African culture, especially in the traditional sense, was significantly altered over the last two centuries. This was largely the result of colonization efforts by European countries beginning in the late 19th century and the unrest that followed under the post-colonial regimes. Offering insight into the kind of effect that colonialism had on Africa is the highly acclaimed novel, Things Fall Apart. More specifically, this novel takes a look at the influence of British colonialism on the Igbo community of Nigeria. These days, increased attempts to rediscover traditional African cultures are being made. Movements that are affiliated with this rediscovery include the African Renaissance and Afrocentrism. In many ways, the continent’s 54 nations have been left to establish their identities in a world that is rapidly changing due to globalization and technological advances. It hasn’t been easy in the long run, though there are signs that if nothing else, Africa is beginning to edge its way towards the kind of stability that will allow its one billion people to enjoy cultural freedom.
African Traditions Image: Willem Heerbaart (flickr)
Africa is an immense continent, covering more than 11 million square miles. It is also very diverse. Spread across the continent are innumerable tribes and ethnic and social groups. This makes it difficult to come up with a concise explanation of African culture, though there are some traditions that can help the observer make some sense of it all. Africa has a rich arts and crafts tradition, for example. It is interesting to note that in most of the traditional art and craft of Africa, which includes such things as sculptures and pottery, there are certain themes that reflect African culture on the whole. These themes include a woman with a child, a man with a weapon or animal, and the presence of outsiders or strangers. African traditions are also expressed through other art forms, such as music and dance. Music is a major form of communication, and various African cultures have centuries-old songs for such things as marriages, births, and rites of passage. Very much tied to music, African dance utilizes such things as masks and body painting in an attempt to communicate certain themes. At the heart of both traditional African dance and music is the drum. You might even credit the drum as being Africa’s cultural heartbeat. Perhaps nothing is more integral to African culture than oral tradition, however, as it insures a passage of cultural practices from one generation to another.
The food and drink of Africa tend to reflect local influences, as well as some colonial influences. In relation to traditional African cuisine, starch is very much a focus, often accompanied by a stew of meat or vegetables or both. An example of a traditional African stew dish is Potjiekos. Consumed in South Africa, it is made with meat and vegetables and cooked over coals in a cast-iron pot. The main root vegetables in Africa are cassava and yams, and it is common for Africans to eat steamed greens with hot spices. Each African locality uses wild fruits and vegetables as food, with familiar fruits including bananas, apples, papaya, plantains, and watermelons. Fish, exotic game, beans, grains, milk, curds, and whey are just some of the other things that Africans incorporate into their diets. Among the countless spices that are used across the continent, examples include sage, cumin, cinnamon, cloves, and ginger. Of course, in a land this large and diverse, regional dining tendencies can vary greatly, and you never quite know what you might come across at the table. In Benin, for example, rings of fried peanut butter are commonly consumed, and sweet pastries are a favorite among the people of such North Africa countries as Morocco and Egypt. Due in part to religion, some African cultures do not consume pork or drink alcohol. Africa, it should be noted, is where coffee is believed to have been discovered. Ethiopia lays claim to the first regular cultivation of this stimulating beverage.
The numerous social facets of African culture are largely represented by folklore and religion. This is something that is similar among all human cultures. Generally speaking, the various populations of Africa are adherent to either Christianity or Islam, though there are also many people who practice folk or traditional religions that were passed down from generation to generation. Examples of traditional African religions include Yoruba and Serer. The Yoruba religion is widely practiced in Southwestern Nigeria, as well as in adjoining parts of Benin and Togo. The Serer religion represents the original religious beliefs and practices of the Serer people of Senegal. It is interesting to note that while the majority of Africans are adherents to Christianity and Islam, they often combine the practice of these "Abrahamic" religions with the practice of their traditional beliefs. Other well-known world religions that are adhered to by some Africans are Judaism and Hinduism. Uganda, Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria are just some of the African countries that have Jewish communities, and while Hinduism isn’t well spread throughout the continent, it is the largest religion in Mauritius.