Nearly Unknown in the West: Sub-Saharan Africa’s Cultural Landscapes

As an anthropology student many years ago, I always found the lack of information on African *cultural* landscapes south of Egypt hugely disappointing. This article points to a few ways to begin exploring the subject in more detail. Personally, I think as Americans become more deeply interested in integrating agriculture into urban settings and in understanding the spirit of place, aspects of African landscapes are going to begin inspiring some new design trends.

THE DIRT

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According to Professor Ikem Stanley Okoye, University of Delaware, “there has been no scholarly work that explores African landscapes that doesn’t somehow implicate the Europeans.” That statement may be less true given a recent conference on cultural landscapes in Sub-Saharan Africa at Dumbarton Oaks. Organized by John Beardsley, the head of landscape and garden studies there, the two-day symposium was designed to contribute to a growing African understanding of their own landscapes, including pre-colonial landscapes and how perceptions of these landscapes were altered during the era of colonialism. Speakers also examined how landscapes are intimately linked with cultural and political identities today.

Beardsley said Africa has an amazing range of “biotic zones,” filled with elephants, lions, or, as conservationists like to call them, “charismatic mega-fauna.” Beyond the wildlife though, Sub-Saharan Africa is also the “oldest inhabited landscape, the cradle of human species.” With thousands of years of history…

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