8.8 Diverse Peoples and Traditions in Africa

Across the immense African continent, a variety of cultures emerged, ranging from wealthy trading kingdoms to nomadic herding societies to small farming communities. As people adapted to different environments and landscapes, their ways of life differed. Across Africa, communities varied in size, economic activity, family patterns, and forms of government. Still, they all had these features as well as their own religious beliefs, art, and technology.

Photo of African men in native clothing and head covering holding musical instruments including a large built on a tall pole.?


Griots beat drums to tell their stories. Why do you think the beating of a drum is more powerful than a spoken word?


  • Identify the different ways that the family influenced medieval African cultures.
  • Describe the variety of forms of medieval African governments.
  • Understand the role of religion and art in medieval societies.

Key Terms

  • nuclear family
  • patrilineal
  • matrilineal
  • lineage
  • consensus
  • griot

Many Cultures and Patterns of Life

Early Communities

As you have read, the worldwide Neolithic Revolution led to the beginning of settled farming communities located in areas with fertile soil and proximity to water. These farming settlements grew as surpluses increased, enabling artisans to develop specialized skills.

Advancements in transportation, such as the use of the camel, increased a community's reach beyond its borders, and this exchange allowed villages to grow into towns. Extended trade brought additional wealth, leading to the creation of individual states and kingdoms. Throughout Africa, communities varied in size, environment, and economics. However, each society developed around four common elements—family, government, religion, and art.

Family Patterns

Across Africa, as elsewhere around the globe, the family was the basic unit of society. Patterns of family life varied greatly. In some small societies, the basic family unit was the nuclear family, or parents and children living and working together as a unit.

End ofPage 298

Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments