Africana: An Encyclopedia of an Amazing Continent by Kim Chakanesta, illustrated by Alabi Mayowa (Quarto Publishing, 2022) is an invaluable new volume for young people that captures basics about the history, landscapes, people, and cultures throughout the regions in Africa. Africa is a giant continent, so obviously one volume will never be enough. Africana provides a nice foundation from which to expand a young person’s understanding of the variety of land and people as they begin their own world studies.
I love history, and yet in all my studies, the history, culture, and traditions of Africa have not been addressed in traditional volumes. As the beginning matter of Chakanetsa’s encyclopedia indicates, historians often rely on written records; since African cultures relied on oral records, it is difficult to learn about the past in traditional methods. For most of my childhood Africa was still relegated to “colonial” status: it was a part of European cultures in most textbooks. Even today, many world history books focus on European traditions. The comprehensive volume Africana begins to right some of those ommissions.
Africana begins with a general introduction to the continent, with an overview of the diversity. Then, regional sections show a current map and discuss the history, the people and culture, famous people from the area (including historical figures but mostly highlighting contemporary people), and specific cultural highlights of the area (such as music, clothing, or other unique additions to the area). For example, did you know Botswana had a large community of heavy metal enthusiasts and bands?
The last section of the volume highlights the global impact of the African continent, not limited to forced migration through slavery. It discusses how African cultures contributed to world music and dance, mathematics and calendars, and food and coffee, among many other things. The last pages have African proverbs from a few of the nations that also really resonated with me.
As a homeschool parent, I have been appalled when I find a curriculum about the world and the section on Africa has books about animals in a safari. This is not the culture of Africa! That is not even a full look at the wildlife of the continent, which ranges from the Mediterranean to the Southern tip. There is so much in this amazing continent: yes unique flora and fauna, but also diverse history, amazing cultures, and world “superstars” and “changemakers” (as this book titles them).
Africana is a valuable volume that could easily provide a year of study for a homeschool family. It would be a study of not just of the geography and land in the vast continent, but also an examination of thee continent’s history with the art, culture, language, and people as central to that study. The end matter has flags from African nations, a glossary, and a detailed index, making it easily accessble for reference as well. I’d highly recommend this valuable volume for any family interested in an extended study of the continent. I’d also suggest Africana to anyone interested in learning even just a little more about the vast continent of Africa. There is so much to be discovered.