I sometimes look up demographic and geographic information for fun, and one day it just so happened that I looked up this kind of information for Africa. Africa – the unknown continent. It is surprising how little we know about the supposed original homeland. When people go abroad, Africa isn’t high on their lists. First is instead the continent of their former colonizers and oppressors, Europe. (not that I have anything against things European) Why go to the continent of Africa when you can go to Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, France to visit Paris, the city of romance, and Spain, home of the passionate Spanish? Why pass up the opportunity to drink beer in Germany, go hiking in the Alps in Switzerland, and go shopping in London? I suppose there is little reason, especially when all there appears on the media about Africa is disease, poverty and wars, pretty much all the unpleasant things in life put into a package of indeterminable size.
When I think of Africa, beyond what the media says, there are two polarizing perspectives that dominate the discussion of this most interesting topic in my head. The first is the image of Africa left by Joseph Conrad, in the novella, “Heart of Darkness.” Africa in this story is portrayed as the Dark Continent, a land full of uncultured, languageless savages who are primitive in all aspects of their existence. There is a huge image distinction between these “howling and leaping” natives of the Dark Continent and the white man, like Marlow, the storyteller who articulately narrates his experiences in an intelligible language.
Meanwhile, on the opposite end is Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart.” It almost serves as a response to depiction of crudity in the “Heart of Darkness” by meticulously painting a colourful picture of the customs of the Igbo tribe. Grunts and unintelligible speech are translated into a form palatable for Western audiences. The continent is Dark no more, as this representation of just one of the many tribes in Africa plants the seeds of doubt which may germinate into the acceptance of the possibility of a multitude of respectable cultures on the continent.
Misrepresentation happens in the most discreet of manners as well. The cartographical representation of Africa is not proportionate. The map most often used can be thought of as being Eurocentric, with land area in the North seeming proportionately larger than land area in the South. The two images below show this contrast.
When you look at the actual land mass of the Misrepresented Continent, you find out that it is very, very big. It is humungous. Here are some things to consider. At 30,370,000 square kilometers, it is roughly three times bigger than Canada, America or China (all at roughly 9,500,000 square kilometers each, Wikipedia) and almost two times bigger than Russia. (17,098,242 square kilometers, Wikipedia) In this large piece of land there are also 54 countries, which I suppose differs from each other with great diversity. It is also the second most populated continent as well. With around 1.1 billion people, 50% of them 19 years old or younger, it has more people within than Europe (738,199,000) plus Australia (29,127,000), Canada (35,770,000) and America (319,448,000) combined.
Given Africa’s great share on the planet Earth, it makes me wonder; what is Africa really? What things reside in man’s ancestral homeland, this great land mass so alienated from our attention and knowledge? Is the media right in its simple portrayal as a land of disease, war and poverty? What gamut of cultures exist, unknown and unexplored, waiting to be known, each holding a piece completing the puzzle of human nature?