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African Genealogy

The continent of Africa consists of hundreds of various ethnic groups, languages, religions, tribal groups and customs spread over a massive land area and divided along numerous political borders. The continent and its people have been segregated along its geographical landscapes. There is North Africa, then the Sub-Saharan Africa that is divided into east, west, central and southern regions. The Sub-Saharan Africa is sometimes referred to as ‘Black Africa.’

The Northern Africa inhabitants are bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north while the vast Sahara Desert covers most of the land. The majority of the people are of the ethnic group called Arabs, important in examining African genealogy.

The influence of the Islamic religion from the southwestern region of Asia is a dominant factor for the Arabs of North Africa and important in examining over all African genealogy. Besides the Islamic religion the Arabic language is a unifying feature for the region.

Along with the Arabs are the indigenous Berber people from the western area along the Nile River Valley. This group speaks Darija as well as French. Much of the North African area was held as a French colony for decades. Those in the far northeastern region speak Spanish because of the control Spain held over the area. The Berger populations were originally nomadic and were quickly converted by the Arab conquerors around the 12th century. The Bergers are located in the nations of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia with the official language as Arabic.

In Sub-Saharan Africa, the eastern section had some of the world’s oldest civilizations that ever existed. Some of the greatest empires, like the Ethiopian, flourished in the region more than 2,000 years ago.

Outside ethnic groups influenced the future of the eastern realm over the centuries. The Islamic Arabs came into the eastern African region as well as the Portuguese in the 16th and 17th centuries. Great Britain came into the vicinity of Kenya and Uganda. The French were in Madagascar and the Germans in Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. Somalia was held by Italy. The area has a mixture of Christianity and the Islamic religion.

The great Luba Kingdom of Central Africa controlled agriculture and trade in the region. Others that developed later known were the Lunda Kingdom and Kongo Empire. With the Portuguese settled along the western coast as trade dealers in the 16th and 17th centuries, they encouraged the people of the central section to fight among themselves to capture prisoners. Those prisoners then were brought to the coast and sold into slavery, a key element when looking at African genealogy. With thousands of its populations killed or captured the great kingdoms declined. Christianity was spread through the area as European missionaries arrived in the 19th century.

Western Africa had numerous great kingdoms in its regions over the centuries. The Igbo people established the Nri Kingdom. This West African Kingdom never dealt in the trade of slaves. All slaves and outcasts that wondered into their territory were always freed. It was the Oyo and the Aro tribes of the Nigeria region, who did work with the Portuguese, English and French in the slave trade, an interesting note in African genealogy. It was the British who later held the Western African section and established Christianity along with establishing the English language as an official language.

In Southern Africa the Bantu-speaking people had arrived from the regions further north over the centuries. There are many dialects and forms of language, but the Swahili language is a major one, covering some eight African nations and 80 million people. The Xhosa people are located in the southeastern section of South Africa with the Xhosa language second most common home language.

The Zulu people numbering about 11 million are in the nation of South Africa as well as Zimbabwe and Zambia. The number one ethnic group and language in Southern Africa are the Zulu people. With both groups, most have converted to Christianity due to the influence of the English and Dutch who held the region as colonies.

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