The word, ‘Africa’


The origin of the word ‘Africa’ has been difficult to elucidate. It became the
accepted term from Roman times onwards in the form ‘Africa’, replacing the
originally Greek or Egyptian word ‘Libya’, the land of the Lebu or the Lubins in
Genesis. From designating the North African coast, the word ‘Africa’ came to be
applied to the whole continent from the end of the first century before our era.

But what was the original meaning of the name?
Starting with the most likely explanations, the following versions have been
The word ‘Africa’ is thought to come from the name of a Berber people who
lived to the south of Carthage, the Afarik or Aourigha, whence Afriga or Africa
to denote the land of the Afarik.
Another derivation of the word Africa is that it comes from two Phoenician terms,
one of which means an ear of corn, a fertility symbol in that region, and the other,
Pharikia, means the land of fruit.
It is further suggested that the word comes from the Latin adjective aprica (sunny)
or the Greek aprike (free from cold).
Another origin might be the Phoenician root faraqa, which suggests the idea of
separation or in other words diaspora. It may be pointed out that the same root is
to be found in some African languages, for instance Bambara.
In Sanskrit and Hindi the root Apara or Africa denotes that which, in geographical
terms, comes ‘after’, in other words the West. Africa is the western continent.
An historical tradition subscribed to by Leo Africanus has it that a Yemenite chief
named Africus invaded North Africa in the second millennium before our era and
founded a town called Afrikyah. But it is more likely that the Arabic term Ifriqiya
is the Arabic transliteration of the word ‘Africa’.
One version even suggests that Afer was a grandson of Abraham and a companion
of Hercules.

Joseph Ki-Zerbo (June 21, 1922 – December 4, 2006, Burkina Faso) was a Burkinabé historian, politician and writer. From GENERAL HISTORY OF AFRICA Volume I, Methodology and African Prehistory.


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