THE DARK KINGDOMS: The Impact of White Civilization on Three Great African Monarchies by Alan Scholefield

THE DARK KINGDOMS: The Impact of White Civilization on Three Great African Monarchies

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Scholefield has written a number of novels with African settings (Lion in the Evening, 1974; Wild Dog Running, 1971); this represents his first foray into history. In this case it's the tale of three African kingdoms and the depredations they suffered at the bloodstained hands of Europeans. The Old Kingdom of the Congo (today a part of Angola), the West African kingdom of Dahomey, and the small state of Lesotho provide contrasting examples of the black response to the incursions of white traders, missionaries and slavers. The Old Kingdom in the 15th and 16th centuries is the most pathetic instance of a gullible, hospitable African people naively succumbing to the blandishments of whites--in this case the Portuguese whose original fraternal impulse toward the Bakongo quickly turned rapacious. While Alfonso I, the Bakongo king, beseeched his ""brother"" monarch to send teachers, artisans and technicians, the Portuguese responded by stepping up the activities of their flesh merchants until the once-proud kingdom was destroyed. The same fate befell Dahomey, a powerful, fierce nation built on slavery and crippled by its rigid social conservatism. Only Basutoland, a simple society blessed with a sage and benign monarch, managed to steer the perilous path to independence between British and Boer: today a constitutional monarch, great-grandson of the venerated Moshesh, occupies the throne. Scholefield seems to have had a number of contradictory aims in writing this book. On the one hand he suggests that the institution of slavery, though indigenous to Africa, distorted and corrupted the society once the Europeans began to ply the trade in a big way. On the other hand he takes pains to point out that the whites can't be made scapegoats: many African mores were in fact cruel and savage; African rulers were just as greedy as Europeans. Scholefield constructs his narrative from the reports and diaries of missionaries and adventurers including that remarkable Victorian figure, Richard Burton. The whole is quite absorbing though scholars will cavil and the Africans themselves have a much different story to tell.

Pub Date: Nov. 25th, 1975
Publisher: Morrow