It's 2014, and our family is embarking on our virtual travel to West Africa. To explore these countries and their culture, we will follow along with the festivals, cook and eat traditional foods, learn of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves.

Follow along with us as we study West Africa- subscribe by email


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Discover Nigeria through Books

Ifeoma Onyefulu is a children's book author and photographer who grew up in Nigeria.  She's been prolific in writing about and photographing every day life in contemporary Nigeria. She offers a great selection of books to introduce kids (and ourselves) about life in Nigeria, in ways that kids can relate while being exposed to the diversity of life in one area of West Africa.

Becky at Kid World Citizen, one of my all time favorite multicultural blogs, has written a post that spotlights Ifeoma and reviews her books. Hop on over for her recommendations and reviews of these great books, and explore Nigeria.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade | Black History Month Blog Hop & Giveaway

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade ravaged practically all of West Africa. Although slavery had existed in West Africa for many centuries, the astounding number of people affected and the distance of migration had never been at this scale and magnitude. In fact, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade is considered the largest long distance forced migration of people in world history. Between the 16th & 19th centuries, millions were violently and forcibly removed from their homes, their culture, their society and ancestors, and forced into enslavement in the Americas - across the Atlantic.

Source: Slavery in America, an educator's site made possible by New York Life

The Trans-Atlantic slave trade started with the Portuguese in the 16th century, with all major European powers following suit, and by the early 18th century Britain became the world's leading slave trading power. Those taken into slavery were used as free labor in the European colonies in the Americas, working in various plantations, like sugar, tobacco, coffee, cotton and other crops.

The slave trade is sometimes called the "Maafa" by African and African-America scholars, meaning "great disaster" in Swahili.

The kidnapping of Africans occurred mainly in the region that now stretches from Senegal to Angola. African kings sold captured enemies or criminals that were being used as slaves for themselves to the European traders. However, for the most part, Africans sold into slavery to the Europeans were free people who were kidnapped. European traders encouraged Africans on the coast to raid & attack neighboring tribes and take captives. People were often captured inland and marched for weeks to coastal slaving stations. They were exchanged for European goods like cloth, horses and guns, which perpetuated the vicious cycle that enabled more tribes to be invaded and captured.


Although there is no exact figure, estimates range that between 10-28 million people were captured. Packed onto ships in deplorable conditions, up to half died during transport to the Americas. There was a constant demand for slaves because conditions on plantations were so bad - especially in South America - that many only survived a few years after arriving. The North American mainland played a minor role in the trade, with only 5% taken directly from Africa. It was the relatively "better" conditions that resulted in natural growth of a population of slaves - that is, those enslaved having children themselves. The horrible laws at the time meant that children were also considered slaves, and as such property to be bought and sold - often being taken away from their families. 

Slavery's footsteps in West Africa

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop | #24

Welcome to the Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop! This month I'll be joining Multicultural Kid Blogs and various excellent bloggers in co-hosting a blog hop featuring what I love most: learning about different cultures with kids. This link up is an excellent resource for virtually traveling the world - I hope you'll join us.

The Creative Kids Culture Blog Hop is a place where bloggers can share multicultural activities, crafts, recipes, and musings for our creative kids. We can't wait to see what you share this time!

Created by Frances of Discovering the World through My Son's Eyes, the blog hop has now found a new home at Multicultural Kid Blogs.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Talking Drums of West Africa

Originating from and primarily used in West Africa, talking drums were historically used to send messages over long distances. They were some of oldest instruments used by griots, and also used in religious rituals and royal occasions. They continue to be used today in popular music.

Listen to an ensemble of talking drums here.

Talking drums are known by many different names - almost as many as there are languages in the region - such as dundun, lunna , tamanin, and dondo. They come in different sizes and have two drum heads and an hourglass shape with leather strings attached from one end to the other. Because of the tension in the strings, they can be manipulated to make different sounds. The drums are typically tucked under the arm and squeezed  when struck to change the sounds. A curved stick is used in order to strike the center of the drum (this protects the edge, which would break) and allows the drummer to hit the drum with lots of force. These sounds are made to mimic the tones, rhythm and pitch of regional languages. By mimicking speech, messages can be conveyed from one village to the next.

Hear a talking drum being used with a demonstration of its many tones here.

Getting messages to outlying areas was faster with a drum than by sending someone out. These messages were to inform or warn others of impending war, attacks and ceremonies. 

Talking drums being used during festivities at a cultural festival in Ghana
Photo Credit: Paul Williams (CC)
Drums of all sorts are at the heart of West African culture. You can find crafts to make your own West African drums here and here

Find all our posts related to West African instruments and music here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Watch, Read & Dance with Traditional West African Dance

Dancing has a long history in West Africa, and has been passed down from one generation to the next for thousands of years. Music and dance are such an important part of West African culture, and are as diverse as the many ethnic groups in the region. Each group has its own traditional dances, reflecting its particular customs. Most children learn the dance steps by watching and imitating dancers at celebrations. 

These women are an Igbo bride and her bridesmaids in Nigeria, dancing their entrance
Photo Credit: Jeremy Weate (CC)

Generally, traditional dancing is about expressing the life of the community. Each community has ceremonial dances to mark important events. These can be for good harvest, births, baptisms, marriage and death. There are traditional dances for coming of age ceremonies marking the passage from childhood to adulthood, like the Krobo Dipo ceremony

Sometimes dances are a means of communicating with gods, spirits and ancestors. Ancestral spirits can be appealed to - and thanked - for things like healing and harvest.

Traditional dance during the voodoo festival in Benin
Photo Credit: Willem Heerbaart (CC)

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