The World Day for African Culture and People of African Descent was celebrated on 24 January and we think it is an excellent opportunity to get a closer look at the diverse wealth of this continent.

To do so, we will have some of our colleagues from Africa, but first, we would like to give a brief introduction to what this cultural diversity of the continent means. 

The broad cultural contribution of the continent throughout its history is somewhat beyond comprehension, so we will try to identify some of its distinctive features:

  • Diversity: Africa is a huge continent, with a complex history and an extraordinary geographic diversity. This also includes a great variety of cultures, ethnic groups and tribes, and therefore thousands of different languages, traditions and customs, making up an exciting cultural puzzle.
  •  The cultural expansion to other continents and its great influence: the cultural contributions of Afrodescendants, which began to take place in the colonial era and through slavery, have had a significant influence on society and culture all over the world, especially in the Americas.
  •  The importance of tradition, family and religion: Africa was the origin of the world’s first civilisations, an ancestral culture that in many cases, unlike other cultures, has remained intact over the centuries.  Religion plays an important role: more than 40% are Christians and many others Muslims, followed by a wide variety of indigenous religions, which are mixed with the traditional beliefs of the continent’s culture. This influences to a large extent some of its cultural manifestations.


The World Day for African Culture and Afrodescendants

This celebration was initiated in 2019 by UNESCO at its 40th General Conference, with the aim of “recognising and celebrating the many fascinating and rich cultures of the continent, the cultural contributions of people of African descendants and their influence in music, art and gastronomy”.

It is celebrated on January 24, at the same time as the adoption of the Charter for the Cultural Renaissance of Africa in 2006 by the Heads of State and Government of the African Union. It seeks, among other things, to promote culture as a tool for development, peace and equality on the continent.

African languages

The African continent is inhabited by 1.2 billion people.  More than 1,500 indigenous languages and dialects are spoken in Africa, some sources estimate more than 2,000, divided into four major families: Afro-Asiatic, Nigerian-Congolese, Nilo-Saharan and Khoisan.

There are also the languages resulting from the European colonisation processes, such as French, Portuguese and English, which still have a strong presence and are often mixed with the indigenous language.

The most widely spoken languages are Arabic, French, Swahili and Oromo. An important distinction should be made between official languages and national languages.

Diversity, also of peoples

We cannot discuss African culture without mentioning its ethnic diversity, as each tribe has its own culture that has survived over the centuries, and this is precisely their main common feature.

Among the largest we find the Zulu (South Africa, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe) with almost 10 million members, the Mursi, located in Ethiopia, the Saras (Chad and Central African Republic), the Tuareg – a people of nomadic tradition – and the Masai (Kenya and Tanzania).

Music and dance in Africa

From North to South of the continent, music and dance in Africa has had and continues to have a very important place in society, serving as an expression of the community and always being present at important events.

From the traditional music of the North, which draws from the Berber, Arab, Tuareg and even Andalusian traditions, to the sub-Saharan, percussion-dominated music, where the spiritual and the earthly come together, a wide range of rhythms have been born, evolved and shaped music with which we are now familiar all over the world, such as blues, jazz, r&b, hip hop and rock ‘n’ roll. 

UNESCO World Heritage 

In its great magnitude, Africa has a very long list of World Heritage Sites: a total of 89. Of these, 46 are cultural properties, with Ethiopia having the largest number: 8. 

We invite you to get to know them one by one, but today we have selected three from the list that are worth starting with:

  • Timbuktu: In the 15th and 16th centuries, Timbuktu was one of the intellectual and spiritual capitals of Islam in Africa. Its greatest treasures are its three great mosques. 
  • “The Island” of Mozambique: This fortified city, built using standard construction methods, testifies to the importance of this site on the trade routes during the 10th century.
  • Cidade Velha (Cape Verde): The historic centre of Ribeira Grande retains some of its original layout and remains of the changes imposed after European colonisation.

Want to know more about the culture in Africa? We invite you to learn more about the culture of Africa on the occasion of the World Day for African Culture and African Descendants.

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