Culture and History of African

Topics: Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, Atlantic slave trade Pages: 15 (5502 words) Published: November 23, 2008
Culture, which is a word that is very difficult to define, is very much engrained in the African people. The culture and art of African people expresses values, attitudes, and thoughts which help to represent the products of their past experiences and it also provides a way of learning about their history. Throughout this paper, you will learn about the culture and art of Africa and its people. As we begin to think about Africa and its, we must also consider how Western perceptions of "race" and "racial" difference have influenced our notions about the history of Africa. These ideas, which have usually stood out against the presumed inferiority of black peoples with the superiority of whites, arose in Western societies as Europeans sought to justify their enslavement of Africans and the subsequent colonization of Africa. Historians now recognize that ideas of racial inferiority have inspired the belief that in the past African peoples lived in a state of primitive barbarism. At the same time, they have realized that many of the European writings which they use to reconstruct the African past -- such as accounts by 19th century missionaries and travelers, for example: are themselves tainted by these same notions of African inferiority. This realization has led historians to seek out alternative sources of information less influenced by European preoccupation with racial difference. These alternative sources include writings by Africans (which are found in only a few portions of Sub-Saharan Africa before the twentieth century), the much fuller bodies of oral tradition which are found throughout Africa, the vocabularies and structures of African languages themselves, and the physical artifacts uncovered by archaeologists. African art is also one of these alternative sources of information. Like the other alternative sources, it helps us to understand African history not from the standpoint of Europeans, but from the perspective of Africans themselves. As historians have better understood the fallacy of Western ideas about racial inferiority, they have begun to seek other ways of thinking about differences between African and European history. Today, many historians combine ideas of difference and similarity in their interpretation of African history. They may regard African cultures as devising unusual solutions to problems which confront all human societies. For example, the eminent British historian Basil Davidson argues that Africans dealt with a problem found in all human communities -- the need to avoid tyranny -- by restricting the authority of rulers and by promoting the autonomy of small communities. Other historians explain difference not on racial grounds, but by considering other factors which affect social change. One example of this approach is found in the work of another British historian of Africa, John Iliffe. For Iliffe, the factor which most strongly shapes the character of African cultures is the African environment. Iliffe believes that Africans inhabit an environment whose aridity, infertile soils and profusion of diseases create particularly difficult challenges for humans. He sees the history of Africa as a process by which Africans surmount these challenges through agricultural innovation and sheer hard work. Of course, other historians disagree with the views of Davidson and Iliffe, and instead seek other factors which help to explain differences between Africans and other human societies. Thus part of the task of students who study African art is to ask themselves whether they see in it expressions of values and ideas which are unique, or whether they see manifestations of a common human spirit. Human history in Africa is immensely long. In fact, both archaeological research and genetic studies strongly support the theory that the evolution of the modern human species (Homo sapiens sapiens) occurred in Africa. The earliest members of the hominid family of species to which we belong, the...
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