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How does architecture differ in ethnic groups split by country borders?

Have you heard about Africa before? Not the Africa you see on TV, but the real Africa. Contrary to the conventional view of Africa as a homogeneous entity, it is the continent with the highest number of countries, and it is highly rich in ethnic diversity as shown by the map below.
Map of the World’s most and least diverse countries | Source: Washington Post, Data source: Harvard Institute for Economic Research. 

So what if you found out that most country borders aren’t physical walls but a figment of our imagination? You’d probably look to maps to prove that borders exist. But before maps of Africa with country borders were produced, there were people - people with different languages and cultures. There are about 2,000 languages spoken across more than 3,000 ethnic groups in Africa. Numerous maps have been created to illustrate just how diverse the continent is. If you’d like to explore other facts about Africa’s diversity, this article is for you.

Map of ethnic groups & country borders | Source: National Geographic
When contemporary country borders are overlaid on ethnic boundaries as illustrated by the map on the left, it is easy to see that ethnic groups transcend borders. Because of their multiplicity, major ethnic groups are characterized as having 10 million people or more.



More maps such as this one can be found here: Harvard's AfricaMap project



Some of the major ethnic groups include but are not limited to:
  • The Akan of Ghana and the Ivory Coast
  • The Abyssinians of Ethiopia and Eritrea
  • The Fulani of West Africa (Cameroun to Guinea)
  • The Igbo of Nigeria
  • The Kanuri of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroun
  • The Oromo of Ethiopia
  • The Shona of Zimbabwe and Mozambique
  • The Yoruba of Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone
  • The Zulu of South Africa

Map of language families | Source: National Geographic
Remember the 3,000 ethnic groups that together spoke about 2,000 languages? These languages fall mainly across the Afro-Asiatic, Nilo-Saharan, Niger-Congo, Khoi-San and Austronesian language families. This map on the left shows that the language families transcend country borders as well as ethnic groups. For example, the Berber group of the Afro-Asiatic family, with a population of about 5-9 million, cuts across the borders of Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. Other ethnic groups in this family are the Hausa, Oromo, Amharic, Somali, Songhai and Tachelit, which are widespread across Northern Africa, the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region.

The Bantu, which is also the Niger-Congo group, is another major language family. "Bantu" in the ancient Niger-Congo language referred to "human-being". Most of the languages commonly spoken in Southern Africa, Central Africa and Niger Delta regions today can be directly linked to the Bantu language or are a mixture of Bantu and other indigenous languages.

Another question would be who got to decide what the limits of a country were? Simple - colonial masters divided Africa into countries without regard for ethnic boundaries. The map below shows Africa in 1880 with its kingdoms and empires, before it was divided into colonies by Europe.

Scramble for Africa Map | Source: davidjl123 / Somebody500 via wikimedia
Now that we've established that ethnic groups exist beyond country borders, is it possible to identify an ethnic group based on its architecture? A good guess would be that identifying an ethnic group's architectural style would require an understanding of its predominant way of life, aesthetic expressions and manipulation of building materials and forms to suit its people's needs while responding to climatic conditions. For example, although the Hausas, Igbos and Yorubas of Nigeria mostly use earth for their buildings, their treatment of the material, the building forms and aesthetics set them apart. Another defining feature that sets them apart is the roof structures. Whereas Hausa architecture mostly favours flat roofs due to lower amounts of rainfall in the Sahel region, Igbo and Yoruba architecture favour pitched roofs. The pitch of the roof, however, is influenced both by weather conditions (rainfall, heat, and so on) as well as cultural status.
Within Nigeria alone, Hausa architecture varies from place to place. The building layouts and principles typically remain the same with major elements always present such as the 'zaure' (entrance hallway), inner courtyard, high walls and the 'zankwaye' (significant horns at the top of the parapet). However, construction techniques and the treatment of building materials vary across regions.
Variations of Hausa residential buildings in Nigeria 
Variations are mostly due to environmental conditions that determine the colour and make-up of the earth used for construction, the durability and type of trees used for reinforcement, as well as the type of thatch, organic binder or impervious coating used for the walls. Social factors like status, nobility, and wealth also influence the appearance of Hausa buildings across Northern Nigeria in terms of building size, wall decorations, reliefs, motifs and colours. This is more easily distinguishable across the palaces of the emirates across Northern Nigeria. Below are some images of the emirates to demonstrate their uniqueness.
Kano Emirate

Zazzau Emirate 

Jigawa/Dutse Emirate 

Bauchi Emirate 

Katsina/Daura Emirate

Yet, we could also wonder if the architecture of an ethnic group would vary from country to country based on other influencing factors. These factors could be the interactions with other ethnic groups and colonial masters or the enhancement of a particular feature to make it unique to a particular country or geographic region. Looking at the Hausa group which cuts across Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Ghana, Cameroun, Chad and Sudan, it is more difficult to set the buildings apart from one another based on country.

However, examining the popular eternal knot symbol associated with the Hausas - the 'Dagin Arewa' or 'Tambarin Arewa' (meaning 'emblem of the north'), which is a star-shaped motif commonly found across buildings, we can see differences in how it appears between regions.

'Dagin Arewa' - Eternal Knot symbol on Hausa building in Nigeria
In Northern Nigeria, as seen in the image on the left, the knot is mostly represented with its points aligned across vertical and horizontal axes. Its intertwining parts are also easily distinguished from one another by the voids present between them. This particular representation of the symbol is largely widespread across Northern Nigerian Hausa buildings with very little variance.

'Dagin Arewa' variation on Hausa building in Niger

On the other hand, the same symbol appears in a different manner in Hausa buildings of Niger where it is not restricted to one style. The intertwining parts are more closely linked with little to no voids in between and the orientation of the symbol's points is also not strictly on the vertical and horizontal axes. This can be seen in the image on the left where the symbol above the building's entrance has been rotated to have its curved edges aligned to the vertical and horizontal axes and the symbols on the side of the building retain the original orientation.

It stands to be seen what other elements vary between the Hausa architecture of different countries as well as the elements that are retained despite these 'virtual' borders. Likewise, a similar enquiry could be done for other ethnic groups in Africa. 

For now, find some more links below to help quench your thirst for knowledge on the Mother Land - Africa:

Comments

  1. Wow! Great deal of work done.
    Keep it up Arc. We are inspired.

    ReplyDelete

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