1. Research has shown that Africa is the birthplace of mankind. It is here that remnants of prehistoric humans including Australopithecus were found. The kingdoms of Nubia and Kush provided the background for the development of civilization. In fact, the first known civilization emerged in Egypt around 3300 BC.
2. Africa as a continent falls into several regions with climates and other conditions distinctly different from each other. Coastal plains have a milder climate and offer better possibilities for trade with other countries. Inner areas often demonstrate more severe conditions. This is true for the Sahara desert located in the north of the continent. Sub-Saharan Africa has a tropical climate, and its landscape varies from plains to mountains like the Atlas Range. Therefore, life is very different in different parts of the continent. In North Africa, many people live in arid areas with strong winds, whereas in the coast land near Mount Cameroon the rainfall is abundant.
3. African states were very diverse in their culture and origin. For example, the Western African state of Ghana in the Niger River Valley had its distinct set of customs and political structure. Upon decline, it was superseded by Mali and Songhay. Mande people who founded Mali had expertise in weaving and mining and specific patterns of architecture. These states, as well as the Songhay Empire centered around the city of Gao and depended on trade with northern Muslims, had their own social structures, arts, customs. In this sense they were homogeneous, consisting of many diverse ethnic and religious groups.
Benin, located in the forest of what is today Nigeria, was an impressive commercial and cultural state. Benin conducted large-scale trade throughout Western Africa. Benin evolved a system of currency (cowrie shells and metal rings called manillas). A number of new states emerged in Guinea during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Ashanti kingdom in the Gold Coast and the state of Dahomey were two of the most celebrated. These kingdoms developed complex and efficient systems of government, and their subjects lived in towns comparable to some of the leading cities of Europe. Added to these impressive states with well-established social structures was Benin, located in the territory of today’s Nigeria that had extensive trade activities and even created its own currency including cowrie shells. Other prosperous African states included the Ashanti kingdom situated in the Gold Coast and the Dahomey nation that enjoyed high economic development. Therefore, diversity was great in the earliest history of Africa, and African nations cannot be considered homogeneous.
4. The perception of Africa as a country rather than a continent is explained in the first place by the perceived homogeneity of its people and political structures. Many people simply lump together everything they know about the region – political instability, problems with democracy, poverty, AIDS and other diseases that are indeed widespread. Since African events are often under-reported in mass media, there is a trend to disregard the differences between different nations
This limited perception increases the need to improve one’s understanding of Africa and its people through careful study of its history and current events. Learning to distinguish patterns will improve our understanding of what is happening in the continent at the moment. For Americans, this is also an important study since it permits them to improve their understanding of the cultural history of African Americans, an important group in the history and present of the nation.
Clark, Darlene, Hine, William C., Harrold, Stanley. The African-American Odyssey: Volume One to 1877 (3rd ed.). Prentice Hall.
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