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review 2017-11-10 07:59
In my Top Ten list of History books
Africa: A Biography of the Continent - John Reader

This is a wonderful and highly readable book, but do not misunderstand what it is about. The subtitle is completely honest: this is not a book (entirely) about human history in Africa; this is a book about the African continent.  As such, it is divided into three approximately equal sections:

 

1) Natural History: 

This describes the formation of the African continent during the cooling phase of the Earth's crust. Africa is unusual among continents for being composed of just three giant cratons. A large portion is dedicated to the formation of the Bushveld Igneous Complex- the single largest and richest concentration of mineral wealth on the planet, and almost the sole accessible source of some strategic materials like chromium. 

 

This part progresses to the emergence of life, and the considerable evidence that humans find their origin in Africa, with our present form emerging somewhere between 2 and 4 million years ago, depending on what criteria you apply, and how you interpret the available evidence.

 

2) Anthropology:

Development of human civilization in Africa, and importantly- the co-evolution of other organisms with the human species in their land of origin.  This is a big deal, because all the evidence suggests that humans only left their mother continent about 120,000 years ago. We are an invading foreign species everywhere else on the globe, and like most introduced species, we had fewer natural predators and parasites outside of Africa. Malaria is the best example of an organism which co-developed in evolution, in Africa, alongside humans. Humans even adapted with rearrangements of hemoglobin, which can be beneficial in the hybrid SC form, but deadly in the SS homozygous form (i.e. Sickle Cell Anemia).  This, and other similar examples account for the comparatively slower growth rate of human communities within Africa, compared to without, and some of these issues continue to plague Africa today. 

 

"Expatriot" groups returning to Africa about 15,000 years ago transformed human development on the continent by introducing foreign species which had been domesticated in Asia. Most important of these were cattle. Skeletal remains have shown two different pathways that Africans took with this new resource:

a) cattle raising for meat (in which skeletal remains show an equal number of males and females in the herd). and

b) cattle raising for milk: (in which skeletal remains show most males in the herd were slaughtered) 

 

The two patterns have different land-use and social development implications, which were fascinating to read.

 

There is an entire section dedicated to exploring how conditions, particularly around present-day Nigeria, led to the development of acephalous social structures... some of the largest and most sophisticated examples of completely decentralized human communities with essentially no leaders. It was a development which fit the local environment well, at the time it developed, but made Africa in general extremely vulnerable to foreign attackers with heirarchical social systems concentrating,  commanding, and directing resources against them. This began in earnest with contact with Arab slavers on the East coast of the continent, beginning about 800 years ago, and really picked up pace with European contact in the 1500's.

 

...Which brings us to the subject of slavery. It is an indigenous African practice, which evolved from traditions of adoption and extended family (mutual) obligations. Going back to what I said about malaria and Africa's slow population growth... this created a demand for labor which was sometimes answered with warfare and enslavement of the vanquished, or with peaceful indentured servitude agreements (some coerced, some not; some for a lifetime, some for more limited terms).  The upshot of all this is that a well-established social acceptance of slavery, and a well-developed economic system of slave acquisition and trade was in place by the time Arab slavers arrived in the 1200's or so.  Later, beginning with the Portuguese, Europeans fed this system, and in a sense "addicted" the economies in present-day Congo and Angola to the slave trade. Outright slavery continued in Africa into the 20th century, and many of the proto-slavery practices (i.e. adoption of orphaned relatives, in exchange for limited periods of enforced servitude) continue today.  One interesting observation:  plantations in North America tried on several well-documented occasions to force Native Americans into slavery, but the enslaved never cooperated. They simply refused to work, even on pain of death. The reason is that slavery was a foreign concept to them. Slavery is not a useful institution to hunter-gatherer societies, which don't cultivate or hoard large amounts of food (or any other possessions). It is only in pastoral or agricultural civilizations that large amounts of manpower are needed to work the land.  Africans brought to North America as slaves were mainly from agricultural areas of Western Africa which unfortunately understood well the concept of slavery, and culturally accepted it sufficiently to participate in it, in a way that Native Americans did not.

 

3) Human History:

This is the names and dates History that I had expected the entire book to be. There is little well-documented history before Arab contact.. the Great Zimbabwe, the Egyptian pharaoh dynasties, and the Biblical-era Ethiopians being the standout exceptions. Once Arabs entered the continent, with their written systems of recording, History as we think of it really takes off.  The book is necessarily superficial, covering an entire continent for about 800 years. As expected, there is a lot about colonialism, particularly the Dutch and British in South Africa, the Germans in Tanzania, and the British in Kenya and Egypt. The book follows through to the many independence movements in the 1950's and 60's, and ends ominously with the Rwandan genocide and the probable CIA assassination of Patrice Lumumba- first elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

 

Overall this is a definite Five Star book, and on my personal Top Ten History Books list.

 

Highly recommended!

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2017-11-08 00:39
An elephant trap! Sneaky elephant! Tembo Makaburi by John Isaac Jones
Tembo Makaburi - John Isaac Jones

This novella is set in the days before the ban on ivory. Walter Cravens is out to get his fortune by hunting elephants and taking their tusks. Abasi is a servant, guide, and translator to Cravens who is set on bringing ‘progress’ to Africa. An old woman tries to give him some advice, warns about the elephant graveyard. Of course, Cravens won’t be warned off.

I liked the mouse and cat game that Cravens plays with an old bull elephant as they go ever deeper into the wilds. Cravens comes off a little strong in his pompous attitude but it serves the plot well. He’s dead sure that no animal could outsmart him and he’s got the imperious attitude to prove it – ha!

Meanwhile, Abasi and the porters do all the work. In some ways Abasi is the true center of this story. He gathers all the intel (chatting up locals, doing the tracking) and lays it at the feet of the great White hunter Cravens. I liked that Abasi makes mistakes too and isn’t really averse to killing elephants even if he gets a bit spooked later on in the story. He’s not perfect but he’s not the hero of the tale either.

As the story progresses, the tension builds. Something a little supernatural is going on here, right? Or is it just that Cravens and Abasi are making idiot choices and Nature eventually wins out? It’s left up to the reader to decide and I really enjoyed this slant to the story. 5/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book.

The Narration: JD Kelly has one of those rich voices that makes you want to listen to darn near anything that he reads. I loved his voice for Cravens and he also had a distinct voice for Abasi with a believable Swahili accent. Abasi’s fear and skepticism and placating charm all came through loud and clear even as Kelly made Cravens sound like a pompous jerk as he’s meant to be. 5/5 stars.

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text 2017-11-02 17:55
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: The Charities

In the spirit of this game, Murder by Death and I agreed that we wanted to support charities working internationally, in countries where reading is still a challenge to many.  We looked at charities active in various parts of the world, working in a number of different ways and with different focuses, and eventually chose two that cover a fairly wide array of countries in Africa and Asia, with different approaches, but with the common goal of making books and the ability to read available to everybody, from childhood on.

 

These are the two we've decided to support on the basis of this game:

 

Book Aid International

(https://www.bookaid.org/)

 

From their website:

"Our mission, vision and values

We believe that books have the power to change lives. This belief underpins our vision, mission and the values which guide everything we do.

 

Our vision and mission

Our vision is a world where everyone has access to books that will enrich, improve and change their lives.

Our mission is to provide books, resources and training to support an environment in which reading for pleasure, study and lifelong learning can flourish.

 

Our values

Our values inform and guide our work. We are committed to:

Equality of opportunity. Everyone should have the opportunity to read, whatever their circumstances. We support people from all walks of life in their efforts to access the books they need to achieve their goals.

Quality. No-one should have to make do with old, out-of-date books which do not meet their needs. The quality of the books we send is the hallmark of our work.

Investment in the future. Capacity building creates long-term-impact. We help increase the ability of local libraries to support their communities by training librarians and teacher librarians in working with children and other key skills.

Collaboration. Working in partnership ensures that our work is effective, responsive and meets communities’ real needs. We work closely with national library services, NGOs, community library networks, local government and individual institutions.

 

What we do

We provide books so that people can change their own lives through reading.

 

The need for our work

Across Africa, millions of people are unable to fulfil their potential because of a basic lack of books and reading resources.

Literacy and access to information have been shown to reduce poverty, providing opportunities for work, increasing household income, even improving the health of children. A child born to a mother who can read is 50% more likely to survive past the age of five.

We understand the pleasure and opportunities that reading can bring and we believe everyone should have the opportunity to read. Through reading, people can change their own lives for the better and shape their own futures.

 

What we do

In places where books are scarce libraries are often the best places for people to discover the joy of reading. By supporting libraries we can provide access to books for millions of people each year.

We supply brand new books, donated by publishers, to public, community and school libraries across Africa. By partnering with national library services, government departments and NGOs we are able to send up to one million brand new, carefully selected books to Africa each year.

With training and skills development librarians can transform their libraries into the heart of their communities. We provide training to develop the skills of librarians for years to come.

 

Where we work

At present, we are proud to support readers in 14 countries.

CAMEROON
ERITREA
ETHIOPIA
KENYA
MALAWI
OCCUPIED PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES
SIERRA LEONE
SOMALIA
SOUTH SUDAN
TANZANIA
UGANDA
ZAMBIA
ZIMBABWE"

 

And:

 

Room to Read

(https://www.roomtoread.org/)

 

 From their website:

"We Believe that World Change Starts with Educated Children.

We envision a world in which all children can pursue a quality education that enables them to reach their full potential and contribute to their communities and the world.

Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education. Working in collaboration with local communities, partner organizations and governments, we develop literacy skills and a habit of reading among primary school children, and support girls to complete secondary school with the relevant life skills to succeed in school and beyond. 

 

When a Child Reads, She Can Write Her Future

Being able to read and write is essential. Written words are gateways to knowledge and opportunity that are only accessible to those with the ability to decipher them. Despite the known benefits of literacy, 175 million young people in low- and lower middle-income countries are unable to read a single sentence. That’s one out of every four children.

Without a strong foundation of literacy skills, children are more likely to struggle throughout their education, live in poverty and see their potential hampered. In the areas where we work, numerous barriers prevent students from developing the literacy skills they need to thrive. These include a lack of educational resources, minimal exposure to age-appropriate books, insufficiently trained teachers and overstretched infrastructure. We evaluate the extent of these main barriers and work in partnership with local governments to assist schools to address the specific challenges they are facing and ensure students have what they need to develop strong literacy skills and a habit of reading.

 

When Girls Stay in School, Life Improves...for Everyone

Whether or not a girl stays in school has an astounding effect on not only her quality of life, but on her future family’s as well. For a girl in one the most underserved parts of the world, staying in school longer means she is more likely to build a smaller and healthier family, lower her probability of contracting HIV, and earn a higher wage. She is also more likely to marry later and educate her own children — ending the cycle of illiteracy in one generation.

Yet, girls lag behind boys in their completion of secondary school. In the last decade, the world has made significant gains in primary school enrollment but girls in low income countries still drop out at an alarming rate. Out of the 124 million children and young adolescents who are out of school, 52 percent are girls. Girls face serious barriers such as cultural bias and lack of safety. And these challenges can compound as girls transition into secondary school; they include increased school costs, the need to contribute to family income, and pressures to marry and begin a family. Thus, our program includes four core components — life skills, mentors, material support, and community engagement, which we implement based on local conditions, individual need and grade level.

 

Negotiating a Better Future Through Life Skills

Girls need life skills. Thinking critically, empathizing and relying on themselves help them meet day-to-day challenges and make informed decisions. When girls learn these skills and how to use them daily, they become better equipped to handle the challenges they may face, from gender bias to finding time to study. We help girls to discover their own strength, advocate for themselves, and create a new and different path from the one that might be forced upon them. Our program enables girls to learn and practice life skills through classes, workshops and extracurricular activities.

 

Sustaining and Scaling Girls' Education Programs

With your support we can scale faster and transform communities across the globe. Together, we have the potential to reach 15 million children by 2020. We invest in girls’ education for long-term, systemic change. That means sustaining our programs for years, if not decades, and scaling them to a country’s need. To these ends, we focus on girls’ transitions into and through secondary school — that’s where the biggest and most permanent gaps in gender equality in education take place. We also collaborate with government officials at the local, regional and national levels to promote girl-friendly learning environments. These partnerships ensure that our program is complementary of national efforts, sustainable and nationally scalable.

 

Impact & Reach

BANGLADESH
CAMBODIA
INDIA
LAOS
NEPAL
SOUTH AFRICA
SRI LANKA
TANZANIA
VIETNAM
ZAMBIA"

 



Merken

Merken

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text 2017-10-31 15:11
The Land Without Shadows by Abdourahman Waberi
The Land Without Shadows - Abdourahman A. Waberi

I read this short book (only 80 pages of text, plus a 20-page introduction) for my world books challenge, as a book set in Djibouti. I’m not sure I really “got” it, hence the lack of rating. Though billed as a collection of 17 short stories, most of these pieces are better described as a description, or an extended metaphor. Other reviewers have referred to them as essays, but as most of them seem to exist in fictional space (though often without plot and sometimes even without real characters), rather than advancing an organized argument, that description too seems not quite accurate.

Obviously I can only judge this work as a foreign reader and can’t predict the reactions of those who share the author’s cultural background. But I had to push myself through this one, and didn’t connect with it. The short pieces are highly stylized and often hard to understand, and only a couple, the ones with a recognizable plot, had me at all interested in the fates of the characters. However, the book did show me something of Djibouti. The pieces are set throughout the country’s history: dealing with legends, with the lives of nomads, with the colonial period, with modern war and disenchantment. Unfortunately for a reader unfamiliar with Djibouti, they are not organized chronologically. The introduction did help me understand these pieces and their context a bit better, and for other foreign readers I’d recommend reading that first; this isn’t the sort of book where spoilers are much of a concern. (Academics generally seem to assume that every single reader already knows how every single book ends and that no one gets any enjoyment from discovering the story as they go, so I typically read introductions last if I read them at all, to avoid massive spoilers. But here the introduction can serve as more of a readers’ guide.)

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review 2017-09-29 20:38
Lots of information but found it a struggle.
High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from... High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey from Africa to America by Jessica B. Harris (2011-01-04) - Jessica B. Harris

Forgot how this book came to my attention but the premise of "A culinary journey from Africa to America" sounded quite interesting. From the earliest records of foods/plants/animals brought over with the slaves to the relatively modern day and the cultural/political/societal impact and meaning of food it seemed like it would be an intriguing journey.

 

I have to say that the book is not quite what I thought it would be. I thought there would be a much heavier focus on the food, rituals, recipes, changes through the present day (give or take). Instead the book was quite academic and dry, with each chapter starting off with a personal anecdote from the author. Initially those were interesting but I grew to skipping those since that's not what interested me.

 

Initially some of the text was quite harrowing--the descriptions of the middle passage and the customs of eating of slaves during and at the end of their day. There are some really informative bits about the slaves who served as cooks on both the slave ships and even for the US Founding Fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. But eventually the book just sort of drags along. There is a lot to learn with the writing about soul food, for example. But even though I wanted to stick with it the book just seemed tougher to stick to as it progresses.

 

Unlike others I wasn't interested in the recipes as I didn't go into it thinking this was a cookbook or anything like that. There are a few but no pictures and so if you're looking for more of a visual presentation or more of an emphasis on recipes this is probably not your best bet. 

 

It wasn't terrible but it also wasn't the easiest ready. Happy this was available at the library for a borrow.

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