It is generally believed that human life first began on the continent of Africa – some 7 million years ago. Today, Africa is a continent with a fascinating diversity of peoples, who make up about 10% of the world population. These peoples together make up about 50 nations and some of these have 20 or more different ethnic groups living within their boundaries. Thanks to this diversity, at least 1,000 different languages have been identified in Africa reflecting unmatched ethnic diversity of this continent
The majority of the countries in Africa are inhabited by peoples of African origin. Some ethnic groups have been affected by the migration of Arab peoples into northern Africa. There are also Europeans whose families moved to Africa during the colonial period and have stayed on.
In some parts of Africa, you will also find people of Asian origin, for example from the Indian subcontinent.Despite these microcosms, the peoples of Africa are often described in terms of their ethnic background or their languages.
There are several thousand ethnic groups in Africa, ranging in physical stature from the short Pygmies to the tall Maasai, each with its own cultural traditions. Each ethnic group has its own distinct language, traditions, arts and crafts, history, way of life and religion. At the same time, over the centuries the different groups have also influenced one another and contributed to and enriched one another’s culture.
Africa can be divided into five regions: North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa. Each of these represents a cultural and geographic region which is different from the others in many ways. Some of the more widely known ethnic groups in Africa are: Arabs, Ashanti, Bantu, Berbers, Bushmen, Dinka, Fulani, Ganda, Hamites, Hausa, Hottentot, Kikuyu, Luba, Lunda, Malinke, Moors, Nuer, Pygmies, Semites, Swahili, Tuareg, Xhosa, and Yoruba.
Although the majority of the people in Africa lead a rural life, the continent is urbanizing at a fast pace. Over a third of the population now lives in cities. Those who live and work in the major metropolitan areas live in ways similar to most people in the industrialized world. Those who live and work in many of the smaller towns dress in western style and do the kind of work – in the manufacturing industry or the services – that people in many urbanized parts of the world do.
However, they may not always have all the advantages of those who live in the larger more modern cities. In contrast, there are a number of different ethnic groups living in rural Africa whose lifestyles have remained virtually unchanged for centuries. They have a rich cultural heritage that they have passed down from generation to generation with very little influence from the outside world.
Simply, Africa is actually a continent made up of a wide variety of worlds. Its people live in diverse conditions that represent present extreme contrasts as well as a middle ground. There is extreme poverty and vast wealth; there are people who suffer from droughts and famine and people who have plentiful food; there are vast, magnificent nature reserves with an abundance of wildlife and there are highly urbanized parts with major cities with high-rise buildings and modern amenities.