An Overview of African History
African culture and society is difficult to encapsulate in a singular description because Africa is such a large and diverse region. As well, Africa is a continent that has been overlooked for a long period of time by Western historians because of the prejudice and erroneous view that African society was not civilized enough to have a history. From what is known now though, African culture was varied and impressive. Africa has such a diverse culture that “One-quarter of all the languages in the world are spoken in Africa, and five of the major language families are found there.” (p. 212) In many areas of Africa, smaller villages were ruled by clans and in larger cities, the focal point was the royal precinct. One way that African society differed from Asian societies was royal family was not as isolated from the merchant class and kings would hold audience with the common people.
Although women are thought to have been subordinate to African men, a major difference in African society is that lineage was matrilinear rather than patrilinear. Women were valued for increasing the size of the lineage group and for the work they could do. They were sometimes sent into the field to work because their smaller physiques made it easier for them to extract gold. In this way women were more important participants in society than some others at the time. Families were mostly comprised of nuclear units including multiple generations of a lineage. Dwelling arrangements consisted of, “small round huts constructed of packed mud and topped with a conical thatch roof.” (p. 213) Slavery had been practiced in Africa since ancient times and was common.
Art and music was often regarded as a spiritual or religious practice and was highly sophisticated and diverse. Music was used in rituals and was used to teach history and social traditions through stories. Architecture in Africa was highly advanced and innovative as well and many buildings were built impressively out of stone and cement. What I find most interesting about this culture is the way in which women were regarded. For the time, compared to many other societies women were regarded more as companions than subordinates. Women were valued and respected for their contributions to society and interactions between men and women were honorable. Additionally interesting is the effect that Islam had on these views as it is thought that, “they were probably curtailed as many Africans converted to Islam.” (p. 214)
Spielvogel, J. J., & Duiker, W. J. (2013). The Essential World History. Cengage Learning.