African Heroes by Naomi Mitchison

KIRKUS REVIEW

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In the lives of her heroes is the glory and tragedy of Africa: the legendary Sundiata, backward child become triumphant Mali emperor--""son of the buffalo, protector of the innocent""--and his grandson Mansa Musa of the gold-paved pilgrimage; Mai Idris Alooma of Bornu, faithful Moslem; ""The Greatest Mani of Kongo,"" Christianized King Affonso, seeing Portuguese greed destroy his dream of a beneficent independent state (""The slave trade had so corrupted his subjects that they would not give it up""); Osei Tutu (""his chest bare so that all could see the strength of his breathing"") receiving the Golden Stool, ""the soul of the Ashanti people."" The failure of Affonso foreshadows what, with local variations and a very few exceptions (pre-colonial Zulu warrior Shaka, parlaying colonials King Mosesh of Lesotho and Khama III of Botswana) would be the dilemma of each of the succeeding figures: Kgamanye of the Bakgatla, trying to hold his own between Boer and Basotho (""on one leg I wear a trouser, on the other a kilt""), forced at last to lead his people from their ancestral lands; Lobengula of the Amandabele, betrayed by his missionary friends and mowed down in the path of Rhodes' dream of empire; Cetshwayo of the Zulu, refused peace by the British after their ignominious defeat, finally overwhelmed by superior numbers and arms. Most extraordinary is the story of ""The Boy From the Bush"" who became head of one of the great ex-slave Nigerian trading houses and a canny opponent of British penetration--""I, Ja Ja, am Africa."" Two thoughtfully provided maps spot the area in which each story takes place and demarcate the boundaries of modern Africa; notes at the end of each section relate it to the next, sometimes also referring to sources and/or suggesting an especially good title on the subject. Mrs. Mitchison, author of many books on Africa, is herself an adopted Mokgatla; throughout she conveys a sense of the spoken word and something of the African spirit-most impressively in her mentions of slavery, polygamy and cannibalism. The stories are strong and so is the telling.

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