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Is there racism in Africa?

By "racism" in this context, I understood the question to be whether or not there are those vices that come along with determining the fact that somebody is treated unfairly simply because he or she belongs to another race. In this light, Africans South of the Sahara, it would seem to me, can hardly be called racist. To these people, when somebody is of a different race, they simply realize that the concerned is a visitor and so give him their best treatment. Although some people have suggested that at the beginning, during the first contacts with the white man, Africans were hostile, yet other evidence points to the contrary. Howard C. French writes, for example:

The first extended contact between Europeans and a major state in sub-Saharan Africa most likely began in 1491, when Portuguese missionaries visited the Central African kingdom of Kongo, a three hundred-square-mile proto-state comprised of half a dozen provinces. Its capital, Mbanza-Kongo, was situated just on the Angolan side of what is now that country's border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

By all accounts, the people of the kingdom were warmly hospitable to the Portuguese, who were the first Europeans they had ever laid eyes upon. (20)

If Africans were hostile at any time, it should come as no surprise because one can easily posit that this was the case for the fact that they did not know what manner of being they had come in contact with, but as soon as it was established that this was another person, the Africans' hospitality took over.

Severe racism was found in South Africa, however. It was a display which climaxed with the introduction of apartheid. But here it was a minority white population that was bringing misery to a large number of Africans within the latter's native land, which the former had occupied.

On the other hand, it was the colonialists who, upon their arrival in Africa, started showing preference to one group of people at the expense of the other, thereby generating conflict between ethnic groups. This made it easier for the colonialists to control the local populations; the result was tribalism. Tribalism, which became a significant force in society with the arrival of the colonialists, is a poor version of discrimination when pitted against racism. Accordingly, one can, at best, claim in the words of Leon E. Clark, that "The important difference in people for most Africans is cultural, not racial" (2: 129).

Do you dance out there at night around bonfires?

In some cultures and some village settings, some people do dance around bonfires, yes. This practice, however, is usually on certain occasions and ceremonies when the villages get together to socialize for one reason or the other. This is not different from Americans who get out at night to blast firecrackers in celebration of a particular anniversary, or simply to sit around bonfires sharing quality time with family members on certain holidays—the 4th of July and Thanksgiving are two examples—while eating marshmallows.

Do you people swing from trees?

To the best of my knowledge, not outside the fantastic Tarzan stories about Africa conjured by Edgar Rice Burroughs' fertile imagination. Not even bungee jumping is yet to be popular—that is if it is there at all—on the continent.

Do people go around naked in Africa?

This question reminded me of another absurd generalization I stumbled on over the internet when someone claimed that ". children do not wear diapers in Africa.. " In any case, I have seen more people naked in Western countries than in Africa. In the West, people go about virtually naked on the beaches and even next to their homes during summer in an effort to get tanned. Some Westerners even belong to clubs that are called nudist clubs, with members who hang about together naked just for the sake of being naked. This is not the case in Africa, where cultural expectations are different and the people do not really need to tan themselves. Again, the culture in Africa expects that a person can only decently expose so much of himself or herself, and decency is tied up to good behavior and family values and reputation. As a result, nobody is willing to ruin his or her family's name by going around half naked for whatever reason, as this will meet with heightened disapproval. In the past, in the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon, for example, widows barely covered themselves up during their husband's funeral, but that was a sign of mourning and so was not considered indecent.

If this question had the underlying suggestions that there are no clothes in Africa, then again it is wrong as besides Western cloth material made from wool, cotton, or silk, there are traditional African fabrics still being woven even today after the invasion of the West. Again, the error could arise from the fact that sometimes Africans in pictures sent to the West are usually dressed in what they consider their farm clothes which are usually worn out and torn, approximating rags. The truth is that outside these farming or working conditions, Africans dress elaborately. Robert Brain talking about Bangwa women in Cameroon puts it more bluntly: "The European sees them semi-naked, in rags, farming their fields; on feast days their dress is splendid, and their demeanour gay and independent" (153). Oyekan Owomoyela says of clothing in Zimbabwe: "Traditional clothing is simple and functional, primarily to protect the body and preserve modesty. Blankets made from bark fiber provide warmth in the cold seasons; otherwise men and women are sparing in covering their bodies" (82 Culture and Customs of Zimbabwe).

Do you live with animals in your homes?

Some people do, and the pets that enjoy this privilege the most, are cats. Others have dogs, but would not have them in their homes as they are mainly used as watch dogs or hunting dogs. There are others who love to see their dogs indoors too, but they are the minority. In some instances, but this was in the far past, some domesticated animals strayed through homes, but were quickly driven out.

Is body piercing a part of African culture?

There are so many other body designs that Africans do indulge in, but when it comes to piercing their bodies, it is not quite a fad any longer the way it is in the West, except with women who pierce their ears and nostrils.

What are those marks I see on the faces of some Africans which look like scars from lacerations?

They are facial marks. These facial marks are more common with certain ethnic groups than with others. The Hausas in Cameroon and the Yoruba in Nigeria are two good examples of ethnic groups that made elaborate use of facial marks. Usually inscribed on children between the ages of 3 weeks to 10 years (A. George et al, 25) at the behest of their parents as a continuation of tradition, these marks served different purposes. Sometimes they were decorative in purpose, symbolic of one's status in society, valued for spiritistic and religious practices, and at other times employed for ethnic identification purposes. Among the Yoruba, according to one report by an Awake correspondent in Nigeria,

Each ethnic group has its own unique pattern. For example, vertical marks, one on each cheek, identify Ondo men and women. Three horizontal marks on each cheek identify Oyo people. To those literate in markings, a mere glance at someone's face is sufficient to read that person's ethnic group, town, or even family. ("Facial Marks")

Like most African practices, these facial marks are slowly dying out, but were once, and in some cases are still considered a sign of beauty in women, and of manliness in men. It is no wonder the procedure of etching facial marks is ritualized with a highlight being the performance of songs of praise and the recitation of prayers as the child faces the knife: "Women stand around reciting the "Oriki" (family praise or songs) of the child and praying that he/she may grow old and be able to witness an occasion when tribal marks are inscribed on his/her own offspring" (George et al. 25). A specialist in the community carries out the procedure. With the use of a special knife—special in the sense that the knife is used for this procedure only—a slit is made on the face of a child. The number, depth, or shallowness, and the directions of the slits, have to do with the traditional structure of the child's lineage and his position in the family. Being a first child, or a prince, are some of the factors that influence the design the child ends up with. Accordingly, facial marks immediately served as identifying features in some of these cultures—a person's communal background and even his status in society—a prince, for example—could easily be determined from one's facial marks.

Is private fishing a big pastime in Africa as it is here?

Although fishing is done mainly as a way of providing food for the family, as a pastime it is practiced typically by those in coastal areas since they have a lot of affinity to different water bodies. Fishing, however, is not as much of a craze as it is in Western countries where we have huge industries devoted to supplying for and sustaining this pastime and the attendant equipment, to the point that it has become a "sport."

 
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