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Religious and Ethnic Groups of Africa


Religious and Ethnic Groups of Africa SS7G4 The student will describe the diverse cultures of the people who live in Africa. Explain the differences between an ethnic ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Religious and Ethnic Groups of Africa

Religious and Ethnic Groups of Africa
  • SS7G4 The student will describe the diverse
    cultures of the people who live in Africa.
  • Explain the differences between an ethnic group
    and a religious group.
  • B. Explain the diversity of religions within the
    Arab, Ashanti, Bantu, and Swahili ethnic groups.

Some Useful Definitions
  • Ethnic Group People who share common bonds of
    culture, religion, language, and/or biological
    traits, and see themselves as different from
    other groups.
  • Culture a set of socially transmitted (learned)
    behavior patterns. This includes arts, beliefs,
    institutions, and all other products of human
    work and thought.

Religions in Africa
  • Religion a set of beliefs, practices, and
    traditions, often with a supernatural quality,
    that give meaning to life experiences through
    reference to an ultimate spiritual power.
  • Islam from the Arabian Peninsula
  • Christian - from the European missionaries who
    visited the continent
  • Traditional from tribal cultures

Traditional Religions
  • African traditional religions, also referred to
    as indigenous religions or tribal religions,
    refers to a variety of religions indigenous
    (native to) to the continent of Africa. Like
    tribal religions from other parts of the world,
    African religious traditions differ with the
    community or area in which they are practiced.
  • Traditional African religions involve teachings,
    practices, and rituals that reinforce the values
    of indigenous African societies. These
    traditional African religions also play a large
    part in the cultural understanding and awareness
    of the people of their communities. They share a
    reverence for common values and symbols.

African Tribes and Languages
  • Africa is approximately four times the size of
    the United States. In fact, the Sahara Desert,
    alone is the size of the US!
  • There are about 100 different tribes in Africa
    from the Afar to the Zulu, which is the largest
    and from the Ashantes, a tribe barely fifty years
    old to the Bushmen, who have populated Africa for
    at least over 20,000 years!
  • Languages?
  • Over 2,000 languages are spoken in Africa with
    about 100 of these regularly used in inter-ethnic


  • Language Arabic first spread in 2nd century by
    Arabic Christians into Middle East.
  • Rapid spread of the language with Islam in 7th
    century, as it was the language of the Quran.
  • Today there are about 225 million people who
    speak the Arabic language, with the greatest
    numbers of these coming from Morocco, Algeria,
    and Egypt.

About 20 of the Muslim population live in Arab
Arabic Religion and Law
  • The majority of Arabs are Muslims
  • There are two main groups Sunni and Shia. Shia
    is minority (except in Iran).
  • Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion.
  • In some countries, the government is secular,
    meaning there is a separation of church and
  • In others, such as northern Sudan and Saudi
    Arabia, government is based on Sharia, Islamic
    religious law. There is no separation of church
    and state. Women have few rights in these

For examplethe Bedouins
  • They are Arabs in terms of ethnic group.
  • Their culture is characterized by their nomadic
    lifestyles, as well as common learned behaviors.
    Most are Muslims, with some Christians.
  • Their lifestyle is pastoral, centered around
    herding camels, but also goats and sheep.
    However, they are becoming more sedentary
    (settled) with the decrease in grazing lands and
    suitable aquifers. However, many have urban
    residences during the hot, dry summers and still
    lead nomadic lives during the winters.
  • Governments wish to regulate these populations
    in order to control them more closely.

Bedouin Culture Social Structures
  • Bedouins organize themselves according to
    patrilineal (father to son) groups. The size of
    these groups may vary from a handful of people to
    thousands. Bedouins define themselves as members
    of tribes and families. All groups are headed by
    sheiks, a term meaning old man in the Quran.
    People are divided into social classes, depending
    on family and profession. Passing from one class
    to another is relatively easy, but marriage
    between a man and a woman of different classes is
  • Traditional Bedouin foods include dairy products,
    milk and meat. Bedouins sell and barter products,
    in order to obtain agricultural foodstuff from
    sedentary peoples.
  • Bedouins live in tents made out of goat or camel
    hair, as well as plant fibers. Sedentary Bedouins
    construct simple, unadorned houses, built from
    mud and stone.

At the camel market, a camel with a tribal mark
on his rear leg, awaits sale.
Boys show off a handsome camel, dressed in
saddlebags, leg cushion, long narrow ornament,
and headstall and bridle, western Saudi Arabia,
Show below is the traditional black tent, but the
round tent in the foreground is a "Saudi"
tent. These black tents that seem so romantic on
the landscape are called in Arabic house of
Bedouin Homes
  • Nomadic Life
  • Sedentary Life

A Bedouin tent is divided into two sections by a
woven curtain known as a ma'nad. One section,
reserved for the men and the reception of most
guests, is called the mag'ad, or sitting place.
The other, in which the women cook and receive
female guests, is called the maharama, or place
of the women.
Bedouin homes in the Negev Desert
A New Tent and Dividing Curtain
Bedouin Culture
  • Bedouins mark their graves with exceptional
    simplicity, placing one ordinary stone at the
    head of the grave and one at its foot. Moreover,
    it is traditional to leave the clothes of the
    deceased on top of the grave, to be adopted by
    a needy traveler.
  • Bedouins, like other Egyptians,
    wear the jalabiyya, a long,
    hooded robe that is a standard
    form of
    clothing both in big cities
    and on the desert plains.

  • An elder of the Al Ajami tribe poses with his
    falcon in front of a tent divider in a guest
  • (Haneedh, Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia,
  • Children of the Shammar tribe play with a
    baby camel outside a tent, woven by the mother of
    one of them. (Near Hail, north central Saudi
    Arabia, 1992.)

Bedouin Weaving
  • Bedouin women and girls take the drop spindles
    out with them while they are watching the flocks
    and continue to spin while chatting among
    themselves or climbing over boulders after the
  • The whole process is done by hand from the
    washing, carding, spinning and dying of the yarn
    to the finished product.
  • The dye pot is shown in the background.
  • http//

Bedouin Weaving
  • In spinning, the thread passes through the "hook"
    (bent nail) at the top of the spindle before
    being wound around the stick spindle, which is
    nearly 2 feet long. Spun fiber is wound around
    the arm or goes into a shoulder bag. It is then
    dyed and used for weaving. Tribes often have
    traditional colors and designs.

Looms in background being prepared for weaving.
Note the dye pots behind these.
Tribal designs shown on a tent divider
  • Weaving on a ground loom with warp tied to
    prevent tangling

http// Thanks to
Joy May Hilden for pictures.

  • The Ashanti are a major
  • ethnic group of Ghana in
  • West Africa.
  • The Ashanti speak their
  • own language, Twi,
  • and number about 10
  • million people. They
  • became very influential
  • in the West African Empire
  • during the 17th century.

Ashante Society
  • The Ashante society is one of the few matrilineal
    societies in the world, where land rights and
    inheritance are determined by the mothers side
    of the family.
  • Children are often matched up at birth, but the
    marriage is not a most important ritual in a
    childs life, simply a stage in ones life.
  • Both men and women may own property.

Ghanaian Flag
Ashanti Golden Stool
  • The birth of the Ashanti kingdom in the 17th
    century is tied to the Golden Stool, which was
    commanded down from heaven by a shaman. (A SHAMAN
    is the spiritual leader that is the link between
    the visible world and the spiritual world.) It
    floated down and landed in the lap of the king
    and was viewed as the unifying force of the new
  • Believed to contain the soul of the Ashanti
    people, it was thought that if the stool ceased
    to exist, so would their nation.
  • It measures 12x24x18 inches high and is always
    placed on a blanket. A new king was lowered over
    it, but never permitted to sit on it. Very few
    have seen it. The Ashante followed a traditional

The Seat of Power
  • Replicas (copies) of the stool were made for the
    chiefs, and at their deaths, these are blackened
    with animal blood as a symbol of their ancestral
  • Once in the 1890s, they exiled their king rather
    than risk losing the war and the stool.
  • In 1900, a British governor demanded to sit on
    the stool, and they went to war over that. Though
    they lost to Great Britain, they felt they had
    gained a victory in their protection of the
  • When one of their kings made a stool for himself,
    they led the army against him, decapitated him,
    melted the stool, and made two golden masks of
    his ugly face to hang beside the real golden

Ashanti Today
  • Ashanti are largely Protestant and Catholic
    Christians the major denominations represented
    are Methodist and Anglican, although the
    Pentecostal church is growing in popularity.
  • While tribal and ethnic identity are important
    for Ashanti and other Ghanaians, they do not
    define a person nor carry as much weight as they
    did hundreds of years ago.
  • In other words, although the past history makes
    the Ashanti very influential, Ashanti and
    Ghanaians in general do not place extreme
    emphasis on tribe and are now more nationalistic,
    meaning they think in terms of the good of the
    nation, rather than the old tribe.


SWAHILI Culture and Language
  • The Swahili are a people and culture found on the
    coast of East Africa, mainly the coastal regions
    from Somalia to Mozambique. Although the Swahili
    as a cultural group number only about a million
    and a half people, Swahili speakers, on the other
    hand, number at around 90 million!
  • The name Swahili is derived from the Arabic word
    meaning "coastal dwellers."

Swahili Religion
  • Because of interaction with Arabic traders in the
    11th century, Islam is the religion of most
    Swahili people.
  • The Swahili follow a very strict or orthodox form
    of Islam. Most men wear protective amulets
    (charms) around their necks, which contain verses
    from the Quran. If a person is ill, the medicine
    man instructs a patient to soak a piece of paper
    containing verses of the Quran in water. With
    this ink infused water, literally containing the
    word of Allah, the patient will then wash his
    body or drink it to cure himself. It is only
    prophets and teachers of Islam who are permitted
    to become medicine men among the Swahili

  • Bantu, a linguistically (language) related
    group of people living in equatorial and southern
    Africa. The Bantu probably originated in what is
    now Camaroon and eastern Nigeria, migrating
    downward into southern Africa. They were an
    AGRARIAN or agricul-tural society.

The Effect of a Simple Invention A Change in
  • With the development of the iron blade, reaping
    became easier for the Bantu people, and
    agriculture took on a whole new meaning. Greater
    production fed more people. Populations grew
    faster than before, with people encroaching
    (moving in) on each other's land. Thus, the
    increasing populations had to find new places to
  • This need for land led to the migration of
    African black tribes from central to southern
    Africa. The Bantu migration spread through
    sub-Saharan Africa (Africa south of the Sahara
    Desert) over some 2,000 years. The Bantu
    migrations are believed to have taken place over
    about 2 millennia and are the largest human
    migrations ever to have taken place.

Zulus Plowing Land Like they Did on the Old
The Bantu Influence

Economics and Trade
  • The development of metalworking skills promoted
    specialization of products, and trade between
    regions followed.
  • Today Bantu is recognized as a language group,
    rather than a cultural group.
  • In the western half of the country
    (where the Namib and Kalahari
    deserts are located), rainfall was
    low and desert conditions
    prevailed. Since the African farmers
    were not interested in settling
    there. These dry
    regions remained a safe haven
    of the Khoi and the San.


The Bushmen
  • The San were the original inhabitants of Kalahari
    Desert, located in southern Africa in the present
    state of Botswana.
  • Only a few scattered bands remain.
  • The San Tribe used to be known by the term
    "Bushmen." However, calling them that has
    recently been considered racist and politically

  • San was a name given to hunters by the
    Khoikhoi of the Cape. The word means people
    different from ourselves and became associated
    with those without livestock, or people who stole

San Hunter Gatherers
  • The San are mainly vegetarians who eat up to 100
    different plant types. One of the most important
    is the mongogo nut, a staple food that provides
    more than half of the San tribe daily diet.
  • The San tribes to the North of the Kalahari eat
    mostly plant foods that grow above the ground,
    and those living in the central and southern part
    rely a great deal on underground bulbs and tubers
    as a source of food and water. The San women have
    detailed knowledge of the desert environment, and
    they use special sticks to unearth the bulbs and

San Customs
  • The men are expert hunters, although they rarely
    kill animals. However, occasionally they are
    urged by their family to bring home a wildebeest
    or even one of the smaller animals like a
    porcupine or a few birds. Large animals include
    eland, kudu giraffe and antelope. These animals
    are hunted with bows and poisoned arrows. In some
    instances they use a snare to trap the smaller
    game. Animals that are caught in traps are
    swiftly killed with a spear, to avoid a
    slow painful death.
  • The meat including liver, heart, etc. is
    roasted immediately after the hunt. The
    women normally share out
    the food to the
    entire group that spend hours feasting
    and chatting around the open

San Religious Rites
  • The religion of the San people of southern Africa
    consists of a spirit world and our material
    world. To enter the spirit world, one must enter
    a trance, with the help of a shaman through the
    hunting of power animals.

Kazakh Shaman
San Power Animal The Eland
  • There is a key aspect of the San belief
    Everything that is taken from nature must meet
    the needs and must not be more than what is
    required. Anything that is taken has to have a
    purpose and must meet the needs of the community.

Eland bulls may weigh over a ton!
San Religious Beliefs
  • The San believed in a realm above and below the
    material world. Once an eland had been killed, a
    link between these three realms was created. The
    eland was a main symbol of trance or spiritual
    communication due to its fat, the prime container
    and essence of trance.
  • Rites of passage are initiated with eland fat.
    These include marriage and boys and girls
    initiation into adulthood (with the boys first
    successful eland hunt). Once an eland was killed,
    a shaman would dance eland potency and enter
    the spirit world, often depicted in rock art. The
    shaman would go through a trance (by wild
    rhythmic dancing and hyperventilation), seemingly
    gaining animal senses, and enter the spirit
    world. Once in the spirit world, they could make
    supernatural contact with God and important

  • THE

  • Khoikhoi is a general name which the herding
    people of the Cape (of Good Hope) used for
    themselves, meaning people with domestic
    animals as opposed to other groups such as the
    Bushmen who had domesticated animals. It also
    applies to the people of southern Africa, such as
    the Zulu, who use the click language.

Khoikhoi Culture
  • Khoikhoi are herders, but feed themselves through
    hunting and gathering. Any significant hunt is
    shared by the entire village.
  • Khoikhoi keep large herds of sheep, cattle, and
    goats, which are used mainly for milk. Oxen were
    used as pack animals when camp was moved.
  • Livestock are slaughtered only for ceremonial

Khoikhoi Economics
  • All stock were individually owned. Chiefs and
    headmen owned a large number while servants may
    have owned no stock at all. Cattle were left to
    roam as there was no threat from predators. The
    herds would be taken out every day in search of
    grazing and returned to the kraal at night. There
    was probably a strict division of labor among the
    Khoikhoi, with cattle being men's work and women
    and children looking after the small stock.
  • During the day, the adults might have remained in
    the kraal, manufacturing utensils and weapons, or
    doing domestic chores. Men also went out hunting,
    and the women gathered wild plant foods.

KhoiKhoi Housing
Khoikhoi Villages
  • Khoikhoi villages were relatively large, often
    well over one hundred persons. The basic housing
    structure was a round hut made of a frame of
    green branches planted into the ground and bent
    over and tied together, then covered with reed
  • It could be dismantled and taken to a new
    location when grazing in the area became
    depleted. Sometimes the mats were simply removed
    and rolled up. People left the frames behind if
    they knew they would be returning to the same
    site. During the warm weather, it was cool inside
    with the crevices between the reeds allowing the
    air to circulate. During winter, the inside could
    be lined with skins to offer extra insulation
    against the elements.

Khoikhoi Society
  • Several villages would form into tribes, then
    into larger groups called clans, and the senior
    headman of the senior clan would be the chief of
    the tribe.
  • Land ownership was defined not by regular
    boundaries, but by access to watering holes for
  • Men found wives within other tribes. The marriage
    custom was that the bridegroom had to spend the
    first months of marriage (until the birth of the
    first child) living at the village of his
    parents-in-law. Thereafter, the bride was
    expected to spend the rest of her marriage in the
    village of her husband.

Khoikhoi Ritual
  • Most Khoikhoi rituals marked the critical periods
    of change in a person's life - birth, puberty,
    adulthood, marriage and death rites of passage.
  • New mothers and babies were kept in seclusion for
    at least a week after birth. It was thought
    that they were in need of special protection. No
    men were allowed to enter the hut, and the mother
    and baby had to avoid inessential contact with
  • For the first three months, the child was fed on
    goats or cows milk and not from the mother's
    milk. A special fire was also lit in the hut.
    Introduction back into the community included
    smearing the bodies with cowdung, fat and a
    fragrant plant. After these rituals and great
    feasting, the mother and new child were accepted
    as members of the community with newly-defined

Quick Quiz Please record in your notebook!
  • Match the following tribes with their correct
  • Bantu Northern Africa and Saudi Arabia
  • (Think tents and camels!)
  • Khoikoi Mid to South African farmers
    (Think plow!)
  • Bedouins Eastern Horn of Africa (Think
  • Ashante Kalahari Desert (Think
    vegetarians elands!)
  • San Southern African herders (Think click
  • Swahili Present day Ghana in western
  • (Think Golden Stool!)

Next Task!
  • Match the appropriate item with its tribe.
  • Iron plow language Khoikhoi
  • Golden stool Bedouin
  • House of Hair, weaving San
  • Eland power animal Ashante
  • Pastoral clickers Swahili
  • Islamic amulets Bantu