A new African Writers Series title chronicles the exploits of Africa’s great kings and queens of yore.
After the death of the Heinemann’s African Writers Series that published the work of some of Africa’s great writers such as Chinua Achebe, Ayi Kwei Armah, Ngugi wa Thiongo and many others, a new imprint of African writers series has risen from the ashes. Called the Real African Writers (RAW) Children’s Series, it is the baby of the South African-based Real African Publishers, which last year published the Tastes from Nelson Mandela’s Kitchen.
The new series will officially be launched on 4 June in Accra, Ghana, and subsequently in Johannesburg, Lusaka, Lagos, Addis Ababa, London and New York.
The first books to come out of the RAW children’s fiction series are multi-cultural, inspirational, and very pan-African oriented. For example, there is the 100 Great African Kings and Queens that chronicles the amazing journey of Africa’s great kings and queens of yore. Making the cut in this first of 10 volumes is the magnificent Queen of Sheba from Ethiopia; the inimitable last Pharaoh of Egypt, Cleopatra IV; and the irrepressible Hannibal Barca of Tunisia. Not to be left out is Emperor Mansa Musa of Mali, the richest man who ever lived.
So, why kings and queens? The answer, according to the author, Pusch Commey (who doubles as New African’s correspondent in South Africa): “They were representatives of civilisations. They open a window into African and world history. The educational value is phenomenal.”
Pusch Commey is a Ghanaian-born lawyer based in South Africa. He is an award-winning writer/journalist and associate editor of New African. He has written several journal articles and covered South Africa since 1999. To Pusch Commey, Cleopatra, born 69BC, was a phenomenon. “A brilliant mathematician and businesswoman” he writes in the book, “Cleopatra understood the world better than most rulers of her time.”
When the Romans ruled the known world, Cleopatra went to the palace of Emperor Julius Caeser, rolled in a Persian carpet, and had it presented to him by her servants. When the carpet was unfolded, out tumbled Cleopatra.
Caeser was so charmed by the gesture that he invited Cleopatra to live in his palace, had children with her, planned to marry her contrary to the laws of Rome, and abandoned his plans to invade Egypt.
When Caeser was murdered in 44BC, Cleopatra went to meet the new ruler, Mark Anthony, with silver oars, purple sails and Nereid handmaids, with her erotes fanning her. She was dressed as the goddess of love, Aphrodite. Mark Anthony went crazy over Cleopatra and divorced his second wife, Octavia, the sister of his co-ruler Octavius Caeser, in favour of Cleopatra. She declared “I am the Nile”.
Then there was Hannibal. The untold story of his epic exploits against the Roman Empire was the African Numidian Horsemen, the skilled javelin throwing mercenaries from Numidia, present day Algeria. When Hannibal crossed the impossible Swiss Alps and traumatised the Roman Empire from 218BC, it was with the indispensable assistance of the Horsemen. The Roman general, Scipio Africanus, counter-attacked and defeated Hannibal in the third Punic War at Zama, then paid for, and enlisted the horsemen. Their intervention was the decisive factor. Scipio subsequently earned the nickname “The Roman Hannibal”.
When Hannibal was asked why he wanted to destroy the Romans, his response was: “I do not wish to destroy the Romans, I am only contesting for glory and empire.” Hannibal’s fascinating story is equally matched by the “richest man who ever lived”, Emperor Mansa Musa of Mali. It has been calculated that if he were alive today, he would be worth 400 billion US dollars. In his time “all roads to wisdom led to the African city of Timbuktu”, which was recently thrashed by rebels retreating from northern Mali, with French and Malian troops in pursuit.
According to the book, 100 Great African Kings and Queens, when Mansa Musa went on a pilgrimage to Mecca in 1324AD, he carried so much gold and spent it so lavishly that the price of gold fell for 10 years. The famous manuscripts of Timbuktu, which cover all areas of world knowledge, were written during his reign.The whole African continent is well represented in volume one of 100 Great African Kings and Queens, with interesting stories of Queen Nzinga of Angola, Queen Yaa Asantewaa of Ghana, Queen Amina of Nigeria, Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, King Shaka ka Sezangakhona of South Africa (who famously said “Never leave an enemy behind”), and the pyramid king of the world, Khufu of Egypt. RAW will also launch three other intriguing fictional titles: Tofi’s Fire Dance, Tofi and the Rainbow Fish, and Sea Never Dry. Of the three, the most compelling for children is perhaps the adaptation of Sea Never Dry, for four to eight-year-olds.
The cover blurb says it all: “Tofi (a Zulu) meets Nii from the Gold Coast. She teaches Nii how to milk cows. Nii teaches her how to fish in the sea. One day, the rains fail to fall, there is no grass, the cows die. However like true love, sea never dry.” It is a real pan-African adventure/love story. The first offerings of the Real African Writers Series (which plans to add various other writers in a competition, with handsome prizes and an offer to publish the winners) are available through an author search in all the major online bookshops. Print copies are distributed in South Africa and Ghana, and currently available on demand globally.