Map of Africa
Natural History
Classroom Ideas

Geography and Culture

- Family Traditions
- Role of Masks
- Making a Living & Leisure Activities
- Healing Art
- Making Peace
- Origins and Identity
- The Meaning of Rock Art
- Spiritual Power of Symbols
- Community & Architechture
(Academy Library)
- African People
- African Animals
African Photos

Making a Living and Leisure Activities


Students learn about the economic and daily activities in a typical African community by creating small-scale architecture, designing currency, playing a board game and completing a writing exercise.

This lesson is part of a series. Select this text to learn more about the series and how to extend its usefulness.

GOAL: Students learn about daily life in African society.
  • Students learn to construct small-scale architecture.
  • Students learn game strategies.
  • Students learn the meaning of African symbols.
  • Students compare and contrast life in the United States with life in Africa.
  • Activity 1: Small Scale Houses
    Grades 7 and above

    12"x 12" Styrofoam board, clay, coffee can or salt box, glue, woven straw from an old beach hat or bag or a piece of coarsely woven fabric, black paint, 3-inch sticks, wire, pipe cleaners, raffia or twine.


      1. Use 1/2 inch thick piece of styrofoam board covered with a thin layer of brown clay for the base.

      2. Construct the house around a coffee can or salt box and glue on woven straw from an old beach hat or bag (see diagram a) or use coarsely woven fabric.

      3. Paint a black door on the front of the house.

      4. To make a fence, poke 3-inch sticks into the Styrofoam base. Wind a wire or a pipe cleaner around the top of one stick and over to the next stick (see diagram b).

      5. Cut strips of the woven straw or fabric 2 1/2 inches high.

      6. Attach the fabric or woven straw to the fence with raffia or twine (see diagram c).

      7. To make it more realistic, create clay pots 1/2 inch to 2 inches high, and pile bunches of fire wood (little sticks) around yard. Make several houses to create a village!

    Activity 2: Ma Kpon/Game Board
    Grades 7 and above

    Plastic clay or modeling clay, bag of beans, rolling pin, 4" x 16"x 1" wood board, knife, ruler, ping-pong ball, photocopies of rules.

    To print a copy of the rules and a diagram of the game board, select this text and choose the print command from the file menu. After printing, use the back button to return to this page.


    Games are played all over the world. They help to relieve the stress of everyday life and develop the skills needed to succeed in the world. One game which is widespread throughout Africa is called Mancala. or Oware in Nigeria, two words that mean transferring. Among the Dan people of Cote d'lvoire, it is also known as ma kpon. The game boards are beautifully carved from a single piece of wood. The top part of the board consists of twelve playing cups carved into the board, six on each side.

    Mancala is a game of strategy in which two players attempt to outwit one another. Each player is given twenty-four seeds and assigned six cups on one side of the board. Each seed represents men or warriors and each cup represents a village. The game begins with the placing of four seeds in each cup. Through strategic counter-clockwise moves, each player attempts to capture seeds from the opponent's cups, leaving the villages unprotected because the warriors have been captured. The player who captures the most seeds is the winner. Directions:

    The object of the game is to capture villages with warriors.

      1. Make a rectangle 4"x 16"x 1". Press or pat 1/2 inch clay piece over the top of wood board.

      2. Use a rolling pin as needed and cut away excess clay with knife.

      3. Press a ping-pong ball into clay, making two rows of six indentations each.

      4. Let dry and harden for at least a day (or fire if possible).

    Grades 6 and below

    12 paper cups or an egg carton, a bag of beans and a photocopies of the rules.

    To print a copy of the rules and a diagram of the game board, select this text and choose the print command from the file menu. After printing, use the back button to return to this page.


      1. Place egg carton without lid on a table or glue the paper cups in two rows of six.

      2. Each player receives 24 beans to start.

      3. Same rules as grades 7-12.

    Activity 3: Creating African Money
    Grades 7 and below

    Potatoes, liquid soap, tempera paint, a knife, copy of descriptions of African and American symbols (optional, provided below) and 7" X 4" paper sheets.


    The designs found on African art, money and everyday objects often mean a great deal and symbolize a cultural concept. For example, the symbols found on the back of a U. S. dollar are more than just decorations, they symbolize many ideas that are essential to an understanding of American history and culture.

    To print a handout that shows some of the symbols found on the back of a U.S. dollar and the meanings of the symbols, select this text.

    Many different symbols are used throughout Africa. Some symbols have special meaning to people at certain stages of their lives. For example, the Chi Wara or antelope is associated with dances and songs performed in farming communities. The Chi Wara ceremonies teach children and young adults how to grow food successfully so that they can provide enough for everyone.

    The following symbols are found throughout Africa, and several photographs of African coins are provided below.

      Double-headed Serpent/snakes The double-headed serpent reminds the Bamum people of Cameroon that their king once fought his enemies on two fronts and won. The Edo people of Benin City believe that snakes consume and destroy illness.
      Crocodiles The Edo people of Benin City believe that the crocodile symbolizes power. The king or Oba is able to crush opposition like crocodile crushes its prey.
      Roosters The Edo people of Benin City believe that the rooster symbolizes power and authority. The queen mother rules over the king's wives like a rooster rules the hens.
      Chevrons Chevrons symbolize rain or water to the Dogon of Mali.
      Bird To the Edo people of Benin, the bird symbolizes the king's power to overcome false prophets and fortunetellers.
      Stool To the Dogon peoples of Mali, the stool symbolizes dignity and authority.
      Navel The people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) believe that the navel is a focus and release point of strong emotions.
      Bared teeth Bared teeth generally symbolize ferocity and aggression
      Round hollow Eyes Round hollow eyes symbolize the ability to project penetrating inner powers.
      Half-closed eyes Half-closed eyes symbolize contemplation.

    To see and print a handout that shows the coins and other important symbols and their meanings, select this text, then choose print from the file menu. After printing, use the back button to return to this page.


    Define the word "symbol" to your class. Initiate a discussion of the kinds of symbols common in your students lives. Discuss the symbols found on the back of the dollar, then describe some of the symbols common in African cultures.

    Finally, ask your students to design and print some "money" using African symbols.


      1. Add some liquid soap to your tempera paints for an easier cleanup.

      2. Cut a potato in half, width-wise.

      3. Use a knife to carve an African symbol into the flat surface of the potato with a knife.

      4. Dip the carved surface of the potato into the tempera paint (choose any color).

      5. Stamp the design on to paper.

      6. Let sheets dry completely.

    As a fun class project, collect all the student's bills and then later present them as rewards for excellent classwork. At the end of the semester, they can be redeemed for special prizes relating to Africa ( e.g., food items, stickers, post cards, posters, etc.).

    Activity 4: Vocabulary List and Pronunciation
    Grades 4 and above

    Blackboard and chalk (optional). Exercise:
    Present vocabulary to students by reading aloud individually or as a group.

    Word Pronunciation Meaning Language Group
    Oba oh-bah spiritual/political Leader Benin, Nigeria
    Olokun oh-loh-kun god of the sea Benin, Nigeria
    Eben e'behn god of the sea Benin, Nigeria
    Ezomo eh-zo-mo war chief Benin, Nigeria
    Epa ee-pah mask Yoruba, Nigeria
    Oloko oh-loh-ko leopard warrior Yoruba, Nigeria
    Ivri ee-vree community shrine figure Urhobo, Nigeria


    Activity 5: Word Match
    Grades 4 and above

    Copies of handout. When you are ready to view or print the handout, select this text. Select print from your file menu. Use the back button to return to this page.


    Activity 7: Written and Oral Exercise
    Grades 4 and above

    Pencil and paper.


    Have students write an essay compafing given aspects of African life with similar ones in the United States. Comparisons can deal with rural life, urban life, food, clothing, shelter and education.

    This assignment should be read aloud by each student in order to increase verbal expression skills.


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    Material on this page was contibuted by the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art with the generous support of Disneyland.

    Activity developed by Jim Angus.