Africa- the birth place of humanity, the cradle of life, is enriched with diversity, colors, songs, tribes, customs… and, like any other proud ‘mother’ it wears those jewels for everyone to see. African culture stands tall and strong with their art, clothing and food. So let’s step into this vibrant culture!
Art comes in all shapes and types, but for African culture, the most important forms are fiber art, dance, sculpture, metalwork, masquerade and architecture. All of them are made out of natural material, like wood, fibers, clay and so on. Pottery, masks, human figures, basket-trays, can be found on numerous areas. The styles often vary within the same origin, depending on the tools and material they were made out of.
Sculptures were most common among the settled cultivators by the Niger and Congo rivers and were used for religious rituals and were often coated with the materials placed on them for ceremonial offerings. They can be wooden, ceramic, or even carved out of stone. Africans prefer tridimensional artwork, even many paintings were meant to be experienced three-dimensional.
The iconic and interesting ones, the Akan goldweights were used for weighting gold dust, which was currency until it was replaced with coins and paper money. Akan goldweights were named after the Akan people, and were made out of brass, pertaining miniature models of everyday objects. The goldweights made out of gold, not brass, were ornaments in rich homes.
Masks were more stylized and made for religious ceremonies, but today, they’re widely sold to tourists, as ‘airport art’. When they were used for religious purposes, Africans believed there was a spirit attached to it, so with a ritual dance a story was being told. Only those with special status could wear the mask. The mask-making technic was passed down from father to son, along with the knowledge of the symbol of the mask.
African masks were have an interesting lack of naturalistic depiction, and with that, they had a large impact on European Modernist art.
Tingatinga painting is an African style of painting, named by its founder Edward Said Tingatinga. They are traditionally made on masonite, using bicycle paint. They are very tourist-oriented, that means they’re usually small, for easy transport, and are made so they appeal to Europeans and Americans (for example, wild fauna and ‘the big five’- lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and cape buffalo). These paintings are being described as both naïve and more on the caricature side, humorous and sarcastic. Tingatinga paintings are usually energetic colors on a black background, very pleasing to the eye, but they don’t have any messages to present or imitate.
Through their artwork, we see that most African artists tend to favor the visual abstraction, over the natural and realistic approach. They even used to use different colors to represent the qualities and characteristics of people being depicted.
African jewelry is a popular art form that indicates ones rank, affiliation with a group, but it was also used just for aesthetics. It was made from diverse materials, such as Tiger’s eye stone, coconut shells, beads and ebony wood.
In some regions, traditional garments have been replaced by western clothing introduced by European colonialists, in 1973. But what’s more interesting is that in the earlier years, people wore nothing, because clothes weren’t a thing then. In the Northeast Africa, women’s clothing has been influenced by Middle Eastern culture, and we can see that in the simple embroidered Jelabiya (a wide cut, no collar dress, often white colored in the summer).
The Northwest Africans were less influenced by the foreigners, so they succeeded in remaining more in antiquity. We can see this in Djellaba and Dashiki.
Djellaba is a long, loose outer robe with a baggy hood (a qob), wore by both genders. Its name literally means attractive. They are made from wool in different shapes, but the most popular is the lightweight cotton. The color of the djellaba indicates the marital status of the wearer. Dark brown screams bachelorhood!
Dashiki is worn by men. It’s a colorful garment that covers the top half of the body, like a shirt. There are two versions of it: the formal and informal, so they can go from simple draped clothing to fully tailored suits. The common form is the loose pullover, with a V shape collar. It’s often worn with the Kufi cap– brimless, short, and rounded cap.
The Grand boubou or agbada, as it’s also called is the most simple of all the African wears, though the color designs reach impressive proportions. It’s a flowing, wide sleeve robe, worn only by men. The female verion of boubou, is worn in some communities, and is named m’boubou or kaftan.
Simplicity, practicality and energy. That’s what the African culture wants to get across with their traditional clothing.
The African food depends on the region- the locally available fruit, vegetables, cereal grains, milk and meat. Central Africa is the one that mostly obtained the unique African cooking. The slave trade brought an adaptation of cassava, peanuts and chili-pepper plants to Africa. This influenced the cuisine, but not so much the preparation methods that were being used.
Cassava- is a woody shrub, used in cooking for its edible starchy root. It can be cooked in many ways, but is often served as cooked greens. The root of the sweet variety can replace potatoes. Cassava can also be made into flour used in breads, cakes and cookies.
Fufu– is a staple food often made with cassava and green plantain flour. They have a texture of starchy foods, and are served with grilled meat and sauces.
Bambara– is a porridge made out of rice, peanut butter and sugar.
Although, the African culture prefers beef and chicken, it’s not all so unusual to see the preparation of crocodile, monkey, antelope or even warthog meat.
Africa has so much to offer and is representing all of its values through its people who respect tradition. As long as such people exist, the love for Africa and African culture will be eternal. Through their art, clothes, and food, they have managed to display the joy of life, the love for the nation, the energy and will of African people.