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Africa was the birthplace of the human species between 8 million and 5 million years ago. Today, the vast majority of its inhabitants are of indigenous origin. People across the continent are remarkably diverse by just about any measure: They speak a vast number of different languages, practice hundreds of distinct religions, live in a variety of types of dwellings, and engage in a wide range of economic activities.
Over the centuries, peoples from other parts of the world have migrated to Africa and settled there. Historically, Arabs have been the most numerous immigrants. Starting in the 7th century ad, they crossed into North Africa from the Middle East, bringing the religion of Islam with them. A later movement of Arabs into East and Central Africa occurred in the 19th century. Europeans first settled in Africa in the mid-17th century near the Cape of Good Hope, at the southern end of the continent. More Europeans immigrated during the subsequent colonial period, particularly to present-day South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Algeria. South Asians also arrived during colonial times. Their descendants, often referred to as Indians, are found largely in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa.
Newman, James L., B.A.,M.A.,Ph.D.
Professor of Geography, Syracuse University. Author of "The Peopling of Africa" and other books.