Instructor: Dr. Bilinda Straight
Office: 1001 Moore Hall
Email: Bilinda.Straight (@)
Web Page:

Introduction to Cultures of Africa

So geographers in Afric(an) maps
With savage pictures fills the gaps
And oe'er uninhabitable downs
Placed elephants for want of towns 
                    Jonathan Swift

Africa has long represented primitive mystery to the West, an impenetrable "Dark Continent" populated by exotic people and gigantic animals. Even today, most people hear little of life in Africa, beyond occasional horror stories of famine and civil war. What, then, are the daily lives of Africans really like, living in the many varied rural and urban settings across the continent?  What are key features of the many cultures of Africa? How have historical processes shaped the lives of Africans living today? How does reality differ from the common stereotypes held about Africa? Drawing on anthropological, historical, and literary accounts of African life we will seek to understand the African cultures as important and valuable ones in their own right, while at the same time understanding the role of Africa in the broader world.  

In doing so, the course will aim for the following goals: 
  1. To gain an overview of contemporary life on the African continent, and the historical processes which have shaped it.
  2. To gain an in depth understanding of some specific African cultures.

  3. To consider critically the ways in which Africa has been represented, and continues to be represented: What are the stereotypes about Africa and African? Who creates these stereotypes and why? What are the consequences of these stereotypes?

  4. To gain an understanding of specific domains of African life—for instance, religion, aesthetics, gender systems—and examine them within specific cultures of Africa. 

In Cultures of Africa, we will occasionally discuss topics that are considered by some to contain controversial and mature content. These topics may elicit a heightened emotional tension among some students. It is expected that in Anthropology 3410 your conduct will be consistent with that of a professional person. This means that courtesy, respect, fairness and honesty should be shown to students, faculty members, any guests in the classroom, as well as the support staff who are contributing to the educational experience of this course. Likewise, as a student, you should expect the faculty and staff to treat you with fairness and respect.

Part of good conduct is the avoidance of practices that would be considered academic misconduct. Thus, as a student, please make yourself aware of and understand the policies and procedures regarding ‘Academic Integrity.’ You are reminded that ‘Academic Integrity’ is based on five values: honesty, trust, fairness, respect, and responsibility. Violations of ‘Academic Integrity’ include: cheating; plagiarism; misuse of academic resources; falsification; facilitating academic dishonesty. Consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic integrity prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Required Texts

Heart of Darkness  Joseph Conrad, edited by Paul B. Armstrong. Norton Critical Edition. It must be this one!! Do not ask if other versions will work – they lack the readings!!

Worlds of a Maasai Warrior  Teplit ole Saitoti

The Joys of Motherhood  Buchi Emecheta

Course Format

The course format will include films, online lectures, and discussion board postings between fellow students about course materials. In D2L, you will find links to everything you need for this course except the three books you have to purchase and articles you can find in Libraries e-reserve. The course is organized into Modules. The required readings for each module are listed at the end of this syllabus and due dates are posted in the calendar. 


Assignments and Grading 

Electronic Discussion Board/“Postings” (55%) This part of grade will be on a point system: You will accumulate 1 point for each posting. That’s two points for each Module requiring posting because you do your response to the questions and you respond to another student’s posting. Postings are due by 11:59 p.m. on the due date. No late postings will be counted. Your grade will total points possible divided by your points based on a 100% scale. There are fifteen modules requiring postings, for a total of 30 possible points. So if you only post 20 out of 30 times, you will have 66% for that part of your grade. Postings that do not pertain to the subject matter or do not reflect careful consideration of the readings and topic will not receive credit. First Post (response to module questions) = 250 word minimum; Second Post (engagement with another student's post) = 150 word minimum. 

Essay Assignments (10%) There are two mini-assignments, worth 5 points/5% of your grade each. These are the Rational Choice Game and the Second Spear Assignment. They must be on time to be counted.


Final Essay (35%)  You will write a brief, film review essay following the guidelines provided for this assignment. It must be on one of the topics provided. It will be a graded assignment on a 0, 1 (=70%), 2 (=85%), and 3 (=94%), and 4 (=100%) scale.

Academic Integrity

You are responsible for making yourself aware of and understanding the policies and procedures in the Undergraduate Catalog (pp. 268-269)/Graduate Catalog (pp. 26-27) that pertain to academic integrity. These policies include cheating, fabrication, falsification and forgery, multiple submission, plagiarism, complicity and computer misuse. If there is reason to believe you have been involved in academic dishonesty, you will be referred to the Office of Student Conduct. You will be given the opportunity to review the charge(s). If you believe you are not responsible, you will have the opportunity for a hearing. You should consult with me if you are uncertain about an issue of academic honesty prior to the submission of an assignment or test.

Reading Assignments by Module

Module One: Read the Module. 

Module Two:

Reading:  Read Module and Heart of Darkness Critical Text Selections:

Chinua Achebe’s “An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of   Darkness” (pp. 336-349)

Hunt Hawkins’ “Heart of Darkness and Racism” (pp. 365-375)                       

Module Three:           

Films in Class: “Lost City of Zimbabwe” and clip from “The Gods Must Be Crazy”

Reading:  Read Module and about half of Heart of Darkness novel. 

Module Four: 

Reading:  Read Module and other half of Heart of Darkness novel.

Module Five:

Reading: Read Module and these Heart of Darkness Critical Text Selections:

Alan Simmons’ “[Conrad, Casement, and the Congo Atrocities”], pp. 181-192

Look at photos on pp. 193-207

Recommended Extra Reading: Roger Casement: “The Congo Report” (pp. 131-160)

Module Six: 

Film:  “Maasai” (BBC Diverse TV)

Reading: Module and Worlds of a Maasai Warrior (by Saitoti) pp. 3-65

Module Seven: 

Film: “XXXY” (very short)

Reading: Module and these articles:

Simone Weil Davis’ “Loose Lips Sink Ships” (Feminist Studies, 2002) and Ahmadu article, both in Library e-reserves.

Module Eight: 

Reading: Read Module and Worlds of a Maasai Warrior (by Saitoti) pp. 66- end

Module Nine

Reading: Read Module and arranged marriage article accessible through module.

Module Ten: 

Read: Read Module and Samburu Encyclopedia article (by Straight and Holzman) in Library e-reserves. 

Module Eleven:           

Film: “These Hands”

Reading: Read Module and Joys of Motherhood (by Emecheta) pp. 7-100 

Module Twelve: 

Reading: Read Module and Joys of Motherhood (by Emecheta) pp. 101-224  

Module Thirteen: 

Reading: Read Module 

Module Fourteen: 

Mini-Assignment: Rational Choice Game (Read assignment instructions carefully)

Reading: Read Module and Parker Shipton article in Library e-reserves

Module Fifteen:

Film: “In and Out of Africa”

Reading: Read Module 

Module Sixteen: 

Reading: Read Module and Ravenhill article in Library e-reserves

Module Seventeen: 

Reading: Read Module 

Module Eighteen:

Mini-Assignment: Second Spear (Read assignment instructions)

Reading: Read Module

Module Nineteen:           

Film: “Return to Belaye”

Reading: Read Module

Module Twenty:

Reading: Read Module and articles attached to it