REVIEWS

Edited by John Cooper-Poole
Our reviews pages have often featured books distributed by African Books Collective [ABC]. This is an organisation of 114 independent and autonomous African publishers from 18 countries. It is non-profit making, commercially self-sufficient, and receives support from funding agencies for development of publishing capacity in Africa. ABC stocks largely English language titles in 56 subject disciplines. Some 150 new titles are added each year. There is an emphasis on scholarly and academic books, literature, and general culture titles. There are a small number of children’s titles in Swahili, and some titles in French. If you would like to receive monthly new title email announcements from ABC please send an email to Justin Cox – email address available from editor

BANAGI HILL, A GAME WARDENS’S AFRICA. John Blower. Librario Publishing Ltd. ISBN 1-904440-35-5. pp 303. Can be ordered at www.librario.com or from Brough House, Milton Brodie, Kinloss, Moray IV36 2UA. Tel. 01343 850617. £11.99.
This book is a good read. It is a saga of one man’s life and work in the “old” Africa of the 1950’s and 60’s. As well as bringing back many nostalgic memories to those who were John’s contemporaries, it will also appeal to others who prefer their adventures second-hand. I knew John and the Serengeti back in 1953-4 when I was District Officer Musoma in which district Banagi lay, and I remember many of the places and people he mentions. I find it interesting that though the book is entitled Banagi Hill, his experiences in this area occupy only seventy pages of the book and the author only spent four years there. But it was a wonderful area and I for one understand his evident love of the place. If he were to go back there today, he might be disappointed, for there is now a luxury tourist resort nearby at Seronera, and the area swarms with tourists.

Before Banagi Hill and the Serengeti the book describes the author’s earlier experiences as a Conservator of Forests in the then Southern Province of Tanganyika, and his long safaris by boat, truck, and on foot there. After leaving Banagi, where he was Game Ranger, he transferred temporarily to Kenya and took part in anti-MauMau operations in the forests of the Aberdares. From there he moved to Uganda where he was Game Warden in the south west of that country based on Mbarara, and then in Karamoja in the north-east. Subsequently he became Chief Game Warden of Uganda. The descriptions in the book of the African wilderness and the teeming wildlife of those days is excellent and moving as are the pen portraits of the African people with whom he worked.

Later the author became a UN expert and spent several years in Ethiopia, South Asia, and the Sudan, advising on the establishment of Game Reserves and National Parks in those places, but there is little in the book about his experiences there.
The author’s remarks in his epilogue may not be to everyone’s taste, but it should be remembered that he and many others like him gave the better part of their lives to service in Africa, and their opinions are worthy of respect if not agreement.
John Cooke

The same publisher has recently re-issued THE SHAMBA RAIDERS by Bruce Kinloch. ISBN 1 904440 37 1. P/B 409 pages. £14.99.
First published in 1972, it has been updated with a new chapter “Afterwords” which assesses the state of game preservation since independence and its current outlook. Kinloch joined the Uganda Game and Fisheries Department in 1949 as Assistant to the Chief Game Warden whom he shortly succeeded. In 1960 he became Chief Game Warden of Tanganyika where he reorganized and enlarged the Department. A major achievement was the creation of the College of African Wildlife Management. This is another very readable account, and the two complement each other very well. The Shamba Raiders has the added advantage of a good index, which Banagi Hill lacks. Both books are well illustrated with photographs and attractive line drawings.

KILIMANJARO – Mountain, Memory, Modernity. Editors: François Bart, Milline Jethro Mbonile, François Devenne © Mkuki na Nyota Publishers Ltd, Dar es Salaam, 2006. ISBN 9978 417 99 X. pp317 + ills. Distributed by African Books Collective. Originally published as: Kilimandjaro, montagne, mémoire, modernité Pessac, France, 2003
This is a wide ranging, multi author work of 18 chapters (14 translated from French), closely printed on 300 pages. It is a very detailed book – the result of 6 years of research, long walks through the region and with much analysis of the potential impact of glacier disappearance which some predict by 2020. Although mainly a geographical work there are many chapters on related domains. The manuscript is supported by clear graphics: 45 figures, 20 tables, 16 maps and 41 photos – 18 as high quality colour plates. However, the grammar is often complex and there is a lot of jargon: for example, what does the following actually mean in relation to plant cover? Observable continua can be modified to diverse degrees by ecological changes of various intensities known to affect rhythms.

The heart of the book is not just about the dominant, snowy peak, but covers the entire mountain range. It is described as effectively acting as a ‘water tower’ for a vast area of forest, plain, and densely populated farm land. The mountain was ‘discovered’ during a search for the source of the Nile, when banana groves were the backbone of agriculture. The history of development from the mid 19th century is described, starting with missionary activity that was soon followed by German, Greek and British colonisers. There is a description of coffee development in the 20th century, which had such an important economic impact on the region, but latterly has declined in profitability and is adversely affecting the mountain and causing yet further changes.

The geology, geography and soils are covered in detail to illustrate their impact on the natural plant cover, particularly in relation to water supply and thus to agricultural systems. Many of these systems have been in place for several centuries but are now suffering from water competition and over use of irrigation. The Kilimanjaro ecosystem has supported a significant human population for a long time but a dramatic increase in population has largely occurred only in the last 100 years. Competition for irrigation water is anticipated to increase if climate change predictions come true and the ‘water tower’ becomes less reliable. The mountain system may even dry out for parts of the year: meteorological records from Lyamungu indicate that average daily temperatures have increased by 3°C in 30 years.

This book is essentially technical and will be a very valuable resource for specialists in many disciplines. It is a credit to the authors and editors who have contributed much time, effort and expertise. The chapter on “The Mountain of Waters – the Furrows are Running Dry” provided a fascinating analysis of the traditional Chagga systems which have irrevocably changed (for the worse) in the past 40 years. After independence in 1961 there was a scramble for land, loss of forest cover and increased soil erosion, all of which combined to increase flash floods, reduce infiltration and cause some of the canal systems to dry out for long parts of the year. Therefore the future for many farmers in the region seems uncertain.
Dr. Jim Watson

TIP AND RUN, The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa. Edward Paice. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 2007. 488 pages. ISBN 978-0-297-84709-0. £25.00.
It has to be said at the outset that this is a marvellous book, seemingly thoroughly researched by this Cambridge history scholar and produced with admirable taste and quality. Paice’s previous work of substance was Lost Lion of Empire, the tale of Ewart “Cape-to-Cairo” Grogan, who has a walk-on part in this masterpiece.

Though the book covers operations and events throughout the continent, the fact remains that most of the action takes place in present-day Tanzania, and hence its value and relevance to the readers of this journal are clear. There is much in the book on affairs of the time in German South-West Africa (Namibia) and Portuguese East Africa (Mozambique), though understandably less on Togo due to its capture within a month of the start of the war. There is disappointingly little on Cameroon even though its capitulation came just after that of German South-West Africa.

Paice has divided his book into five Parts, one for each of the calendar years 1914 through 1918, and he has skillfully interwoven his story between and within each. There are also his excellent Introduction, Dramatis Personae (which alone runs to seven pages) and Epilogue which add depth and meaning to the mainstream history. We re-visit three particularly familiar portions of the whole: the destruction of HMS Pegasus; the Konigsberg pursuit and sinking; and the adventure, decided upon and implemented by the British, of bringing those famous twins, Mimi and Toutou, all the way from Europe, across southern Africa to Lake Tanganyika. We are introduced to a wonderful array of personalities, some British, some German, many from other nationalities, who all play their role in the story. A great strength of the book is its perspective, one instance being our knowledge of the German leader, Gen Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck, his capabilities and achievements during the wartime years, how he was treated and regarded afterwards, and to what extent he became almost an international figure in later life. The role of the various troops from different countries, notably India and Nigeria, is well presented and the use of several illustrative maps, as well as many evocative photographs, superbly augments the text.

The sub-title of the book is critical, for Paice sets out to show the sheer extent of the tragedy in terms of human life as well as its “unknown” status. The so-called “butcher’s bill” exceeded 100,000 fatalities on the British side alone, including African recruits – add to that the German casualties and their African recruits and the total may be close to half a million. The sheer scale of the tragedy comes across as does the fact that London hardly admitted what was taking place.

This is undoubtedly a scholarly book – indeed, in his Acknowledgements, Paice refers to it as a “project”. There is much information in the book’s eight appendices, and the text is supplemented by a large number of source notes and the like. The bibliography is outstanding. “Here for the first time”, the publisher’s blurb runs, “is the true story” of the Great War in Africa. Maybe so across the continent, though Miller’s Battle for the Bundu from the mid 1970s, with its coverage of the East African theatre, should not be forgotten. In the text itself, this reviewer spotted just one spelling error (for the record, on page 236)! But the negatives are slight and do not detract at all from Edward Paice’s monumental achievement. The detail he has provided is tremendous; academia has been brought into the public domain; and the book is highly recommended.
David Kelly

CHAMELEON AND OTHER STORIES Jane Bryce, Peepal Tree Press Ltd 2007. www.peepaltreepress.com ISBN 1 84523 041 8; ISBN13: 9 781 84523 041 8 pbk. 112 pages, £7.99
In this book, there are seven short stories about the author’s childhood (approximately from age three to early teens) in Tanzania, and six others about West Africa and the West Indies. I am concerned only with the Tanzanian ones, which are written mostly in the first person, her name never disclosed, and very often use of the present tense. The stories are beautifully written, charming and sensitive. What holds them together is the child’s imaginative search to understand what is going on in her world. So there is an atmosphere of something beyond the everyday, intangible or spiritual, but important.

She was a ‘colonial child’ living with her parents and, later, younger sisters, in northern Tanzania up-country. She seems to have been left on her own quite often with Ahmed, the garden boy, and Mariamu, her ayah. They feature in the first three stories: The Prayer Rug; Chameleon; Mariamu and the Demon. Her parents are there in the background and she has a loving relationship with her mother, her father being rather a disciplinarian.

At some point, the family moved to Moshi and Rombo Avenue. There is a story describing a picnic they have at Marangu near the fast-flowing river on the slopes of Kilimanjaro. The oldest girl (the author) describes it. She goes off on her own to explore. The prose becomes quite dramatic: ‘the water is so white against the black rock, she thinks of colobus monkeys with their long black hair with its flash of white, leaping through the trees.’

Finally it is time for ‘the girl’ to be sent to boarding school. She has to learn to live in a community with a disciplined atmosphere she has not experienced before. However, her lively personality is not wholly repressed. I think it’s not surprising she found her way to become a writer. Now among other literary subjects, she teaches ‘Creative Writing’ for short stories at the University of the West Indies in Barbados. (see TA edition 84 and 85 for Jane’s story The Walking Dream )
Christine Lawrence

TANZAN TALES. E Cory-King. Rabbit Books 2006. rabbitbooks.com ISBN 1 904500 50 1. 176pp, illus. £11.95
As part of African oral story telling tradition, centuries’ old fables of myth, superstition and legend were handed down by word of mouth from one generation to the next. The 37 tales of varying length, which make up this illustrated collection, were recounted to the author by family servants when she was living as a child in Tanganyika in the 1930’s. She heard the stories so many times that she remembered them by heart and was then able to repeat them to her mother who wrote them down in German.
Years later in order that a new generation of English children might enjoy them just as she, and countless African children over many years, had, the author decided to translate and publish them in English. (This may account for the sometimes anomalous style of the prose and occasional use of a Kiswahili word such as ‘tundu’ whose meaning is not always apparent).

Each of these tales comes with a moral message; with good inevitably prevailing over evil, and those deserving it getting their come-uppance. An array of assorted characters in both human (kings, princes, princesses); animal (hares, hippos, turtles) and mythical (ogres, demons) forms abound. African folktales serve many roles. They are a way to transfer history and culture as well as being used as a means of teaching the values and morals of African peoples.

Although the names, situations and details of these stories change; their morals are often similar. Greed, dishonesty and spitefulness are punished; while generosity, respect and cleverness are rewarded. These tales, as might be expected considering their origin, are most likely to be most appreciated by a young audience when read out loud. Unlike European children’s bedtime stories they do not necessarily end happily ever after. Usually they aim to teach a lesson, with that lesson being learnt the hard way.
Pru Watts- Russell

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URL

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.