Africa is a diverse landscape, with climates ranging from the Sahara desert to the rainforests in the tropical Central Africa to the plains of South Africa. It has the largest number of megafauna (large animals like elephants, rhinos and hippos) and is home to many species of endangered primates, including great apes such as mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. Africa is also very rich in natural resources, like cobalt, diamonds and other important minerals.
The peoples of Africa are just as diverse. With an estimated 1.6 billion people, Africa makes up 16% of the world’s population. Over a thousand different languages are spoken in Africa by thousands of different peoples.
At the Museum of International Cultures, our African exhibits aim to educate viewers on different African regions and cultures.
Masks are used in Africa for both social and religious purposes. The Sub-Saharan African peoples, such as the Dogon of Mali, especially make use of masks in their culture. Typically, they represent tribal ancestors or spirits and the person wearing the mask loses his or her own identity and takes on the role of the spirit. Masks can be worn during funerals, initiation rites, and weddings.
At the Museum of International Cultures, we have a collection of traditional African masks so that our visitors can learn about an important part of many African Cultures.
The Museum of International Cultures also has exhibits on African countries, including:
The Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is a Central African country with a population of over eighty million people, making it the second largest African country and the eleventh largest country in the world. It has an incredibly rich fount of natural resources, including diamonds, copper, and cobalt, but has suffered from political instability and corruption.
The Democratic Republic of Congo is home to two hundred different ethnic groups, the majority of which are Bantu peoples (people who speak a Bantu language, of which there are more than three hundred different dialects and languages).
In our exhibit of the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Museum of International Cultures has examples of Congolese items like baskets, weapons and educational materials, including a mock classroom designed to simulate the experience of taking a class in the Congo.
The Museum of International Cultures has a display about the Ngbaka people from the northwest corner of the Democratic Republic of Congo, sponsored by the Dallas Morning News.
Some 60,000 out of the approximately one million Ngbaka people attend adult education classes organized by churches and approximately 9,000 children are in schools that use Ngbaka materials. Because teachers do not typically make any money, these are the some of the only functioning primary schools in the area. Against all odds, the Ngbaka educate their own.
The Republic of Ghana is an African country in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. It is only a few degrees north of the Equator, which gives the country its tropical climate and monsoon seasons. Ghana’s diverse landscape is comprised of grasslands and forest. Ghana has an estimated population of 24.2 million people and has eleven government-sponsored languages.
The MIC has an exhibit for Ghana, including traditional Ghana dress and information on the Bimoba people of northeastern Ghana.
Ethiopia is a country located on the Horn of Africa, or the far west of Africa. It has an incredibly diverse landscape ranging from the rivers and jungles of the west region to Dallol in the north, which is the hottest settlement in the world. It is the birthplace of the coffee bean and boasts more than 800 different avian species.
Ethiopia is widely regarded as the birthplace of humanity, with the oldest evidence for anatomically correct humans found in this region. Its Ge’ez script is one of the oldest written languages still in use today.
At 100 million inhabitants, it is the most populous landlocked country. There are over 80 different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, who speak a total of 90 individual languages. The largest ethnic group, the Oromo, makes up about 34 percent of the total population.
The MIC exhibit on Ethiopia provides valuable information on Ethiopia and has several examples of a traditional Ethiopian hand crosses.
Rwanda is a small sovereign state in central Africa, just a few degrees below the Equator. It is a highly elevated region, primarily mountains and savannah, with many lakes.
The Rwandan population is rural but very dense, one of the highest densities in Africa. The people of Rwanda are all from the same ethnic group, the Banyarwanda, which is divided into three subgroups, the Hutu, Tutsi, and the Twa.
The Rwandan genocide occurred in 1994 as part of the Rwandan Civil War, wherein between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi and moderate Hutu people were killed by Hutu extremists. Rwanda is still in the process of recovering from this disaster, but the country is well on the way to recovery. There have been significant advancements in the economy and human development.
The MIC has an exhibit on the Rwandan people, including information on the Rwandan genocide.
The Maasai people are an ethnic group located in the area around the African Great Lakes. They are known for their distinctive dress, which is bright and colorful. Red is the most common color for Maasai clothing, although bold patterns, blue, black and striped patterns are also commonly seen. Their population is estimated to number over 800,000 thousand.
The Museum of International Cultures has an exhibit on the Maasai people that features photos of their traditional dress.
The Batwa pygmies are an ethnic group who live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, a large national park in Uganda which is home to a wide range of animals and plants. They are traditionally known as the “Keepers of the Forest.”
Uganda is an east African country whose landscape includes snow-capped mountains, dense forests, and the large Lake Victoria. Chimpanzees, gorillas and many species of rare birds have made their homes in the thick forests of the area. 340 mountain gorillas, half the population of the critically endangered species, live in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest.
Unfortunately, in 1992 the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest was made into a World Heritage Site and national park, and the Batwa people were evicted. Their exile caused hardship and many deaths for the Batwa people.
In 2001, American medical missionaries Dr. Scott and Carol Kellerman purchased land and helped the Batwa people build houses, schools and hospitals.
The Museum of International Cultures has an exhibit on the Batwa people, featuring information on their culture and the forest they once lived in.