Map of Africa
Natural History
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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
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Making Peace


Students learn how other cultures solve problems and avoid conflict. Students are also introduced to the belief that spirits provide guidance and protection.

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

GOAL: Students will learn to tolerate the spiritual beliefs of others and the importance of settling problems peacefully.
  • Students learn how African societies view their family and ancestors.
  • Students learn how African peoples settle disputes.
  • Activity: Doll Making and Resolving Conflict
    Grades 4 and above

    In West and Central Africa, many cultures pay special reverence to deceased members of the community. Like other peoples, Africans often have elaborate funerals, particularly for the wealthy, powerful, or respected members of the men's or women's associations.

    Most people in Africa believe in the continuation of existence in some form after death. It is believed that the deceased, under favorable circumstances, can be petitioned to intercede in the world of the living. In a few groups, special sculptures, called ancestor figures, are made that not only represent a deceased ancestor, but serve as a receptacle for the spirit of the deceased.

    Among some groups there is a belief that each human being has two spirits. Such beliefs are ancient in Africa and also in many other parts of the world. In Egypt, the vital-force spirit was known as the Ka, while the higher spirit was known as the Ba. It is the spirit akin to the Ka that is placed in the ancestor figures of sub-Saharan Africa. The ancestor figure was placed in a shrine or on an altar. Some ancestor figures belonged to specific families, while others belonged to a lineage or village. Individuals would petition the spirit of the ancestor to help resolve personal and family problems.

    Among the BaKongo people of the Democratic Republic of the Congo in Central Africa, the figures may be made of wood, cloth and stones. Ancestor figures are never carved as realistic representations of specific individuals, but rather represent an idealized portrayal of the individual. The head of such figures is usually large in proportion to the body, signifying its importance. The face is calm and serene, reflecting qualities that were highly valued by the BaKongo.

    When an argument could not be solved, the parties pleaded their cases before the Nganga or spiritual leader. The Nganga asked for the help of the ancestors by calling upon the ancestor figures. Once a decision was made, the Nganga rolled a nail in each party's hand and hammered each nail into the figure to seal the agreement. At the same time, the parties repeated a binding oath.

    Part 1: Explain to the students how some African's use "ancestor figures" to settle disputes and tell the students that they will construct similar figures that will represent the "ancestors" of the class. In part 2, those figures can be used to help resolve conflicts between different students in the class.

    Clay, wire clothes hangers, plastic grocery bags, cloth, tape, string or yarn, toothpics.


      1. Bend the wire coat hanger into the shape of a human figure.

      2. Form clay around the "hook" to make a head. Carve simple features into the clay.

      3. "Flesh out" the wire arms, body and leg of the figure by wrapping with the plastic grocery bags. Tape the loose ends down.

      4. Dress the figure by wrapping with strips of cloth and by using cloth to make skirts or robes.

    Part 2: Pick a student or have the class pick a student who will play the role of Nganga or spiritual leader. The Nganga will settle a dispute between two students or a group of students by "calling upon" the ancestor figures made in part 1.

    Ancestor figures, toothpics.


      1. Place all the "ancestor figures" together in one place.

      2. Ask the students to write down descriptions of "problems" that students have with other students in the class. Collect the descriptions and select one or two "problems" for resolution.

      3. Choose a student who will play the role of the Nganga or "spritual leader" (or have the class choose someone). The Nganga will act as a judge and come up with a fair solution to one of the problems. Pick another student to play the role of Nganga for another problem.

      4. Have the Nganga and the students with the problem to be solved approach the ancestor figures. Have each student describe the problem as they see it and ask the Nganga to help them solve the problem.

      5. The teacher or the Nganga should tell the class that the Nganga's authority to make a fair decision comes from the ancestor figures.

      6. After hearing the student's problems, the Nganga should make a decision and ask the students to agree to abide by the decision.

      7. If the students agree, have the Nganga tell the students his or her decision and have the Nganga roll a different toothpic or nail in each student's hand The Nganga should place the toothpics or nails into the body of the ancestor figure to seal the agreement.

      8. If the students do not agree, the Nganga should remind them that his or her authority comes from the ancestors and that the students should agree.

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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.