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Africa. Extent, Configuration, Islands. - Africa is a continent, smaller than Asia and America, about three times larger than Europe, with area 11,950,000 square miles, including the islands, and population vaguely estimated at from 200 to 220,000,000, or from 16 to 18 inhabitants to the square mile. Geographically Africa forms a southwestern peninsula of Asia, with which it was connected from remote ages by the Isthmus of Suez till the year 1869, when that narrow neck of land was pierced by a navigable canal. In form, as in position, it is intermediate between the two other southern continental masses, being of irregular triangular shape; in its outlines less monotonous than Australia, less diversified than South America, and, like the latter, tapering from its base north of the equator to its apex in the Austral seas. The distance between the extreme northern and southern points, Cape Blanco (lat. 37° 19' 40" N.) and Cape Agulhas (lat. 34° 51' 15" S.) is nearly the same as between the extreme eastern and western points, Cape Guardafui in the Indian Ocean (long. 51° 14'E.) and Cape Verde in the Atlantic (long. 17° 32' W.), nearly 5,000 miles one way, over 4,500 the other. But owing to its generally uniform contours, with no gulfs or inlets penetrating far into the interior, except Cabes and Sidra on the Mediterranean, and with but few bold headlands, such as Capes Bon and Blanco on the north, Verde and Lopez on the west, Good Hope on the south, and Guardafui on the east side, the total coast line is little over 15,000 miles, or 4,000 miles less than that of the much smaller but far more varied continent of Europe. There is also a remarkable absence of islands: scarcely any on the northern and southern seaboards, none in the South Atlantic except the islets of Annobon, Ascension, St. Helena, and Tristan d'Acunha; none in the North Atlantic except the Madeira, Canary, Cape Verde, and Bissagos groups, with Fernando Po and one or two other volcanoes in the Gulf of Guinea; in the Red Sea, Perim, Dahlak and other coralline reefs; in the Angolan, and Damara coast ranges on the west side (6,000 to 13,500). In the interior there are no extensive mountain systems, but only disconnected or isolated chains, such as the Tibesti range (5,000 to 8,000) in Central Sahara; the Jebel Marrah (4,000 to 6,000) in Dar-For; Mfumbiro (10,000), and Ruwenzori (20,000 ?) in the equatorial lake region; the unexplored Lokinga (Mushinga) range forming the divide between the Congo and Zambesi basins.

Geology. - In its geology Africa presents the appearance of great antiquity, the more primitive plutonic and sedimentary rocks mostly prevailing Indian Ocean, Socotra, Pemba, Zanzibar, and Mafia, near the coast, besides the great island of Madagascar with the surrounding Comoro, Seychelles and Mascarenhas groups, apparently dependencies or remnants of a now submerged continent of "Lemuria."

Physical Features. - Africa is the most elevated of the continents, for although the mountain systems are generally less lofty and less developed than elsewhere, the land stands at a higher mean level above the sea - 3,000 to 4,000 feet in the south, 1,200 to 1,300 in the north, average 2,200, several hundred feet more than Asia, the next highest.

The surface is thus disposed in two vast plateaux at two different levels, with an outer rim or escarpment, leaving a relatively narrow zone of low-lying coastlands between the uplands and the sea. This escarpment, somewhat low and even effaced on parts of the north-east and west sides, is more elevated and often disposed in terraces on the other sides, where are developed the lofty Nieuweveld and Draken (8,000 to 10,000 feet), flanked by the lower Zwarte and Lobombo ridges in the south and south-east; the Namuli, Nyassa (Livingstone), Usagara, Masai (Aberdare), Kaffa and Abyssinian highlands stretching along the east side from Mozambique to the Red Sea (6.000 to 15,000 feet, and culminating in Kenia and Kilima-Njaro, both nearly 20,000); the Atlas system in the extreme north-west (8,000 to 12,000 feet); the Cameroon over the more recent corresponding formations. Thus late eruptive rocks and still active volcanoes are mainly confined to the Cameroons and adjacent islets on the west; and on the east side to a line of volcanic disturbance extending from the Comoro group in the Mozambique Channel through Masailand and the east slopes of Abyssinia northwards to one or two volcanic islets in the Red Sea. Syenites, old sandstones, and nummulitic limestones prevail throughout the Nile basin; in Abyssinia the old limestones are associated with dolerites and trachytes resting on a granite basis; the sands of the Sahara are not of recent marine origin, as has been supposed, but have mainly resulted from the weathering of quartz, carboniferous limestone, and very old sandstones; crystalline rocks, granites, gneiss, and sandstones are widely diffused throughout Sudan; granites and auriferous quartz crop out in Upper Guinea, and are intermingled, in Kordofan with porphyries and syenites; basalts, crystalline quartzites, limestones, shales, clay slates and other metamorphic rocks, red and other sandstones are characteristic of the Mauritanian (Atlas) region. The metamorphic rocks of the Congo basin are separated by the alluvial plains of the Zambesi from the granites and crystalline slates underlying the fossiliferous rocks of the Orange basin and terrace lands (Karoos) of the extreme south. The most widely diffused minerals are gold (Upper Guinea, Nubia, Matabele Land, Transvaal); copper (Congo and Welle basins, Namaqualand, Dar-Fertit); iron (Transvaal, Makaraka Land, Morocco, and many other regions); salt (Sahara); diamonds (Vaal basin).

Hydrography. - Both extra-tropical regions are poorly watered, each with an almost rainless zone (Sahara and Kalahari Deserts), and almost destitute of navigable rivers. From the Senegal on the Atlantic to the Juba on the Indian Ocean there is not a single perennial navigable stream except the Nile, and the Nile itself is joined by no affluent north of the Atbara confluence many hundred miles above the delta. The Igharghar, Messawara, and other copious watercourses, which in quaternary times intersected the now arid Sahara in various directions, have disappeared, and the oases of this region, as well as large tracts in Mauritania, depend for their supplies on underground reservoirs. Even the Baraka, chief affluent of the Red Sea, reaches the coast only during the rainy seasons. So also in the south, the only important streams beyond the Zambesi are the Limpopo flowing to the Indian and the Orange to the Atlantic Ocean, and the former alone is navigable for a short distance above its mouth.

But the inter-tropical zone, comprising four-fifths of the continent, is one of the most abundantly watered regions of the globe. Here is the island-studded Lake Chad, occupying an extensive area of inland drainage in Central Sudan and fed by the copious rivers Shari from the south and Komadugu from the west. Here are the vast equatorial lakes Victoria Nyanza, Albert Nyanza, and Albert Edward, which with Lake Tsana in Abyssinia drain through the Nile to the Mediterranean; Bangweolo and Tanganyika, which discharge through the Congo to the Atlantic; Nyassa, which sends its overflow through the Shire to the Indian Ocean. The four great arteries of the Congo, Nile, Niger-Benue, and Zambesi have a collective drainage area of nearly 5,000,000 square miles; and the Congo with its great affluents, Mobangi-Welle, Aruwimi, and others on the right bank, Kwango-Kassai-Sankuru on the left, presents many thousand miles of navigable waters. But all the main streams, as well as many other African rivers (Senegal, Ogoway, Cunene, Orange, Limpopo), are still entangled in the intricacies of the plateaux and obstructed by falls on their lower or middle courses. Smaller coast streams with separate catchment basins are numerous, especially on the seaboards of Senegambia, Upper Guinea, Cape Colony, and Zanzibar. But relatively to the extent of their basins few of the watercourses are copious, and the Congo, which in this respect ranks next to the Amazons, has a volume probably equal to the collective discharge of all other African rivers.

Climate. - Despite its greater mean altitude, Africa is the hottest of the continents. Nevertheless, the hottest parts are not those lying on or about the equator, but those extensive tracts that are farthest removed from the influence of the surrounding seas, and are at the same time destitute of lofty mountain ranges. Such are the arid waterless plains of the Sahara and its eastern extensions, the Libyan and Nubian deserts. But owing to the dryness of the atmosphere, these regions are far more healthy than the cooler but moister fluvial valleys, the low-lying coastlands, the Mauritanian "shotts," and other swampy tracts where malarious fevers are endemic. In the stony and sandy wastes sultry days are followed by cool nights, caused by the rapid radiation of the solar heat, and in the northern parts of the Sahara snow falls occasionally and stagnant waters are covered with a film of ice. Yet the glass rises in this region to 120° Fahr. in the shade, while the normal temperature is not more than 70° Fahr. at the northern and southern extremities of the continent. Speaking generally, these two extra-tropical regions, comprising the Mediterranean seaboard and the Cape lands, together with parts of the Masai and Abyssinian uplands and of the equatorial lake districts, are thoroughly salubrious and adapted for European colonisation. The white race has already been acclimatised without difficulty in the extreme north and south, but elsewhere probably not more than one-tenth of the land is suitable for permanent settlement. In the northern zone dry trade winds prevail throughout the year, interrupted in Mauritania by winter rains, and here also have their origin the pestilential simooms or hot winds, accompanied by fierce sand storms, which are known as the harmattan in the west and khamsin in the east, and which, crossing the Mediterranean, reappear under the name of the sirocco in Italy and as the fohn in the Alpine valleys. In the inter-tropical region the moisture-bearing clouds follow the course of the sun, which in combination with the oceanic monsoons gives rise to a double rainy season on the east and west seaboards, and to permanent rains on and about the equator.

Flora. - This continuous rainfall, though not excessive (normally 50 to 60 inches, seldom anywhere exceeding 100, and at Wadelai on the White Nile falling to 42), suffices to support in the Gaboon and many parts of the Congo basin, as in Manyuema and the Aruwimi valley, an exuberant forest vegetation comparable to that of the Amazon's basin itself. On the plains about the Congo-Nile water-parting the rivers disappear beneath a dense tangle of overhanging foliage, likened by travellers to long "galleries" following their winding course. But impenetrable forest growths, matted together by the coils of huge lianas, are by no means the dominant feature of the African flora. In fact, the forest zone proper is chiefly confined to the region between the great lakes and the west coast, and to the slopes of the Atlas, Abyssinian, and Masai highlands. Woodlands cover probably less than 15 per cent. of the whole surface, which is elsewhere marked by the sharpest contrasts between the boundless grassy steppes of the plateaux, the cultivated corn-yielding plains of Sudan, and the sandy wastes of the northern and southern desert regions. The African flora is, on the whole, poorer in distinct species than that of the other continents. Thus the characteristic date, dum, deleb, and oil palms are widely diffused in their respective northern and central zones; but the palm family itself is represented by ten times as many species in Asia and America as in Africa. Highly typical plants are the gigantic baobab (Adansonia), the ensete and kigalia of Sudan and Senegambia, the thorny and gummiferous acacias of the steppes, the papyrus, ambatch, and other graminaceas of the Nile basin, the remarkable welwitschia of the arid southern districts. Mauritania, with its olives, chestnuts, conifers, cork-tree, and evergreen oaks, presents a transition between the South European and African floras, while the Cape lands form a distinct botanical zone, distinguished by a surprising variety of grasses, heaths, ferns, and flowering shrubs. Of cultivated and other economic plants the most valuable are wheat, durra, cotton, indigo, manioc, coffee (two varieties indigenous), maize, alfa grass, ground nuts, butter-tree, bananas, and date palm.

Fauna. - Owing to the absence of great mountain barriers the African fauna is marked by a certain degree of uniformity-, many of the characteristic forms, such as the lion, leopard, hyama, jackal, elephant, giraffe, buffalo, rhinoceros, ostrich, and some members of the antelope family, ranging almost from one extremity of the continent to the other. Amongst the most typical animals are the zebra and now extinct quagga of the south; the anthropoid apes (gorilla and chimpanzee) of the tropical forests; the widely-diffused cynocephalus (dog-faced baboon); the colobus and green monkey, and other antelopes, fennec (Egyptian fox); weaver-bird, bateniceps rex, secretaiy, ibis, flamingo, and guinea fowl; huge pythons and many venomous snakes; the locusts, termites, and still more destructive tsetse and donderobo flies, whose bite is fatal to most domestic animals. Of these, the commonest are the horse, the camel (introduced by the Arabs), the Dinka and Senegal cattle, koodoo, eland, gnu the ox, goat, sheep, and poultry, and in non-Mohammedan countries the dog and pig.

Population. - The aboriginal inhabitants of Africa belong to two distinct stocks, the Hamitic and the Negro, and the great bulk of the population probably represent diverse interminglings of these two primitive elements. The proper home of the Hamites, who are themselves a branch of the Caucasic family, is the northern section of the continent from the Mediterranean to the Sudan. They form four main groups; Berber (Kabyle, Shluh, Tuareg, etc.) in Mauritania ("Barbary" States) and the western Sahara; Tibbu (Teda, Dasa, and others) in the eastern Sahara; Egyptian (Copts, Fellahin) in the Lower Nile valley; Ethiopian (Beja, Afar, Agau, Galla, Somali) generally east of the Middle and Upper Nile from Egypt to the equator (Nubian Steppes, Abyssinia, Somal, Kaffa, and Galla lands). Interspersed among the Hamites are the Semite intruders from Asia (Jews in Mauritania, Arabs in Mauritania and West Sahara, Himyarites dominant in Amhara, Tigre, Shoa, and other parts of Abyssinia). The proper home of the Negroes is all the rest of the continent; but they are found in a more or less pure state only in some of the western and southern parts of Sudan (Beledes-Sudan, i.e. "Negroland"), in upper Guinea, the White Nile, Welle-Makua and Shari basins. Marked groups are the western Mandingans, Joloffs, Songhais, Ashantis, Ewes, and Nupes; the Central, Haussas, Battas, Mosgus and Mabas; the eastern and southern Nubas, Shilluks, Dinkas, Monbuttus, and Zandehs (Niam-Niam). The greater portion of the continent south of Sudan is occupied by the Bantu peoples, who all speak dialects of the same Bantu stock language, but who physically present almost every shade of transition, from the typical Negro to the typical Hamite. Marked Bantu varieties are the Zulu-Kaffir group of the extreme south-east, the Bechuanas south of the Zambesi, the Swaheli of the Zanzibar coast, the Wa-Gandas of the Victoria Nyanza, the Ba-Lundas of the Congo basin, the Kabindas (Ba-Fyots) and Angolans of the west coast. Divergent or intermediate groups are found both in the Hamitic and the Negro domains. Fulus, Toucouleurs, Kanuri along the north frontier of West Sudan; Nubians in the Middle Nile valley, Fans in the Ogoway and Gaboon basins, all apparently Hamites modified by Negro influences; Hottentots and Bushmen in Cape Colony and the Kalahari desert; Akkas, Batwas, Obongos, and other dwarfish peoples met in large groups, especially in the forest zone of the Bantu lands. In general the Hamites and Semites are Mohammedans, the Negroes Nature worshippers; but Islam is spreading amongst all the Negroid peoples of Sudan, and has already reached the Atlantic coast of Upper Guinea and Senegambia. On the other hand, the Hamitic Copts of Egypt and the Semitic Abyssinians are Christians of the Monophysite sect. Christianity has also made some progress amongst the Yorubas of Upper Guinea, the Basutos and others of Cape Colony, the Manganjas of Nyassaland, and the Pretos of Angola.

Of the early European and Asiatic immigrants (Greeks in Cyrenaica and Lower Egypt, Phoenicians, Romans, and Vandals in Mauritania) all have disappeared, leaving but doubtful traces of their presence, chiefly amongst the Berbers of Algeria. Of later European immigrants the most numerous are the Greeks, Italians, Spaniards, and French along the Mediterranean seaboard from Egypt to the frontiers of Morocco; the English and Dutch (Boers) in the extreme south. Most of the so-called Portuguese are half-castes, and all the French Huguenots of the Cape had already been absorbed by the Dutch before the British occupation.

Geographical Exploration. - Since about the middle of the present century geographical discovery has progressed at a rapid rate. Little had been done before that time to enlarge our knowledge of the continent except by James Bruce, discoverer of the source of the Blue Nile (1770); Mungo Park and the brothers Lander in Senegambia and the Niger basin (1795-7; 1806; 1830); Clapperton in Central Sudan and Sahara (1822); Gobat, Krapf, and Rebmann in East Africa and Abyssinia (1830-52); Du Chaillu, in the Ogoway and Gaboon basins (1850). Then followed with little intermission the memorable explorations of Livingstone in South Central Africa, lakes Nyassa, Bangweolo, Ngami, etc. (1849-73); Barth, Richardson, and Overweg in Central and West Sudan (1850-55); Burton and Speke, lakes Tanganyika and Victoria Nyanza (1857-8); Speke and Grant, lake Victoria and White Nile (1860-62); Baker, Albert Nyanza (1863-5); Schweinfurth, White Nile and Welle (1868-71); Nachtigal, Central Sudan (1869-74); Cameron, South Central Africa (1873-5); Stanley, circumnavigation of Lake Victoria, Lake Alexandra, Lualaba-Congo (1875-77); Serpa Pinto, Benguela to Natal (1877-79); Pogge, Wissmann and Wolf, Congo basin (1881-86); Junker, Libyan Desert, Makaraka Land, Welle-Makua basin (1875-86); Grenfell and Van Gele, Congo basin, Ubangi river (1885-6; 1888); Joseph Thomson, Masai Land (1884); Fischer, Lake Baringo (1885-6); Count Teleki, Lake Samburu or Rudolf (1887); Stanley, Aruwimi basin, Ruwenzori mountains, Lake Albert Edward, Semliki river, etc. (1887-89).

There still remain some extensive tracts to be explored, especially in Somali, Galla, and Caffa Lands, and in the equatorial region between the great lakes and the west coast; but all important geographical problems have now been solved.

Political Divisions. - Politically Africa has almost become a dependency of Europe. The only still independent native states are Morocco in Mauritania; Liberia and Dahomey on the Guinea Coast; the Tuareg and Tibbu domains in the Sahara; Wadai (with Kanem and Baghirmi) and Bornu in Central Sudan; Unyoro, Karagwe, and Ruanda in the Equatorial Lake Region; Garenganze, Msidi's territory in the Congo basin; and the two Dutch republics (Transvaal and Orange Free State) in the south. All the rest of the explored part of the continent is either actually occupied or administered, or claimed as under their protection, or within their respective spheres of influence, by various European Powers, as under: -

Area in sq. miles (est.)Population (est.)
Great Britain: Cape Colony, Natal, Zululantl; Rhodesia (Bechuana, Matabele, Mashona, and Barotse Lands); Nyassaland; British East Africa with Zanzibar and Uganda; West African Colonies; Niger protectorate; North Somali Land; St. Helena, Mauritius, Socotra, and other islands in the Atlantic and Indian Oceans 2,615,00048,610,000
France: Algeria and Tunis; Senegal and Upper Niger basins; West Sahara; parts of Gold Coast; Gaboon, Ogoway and Lower Congo; Obock; Reunion 1,650,00010,853,000
Germany: German East Africa; Damara and Great Namaqua Lands; Cameroons; Togoland 970,0002,800,000
Portugal: Angola, Kabinda, and "Hinterlands"; Mozambique; Madeira, Cape Verde, St. Thomas and Prince's Islands 800,0007,744,000
Spain: West Sahara Coastlands; Ceuta; Fernando Po, and Corisco Islands 300,000900,000
Italy: Red Sea Coastlands and Islands; East Somali Coast; Abyssinia (Protectorate) 360,0007,560,000
Turkey: Tripoli, Barca, and Fezzan; Egypt, and Egyptian Sudan (revolted under the Mahdi, 1882) 1,660,00017,870,000
International Commission: Congo Free State (administered by King of the Belgians) 1,400,00040,000,000