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How Africa Got It's Name


Map of Africa from 1890

The BBC posted a very interesting feature on "Mapping Africa" and how you can trace the history of Africa by studying maps dating as far back as the fourteenth century.  And if anyone was interested in how Africa got its name -  it appears that the continent was named after a group of Tunisian berbers, the "Afri" or who lived near Carthage and traded with the Romans. And so behold, the Romans called it "Afri- terra" the land of the Afri, which became "Africa".  There are several other theories as to how Africa got its name, but this one seems to hold the most water.

Another interesting point made by the BBC presentation, is the striking detail found on a map of Africa dating back to 1625. The continent is filled with rivers, mountains, and ethnic and linguistic groups. Compare it to a map drawn up by the British in 1905, where the only details that appeared to matter to cartographers of the day were trade routes and land that the British, French, Belgian and Portuguese powers laid claim to. There's a whole middle section in a map from 1905 that is basically void of any detail, giving rise to the notion of "dark Africa".  A free for all, open to exploitation. The natural boundaries of mountains and rivers you see on maps of the 17th century, were replaced by straight lines and arbitrary borders created by the economic super powers of the day. There is really nothing "African" about them. And these are largely the boundaries that have been left to Africans today.

More About: BBC Map Presentation l Maps of Africa l African History

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