Africa is a large continent with 47 countries on it plus 6 island nations off the coast, namely Cape Verde, São Tomé, Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, and Mauritius, making the total to 53. All African countries are home to indigenous people.
These people have a different lifestyle from the mainstream. They are semi-nomadic or nomadic people, hunter-gatherers as well as livestock pastoralists often living in isolated or inaccessible regions. They have distinct cultures and languages, and sadly, they have to face a lot of challenges.
Most of the indigenous people in Africa suffer from discrimination and marginalization.
They are excluded from society and often seen as ‘backward’ and ‘primitive’.
There is NO legislation to protect their rights due the lack of representation in decision-making processes.
Another main issue is that with climate change, the competition over natural resources is growing. They often have to face land dispossession and eviction from the land. The rate of illiteracy and poverty is still very high among them.
In the last ten years, indigenous organizations are slowly but growing. The indigenous movement throughout the continent is still weak. However, certain countries have a stronger network, such as Kenya in East Africa and South Africa.
There is some success in Central African Rwanda and Burundi, but West Africa has shown no sign of indigenous movement so far. The persistent activists managed to turn the word’s attention on their issues and escalate it to international discussions.
We have selected ten of the many endangered indigenous peoples of Africa to raise awareness; they can not be forgotten; they form the core of our beginnings.
Pygmy people live in several ethnic groups in ten different African countries, mainly in Central Africa, in the Congo rainforest. Cameroon, Gabon, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, and Rwanda are the major locations. The best-known tribes are the Mbenga (Aka and Baka) of the western Congo, the Mbuti (Efe), and the Twa. Their home is the rainforest, where they can carry out traditional activities like hunting, gathering, and fishing. They also trade with the neighboring farmers for cultivated foods and other material items.
The major threat for them is deforestation, which forces them out of their homelands into villages and cities where they often are marginalized. In many countries, Pygmies are not considered citizens and are refused identity cards.
Shocking that during the Congo Civil War, extensive mass killings, cannibalism, and rape of Pygmy people have been reported. They were considered “subhuman,” and some say their flesh can confer magical powers.
San people – also known as Bushmen or Basarwa – live in Southern countries in Africa. The highest San population is in Botswana, the Kalahari Desert, and there are communities in Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
None of these countries acknowledge them as indigenous people and generally San people are the poorest and most underprivileged people in their home countries.
They are often facing land dispossessions and marginalization.
In the past, they were mainly hunter-gatherers living in a society in which women can have higher status. The traditional economy is based on gifts that they are giving each other regularly. Playing, music, dances and socializing is a very important part of their daily life and so is water as droughts are very common.
Today many San people live in rural and urban areas working as domestic servants or farmhands, growing crops, and raising livestock. In 1997 the San Bushmen of Botswana had to face evictions because of the diamond kimberlite pipes that lay under their land in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve, Botswana. They have been moved to settlements in New Xade.
Photograph by Martin Harvey
The Masai are nomadic herdsmen, living in Tanzania (estimated 430.000) and in Kenya (850.000). Their culture is patriarchal in nature, meaning that the elderly men, together with the retired elders, decide in major questions.
Wealth is measured in the size of ones cattle and the number of children. The more the better.
The Masai consider the soil dirty, so they neglect agricultural activity, and they do not bury their dead in the earth either. Even the housing material is not clay-like in many other tribes but cow dung.
The Masai tribe men are born and raised to be warriors, traditionally at young age required to slay a lion armed only with a shield and spear. Women are responsible for beadwork, making necklaces and earrings. Masai people faced many difficulties in the past. In the ’50s, new legislation removed all Masai from the Serengeti, moving them to Ngorongo Conservation Area.
A disease caused cattle loss, and in 1975 the Ngorongoro Conservation Area banned cultivation practices. In recent years, many Masai people give up their nomadic lifestyle to start farming, do business, or even move to the towns and cities to hope for a better life.
Photograph by Leonard Mindore
The Ogiek are hunter-gatherer people in Kenya living in the Mau Forest complex, a vital ecosystem, and in Tanzania, where they are called Dorobo. They are one of the oldest peoples in Kenya, and they have a deep connection with nature. They were following the migration paths of elephants for centuries when elephants still lived peacefully alongside humans.
They gave elephants honey to help them survive in times of drought and elephants would help people find water.
Sadly in the last decades, Ogiek has been illegally dispossessed of their land evicted from the Mau forest. They face poor political representation, discrimination, and exclusion. Their situation seems to get worse each year because of the increasing competition for resources in their areas.
Photograph by Steve McCurry
The Tuareg people are traditionally nomadic pastoralists, inhabitants of a large area of the middle and western Sahara. They were a significant part of the trans-Saharan trade, trading with luxury items and enslaved people between cities of West Africa and the northern Mediterranean coast of Africa.
Today the largest Tuareg population can be found in Niger (around 700.000) and Mali (450.000 people) and smaller populations in Nigeria, Burkina Faso, and Senegal. They speak the Tamashek language and have a distinct culture, living in a matriarchal society. Tuareg is a follower of Islam. Men are obliged to wear the veil from the age of 25, which conceals their entire face, excluding their eyes. This veil is never removed, even in front of family members. However, women do not have to wear the veil.
At the end of the 19th century, the French ruled the Tuareg homeland and brought them under their colonial control. The trade activities stopped, and due to drought and famine, many Tuareg has moved to rural areas and cities farther south. Political tensions with the governments of Mali and Niger have also caused migration.
The Ogoni People’s home called the Ogoni Kingdom or Ogoniland, is located in Nigeria’s Niger Delta. An estimated 700.000 people belong to this indigenous group.
Ogoni got into the centre of global attention when the public protest campaign started in the 1990’s against Shell Oil.
Oil production started in the 1950s, and after 40 years, it has resulted in the exploitation of people and nature. Due to the hundreds of oil spills, most of the fish were gone from the river; the groundwater is contaminated, the rain is acid rain. There is no drinking water, and the soil is not suitable for farming anymore. Because of flaring off-gas, the air is also severely polluted. During the protests, 27 villages were raided, resulting in the death of 2000 Ogoni people and displacement of 80.000.
In 1993 Shell decided to pull out of Ogoniland, but all of the pipelines and oil pumps remained and continued to leak. A report was carried out by UNEP (United Nations Environment Program) in 2011, and it was found that it would take 30 years to clean up the devastating pollution in Ogoniland.
Today, people are still dying, sick, can’t feed themselves, and have no clean water because of the destroyed environment. Shell is working with the Nigerian government and has returned to the delta region in hopes of restarting and increasing operations.
Photograph via mrheisenbug.wordpress.com
Hadza people live in north-central Tanzania around Lake Eyasi. They are hunter-gatherers, living like their ancestors for tens of thousands of years. They are strongly attached to the land where their men hunt with bows and arrows, and the women gather roots.
Since the 19th century, there have been attempts by the government to settle them. Recently they have to face intrusion from the neighboring groups, decreasing their land, and also they became a tourist attraction.
In 2007 the Tanzanian government leased a large piece of land to a royal family from the UAE to use it as their ‘personal safari playground.’ After the international press’s general negative opinion and the Hadza people’s protest, the deal was cancelled.
This example shows the inadequate political representation and vulnerability of these indigenous people.
The Doma people occupy the Zambezi River basin in the countries of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Mozambique. They mainly depend on the river where young and old go fishing, and they are foraging wild plants, animals, insects, and honey.
The Doma families live in huts made of reeds and twigs and rely on roots and berries for medicine and use very few modern amenities.
The Doma people have distinct features due to a rare genetic condition that is called ectrodactyly (lobster claw syndrome). They have two-toed feet and affects one in four children within the population.
Two-toed members of the clan are deeply admired for their distinct features.
Doma people live below the poverty line. They are some of the poorest people in their countries. Hunger and starvation are ever-present.
The Dan or Gio people live in Liberia and in Ivory Coast; the estimated population is 350.000. They are predominantly a farming community, producing cocoa, rice, and sweet potato. Men do the hunting, and most of the fishing and women care for the children and prepare the meals.
They live in polygamous, fraternal society where man can have more wives.
The most important art for Dan people is the carved wooden masks. They have a huge variety, each with unique forms and purposes which they use at ceremonies.
The Dan has an interesting belief system. They believe in Zlan, who created everything, all the universe, and worship Du, an independent spiritual power present in all aspects of the universe. They believe in reincarnation, through which Du can enable a person to pass into another person or even an animal after death.
Dreaming is the means through which people communicate with Du. During the Liberian Civil War in the ’90s, the army was burning towns and firing on Gio civilians; several hundred are thought to have died hundreds of thousands fled their homes.
Photograph by hors-saison
In Niger, there is a large population, over 1 million, of Peul people. This is 8,5 percent of the total population. The Peul are mostly cattle and sheepherders. They live in all regions of the country, especially in the Sahelian zone.
Peul people are passionate about their cattle, which provides them milk, meat and when sold, they can buy millet, sugar, textiles, etc. Due to the increasing pressure on natural resources and desertification, many of them become semi-nomadic or agricultural and settle down.
One particular group, called the Bororo, is trying very hard to keep up their traditional living way.