African Holocaust Block

Because the African Holocaust is a heavy one, I knew that I wanted to sandwich it in-between some ‘good stuff.’ I decided to do this by first exploring the continent of Africa and ending on the accomplishments and achievements of a few African-decent people. This block is a fifth grade history block.

Before I continue to share about this unit, I just wanted to pause here and acknowledge our privilege. This is not our direct ancestry; we identify as white. What we have learned is from research and books from others. I understand that as challenging as it is for us, learning about the African Holocaust can be traumatic to those of African decent. 

We did many projects. particularly with fabric, that use the same techniques, but are NOT those fabrics or beading or other arts. They are not for many reasons:

  • We are not these peoples or their decedents.
  • These artisans grow up in their culture and spend years learning and refining the craft. It is not our culture, and we do not have these skills.
  • The arrangement of symbols, weavings, and beads have meaning. We do not know the nuances or intricacies  of this meanings. 

Also I want to give a little insight into the books that I’ve chosen for this unit. I wanted to depict the peoples of Africa and their descendants as a vibrant, diverse, healthy, and equal peoples. Many years ago when reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography I was left with the sense of what a rich, diverse, amazing continent that Africa was; one I knew little about. Because of this, I wanted to start with the learning of some of the various ethnic groups and regions.  My friend Tomika, posted this beautiful art piece of the Fabrics of Africa on Instagram, that has been my inspiration for introduction to this unit. I felt this was a beautiful gateway into the various peoples and cultures, because their fabrics have so much meaning. 

From here we moved into the trade of enslaved people and lightly on the Middle Passage. We focused on the residency, the resistance, and perseverance through their stories, their songs, and the culture. I have chosen material mostly from Black authors, because this lends an understanding and nuance to the material that an author from a different culture could not possibly lend. (Africa is my Home and Amazing Africa Projects You Can Build Yourself are from white authors.) I have sought after materials that I felt showed the African people as equal, leaving the ones focusing on the poor or a need to be “saved.”

We ended our block with the story of Juneteenth, which I realize is only one nations liberation (We are doing World History,) and the many accomplishments and contributions of African peoples and their descendants in our nation and the world. Below are the resources and activities we did for this block. You can find more in my instagram high lights “Africa.”

Books

Activities

Asanti

Though we read about many peoples and many fabrics, our study was focused on a handful of people and projects. We focused on the Asanti’s Kente and Adinkra’s cloth. A weaving project would have been perfect here as Kente cloth is made by a special weaving technique. However, my daughter is not fond of weaving, so we opted for a block print project as the Asanti’s Adinkra cloth is made by a block print technique. The making of the ink, meaning of the Adinkra symbols, and the printing of the cloth is all fascinating, so I encourage you to research more than what is listed here. Our block prints, of course were neither Adinka, nor did we attempt to emulate it. We just made some designs using rubber carving pad and carving tools, used a brayer to apply fabric paint from Dharma Trading Company and printed the cotton muslim. The paint must be heat set, and then can be washed.

Ndebele

Our next focus was on the Ndebele and their beautiful house paintings. The project we did for this study was a batik style painting on cloth (I was not quite up for painting on our house quite yet.) We used gel glue to create lines of our drawing, and fabric paint to draw within those pictures. (Again this cloth need heat setting before being washed.) The glue can be dissolved with boiling water or left in (if not washing). These became “flags” for our house.

Maasai

From here we studied the Maasai women and their beading. Though there are many peoples throughout Africa that do beautiful beading work, we focussed on the Maasai due to time. I would also encourage you to check out the Zulu, who also have a beautiful skill in beadwork. We did not attempt to replicate any of the Maasai beading techniques, but we did just a simple bracelet beading project.

Senufo

From the Maasai, we moved onto the Senufo and their mud cloth techniques. Again, the techniques and process that they have developed is full of skill and beauty. It is a process from making the inks/dyes and then painting them onto their cloths. Each symbol has meaning. For our fabric project during this study we used neutral colors by combining complementary colors of our fabric paints: orange and blue, purple and yellow, and red and green. I was most happy with how this project came out. My daughter was not happy with the lack of color, but I thought the variety of neutrals to be very visually pleasing and complementary.

Ankara fabric

Our last fabric, which has the most amazing history, was the Ankara fabric popular in much of Africa. This fabric was first learned from the Dutch from Indonesians. The Dutch introduced it to Africa, and Africa took it and made it her own. It is not a common technique found all over Africa with vibrant colors and beautiful prints. It is made by a series of wax print batik processes. We attempted a multi-step batik natural dye process, but unfortunately were unsuccessful. If I were to do this again, I would keep it much simpler and use the fabric paints that worked so well for the rest of our projects. The blue gel glue can be used to create a design as we did for our “flags.” When it had dried, I would dye the cloth shortly in a dye from a diluted fabric paint. Allow it to dry, heat set it, and then wash.

Banana fritters

We also made a very simple recipe from the African Projects book: banana fritters. We used these for our poetry tea time. They turned out delicious.

YouTube Videos

This is a playlist that I used of videos on songs of Enslaved Africans, the arts and people that we studied, a few beading tutorials, and an interview with artist Kadir Nelson.

Google Slideshow on fabrics of Africa

Mud Cloth (Senufo)

Asanti Kente Cloth

Ndebele House Painting

More on Ndebele House Painting

Maasai beadwork

More on Maasai beadwork

Asanti Adinkra Cloth

Ankara cloth

Smithsonian Natural Museum of African Art

Chalkboard Drawing

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