wide range of sounds. The melodies are brief, cyclical, and include whistles and yodels, which are particular to African music.
In the African culture, music is a popular pastime, where almost everyone participates. The music incorporates African culture and traditions with a tune. Music is used to commemorate many significant occasions, including marriage, childbirth, and religious rites of passage.
Nowadays the African music industry is growing very quickly and there are many artists that have reached the international stage such as the famous D'banj from Nigeria and the Kenyan artist Eric Wainaina.
See how a Kora is played in the video below.
Africa has anywhere from 1000 to 2000 languages, making it home to roughly a third of the world's languages.
The variety of Africa's languages is manifest in the number of people who speak them. There are at least 75 different languages in Africa with more than one million speakers. The remainder are spoken by small groups ranging from a few hundred to several hundreds of thousands of people.
The most widely spoken languages of Africa, Swahili (100 million), Hausa (38 million), Yoruba (20 million), Amharic (20 million), Igbo (21 million), and Fula (13 million)
Most of the languages are primarily oral with little available in written form.
African culture in folklore can be classified into three categories: the first is the oral tradition which includes mythology, legends and folktales.
The second is the material culture tradition which refers to the objects that are made from the materials from the environment such as wood for masks, toys or even building styles.
The third classification, the ritual tradition, is what people do in order to bring about a change in their lives.
Many Africans have oral traditions which are the passing down of stories from generation to generation orally instead of writing them down.
Although Western fairy tales frequently conclude with "happily ever after," African folklore does not generally have a 'happily ever after.' Folktales, myths and legends are commonly discussed around the campfire in Africa. Animals in stories may assume human qualities such as greed or jealousy to teach a lesson or moral. Similar tales may be found throughout North and South America, as well as the West Indies, owing to slavery's practice of passing down folklore from person to person.
Folklore has a large role in many African societies. These stories reflect a society's cultural identity.
Quick African facts
To learn more about Africa, visit our Map of Africa page