African Culture definition/African traditions characteristics

African culture is the set of knowledge, beliefs, values ​​and customs of the people who inhabit the African continent , which has about 1.1 billion people. As Africa is immense and diverse, it is more correct to speak not of a single culture, but of “African cultures”, in the plural. African Culture definition

Just to get an idea of ​​such cultural diversity, there are around 490 different ethnicities in Africa , many of them living together within the same country. In South Africa alone, there are 11 languages ​​and diverse ethnic groups, including the Zulus, Xhosa, Pedi, Sotos, and Tswana.

African traditions


Despite colonization, traditional African culture persisted. In the religious sphere, the advance of Christianity, especially after colonization, was not able to eliminate traditional belief systems. African Culture definition

About 20% of the entire African population declares itself adept at some traditional religion , such as the Yoruba, an ethnic group that occupies part of the territories of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. It was the religion of the Yoruba people, with their worship of the orixás, that gave rise to Candomblé in Brazil.

Many customs or traditions, even among individuals who claim to be Christians or Muslims, come from these traditional beliefs. We can highlight the following:

  • Respect for ancestry and belief that they can intervene in the world.
  • Manipulation of forces of good and evil through access to deities (such as orixás).
  • Ritual practices, such as sacrifices and prayers, and use of amulets and talismans.
  • Use of traditional healing practices in case of health problems.
  • Look for healers and sorcerers.


A fundamental aspect of traditional African culture is orality. Beliefs, rituals, customs, ancestral wisdom – all this has always been passed on from generation to generation through oral language. Oral tradition allowed Africans of many generations to learn from agricultural techniques to religious rituals. African Culture definition

On this topic, it is important to mention the figure of the griots , people who carry out the function of transmitting tradition through speech. Griots are keepers of memory in West Africa. In addition to being excellent orators and storytellers, griots also play instruments and sing, similar to troubadour poets.

Since we are talking about such a vast and diverse continent, we will mention, by way of example, just a few traditions of African ethnic groups:

wodaabe ritual

One of the most interesting rituals is a kind of male beauty contest practiced by the Wodaabe, a nomadic ethnic group that lives in the central-west region of the continent. During tribal meetings, young people adorn themselves and are judged by women of another lineage.

Himba women hairstyle

The Himba women, a semi-nomadic ethnic group from northwest Namibia, cultivate a hairstyle based on a cream (otjize) composed of fat, butter paste and red ocher (which is an earth pigment). The aesthetic ritual, which also includes the skin, is repeated every morning. African Culture definition

The veil of the Tuareg

Among the Tuareg, a nomadic group that inhabits the Sahel region and the Sahara desert, are the men who wear veils and turbans. These long blue cloths serve to protect from the sun and sand and are seen as a symbol of masculinity.

Mursi women’s beauty ritual

One of the beauty rituals of Mursi women, an ethnic group that lives in the O’mo River valley in Ethiopia, is the application of a disc to the lower lip, which can measure several centimeters. The ornament is reminiscent of the Botoques, from the Indians of the Brazilian Kayapó ethnic group.

Elements of African culture


A central element of any culture is its language. It is she who carries the identity of a people and through her their knowledge and values ​​are transmitted. However, during the colonization process, both traditional values ​​and the languages ​​spoken by local peoples were threatened. African Culture definition

Beginning in the 19th century, neocolonialism had profound impacts on the cultures of African peoples. The exploitation of wealth and labor was accompanied by the imposition of Western ideas and way of life, considered by colonial rulers as “civilized” or “more evolved”.

But the imposition of the colonizer’s language did not wipe out traditional African languages. Today, in Africa, there are over 2,000 different languages . Some of them, by the way, are the product of the linguistic exchange with Arabs, Orientals and Europeans.

It is impossible to talk about culture without talking about exchange. And exchange is what characterizes Euro-African languages, such as Creoles and Pidgins, spoken in countries like Cameroon, Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. These languages ​​are not considered natural, as they result from mixing traditional and European languages.

The most spoken language on the African continent is Arabic , with 170 million speakers, then English, with 130 million speakers. Third is Swahili, a language spoken by 100 million people in countries like Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo.


Regarding the arts, it is difficult to present a brief overview of African art. Once again, what prevails is diversity, whether in popular, traditional or academic art. African Culture definition

Traditional art is still very strong in Africa. Ceramic and gourd paintings, sculpture and painting of traditional themes are important artistic expressions of Africans.

African masks are famous , many of them exhibited in museums around the world. Some of them have a religious and festive function. An example is the geledé masks, used by Yoruba men in dance rituals.

Another well-known item of African arts is fabrics , which have fallen into the taste of many people from other cultures around the world. Famous for their vibrant colors and diversity of styles, African fabrics communicate, among other things, the cultural identity of the person who wears them.

Afro-Brazilian culture

African culture is one of the cultural matrices of Brazil. This is due to the centuries-old trade of enslaved people, which began to arrive in Brazil in the 16th century. Throughout the entire period of slavery, almost 5 million people from Africa arrived in Brazil.

With them came their culture, giving rise to what we call Afro-Brazilian culture, that is, a set of values, beliefs and ways of acting influenced by cultures that came from Africa . African Culture definition

One of the most evident manifestations of the presence of African culture in Brazil is Brazilian popular music . Samba, a genuinely national rhythm, is the fruit of African culture. The afoxé blocks that parade through the streets of Salvador, Bahia, during Carnival are another important manifestation of African culture in Brazil. Maracatu and capoeira are also cultural expressions whose origin is due to African influences.

In cooking , this influence can be seen in the use of spices and ingredients (such as palm oil) and in typical recipes, such as acarajé, vatapá and angu. African Culture definition

Another important contribution of African culture in the formation of Brazilian culture is religion . Candomblé and Umbanda are religions that emerged in Brazil from the influences of African religious traditions.

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