By Adrianne Owings & Braylon Smith

1.    African Visual Art


African art often expresses traditional religious beliefs. Some of the most popular forms of this visual art created by the Africans includes the ceremonial masks and wooden figures by the Dogon people who live in Mali. Before the European colonialism in the 1800s, the African communities created art expressing their worldviews that could be functional or decorative. Unlike the Europeans, they thought that art was did not only provide a purpose for philosophical inquiry, contemplation, or other narrative reasons. The rational logic and naturalism in Western art was rarely found in African art (with the exception of Yoruba Ife Terracotta heads in the 12th and 13th centuries). Creativity was exercised through the applied and decorative arts, like jewelry and furniture. Costumes and masks were also a common form of visual art. They usually were used for spiritual rituals, ceremonies, and other religious function. The art used in traditional ceremonies evolve in response to changing environments, such as changing materials as trade began to extend to things like cloth and beads. This results in modern ceremonies having more color than past ceremonies due to access to more materials, and color has become significant in these ceremonies. Africans use art to express the spirit world, and visual art, such as costumes, masks, and artifacts, are designed to evoke awe, fear, and reverence in spectators and participants. Their art is not just for the eyes.

2.    Tradition’s Influence on Modern Culture

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The age-old traditions of Africa are deeply ingrained into the modern culture and are expressed in many ways, one of the most notable being art. Music and dance has expressed the spiritual beliefs of Africans for centuries, for example. Throughout the 47 countries, the traditions are extremely varied and diverse, leading to different cultures and ways of life. The cultures actually even vary within the different tribes and ethnic groups. For example, the Bobo in Burkina Faso have been agricultural people for years who cultivate cotton, but the Dogon in the same country are a cliff-dwelling people who skillfully live on millet and corn. The majority of people in Africa are indigenous to the land, but people from all over the world have migrated to Africa. One of the most noteworthy ways of passing these traditions is through oral traditions and storytelling. The stories told often include values and morals that ancient people held in high esteem. These tales teach each generation how to live according to tradition while explaining the world’s mysteries. As many African people did not have a way of reading or writing, they communicated history of their people through word of mouth. Another aspect of African life highly influenced by tradition is religion and spiritual practices. The value of community is also highly valued in African tradition, which is why many extended families live under one roof in the African tribes. All of these aspects of the African traditions are big influences on the modern daily life and culture of the Africans, dictating how and why to live their life. Many of the tribes today still practice these traditions exactly how their ancestors did.

3.    The Value of Family & Community

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As mentioned in the traditional influence section, the value of community is extremely important in African life. The community is sacred and is often associated with several religious beliefs and symbols. In fact, the African people frequently use the first person plurals “we” and “ours” in place of “I” or “me.” Even after migrating to the urban areas, members of a rural community will still return for traditional rituals, festivals, and will still contribute money. The communities are usually based on clan, or ethnic descent, or affiliation with a religion; these are mostly for people who are detached from their home own communities. In the traditions of Africa the individual doesn’t and can’t exist by himself or herself except in the corporate sense and owes his/her existence to others. Whatever happens to a single person is believed to happen to the whole group and vice versa. The African view of man can be described as the individual only being able to say, “I am because we are, and since we are, therefore I am.” The tribes and clans in rural areas live together in their villages, and often many generations of a family can be found under one roof. Many tribal members also share land and other possessions. African community is so much more than the grouping of a people who share values, interests, or origin; it is a society and a unity of the visible (physically living) and the invisible (ancestors, children to be born) worlds. They acknowledge both the physical world and the spirit world.

4.    African Music & Dance

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As with visual art, music and dance is an important way in Africa to express the spirit world and to practice century-old traditions. It is also a way to express emotion, whether it is joyful, grieving, etc. These art forms are mostly used in religious and spiritual ceremonies, festivals, and rituals. Music is also used to accompany passing down oral tradition often times. The masks and jewelry created by Africans is often used during these dances and playing of music. Music is used for other ceremonies such as birth, rites of passage, hunting, political activities, and marriage. Many cultures use the music to ward off evil spirits and to worship the good spirits. The most notable instrument used in African culture is the drum. Said to be the heartbeat of African community, it expresses the mood of the people and is supposed to create emotion. It also helps the dancers keep time. The dancers utilize props, gestures, and costumes to communicate with the people, and the spectators are often encouraged to join in. Many African dances are a prayer to receive good will, wisdom, or guidance. For an example of a religious dances, fumefume comes from the Ga people in Ghana and is one of the most popular dances in the Accra Region with its graceful moves and exciting kicks. On the other hand, dances such as Atsia, originally performed by the Ewe people in the movement, is used to bring youth together for social entertainment; it is full of moves expressing the joy of being alive (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwrdg9fk9Ok). Music & dance are an extremely important aspect of African culture.

5.    European Influence

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The arrival of the Portuguese in the 1400s began the era of European influence. In 1444, they first reached Senegal, built the Castle of St. George, and began trading gold soon after. They traveled south in search of a trade route to India. In 1507, more Portuguese arrived on the other side of the continent and established a fort on the Island of Mozambique. This began the trade with Europe, and as the trade industry grew, so did the size of the Portugal’s settlements. Soon, other European countries followed in Portugal’s footsteps, such as France, Britain, and Holland. The booming trade industry included trading gold, salt, spices, and African slaves. A triangular trading route was established: taking goods to the West African coast, taking slaves to the New World, and coming home to Europe agricultural products. World heritage sites focused on Europe’s influence on Africa lie on the coast. For example, the Island of Saint-Louis became a French colonial settlement in the 1600s & was once the capital of French West Africa or Kunta Kinteh Island and related sites along the Gambia estuary show facets of the African-European encounter over 5 centuries. This European influence continues into modern times as well. French is a common language in many African countries, brought by the French when they settled. Many countries in Africa also use the British court system, with many national leaders being called “Prime Minister.” Europe also made great improvements in the education system and infrastructure as well. Many European people who work for either non-government agencies or for the country’s government in fact run some countries, and technical work is hardly done by Africans. Africa westernizes more and more with each day, beginning in the colonial period. There is a gradual shift away from the traditional way of life. For example, hip hop and western fashions are spreading through Africa, replacing the traditional African culture. The effects that European colonization and trade made on the continent continue to change the ways of life.

6. Oral Tradition

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A community’s cultural and historical traditions that are passed down by word of mouth is called oral tradition. This tradition throughout Africa of oral storytelling was the only way people in Africa most writing was in Arabic, and the majority of people did not read or write in Arabic. So the only way of knowledge, history and experience in Africa was through passing it down in performances and stories. They got these messages across through singing, dancing, and acting.

7. Eritrea

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Eritrea’s long struggle for independence has created somewhat of a small nation. There was an armed war that was started by the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) in 1961, but in 1970 an ELF splinter group formed a new organization that later took the name Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF). During the 1970s, a civil war began between the ELF and the EPLF. In 1981, the EPLF, with the help of the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front in Ethiopia, managed to defeat the ELF as a military force. From then on, the EPLF purposely used its military struggle and its internal policy of social revolution. This included land reform, gender consciousness, and class equality. To obtain national unit, the EPLF recruited fighters from all the country’s ethnic groups. The fighters and the civilian population in the liberated areas were educated in Eritrean history.

8. Education in East Africa

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School isn’t an important thing to people in Africa. Over 46 million children school age have never set foot into a class according to USA TODAY. School in Africa is poorly funded. Many parents struggle to get their children into school and if they can it is one of the poorest. No books or supplies are ever provided.  Going to school in Africa is a major luxury.

9. Pidgin

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Pidgin is a common language spoken by people in Africa. It’s like our English. It is known by many in Africa and is called a “equalizer” by Matador Network’s Lola. It is the English language with thrown in parts of their countries or tribes language. This is a language for people of a lower education.

10. Religion in Central Africa

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It is important to remember that while there are similarities between African religions, there are also differences. The supernatural God and spirit world are extremely important in African religions, religious beliefs and practices are central to all aspects of life in Africa. Africa is religiously diverse. These religions include different Abrahamic religions such as: Bahá’í Faith, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism.



Honorable Mentions:

Written Literature

Rural Life/Agriculture

African Food & Drink


Works Cited

” European colonial influences | African World Heritage Sites.”  Home | African World Heritage Sites. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.africanworldheritagesites.org/cultural-places/european-colonial-influences.html&gt;.

“‘Cruel’ South African Tradition Versus Animal Rights Group.” Top – Digital Journal. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://digitaljournal.com/article/282681&gt;.

“Africa Imports | The African Elephant and It’s Role as a Symbol.” Africa Imports – Clothing, Health and Beauty and more!. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://africaimports.com/elephantLP.asp&gt;.

“Africa’s Children Struggle for Education – USATODAY.com.” Africa’s Children Struggle for Education – USATODAY.com. Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

“Africa’s Children Struggle for Education – USATODAY.com.” Africa’s Children Struggle for Education – USATODAY.com. Elizabeth A. Kennedy, Associated Press, n.d. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

“African Art.” Webexhibits. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.webexhibits.org/colorart/african1.html&gt;.

“African dances – introduction African dance and drums – dancing an drumming by dancer in Denmark.” Afrikansk dans ::: Africa Dance – African dancers ::: Afrikanske dansere. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://africadance.dk/en/dances.htm&gt;.

“African People and Culture -Tribes.” Tours and Safaris in Africa – Hundreds of trips with travel reviews. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.africaguide.com/culture/tribes/&gt;.

“African Traditions.” Victoria Falls Travel Guide. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.victoriafalls-guide.net/african-traditions.html&gt;.

“BBC Scotland Learning – Africa.” BBC – Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/scotland/education/hist/abolition/?section=tri_trade&page=africa&gt;.

“Burundi | Heaven’s Family Blog.” Heaven’s Family Blog. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://blog.heavensfamily.org/page/2/?s=burundi&gt;.

“Elaine Bellezza.” Elaine Bellezza. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://elainebellezza.com&gt;.

“Matador Network.” Matador Network. LOLA (AKINMADE) ÅKERSTRÖM, 28 Jan. 2010. Web. 31 Mar. 2013.

“Teach Africa.” Wall Wisher. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.

“Togo Atsia (short version) – YouTube.” YouTube. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pwrdg9fk9Ok&gt;.

Ejizu, Christopher I.. “African Traditional Religions and the Promotion of Community.” PLEASE CHOOSE YOUR DIRECTION. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2013. <http://www.afrikaworld.net/afrel/community.htm&gt;.

G. Boehm, Richard . World Geography and Cultures . Columbus, OH : Glencoe , 2012. Print.

Laurienzo, Casey. “The TallyCast.” Soweto Street Beat and Mary Bush Smith Featured at 5th Annual Concert of African Music and Dance. WordPress & Mimbo, n.d. Web. 26 Mar. 2013. <www.tallycast.com/2009/04/01/african_festival/>.


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