Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Dark Continent of Africa

By Sam K Zinnah


Africa, often referred to as the “Dark continent” solely because the west and the United States knew less about it and its people, remains underdeveloped. The continent is considered underdeveloped in the sense that many of its people make poor living by simple farming.
Underdevelopment in Africa also means the use of poor human resources as the result of illiteracy, poor health conditions and of course, fewer factories. Due to inability to use modern methods, nearly all of Africa’s raw materials are exported to the west. Africa also remains underdeveloped because of the substantial amount of dry land. The heat and rain in some parts affect almost everything. However, it is important to add that from the days of Vasco da agama until the present time, the rest of the world’s interest in the African continent has been just how much they can get out of it.
As the world’s second largest continent, Africa occupied a huge land mass on the face of the earth. It has 11,704,00 square miles, or 30,312,000 kilometers in size. Although covering 20 percent of the world’s land mass, it seems to be one of the less crowded areas on Earth. It has also been recorded that approximately 10 to 12 percent of world’s population resides on the continent (Africa).
The continent of Africa is geographically bordered on the north by the Mediterranean Sea with Tunisia at its northernmost tip, while the Cape of Good Hope is located on its southern tip. The Atlantic and Indian oceans are both east and west of the continent respectively. It is important to emphasize that the northern part is separated from Europe by the Mediterranean. However, most of Africa is isolated from the Mediterranean world by the Sahara Desert and from the rest of the world by its own topography.
Africa is considered the birthplace of man “according to recent skulls discovered in the Olduvai Gorge”. There are also certain parts of Africa that are modern and up-to-date just as in the west. Still millions of square miles of its land are considered wide jungle. The estimated population of Africa in the 1990s is 600 million. This number is still a small one for such a large area which includes not only “real” Africans, but millions of immigrants from Europe, Asia, and Asia Minor.
When referring to the African people and their cultures, it should be taken into consideration that they are diverse, therefore they have diverse cultures. However, to be able to elaborate on diversity and complexity of the African’s way of life, it is necessary to briefly consider the topography of this huge continent. The part of Africa which is south of the Sahara is mostly composed of grassland that merges into the equatorial rain forest which stretches from the west, across the gulf of guinea and into the central area around the Congo basin. The former Abyssinia plateau, the area known as Ethiopia, is considered the most important mountain area in this particular region. The source of the blue Nine within twin ranges of the African continent. These ranges are divided by the Great Rift Valley and the Darkensberg Mountain located in the eastern part of the South African Republic. Mount Kilimanjaro which is 19,040 feet above sea level is the highest peak found in Africa and in the Kenyan plateau around the eastern park of the Great Rift. Some areas of the south and west of Africa are interior Veldor plateau, which is the well known Kalahari Desert. This information has a bearing on the education of African students because the economic and educational developments is most of the African countries are affected by the continent’s topography. The Africa of the 1990’s is composed of different races found in the eight regions of the continent, they are as follows: Coastal West Africa; Central Africa; Equatorial West Africa; Southern Africa, the East African Island Nations; Eastern African; and the Arab North Africa. The people of Africa range in physical appearance from the dark-skinned Negroes pf the west, to the light-skinned Caucasoid of northern Africa, and the fair skinned people and the European descendants in the mostly ruled southern part of the continent.

The People of Africa

Africa appears to be the only continent among the seven which is composed of different races and diversified cultures. For instance, a segment of Hamitic-Negroes located in Black Africa, South of the Sahara, are believed to have founded the first empire of West Africa around the year 4 AD. It has also been recorded that the people from the Middle East who settle in the Nile Valley are presumed to have begun agricultural developments some thousand years before the birth of Christ. The Egyptians are reported to have developed our 365 day calendar. Besides, they were the ones who in world history adopted the concept of life after death. Yet, the Africans of today are looked upon as the hopeless and the poorest of all the races on earth. They were once at the top, but today Africa and its people must depend on the United States and the West for survival. Because of this, African young people come to the United States to seek knowledge which was lost, and to take it back home.
As we continue to concentrate on Africa and its people, it might be necessary to continue to mention that the history of the western part of Africa, south of the Sahara, has been that of encounters from the time Islam arrived in that area. Most of the antagonisms during this period of the African history developed among the Hamitic Negro tribes, the Songhai, and the Mandingos around one thousand AD. Wherefore, there were sequences of revolutions in these kingdoms that resulted in the movement of the dark-skinned Africans to coastal areas such as Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, our today’s Ivory Coast, etc.
Most of the Europeans traveled to Africa simply because of what there was to take out while others entered the region as missionaries. The Portuguese arrived as early as the 15th century when their navigators made their way to areas such as our present day Senegal and Guinea. This time period also coincided with Columbus’ discovery of America. The Dutch reached the Southern portion of Africa in 1652, while the British Union Jack began flying in Cape Town 19 years after the United States independence. It is essential to note that after the ending of the American civil war in the 18th century there were concerns toward the granting of freedom to blacks. Therefore, in the 18th century, a society of Abolition under the leadership of Granville Sharp move to our today’s Sierra Leone in West Africa. In 1788, tleve years after the signing of the American Declaration of Independence, the Temne King Naimbana was supposed to have signed a land agreement for some freed slaves. Thirty four years later, the American colonization society sent the first freed black to our today’s Liberia, the first independent country in Africa. The first group of the settlers according to the Liberian History arrived in this part of West Africa in January of 1822.
It should be recorded that in spite of the location of the African continent and the diversity of its languages, people and cultures, there are still different groups. Although it is considered the second largest of the world’s seven bodies of land, Africa’s topography has caused most of the delays in its progress. As a result of these complications, developments in most parts of Africa have not been dramatic. Secondly, the complexities of the Africans and their cultures are extremely unique and difficult to comprehend.
Even though there is a desirer among African educators at home and the studies aboard for universal education, such quests present enormous problems due to the lack of financial resources; the shortages of qualified teachers, learning and teaching facilities and above all the great profusion of the African languages.
Although most of the African students, especially the independent ones in the united states are products of such complicated communities, nonetheless, they are determined to make those issues secondary to their search for western education. Even with the efforts of Negritude, a belief that Negro Africans, including their descendants in the New World, have common culture traditions, the people of Africa and their cultures remain diverse. Pan-Africanism emerged as a response to colonialism and was used to simulate economic development, form joint international policies and discourage Western imperialism. The philosophy of Negritude was first conceived by two outstanding poets of the third world: Aime Cesaire from Martinique in the West Indies; and the first president, poet, and one of Africa’s leading educators, Leopold Seder Senghor of Senegal in West Africa. The primary objective of Negritude was to reassert the many traditions which were disrupted through centuries of colonialism in Africa. In summary, it is well to note that Pan-Africanism appears to be the political counterpart of Negritude. Its goal to promote self-government in the third world, especially in Africa, has been a struggle that acknowledges political independence without economic independence is no independence at all.

The tribal groups and languages
Apart form the European languages introduced by immigrants and former colonial masters in Africa, languages of the African continent may classify into four principal families. The four main classifications are: the sudanic, the Afro-Asian, the Niger-Congo, and the click. The Niger-Congo family is widely spoken across the continent. In addition, English, French and the Swahili languages are spoken throughout Africa especially in the west and the eastern parts of the continent. The Arabic language is mostly spoken in North Africa.
It is essential to mention that the Arabic languages has profoundly influenced the Hausa in Nigeria as well as the Swahili language in some parts of west and east Africa, due to the Islamic majority in those areas. There are also hundreds of those languages within these four families spoken in Africa. Because of the numerous languages, African students who are studying in the United States are experiencing difficulties in making language adjustments. For instance, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the most populated country in Africa has about 100 ethnic groups; each with its own language, but English remains Nigeria’s official language. However, Nigeria’s predominant languages include: the ibos, the Yoruba, and also the kanieri. With these listed and hundreds more minor ones such as the Fulani, Nupe, the Tiv and many other languages throughout the country, English is used in official communications. Liberia, another West African state with a population of approximately 3.3 million has twenty eight different tribal groups which are speaking 16 separate major languages, the predominant of which are: the Kepelle, Via, Lumba, the kru, Bassa, the Kran, Gio and the Grebo. Liberia with all these languages uses English in all her official communications. In Sierra Leone, another west African country, the creole, mende, the femene, kero and mandingo are some of the leading languages, but English is officially used in public interactions. On the other hand, Afrikaans, Heroro, Nama and Owambo are spoken in Namibia for communication. These above languages and tribal backgrounds among the Africans make it difficult for some African students in the United States to cope with their studies in certain areas of learning.
There is much diversity among Africans south of the Sahara. For example, small bands of Bushmen who depend on hunting still exist in some African communities, while counties like Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Senegal and many others live in cultures rich in history and arts. Therefore, to describe the African people and their cultures, one must consider not only in terms of race, rather, in terms of language, the complicated groups and the diversity of cultures. In split of these numerous cultures, Africans regardless of their location, share a common cultural base which has just been understood by historians and anthropologists of the non-African communities.
A vast majority of the African students who are presently pursuing their studies in the United States are originals of many of these tribal groups. It is important to remember that every person, man and woman of traditional Africa, has a role assigned to him by the society. Because of this, each member learns the way of his by the society and the task expected of him or her. If a particular tribe had a relatively complex structure, its members might become associated with a group other than the family within the society, such as age, sects or the popular secret societies. It is also important to mention that regardless of how diverse a person may become in his association with other individuals, he remains a sole member of the family and its extended members. It is important to understand that men in the African communities did not organize in groups for the purpose of seeking or demanding change, rather, the groups existed purposely to perform certain traditional functions in ritualistic manners.
The African way of life is practiced by the Negroes between the Sahara and the Cape of Good Hope, since they have lived on the continent so long; they are referred to as the indigenous. They all have certain peculiarities of thought and behavior which seem to distinguish them from other races of the world. The African extended family system which is part of the African cultural has a great effect on most of the independent African students studying in the United Stated and other western countries. As a member of a family, each individual is obligated to many of its members. In short, the extended family is one of the several concentric circles within which the African individual lives. He or she is always a member of their clan. Each group is defined according to the African tradition which is also considered as kinship. It is important to recognize that the members of any African village environment, where many of the rural African students come from, pictures themselves as descendants from a single first ancestor who is referred to as the founder of the village. The individuals in such an environment usually find themselves or even their place, based upon their ancestry, and not as a result of any accomplishment of their own, but as a member of the group. It should not be forgotten however, that in most of the African family circle, every member owes each other a specific obligation regardless of how much western education one achieves. The circle on the other hand, becomes larger or influenced by our modern day living and of course, the western religion. The way men treat each other according to the indigenous African culture is determined not by abstract or our modern day friendship. Therefore, a ‘good man’ in most of the tribal communities is a man who fulfills all his obligations to his kinship circle. In such society, harmony with each member of the group and not our present day self accomplishment, is the path to acceptance or happiness. The leads us to the importance of value from the traditional African point of view.

The African Value System

Value which is defined by the American heritage school Dictionary as a principle, standard or quality considered worthwhile, plays an essential role in the rural African communities. Each of the complicated societies in the African world has its basic value and numerous ways, tribally distinctive, just as more than 800 African languages and cultures. We should also emphasize that traditionally Africans tend to view human natural as neither inherently good nor evil. According to the Africans, human nature is simply neutral. Although a good man in tribal Africa is the one who fulfills all his obligations to his kinship circle, human begins nonetheless are fallible and capable of error. To Africans the human nature is relatively crumbled or strong. However, he can become weaker or stronger. The most essential part of a man’s judgment in relationships to his being good or evil, generous or selfish, depends mainly on the social outcomes of his actions.
Therefore, it is well to inject that in a world in which man, nature and the supernatural are fragments of one whole, it is his resolution to live in harmony with the other two aspects. Legend, folksongs, wisdom and many other expressions are used by traditional Africans to seek solutions to their present day perplexities. Above all, we should not forget to recall the security in traditional African societies, on the other hand, lies within the framework of the group and not the individual. To maintain some of these cultural aspect and their values in an organized society, rural Africans used a form of communication system other then the western telephone, telegrams, letters etc. Their form of communication is known as the drum system. Webster dictionary defines the drum as a musical percussion instrument. Besides being a musical device, the indigenous African society considers the drum the most effective means of communication among tribes and the chiefdoms.
For instance, in most of the traditional African societies, before even the morning breakfast, there is usually the sound across the plantation and throughout the villages and the clans. Everyone who can hear or translates gets the message by the drum. Drums as a tribal communications system, has send important messages across tribes for hundreds of years.
For many years, they have: told stories of battles between tribes; summoned people toward in defense of their tribes; told death news of famous tribal leaders and the birth of famous children; relayed information about murders; and of dangers. Above all else, they have been used to communicate with the ancestors.

The Europeans and Americans who went to Africa as missionaries did not comprehend the meaning of the African drum, and as a result considered it uncivilized. Some of them being unaware of the drum communications were successful in destroying some of its aspects and it’s important to the tribal culture. Just as the African drum is programmed to transmit messages so does the institution of marriage. Marriage value to all African traditions is viewed as a strong feeling of loyalty and co-operation which blends two families and their extended. Wherefore, the institution of marriage is more than an agreement between a man and a woman to live together. To the Africans, marriage is a means of obtaining relatives and in-laws in the family circles. The details relating to marriage customs vary from ethic group to ethnic group. However, the closeness within families as a result of matrimony is the foundation of all the African cultures.
The bribe according to the African rural tradition, must share the life of the family that she’s marrying, her selection is important to every member of that particular family. She must on the other hand, remain in the family especially if there’s a child as a result of the relationship. Polygamy, one man having more than one wife generally came about when the first wife was unable to handle her routine responsibilities and requested her husband for a female assistant.
Deceased males in the family leaving behind children have also been one of the reasons for the increase in polygamy among the African rural inhabitants. However, in many parts of Africa the richer an individual, the more wives he may handle. From that point of view, polygamy has been a unique economic system to keep the family united in the traditional African societies.
African Students in the United States or in any western country are products of these complicated cultural practices. Yet, they must make adjustment and re-adjust themselves and other to achieve their goals of an American education.
The magic of hearing is another aspect of the African culture upon which the western missionaries frowned. However, the magic of healing common illness among some Africans is similar to modern science. Magic in some ways is based on the presumption that there are things that human beings can do to alter the course of nature. Therefore, a sick man in African community may use herbs and charms why a modern man takes pills and rest to keep him/her from illness. To be able to fit in both worlds, African students must make transitions and adjustment from the African world to that of the west. Coming to the United States has been one of those efforts.

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