African culture is expressed in its arts and crafts, folklore and religion, clothing, cuisine, music and languages. The African culture is a product of the diverse populations that today inhabit the continent of Africa. The continent is the world’s second largest continent with over 50 independent countries, each with its own diverse traditions and customs, this makes Africa very rich and diverse in culture.
South Africa best reflects this diversity through its constitution with all 11 official languages recognised by law. There are 9 African tribes in South African to showcase South Africa’s fascinating tribal traditions and the vibrant cultures of Africa.
Music plays a functional role in African society, it is a form of communication and songs accompany marriage, birth, rites of passage, hunting and even political activities. Music is often used in different African cultures to ward off evil spirits and to pay respects to good spirits, the dead and ancestors.
Musical instruments and styles vary from region to region but the most common and significant instrument in African music is the drum. Although the musical styles and instruments vary from region to region, there are some common forms of musical expression. The most significant instrument in African music is the African drum. The beat of the African drum is the “heartbeat of the community” and its rhythm is what holds the dancers together.
The African Dance is used to express emotion, whether joyful or sorrowful and it utilizes symbolic gestures, masks, costumes, body painting and props to communicate. Dancind is an integral part of the African culture, the dance movements can be simple or complex with intricate actions including fast rotation, ripples of the body and contraction and release. It is not limited to just the dancers alone, spectators are encouraged to join in.
Although music and dance are extremely important African traditions and are very common forms of communication, many African people express themselves in other art forms as well. Woodcarvings, brass and leather are a common expression of art in Africa. African arts and crafts also include sculpture, paintings, pottery, ceremonial and religious headgear and dress.
Religion and Beliefs
South Africa has been famously referred to as the rainbow nation because of its diverse cultures and religions. Contained within South Africa's borders are Zulu, Xhosa, Pedi, Tswana, Ndebele, Khoisan, Hindu, Muslim, and Afrikaner people to name but a few
Traditional African Beliefs
Traditional African religion is based on oral traditions, which means that the basic values and way of life are passed from elders to younger generation. These traditions are not religious principles, but a cultural identity that is passed on through stories, myths and tales.
Traditional African religion is a way of life in which ancestors are part of every major event such as wedding, births and deaths as well as less important ones such as getting a job and finishing university. During these events usually an offering is made to honour, please and thank the ancestors. A cow, sheep or chicken is slaughtered and the ancestors are called to receive the offering and bless the gathering.
Although traditional African religion recognises a Supreme God, followers do not worship him or her directly as they do not feel worthy enough. They therefore ask the ancestors to communicate on their behalf. The Supreme Being is called upon in times of great hardship and need, like drought or epidemic that may threaten the entire community. The Supreme Being is the connection between people and their environment.
Ancestor worship and belief is an extension of a belief in and respect for elders. Followers of traditional African religion believe that ancestors maintain a spiritual connection with their living relatives.
Being the hotbed of multiple cultures, ethnicities, traditions, and clothing, South African is home to a multitude of people from different parts of the world, and the differences between these cultures can be seen. The African of today are modern and progressive, western clothing has become common with traditional attire being used during important ceremonies or stages in life. Traditional clothing is reserved for special occasions although African prints can now been incorporated into casual day wear and formals.
The Xhosa traditional attire is very complex and diverse, what you wear is decided by a person’s social standing. The clothing almost always features beautifully designed beadwork and colourful, printed fabrics.
For women, her clothing defines different stages of her life. The Xhosa womans main items of clothing include long skirts and aprons with amazing printed or embroidered fabrics. Elaborate beaded necklaces, called ithumbu, are worn around the neck, as well as beaded anklets and bracelets.
As well as the skirt, aprons and beaded necklaces and bracelets, the women will also wear what is called an iqhiya, or headscarf. This headscarf is traditionally worn by married women. To complete the ensemble, embroidered blankets are worn around the shoulders.
Men are the hunters, the warriors, and the stockman, therefore animal skins play a huge part in their traditional dress. On special occasions, embroidered skirts are worn, with a rectangular cloth over the left shoulder, or a tunic, with strands of beaded necklaces.
The Zulu people are well known for their intricate beadwork. The colour of each bead carries a specific meaning. The beads have been used to carry messages known as “ucu,” a Zulu term loosely translated as “love letters”.
It is an African tradition for young girls to send a boy a beaded bracelet of different colours. The boy will court her for a while and at the appropriate time, he will ask her the meaning of the beads.