Welcome to the Continent of Africa!
Africa is the second-largest continent in the world. Its landscape ranges from vast deserts to dense rainforests, from grassy savannas to snowy mountain ranges. Africa is home to many of the biggest and best-known wild animals on Earth — lions, zebras, giraffes, crocodiles, hippopotamuses, chimpanzees, gorillas, lemurs, and more. In this chapter, we'll explore the various regions of this historic continent, meet the people who live here, hop over to Madagascar, take a look at the Cape of Good Hope and South Africa, and go on a safari. Bring your binoculars and sunglasses — let's travel to Africa!
Africa is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean on the west and the Indian Ocean on the east, the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Suez Canal and the Red Sea to the northeast. Africa is considered to be the oldest inhabited area on Earth. In the middle of the 1900s, anthropologists found fossils and artifacts on this continent that showed human life at least 7 million years ago.
ANTHROPOLOGIST: An anthropologist is someone who studies human beings — where they came from and how they lived long ago.
Most of the people in Africa live in rural villages as farmers or herders, but about 20 percent now live in towns. The busiest towns are in northern Africa, especially in Cairo, Egypt, which has about 10 million people. About 775 million people live in a region south of the Sahara called sub-Saharan Africa. More than half of the African population is age 25 or younger because of recent increases in population. The number of babies being born has increased and families are often very large.
There are more than a thousand languages spoken in Africa. While most of them are African dialects, some are Western languages that were introduced by the European countries that ruled in Africa for hundreds of years. And it's not unusual for people to speak several African dialects and also some European languages. You might think all these different languages would make it difficult for people to communicate. It does! But some languages, such as Arabic, Swahili, and Hausa, are spoken by a lot of people, so usually people can find a way to communicate.
There are several hundred ethnic groups in Africa, each with its own dialect and culture. Many groups are split across multiple countries, because border lines were created without considering ethnic unity. Some of the largest groups are the Igbo and Yoruba of west and central Africa, the Kikuyu of eastern Africa, and the Zulu of southern Africa.
Conditions in the Sahara can be extreme. Daytime temperatures can reach up to 122 degrees and at night the temperatures dip below freezing, but there is a tribe called the Tuareg who once traveled huge distances on camels each day to trade their salt. Nowadays, they have settled in the cities in West Africa.