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What part of africa is the color purple set in?

The Color Purple is a renowned novel by Alice Walker that highlights the struggles of African American women in the early 20th century. Although the story takes place primarily in rural Georgia, the setting has deep roots in Africa. In this article, we’ll explore the ties between The Color Purple and the continent of Africa.

Historical Context

The Color Purple opens in 1909 and spans over 30 years. During this time period, many black Americans remained deeply connected to their African heritage. Slavery had been abolished just a few decades prior, and the wounds of being kidnapped from Africa were still fresh for many families.

In the post-Civil War era, African Americans continued to face intense discrimination and violence. Seeking freedom and opportunity, millions embarked on the Great Migration from the rural Southern states to Northern cities. However, their dreams were often met with overcrowded slums and menial labor.

Walker based many aspects of The Color Purple on the experiences of her parents and grandparents. Their struggles for equality amidst racism and poverty inspired her to give a voice to oppressed black women facing similar circumstances in the early 1900s.

Where in Africa Were Slaves Taken From?

During the trans-Atlantic slave trade from the 16th to 19th centuries, over 12 million Africans were captured and violently transported to the Americas. The vast majority were from West and Central Africa. Countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Congo, Senegal, and Angola lost millions of people to the horrors of slavery.

In the book, Celie and Nettie’s background reflects this history. Although their exact origins are unclear, it is very likely their parents or grandparents were taken from West Africa before ending up in the American South through the domestic slave trade.

Major Regions of Origin for Enslaved Africans

Region Share of Total Slave Trade
West Africa (Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Ghana, Benin, Nigeria) 48%
West-Central Africa (Congo, Angola) 37%
South-East Africa (Mozambique, Madagascar) 7%
East Africa 4%
South Africa 4%

As shown in the table above, Celie’s ancestors were likely taken from the coastal areas of present-day Nigeria, Ghana, and surrounding countries. These regions lost more people to the slave trade than anywhere else on the continent.

Celie & Nettie’s African Lineage

Both Celie and her younger sister Nettie are described as having African facial features and dark skin. These traits reflect their recent ancestral origins in West Africa.

In a flashback scene, Celie recalls her father angrily shouting that she “black, blacker than night” while beating and raping her. This suggests he resented his own African roots which were visible in Celie.

Nettie is depicted as being more light-skinned than Celie. She also has an eager interest in her African background. At one point, she tells Celie excitedly, “I know where we came from! We came from Africa.” Their contrasting complexions and attitudes toward Africa symbolize the diversity within the African diaspora.

Nettie’s Letters from Africa

A major part of the novel involves Nettie’s letters to Celie from Africa. After being separated from her sister, Nettie becomes a missionary in the fictional country of Olinka. Her vivid descriptions of Olinka offer insight into early 20th century African culture.

In her letters, Nettie details various aspects of Olinkan life such as polygamy, kinship rituals, gender roles, religious beliefs, and colonialism. She also draws parallels between the oppression faced by women in Olinka and the struggles of black women in America.

Her time in Africa allows Nettie to embrace her heritage and gain pride in her identity. Celie also feels more connected to her roots and history through living vicariously through her sister.

Key Highlights from Nettie’s Letters

Topic Description
Polygamy Most Olinkan marriages involve one man with multiple wives. Nettie is shocked by the practice initially but comes to accept it.
Religion The Olinkans follow indigenous belief systems but also adopt some elements of Christianity brought by missionaries.
Colonialism Nettie describes British colonists exploiting the Olinkans for land, resources and labor while suppressing local culture.
Gender Roles Nettie notes similarities in how Olinkan and African American women are oppressed and expected to be obedient and subordinate.

Analyzing these excerpts provides insight into the clash between traditional African ways of life and the forces of imperialism and missionization.

Ties to the Real African Country of Nigeria

Though fictional, Olinka is likely inspired by Nigeria. Alice Walker even specified that she envisioned the Olinkan characters as “descendants of Ibo people” when selling the film rights.

The Igbo are one of the largest ethnic groups in present-day Nigeria. During the slave trade, millions of Igbo peoples were captured and transported to the Americas. Elements of Igbo culture and language survived through the centuries and influenced African American culture in the U.S. South.

The parallels between Olinka and actual West African peoples represent Walker’s attempt to reconnect with her stolen ancestral past. She takes readers on a journey to uncover African American history before slavery.

Themes of Africa in Walker’s Writing

A sense of African heritage and identity permeates much of Alice Walker’s writing. In addition to the Color Purple, one can find similar themes related to Africa in many of her poems, short stories, and other novels.

For example, Walker’s revolutionary essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” celebrates the creativity and resourcefulness of female African slaves. She writes:

“Only an Africanist people could cultivate such delicacy in the midst of brutality. It is as if, at the heart of their oppression, they perceived their personal survival as hope for black people as a whole.”

In Walker’s work, Africa represents the forgotten past, the undying hope, and the ancestral strength that allows black culture to endure despite slavery’s devastations. She reminds readers that the roots sink deep in African soil.

Significance of Africa in The Color Purple

Ultimately, the allusions to Africa in The Color Purple provide depth and context that shape the narrative. Celie and Nettie’s African lineage informs their struggles for identity and equality as black American women.

Africa represents what was stolen from them by slavery but also the power they can reclaim by honoring their heritage. The continent haunts the story as both a lost homeland and a source of inspiration to survive and triumph over oppression.

Walker’s vivid conjuring of their ancestors’ lives helps explain the sisters’ tenacity. Their bonds to family and community enable them to gradually heal and gain freedom within unjust systems of racism and patriarchy.

Though Celie and Nettie are geographically distant from Africa, it lives within them. Their tales of sorrow and strength reflect the tragedies and triumphs of millions of Africans through time. Walker beautifully captures these transatlantic ties across gender, race, space and time – leaving readers with a profound understanding of the roots below our feet.


The Color Purple stands as a remarkable novel that brings Africa to life for modern readers. Though set in the rural American South, the brutal legacy of slavery and the vibrant persistence of African tradition permeate the setting and characters.

Celie and Nettie’s family origins in West Africa, Nettie’s letters from Olinka, and other details portray Africa’s complex role in black history. The continent represents past sorrows and horrors but also the resilience that allows Celie, Nettie and so many others to find joy and forge new futures.

Above all, The Color Purple highlights the unbroken bonds between generations of African women separated by the Atlantic yet connected through blood and spirit. Alice Walker beautifully captures the essence of this shared sisterhood and cultural heritage.