Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ASHANTI TO ZULU: African Traditions by Margaret Musgrove

ASHANTI TO ZULU: African Traditions

By Margaret Musgrove

Pub Date: Dec. 22nd, 1976
ISBN: 0803703570
Publisher: Dial

From Ashanti to Zulu, 26 African tribes appear in a sort of slide show alphabet, each one allotted a lavish painting over a paragraph of text, with words and pictures joined in a formal, vaguely deco-style frame. This prescribed format gives a superficial air of sameness to the pictures even though the Dillons are careful to depict differences in headdress, dwelling structure, etc., and it gives the pages a static, stilted look which the illustrators do nothing to allay. The text, higgledy-piggledy, simply supplies a cultural snippet on each tribe: a general characterization of the Jie, herders in Uganda whose ""men. . . roam with their cattle while the women do the farming,"" but only a fashion report on the Masai and a crocodile legend from the Baule. Nor is any distinction made between a custom peculiar to the tribe and, for example, the Fanti one of ""pouring libation"" with palm wine. Of course, the intent of the presentation is no doubt less systematic description than appreciation, and the Dillons' paintings fairly glow with appreciation--and the expectation of a like response. (Their sheen in fact not only glows but often glares, though the tones remain subdued.) At the same time, in a reversal of the usual division of labor, the pictures are crammed with information; a man, woman, child, home, artifact, and animal is conscientiously worked into almost every tableau. With no selective focus there's an exhausting much to look at--too much to effect the distillation achieved in the Feelings' Swahili counting and alphabet books, though of course this is certain to attract much regard.