By Robin Van Auken on Volunteer Forever

Don’t visit West Africa for the big game or majestic ruins – instead, focus on the amazing variety of people you’ll meet there, and take time to learn their history, their customs, and share your own.

From Nigeria to Senegal, West Africa is home to an estimated 362 million people. It’s an area of many cultures, but they don’t clash. In fact, there are many similarities in dress, food, and music and songs, and it’s thanks to the long history of cultural exchange in this region.

Even the homes are similar – if not in style, then in function. The traditional West African home is built within a compound, a cluster of buildings that serves to keep families connected. Sometimes these buildings are even connected, joined around an open area.

West Africans enjoy free-flowing and embroidered clothing, with elaborate stitching on their shirts, tunics, and jackets. The formal attire includes a knee-to-ankle Boubou robe, sometimes called a kaftan. These loose-fitted robes have their origins in the royal families of the 12th century, along with another popular item – a large square of cloth draped around the shoulder called the Kente cloth, made by the Akan people of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, that is the most well-known and a source of ethnic pride.

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