Misconceptions About Africa

Misconceptions About Africa

Most scholars, historians and political scientists view Africa as having five cultural-geographic regions; North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. It is especially important for students in the Americas to study the cultures and civilizations of West Africa, because West Africa is the region of Africa where most African Americans trace their ancestry. Also West Africa has a larger population than any of Africa's other regions. In fact West Africa is nearly the size of the continental United States.

Is Africa is mostly desert or mostly rain forest?

Africa, the second largest continent in the world, has a variety of geographic features and vegetation zones. Many people think of Africa as consisting mostly of vast stretches of dry desert. While the Sahara Desert covers approximately one third of th e continent, it is not the largest vegetation zone.

Others believe that the African continent is a huge steaming jungle or rainforest. In fact only a small percentage of Africa, along the Guinea Coast and in the Zaire River Basin, are rainforests. Most of Africa's forests, like the forests of Europe a nd North America, have been cut or burned by humans to create farmland.

The largest vegetation zone in Africa is tropical grassland, known as savanna. There are two forms of savanna. One is natural grassland. The other is grassland created by humans cutting forests over the last three thousand years. The grassla nd region of West Africa is often referred to as the Sudanic belt. The kingdoms and empires that developed in the savanna zone of West Africa are sometimes called Sudanic kingdoms.

Why are Africans referred to as tribes?

Fulani, Mande, Asante, Hausa, Woodabe, Ga, Dogon,Yoruba, Baule, Wolof, Malinke, Berber, Woodabe. Many A mericans are not familiar with the names of the various ethnic groups in Africa. Often large nations and empires, numbering several million people, are referred to as tribes. Tribalistic is rarely a term used when describing the conflicts and diversity of European ethnic groups.

Yet the cultural divisions and wars of Europe, both historically and in the present, are as ethnically tribalistic as conflicts in Africa. The reading West Africa's People in our workbook WEST AFRICA: Reproducible Readings and Lessons is useful for presenting to middle and high school students the diversity of people in Africa.

As in Europe and other world regions, the various people of West Africa are culturally unified by their languages. Yet, analysis of ethnic diversity in Africa tends to revolve around discussions of tribalism. Such terms are extremely value laden and carry negative connotations. Rather than use outdated terms like tribal, it might be less insulting to refer to the ethnic groups in Africa as language groups.

The questions that accompany the lesson on West African ethnic groups emphasize comparisons to culture and behavior in the U.S. It is important for students to search for commonality in world cultures.

WEST AFRICA: Reproducible Readings and Lessons, is written and published by Hassan & Bonita Adeeb (ADEEBPUB@AOL.COM), Adeeb Publishing, P.O. 119, Accokeek, Maryland 20607-0119

Editor: Dr. Ali B. Ali-Dinar, Ph.D.
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