Africa: Before there was Slavery
I plan to begin this unit with a brief look at Africa. Veronica Freeman Ellis authored the book,
Afro-Bets First Book about Africa
, which tells the story of the cultural diversity, rich history, and beauty of this continent. This book attempts to counteract the misunderstanding that many people have about this beautiful land and its people. By using this book, I will lead the children into a discussion of their knowledge of Africa and provide opportunities for them to evaluate or re-evaluate their opinion of this wonderful, extraordinary land.
Africa is a land of beauty. This beauty is the heartbeat of Africa. It can be witnessed in its landscape, wildlife and jungles. It is evident that Africans also appreciate the beautiful. This beauty can be seen in the sun-baked homes on their angular streets to the intricately woven baskets. The rich fabrics of cotton and silk, the detailed designed of the kente cloths, and the embroidered hats and tie-dyed dresses all give witness to the beauty and grace of the African experience.
The people enjoy the artistic expressions of Africa. Traditional art is used to reflect the ways of the community. Skilled artisans create beautiful objects that help the community to practice its rituals and religions. The history, philosophy, and traditions of the community are communicated from one generation to the next through oral history and its art.
The kingdoms of Africa were once rich in natural resources and material goods. The Kings and Queens, who ruled the kingdoms of Africa, traded merchandise of gold, salt, iron, ivory, and other substances with people from the Arab world. These powerful kingdoms had highly developed civilizations. They created great works of art, developed a form of writing called hieroglyphics, and built wonderful buildings. Africa had universities and libraries long before their European counterparts. African standards were used to define beauty and the kingdoms prospered.
The following lesson is designed to assess the children's background knowledge of Africa and gain insight into their initial feelings about the land and its people.
Lesson Plan #1
• To assess the children's background knowledge of Africa
• To provide information about Africa and its people
• Book, Afro-Bets First Book About Africa by Veronica Freeman Ellis
• Chart Paper
• Markers and Crayons
(chart availaable in print form)
• Due to the large amount of information contained in this book, I will present this book in parts over several days.
• Make a KWL chart by dividing a large sheet of chart paper into three columns. Label the first column, What I Know, the second column W(What I Want to Find Out, and the third column, What I Learned.
• Assess the children's background knowledge of Africa and list this in the first column, What I Know.
• Establish a purpose for reading by asking the children what they would like to learn about Africa. Record these questions in the second column under the caption, What I Want to Learn.
• Read and discuss the book, Afro-Bets First Book about Africa with the children. Record what the children have learned in the final column.
• Post the chart in a visible area for future use.
African Expression in Crafts & Textiles
The love of art and design appears to be as natural for the African as the stunning surrounds in which they live. Nature is a wonderful teacher and provides many opportunities to witness the majesty of sunburst colors through its wildlife and scenery. Africans have treasured this beauty for years and have incorporated this love into their own lives. African proverbs and fables attribute their love for the beautiful to their closeness with nature. It is said that Africans believe that no one should live without beautiful things.
However, nothing is created just for the sake of creation. African art is designed to be both aesthetically beautiful and beneficial to the people of the community. It still continues to play a significant role in the political, social, and religious affairs of the African people.
Once considered to be a primitive people by their Western neighbors, Africans are now being recognized for their unique ability to create exquisitely detailed works of art.
The artistic designs found in their work range from simple, uncomplicated forms and patterns to very complex, abstract designs.
African art is just as diverse as the African people are. It can't be grouped into any single classification or defined by any single term. The locale, ethnicity, and beliefs of the community it serves define the significance of the art.
Like other types of African art, the patterns used in textile have specific meanings and purposes. The designs and weaving techniques used today were derived from their ancestors and still play an important role in African lifestyles.
Africa has long been producing textiles as a means of preserving the customs and traditions of the community. The colors of the clothing made by African women are vibrant and beautiful. Unlike many of the fashion designs found in Western countries, the designs and patterns are unique and different from the other.
The market places of Africa are like a menagerie of color. African women gather arrayed in outfits having a different design and color. These colors fill us with the desire to look, feel, and touch. They are thought provoking and mood creating. The natural earth tones to the bright vibrancy found in the reds and yellows can create moods of tranquility, excitement, and power. No wonder the market places of Africa are synonymous to a mecca of laughter, joy, and activity.
The people of Africa place great meaning on the use of color. The significance of the meanings varies from one culture to another. Once a meaning has been placed upon a color it is hard to eradicate. This is the experience with the word "black" in America.
In America, Europeans associated the color black with everything evil and corrupt. They applied these same associations to slaves and later to African-Americans. The bad guys in the movies always wore black. Their actions were dark and dingy. Black cats, and evil witches in black costumes were synonymous with evil. Even the color of the African slave's skin was associated with everything evil and derogatory.
On the other hand, the color white was associated with everything good and beautiful. Snow White, the knight in shining armor riding upon his white horse, etc. were all used to suggest the positive attributes of the color white and to further promote the negative connotations of the color black. Unfortunately, many African-American children still see anything as black or brown as evil and anything white as good.
Blacks in America were ridiculed for their love of bright, cheerful colors. Blacks who wore reds, greens, or yellows were viewed as being less sophisticated than their white counterparts. Everything Blacks did was defined and redefined by standards that were foreign and unnatural to their ancestral instincts.
African-American children need to know that in their native land that the impact of a wide variety of colors was used to stimulate the imagination and to promote a love for nature in which so many of these colors exist. The use of colors and the meaning associated with that usage varied from one society to the next. Africans frequently use a combination of colors from bright reds, yellows, and greens to the more natural colors of more blacks, browns, and tans in their creations. The colors used and the significance of the combinations is dependent upon the region and community in which they are made.
I have a friend from Nigeria who often appears in the garments of her native land. She crowns her outfits with the traditional African headdress that is so indicative of her cultural glory. The outfits she wears remind me of the stories I've heard of the African kings and queens who once ruled the kingdoms of Africa. Many of the outfits are regal in their appearance and when she enters a room decked out in her fine African garb heads turn in sheer admiration for her beauty, charm, and poise.
I have spoken with her and have expressed my desire to have her visit the children in my classroom. She has consented to come dressed in full African attire and to talk with the children about her native land. She will bring artifacts, pictures, and food to enhance her presentation.
The presence of such a beautiful African sister in the classroom is sure to have a profound effect on the third graders I teach. They will be able to gather first hand information about a land that many of them have heard so many negative things about. I know the opportunity to view a person from Africa so beautifully dressed will alter their concept of Africans forever.
I will also use this opportunity to develop the art appreciation portion of this unit by discussing the fabric from which the outfit(s) she is wearing or has brought with her are made. They will discuss texture, color, design, lines, etc.