The West Africa reference article from the English Wikipedia on 24-Jul-2004
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West Africa

See the real Africa

West Africa is an area with a great span of geography, bioregions, and cultures. The continent of Africa is principally oriented on a north-south axis, with a bulge to the west, and it is this bulge which may be considered West Africa.

Table of contents
1 Geography
2 History
3 Miscellaneous


The coast of this area of Africa is on the south Atlantic Ocean, much of it trending east-west. Portions of this coast were once known as the Grain Coast, the Gold Coast, and the Ivory Coast. The slave trade was conducted heavily in this area; most African Americans are descended from slaves transported from West Africa.

The coast is largely tropical, and a belt of tropical forest once followed the coast through most of this area. North and inland from this area, the land opens into savanna, then the Sahel.

Map of Africa with the western countries highlighted

Nations in this area (with the former colonial powers that controlled them), bordering the Atlantic, from northwest to southeast are:

Interior countries include: In addition, Saint Helena, a territory of the United Kingdom, is lumped in.

Sometimes Cameroon is considered a part of West Africa.

Colonial boundaries as reflected in the modern boundaries between contemporary West African nations, cut across ethnic and cultural lines, often dividing single ethnic groups between two or more countries.


Historically, the area was home to several major African empires, including the Mali Empire, Songhai Empire, and the Ghana Empire. It was one of the world's great civilized regions, with the great city of Timbuktu being one of the most important centers of trade and learning in the Old World. Prosperous and culturally active states thrived in West Africa for many centuries, although a variety of forces including the slave trade and climactic change in West Africa led to these states' gradual decline.


Archaeological studies at Mejiro Cave have found that early human settlers, probably related to the Pygmies, had arrived in West Africa around 12,000 B.C.E. Microlithic stone industries have been found primarily in the region of the Savannah where fairly advanced pastoral tribes existed using chiseled stone blades and spears. The tribesmen of Guinea and the forested regions of the coast were without microliths for thousands of years, but prospered using bone tools and other means. In the fifth millennium, as the ancestors of modern West Africans began entering the area, the development of sedentary farming began to take place in West Africa, with evidences of domesticated cattle having been found for this period, along with limited cereal crops. Around 3,000 B.C.E., a major change began to take place in West African society, with microliths becoming more common in the Sahel region, with the invention of primitive harpoons and fish-hooks.

A major migration of Sahel cattle farmers took place in the third millennium B.C.E., and the pastoralists encountered the developed hunter-gatherers of the Guinea region. Flint was considerably more available there and made the use of microliths in hunting far easier. The migration of the Sahel farmers was likely caused by the final desiccation of the Sahara desert in this millennium, which contributed greatly to West Africa's isolation from cultural and technological phenomena in Europe and the Mediterranean Coast of Africa. Nevertheless, the increased use of iron and the spread of ironworking technology led to improved weaponry and enabled farmers to expand agricultural productivity and produce surplus crops, which together supported the growth of urban city-states into empires.

By 400 B.C.E., contact had been made with the Mediterranean civilizations, including that of Carthage, and a regular trade in gold being conducted with the Sahara Berbers, as noted by Herodotus. The trade was fairly small until the camel was introduced, with Mediterranean goods being found in pits as far south as Northern Nigeria. A profitable trade had developed by which West Africans exported gold, cotton cloth, metal ornaments, and leather goods north across the trans-Saharan trade routes, in exchange for copper, horses, salt, textiles, and beads. Later, ivory, slaves, and kola nuts were added to the trade.


A notably tall building in West Africa is the 2 Fevrier Sofitel Hotel in Lomé, Togo.

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