Google+ Authentic Parenting: Children's Guide to African Culture

Monday, May 30, 2011

Children's Guide to African Culture

This post was written as a submission to the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism.

Multiculturalism is a very big thing in our family. We all like to travel and take in new cultures. Now for us, assimilating and learning about African culture isn't very hard work, because it is all around us. But I thought it might be fun to write about how you can introduce Africa to your child, through activities and play.


Image: Saleeha on Flickr
You can make music yourself by getting African instruments and playing them. A Djemb√© and some shakers shouldn't be so hard to find. You could even make some of these instruments yourself. Here are links to kid's craft projects for drums and shekere. If you want to read more about African instruments, this post on CltureBlog gives explanations and pictures for a small selection.
You could also opt for listening to African Music. Putumayo's African Playground is a really nice CD for children, with lots of african children's songs in different languages. Youssou N'Dour is also a good choice. Magic System is an Ivorian band who make very fun and upbeat music, they're also international, so it should be easy to procure some of their work. There are of course many many more great African artists, but this is what we listen to at home.

There is a lot of delicious African food, I wouldn't be able to give you an exhaustive list, so I'll stick with what might be easy to make anywhere in the world and what kids would like.`

Chicken Yassa
Chicken Yassa is a senegalese recipe with lemon and onion. It is really easy to make and very delicious. Here's one recipe for it, but if you google it, you are bound to find hundreds of variations, as it is a signature dish that's eaten all over Western Africa.

Futu is a dish that exists in different countries, and made through various recipes, the one we prefer is the Ivorian recipe. It is made with equal parts of maniok (cassave root) and plantain banana (baking banana). Both are boiled in salted water separately until they are easily pricked with a fork. Then the real work starts. Both products need to be mashed in a mortar until they give a elastic paste, then they are mixed together bit by bit. Keep a recipient of water handy to humidify the mixture whenever you turn it over. Don't squish your fingers!
Form a big ball with the mixed paste.
This is a side dish for many african dishes, like "poulet arachide" (peanut chicken). The paste is taken with the fingers and used to scoop up the sauce.

Plantain Fritters
Generally African cuisine is really time-consuming. These fritters however are very simple. Just put one or two plantain banana's, an egg and a spoon of flour in a food processor and mix it. Put in a pinch of salt and some pepper. The original recipe would require half an red pepper, but I think that would put your child off from eating it, because they are very, very hot!
With the aid of two spoons, roll balls and fry them in hot oil. (Preferably red palm oil or coconut oil)

I have mentioned a couple of Africa themed books before, like Kirikou or Baobonbon. We read very little English books, so I can't really make recommendations to that extent. However, nowadays, there are so many great children's books on various themes, and for all ages, that with some googling or skimming through them in libraries or bookstores, I am sure you can quickly get a nice collection.

There are a lot of Africa themed movies, for all ages. Kirikou is a great example and speaks to a wide audience, and it's available in English. It is also very true to African village life (beware of things like 'Out of Africa' where AFrica is only the decor of a romantic story). There are also numerous lovely documentaries about African nature and African tribes. Children tend to like documentaries a lot.
You can also find a lot of nice clips on youtube for traditional African singing or dancing, or nature scenes.

Build a Roundhouse
Roundhouses are one story round structures made out of natural materials with a roof in straw or leaf. It is actually rather easy to do yourself, so it could make a fun project for a playhouse.
The structure of a roundhouse is made of branches and twigs. First place all the vertical ones, tightly secured in the ground, then weaving twigs through the structure. The vertical branches are put in a double row to make a fillable wall.  Leave room for the door and a window.
Before the walls are filled, a rudimentary bearing structure is made for the roof. The walls are the filled.
Walls would be filled with any type of local material, depending on the area, that will be stone, straw, clay, sand or wood. Here you have a few examples of stone ones in Lesotho. And here is a big variety of African dwellings from all over the continent.
The roof is covered with whatever isolating leafy material is on hand, straw, palm leaves, ...
I'll have a more extensive post on this topic in a while, because we plan on building some playhouses like this for our daughter.
Image: Gbaku on Flickr
As a little sidenote: not all regions build round houses. Most West-African countries build square or rectangular dwellings.

Wear your child African style, to show them how African babies spend the first year of their lives. Or show them how to do it with their dolls, it works perfectly with a dishcloth or small towel, but small piece of fabric is great.

How do you introduce other cultures to your child?



  1. Thank you so much! This is perfect. I had just asked my readers the other day for advice on how to share different cultures with my son. I know almost nothing about African cultures, so we can learn together. Thanks for the tips!

  2. LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE this post! Thank you for taking the time to bring such valuable and rich information together. My daughter 3/8ths Kenyan and I really want to help her celebrate this great continent and country! Wonderful inspiration for me!

  3. Thank you for your lovely comment. I have been pondering on this post for a wile. I think it's really important that children are open to the world, albeit through play, but it is difficult with kids to not fall into stereotypical vision of things.
    You could always come and visit us. We're not in Kenya, but still on the continent

  4. Thanks for sharing such good ideas--they're clear, they will appeal to children, and they're manageable for harried parents!

    And since French is spoken in so many African countries, it's especially important to me that my bilingual son learn about those places across the ocean.


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