Geography and History of the World © 2010 Indiana Edition

Chapter 21: Cultural Geography of Africa South of the Sahara

Chapter Overviews

The countries that make up this region share a common past shaped by ancient civilizations, European colonization, and the drive for independence. At the same time, the region is incredibly diverse. More than 3,000 African ethnic groups reside in this region. Other groups include Europeans, Asians, Arabs, and people of mixed backgrounds.

The Sahel Most of the people in this subregion are Muslim, although the majority of them are not Arabs. A variety of ethnic groups live in the region. The Sahel is sparsely populated.

The region is home to many civilizations that grew wealthy trading salt and gold. Europeans traded for the gold, and enslaved persons. Europeans colonized the area as a source for raw material. After independence, African nations struggled with ethnic conflicts and poor infrastructure. The conflict in the Darfur is an example of the divisions in the region. Indigenous and Islamic cultures influence this regions religion, art, family life and languages.

East Africa East Africa has a diverse culture and terrain, with an uneven population distribution. There are rural, urban, and nomadic peoples in the subregion.

East Africa is considered the place of origin for all of humankind. It is an important trade route for Arabian, Asian, and Mediterranean cultures. The European powers competed fiercely for this region, and colonized most of it. After independence, ethnic conflict plagued many countries, leading to genocide in Rwanda. The culture of the region was shaped by the colonizing powers, but much remains of indigenous culture.

West Africa West Africa is immensely diverse. It features rapid population growth and urbanization. However, most West Africans still live in rural areas.

Trading empires helped bring wealth to this subregion. The Portuguese set up trading posts for gold, and enslaved Africans. Europeans colonized the region, and after the various countries gained independence, ethnic conflicts sometimes led to civil war. The culture of the region was shaped by the colonizing powers, but much remains of indigenous culture.

Central Africa Although dotted with urban areas, Central Africa is mostly rural. It is home to hundreds of ethnic groups. It is the one of the least densely populated regions on the continent.

Large groups began settling in Central Africa around A.D. 600, establishing key kingdoms. Central Africa became a central location in the African slave trade. In the 1800s Central Africa was colonized. After fighting for independence, most African countries faced instability from ethnic strife, corruption and civil unrest. The diversity of the region makes cultural generalization difficult, however the French ruled much of the area, so most people speak at least some French.

Southern Africa This subregion has a variety of people and population densities. Common throughout this region is a high rate of HIV infection that may serve to limit population growth.

Remnants of culture have been found dating back over a million years. “Great Zimbabwe” and Zulu cultures are two examples. Europeans began exploring and colonizing the area starting in the 1500s, using some of the ports for the slave trade. After independence in the mid 1900s, many countries featured unrest. South Africa practiced apartheid, which ended in the 1990s. People through the subregion are influenced by European and indigenous cultures.

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