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General features

The short general notes below are based on the Wikipedia entry on Africa ( For more information on the features and history of the continent as a whole, go there. The discussion of the implications for theatre and performance studies below however are by the editor of ESAT.

Africa is the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent, after Asia. At about 30.2 million km² (11.7 million sq mi) including adjacent islands, it covers 6% of the Earth's total surface area and 20.4% of the total land area. With a billion people (as of 2009) in 61 territories, it accounts for about 14.72% of the world's human population.

The continent is surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the north, both the Suez Canal and the Red Sea along the Sinai Peninsula to the northeast, the Indian Ocean to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. The continent has 54 sovereign states, including Madagascar, various island groups, and the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, a member state of the African Union whose statehood is disputed by Morocco.The continent has

Africa, particularly central eastern Africa, is widely regarded within the scientific community to be the origin of humans and the Hominidae clade (great apes), as evidenced by the discovery of the earliest hominids and their ancestors, as well as later ones that have been dated to around seven million years ago – including Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Australopithecus africanus, A. afarensis, Homo erectus, H. habilis and H. ergaster – with the earliest Homo sapiens (modern human) found in Ethiopia being dated to circa 200,000 years ago.

Africa straddles the equator and encompasses numerous climate areas; it is the only continent to stretch from the northern temperate to southern temperate zones.

Implications for theatre and performance studies

The first and perhaps most important observation is, given this variety and size, the first question one may ask about "African theatre" is one often made by a number of commentators, such as Nigerian author and academic Kole Omotoso, namely "What Africa are you talking about?" (See for example Yvette Hutchison and Kole Omottoso. 1995. Open Space. Six contemporary plays from Africa. Cape Town: Kagiso Publishers.) The fact is there are a multitude of "Africas", each with its own particular cultural, social, political, economic, ethical and other characteristics - and ipso facto, its own traditions, conventions and functions of and for theatrical performance. (For more on this point, see African theatre)

The second obeservation has to do with the notion that tAfrica did not have a theatre (or even the idea of theatre) and that this was brought to the continent by European settlement. If one considers that the first peoples may have come from the continent (and left drawings and other indications of a narrative and dance tradition) and that Egypt is part of Africa, this is patently absurd. But the long history of the erasure of African achievement in favour of European benevolence and benificence is part of the history of the arts and cultures of the continent.


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