HHS201: introduction to Human Services ( CGB1435A)
Cheryl PattonAfrican American
The continent of Africa, the second largest on the globe, is bisected by the equator and bordered to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the Indian Ocean. Roughly the shape of an inverted triangle with a large bulge on its northwestern end and a small horn on its eastern tip it contains 52 countries and six islands that, together, make up about 11.5 million square miles, or 20 percent of the world's land mass.
Africa is essentially a huge plateau divided naturally into two sections. Northern Africa, a culturally and historically Mediterranean region, includes the Sahara desert—the world's largest expanse of desert, coming close to the size of the United States. Sub-Saharan, or Black Africa, also contains some desert land, but is mainly tropical, with rain forests clustered around the equator; vast savanna grasslands covering more than 30 percent of continent and surrounding the rain forests on the north, east, and south; some mountainous regions; and rivers and lakes that formed from the natural uplifting of the plateau's surface.
Africa is known for the diversity of its people and languages. Its total population is approximately 600 million, making it the third most populous continent on earth. Countless ethnic groups inhabit the land: it is estimated that there are nearly 300 different ethnic groups in the West African nation of Nigeria alone. Still, the peoples of Africa are generally united by a respect for tradition and a devotion to their community.
Most of the flags of African nations contain one or more of three significant colors: red, for the blood of African people; black, for the face of African people; and green, for hope and the history of the fatherland. Some historians consider ancient Africa the cradle of human civilization. In Before the Mayflower, Lerone Bennett, Jr., contended that "the African ancestors of American Blacks were among the major benefactors of the human race. Such evidence as survives clearly shows that Africans were on the scene and acting when the human drama opened."
Over the course of a dozen centuries, beginning around 300 A.D., a series of three major political states arose in Africa: Ghana, Mali, and Songhay. These agricultural and mining empires began as small kingdoms but eventually established great wealth and control throughout Western Africa.
African societies were marked by varying degrees of political, economic, and social advancement. "Wherever we observe the peoples of Africa," wrote John Hope Franklin in From Slavery to Freedom, "we find some sort of political organization, even among the so-called stateless. They were not all highly organized kingdoms—to be sure, some were simple, isolated family states—but they all ... [established] governments to solve the problems that every community encounters." Social stratification existed, with political power residing in a chief of state or a royal family, depending on the size of the state. People of lower social standing were respected as valued members of the community.
Agriculture has always been the basis of African economics. Some rural African peoples worked primarily as sheep, cattle, and poultry raisers, and African artisans maintained a steady trade in clothing, baskets, pottery, and metalware, but farming was a way of life for most Africans. Land in such societies belonged to the entire community, not to individuals, and small communities interacted with each other on a regular basis. "Africa was ... never a series of isolated self-sufficient communities," explained Franklin. Rather, tribes specialized in various economic endeavors, then traveled and traded their goods and crops with other tribes.
Slave trade in Africa dates back to the mid-fifteenth century. Ancient Africans were themselves slaveholders who regarded