Crossing Borders/Breaking Boundaries VI
The Arts and Artistic Legacies of the West African Civilizations, 700 - 1600 c.e.
July 17-25, 2006
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Lesson Title: West African Art

Name: Tara Kelly

School: Thomas W. Pyle Middle School

I. Conceptual Framework

Big Idea: Identity

By looking at the items Westerns have perceived as art more closely, we will be able to understand the culture of West Africa. By unlocking the meaning behind these items we will discover social, economic and political forces of West Africa. Through this discovery, students will be able to appreciate the sophistication of West African Culture.

Essential Questions:

  • How does cultural diffusion occur?
  • How can economic activity lead to the exchange of cultural and political ideas?
  • How can economic hardship lead to political and social instability?
  • How do cultural traditions endure over time?
  • How do cultural factors influence the development and change in political systems?

Key Concepts:

  • Identity may be confused, misinterpreted, or mistaken causing stereotyping of a group.
  • Identity is about what is seen in a culture.
  • Identity is about unseen values of a group.
  • Identity of a culture changes over time.
  • Identity is impacted by those within the group and those outside of the group.

State and Local Standards:
MSDE Content Standards (5/19/00)
The student will be able to:

World History

  • Summarize the importance of the political, economic, and social life of Mali and other African empires and analyze the role of Islam in Africa.
  • Describe the major traditions, customs, and beliefs of Islam and its expansion into North Africa.


  • Explain interrelationships among physical and human characteristics that shape the identity of places.
  • Analyze geographic characteristics that influence the location of human activities in world regions.
  • Analyze the influence of transportation and communication on the movement of people, goods, and ideas from place to place.
  • Describe the forces and processes of cooperation that unite people across Earth’s surface in terms of language, ethnic heritage, religion, political philosophy, social and economic systems, and shared history.


  • Analyze the relationship between the availability of natural, capital, and human resources, and the production of goods and services now and in the past.
  • Analyze effects of supply and demand on the production, consumption, and distribution of goods and services.

Political System

  • Distinguish among various forms of government with emphasis on the ways of life and opportunities they permit, promote, and prohibit.
  • Peoples of the Nation and World
  • Analyze how the environment and cultural diffusion influence the development of the United States and other cultures.
  • Analyze characteristics that are used to organize people into cultures.
  • Analyze the variety of forms and roles institutions assume in cultures around the world.
  • Describe and analyze the practices, beliefs, and influence of religions of the world.

II. Topics

Enduring Understanding

  • Cultural systems are the shared beliefs, values, customs and behaviors that influence how societies develop and change. When cultures interact with one another, traditions, beliefs and values are exchanged through the dynamic process of cultural diffusion. This process alters political, economic, and social systems and may result in conflicts or tensions due to this cultural change.
  • After 1200 CE, trade between African kingdoms and the Islamic world transformed African political, economic and social systems. Many African societies reflected a blend of both African and Islamic cultural practices and beliefs. By the 1400's, as European trade expanded into sub-Saharan Africa, interactions between African, Islamic and European cultures laid the foundation for increasing tensions between these cultures.
  • Cultural diffusion continues to influence the development of cultures and nations in Africa today. The pluralistic cultures of many African nations strive to find a common national identity as they struggle to seek political, economic and social stability.
  • Stereotypes: Stereotypes permeate peoples’ idea of Africa. Students will have the opportunity to explore their own ideas about Africa in order to confirm what they know as the actual realities of Africa while dismantling ideas that are incorrect.
  • Art: When observing West African culture we see art in the forms of gold, ivory, masks, jewelry, body markings, and clothe. While these items carry beauty, they carry much deeper and richer meaning to the African people. Exploring the meaning behind these objects will help students to recognize the cultural values of West African people.
  • Culture: African culture was influenced by both Arabic and European culture and economic systems.

III. Artwork

  • Photographs of modern Africa to be displayed on a PowerPoint (The Great Mosque of Mali, signs in French, modern homes, cities, mud brick homes, gold, camels, pyramids, masks, beaded crowns, Western clothing, mine shafts, ivory carvings, Christian churches)
  • Photographs of jewelry, body markings, masks, and gold weights
  • Passages from Sundiata, an Epic of Old Mali by D.T. Niane
  • Photographs of gold weights and replica of gold weights, and African proverbs.

IV. Lessons

Lesson One: Pre-Assessment

Objective: Students will describe misconceptions that they had about the continent of Africa.

Warm up: Using the Curtis Kline ideas from Mistaking Africa: Chapter 1 Changing our Mind about Africa, students will respond to this prompt in their journals:

  • Create a web in your journal to identify key terms or phrases, positive or negative, you have heard others use while describing Africa.
  • I will verbally tell students that they don’t need to “clean up their act” as Kline says; however, I will caution students about appropriate classroom language as we have had some racist incidents in our school.


  1. Students will complete the MCPS pre-assessment that reviews concepts of seen and unseen.
  2. Students will meet in groups to combine their lists on chart paper.
  3. We will discuss each of the lists and ask for clarification if necessary.
  4. Students will view a power point presentation of images from Africa (current ideas of images would be: animals, common images, then get into images that students may not think of, such as The Great Mosque of Mali, information of languages, information about religions, modern homes, cities, mud brick homes).
  5. We will discuss the images and students. Through discussion, I hope students will identify ideas that were surprising to them.

Assessment: Go back into groups with the chart paper. As a group, strike out phrases or words that you do not think belong as descriptions for Africa. Add any new words or phrases that you think should be added.

Lesson Two:

Objective: Students will identify unseen values that are represented in African objects.

Warm up: Students will look at photographs of African objects and people such as Gold weight, woman wearing a massive amount of gold jewelry, African masks, an African with body scarring. They will identify what they can see in the photographs.


  1. We as a class will identify each of the objects for their seen characteristics.
  2. We go through each to identify the unseen. We will go through the statues, the masks etc. and explain what characteristics that they have and what some of these characteristics may mean.
  3. Stations: This is an adaptation to an exercise I completed last year. It will be enriched by information learned through the institute. Students will put into practice from the previous activity.
    • Oral legends listening stations: Students will listen to stories from Africa to elicit the moral of the story as well as the characteristics of supernatural. Selections heard will come from:
      • Stories Under African Skies Narrated by Alex Haley; Produced by Colonial Williamsburg, 1992
      • The Ups and Downs of Being Brown Narrated by Rex M. Ellis; Produced by World Storytelling, August House, 1997
    • Weights with legends board: board will include a variety of pictures of weights as well as their intended meaning on a flip card. Some will be unmarked for students to decipher the meaning of the legend on their own. The explanation of how the weights were used, the spoon and scale will be included on the bulletin board.
      • Students will view weights from
      • Students will read proverbs from African Proverbs compiled by Charlotte and Wolf Ledlau, illustrated by Jeff Hill; Peter Pauper Press, 1985
      • Students will read Kwajo and the Brassman’s Secret, by Meshack Asare; Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2002
    • Sundiata passage: students will read the Sundiata passage and identify how the Africans of West Africa felt about the written word and books. Then students will need to explain what caused these feelings.
      • Passages from workshop
    • Mansa Musa print: Students will look at the print to interpret the symbols. Students will not yet have studies Mansa Musa, therefore they will need to look at the mosques, the gold, the map, and try to explain what the primary document is saying.
    • primary passages describing Mansa Musa’s journey
      • Passages from workshop
    • Art station, masks and statues: Students will use the model lesson to explain the meaning behind them
      • Students will view masks from
      • Students will read: “National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian” by Roslyn A. Walker and “At the Museum: The Metropolitan Museum of Art” by Christa Clark. Footsteps African American History: Mansa Musa King of Mali, 1999
  4. Once all students have visited each of the station we will have a class discussion regarding each station and what they students learned at each.

Assessment: Students will be given a selection of images and written ideas. They will on their own decipher the meaning behind the images and written ideas.


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