Ancient African Glossary and Terms

Adobe –A mud brick material made from straw, water, and clay that was used in Ancient Africa to build homes.

Aksum Empire – Also known as Axum, an empire that ruled from 100 CE to 940 CE located at the Horn of Africa.

Ancestor – someone that you are descended from.

Arabs – A Middle Eastern group of people that invaded and conquered North Africa in the 700s CE.


Basin – an area that is drained that once contained a river.

Berber –The native peoples of North Africa.

Boers – Dutch and French settlers in South Africa.


Caravan –People that traveled in a group, typically using camels through the desert.

Carthage – One of the most powerful cities on the coast of the
Mediterranean Sea in North Africa between 650 and 146 BCE, rivaling that of Rome.

Caste – A method of dividing people so that it defines their social rank or order.

Chariot – A vehicle that used two wheels and was drawn by a single or multiple horses used for traveling and war in Northern Africa.

Civilization – The way of life, culture, and society of a group of people or a nation during specific stages of development.

Clan – a group of people made up of a single or multiple households who claim a common ancestor.

Climate – the average weather condition of an environment or place.

Continent – A large continuous expanse of land. Africa is one of the Earth’s continents.

Desert – An area that has mostly dry areas and little rainfall. Many deserts are filled with sand instead of dirt.

Dialect –A way of speaking or accent that is specific to an area.

Drought –the lack of rainfall over an extended period of time that causes environmental problems in an area or region.

Dynasty –A continued succession of rulers or leaders that are from the same family.


Equator – in geography, it is an imaginary line that circles the earth, drawn equal distance from the north and south poles.

Ethnic- Relating to a larger group of people that share a distinctive and common racial, national, language, religious or cultural heritage.


Fufu –A type of food that is made from yams in West Africa.


Ghana Empire –A West African Empire that ruled from 300 to 1100 CE.

Grassland –land areas covered by longer growing grasses and herbs.

Great Zimbabwe –A large Central African city that began rule around 1200 CE.

Griot –A West African storyteller, musician, and historian.


Hieroglyphics – An Egyptian system of writing that used symbols and pictures.


Indigenous –of or being from a specific area or region.

Islam – A religion spread to North Africa in the 700s that believes in Allah as their God and the teaching of the prophet Muhammad.

Ivory –The tusks of animals such as elephants that were used for ornamentation and jewelry.


Kingdom – a region, area, country, city, or state whose head-of-state is a king or queen

Kora – A stringed instrument that looks something like a harp that was played by the griots.

Kush – Also known as Nubia, it was an ancient kingdom that ruled the land of the Sudan south of Egypt from 1070 BCE to the 300s CE.


Maghreb – The North African area from Libya to Mauritania.

Mali Empire – Founded by King Sundiata, it is the West African Empire that ruled from 1235 CE to 1600 CE.

Mansa Musa –A Mali Empire who was famous for his pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia and for being one of the richest individuals in history.

Moors – The North African people that were under the rule of Islam after 709 CE.

Muslim – A person who follows the religion of Islam.


Nomads – A group of people that don’t have a single home, but travel from one location to another to locate food and for their livestock to feed.

Nyama – Believed to be a magical force in some of the African
religions that is used by artisans such as blacksmiths and whose secrets are closely guarded.


Oasis – a rich, lush garden area that is found within dry environments where underground springs are located.


Pharaoh – An Egyptian ruler or king.

Pyramid – A monumental structure with four equal sides that meet at a point at the top. Both Egyptians and the Kushites constructed pyramids as tombs for their pharaohs.


Rainforest – A dense forest found in areas of heavy rainfall with tropical woodlands that have broad branches creating a continuous canopy. Parts of western and central Africa are rainforests.

Rituals – practices that are performed as part of religious ceremonies.

Rural – belonging to areas that are outside of larger cities and have lower populations and development.

Sacred – relating to practices, rituals, or beliefs of religious ceremonies.

Sahel – Region between the savanna grasslands and the Sahara Desert.

Sahara Desert – Large desert in North Africa between Central and West Africa and the Mediterranean Sea.

Savanna – grassland areas that also have some trees.

Songhai Empire – Empire that ruled in West Africa from 1464 to 1591.

Swahili – An ethnic group in East Africa as well as a spoken language that is used by many East African nations.


Tribal – relating to objects or customs of an organized group, society, religion, clan, family or generations.


Urban – relating to cities or city dwelling.

BaKongo masks from the Kongo Central region


What is an African Kora?

A stringed instrument that looks something like a harp that was played by the griots
Describe an African caravan

People that traveled in a group, typically using camels through the desert

Are there rainforests in Africa?


What is the Great Zimbabwe?

A large Central African city that began rule around 1200 CE

How was adobe used in Africa?

To make homes

Who is a Griot?
A West African storyteller, musician, and historian