SHAPERS OF AFRICA by Florence T. & Alberta L. Saletan Polatnik


Email this review


Fictionalized reconstructions, sometimes (admittedly) from fragmentary sources, of the lives of five notable Africans spanning 700 years. The great 14th century Mali emperor Mansa Musa is featured also in two Zenith volumes, Great Rulers and Glorious Age; here his celebrated pilgrimage to Mecca is the focal point, and if there is little additional information, there is color and drama aplenty. The second subject, Queen Nzinga of Ndonga (in what is now Angola), is equally protean but perhaps too colorful for fictionalization: by clever negotiation and open warfare she upheld the rights of her people against the Portuguese for many years, meanwhile embracing Christianity, renouncing it and practicing the cannibalism of her allies, finally accommodating herself to both. The circumstances are not in question but the exploitative treatment of cannibalism (e.g. human carcasses ""eaten with much merriment and relish"") is a disservice to the balanced handling of a topic like slavery, and Nzinga herself comes off as an oddity rather than a wonder. On the other hand Samuel Ajayi Crowther, first black (Episcopal) bishop in Africa, is portrayed as a Sunday School paragon; also, in his native Nigeria he is regarded less as ""a mainstay of the Church Mission Society's efforts,"" i.e. a white tool, than as a bridge between white institutions and African customs. The section on Moshoeshoe, founder and bulwark of the new Basotho nation (now Lesotho) is unexceptionable, that on Tom Mboya deficient chiefly in not identifying him as a moderate in pre-independence Kenya politics, in many minds a rival to Kenyatta (the Luo-Kikuyu split is similarly played down). Along with the new information, some superfluous invention.

Pub Date: Oct. 20th, 1969
Publisher: Messner