Cover image: West Africa: Word, symbol and song


West Africa: Word, symbol and song

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British Library

This British Library exhibition explored literature and music from the great African empires of the Middle Ages to the cultural dynamism of West Africa today. The linked website has a set of teaching activities for Key Stages 2, 3 and 4 (ages 7 to 16). There is a vast range of inventive combinations of word, symbol and song across peoples and cultures in West Africa. This interweaving of art, communication forms, languages and writing systems lends itself beautifully to cross-curricular learning. Indeed, the cross-curricular approach enhances students’ ability to understand and learn from West African cultures. For this reason, most of the activities combine, for example Art, History, Geography, RE, English Literature and English Language in different ways. Downloadable PDF resources explore the following:

  • Introduction to West Africa through primary sources
  • Word, symbol and song: reading the image
  • Language systems: words, symbols, objects, and pictures
  • Stories of the past to shape the present
  • Key historical events that shape the circulation of cultural art forms between the diaspora and the wider world Transatlantic slavery is one of the biggest histories of forced mass migration and human exploitation. What are some the positive legacies to come out of this brutal history? Is this a one way flow?
  • Who tells the story? West African writers and voices of protest Writers of West African descent played a crucial role in the movement for abolition of the transatlantic slave trade.

Resource contents


Arts, Culture and Religion

Age Ranges

KS2: ages 7-11, KS3: ages 11-14, KS4: ages 14-16


Art and design, English / literacy, English: literature / story, Geography, History, RE / RS

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