Thursday 16 August 2012

Into Africa

As some readers of this blog know, I lived in Malawi for two years and travelled in Zimbabwe and Botswana. So I was particularly interested in the Into Africa event, chaired by Rosemary Burnett at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I wasn't disappointed.

Alastair Hazell (who was born and brought up in Malawi) opened the event with a moving,  fascinating and illustrated account of the history of slave trading on the island of Zanzibar. The trade, selling people from the mainland of Africa through Zanzibar to the Middle East followed the route of the monsoon winds along the African coastline. Zanzibar was an incredibly wealthy state then, not due purely to the slave trade but to ivory. The amounts of ivory traded back them were astonishing, cutlery makers in Sheffield, England, imported 25 tonnes of ivory per year. Hazell's book The Last Slave Market tells the story of how John Kirk, a Scottish botanist went to Africa with David Livingstone and ended up playing a crucial role in ending the slave trade.

Rosemary Burnett then asked Gus Casely-Hayford to talk about the book of his TV series The Lost Kingdoms of Africa. Their conversation focused on the amazing culture and learning that took place in Africa during the time that Europe was going through the Dark Ages and how much we need positive stories from Africa to balance the bad news stories.They talked about the commitment of the north African Berber culture to learning and libraries, and Ethiopia, which has the oldest continual Christian history of any country.

Finally the discussion opened up to the floor and explored the common themes to the two books, largely slavery and forgotten histories. There was also a discussion about the links between Scotland and Africa, ranging from the fact that apparently different areas of Ghana have adopted different Scottish tartans to the number of Scots who were employed in the colonial administration in African countries. In my own experience, when I was a VSO volunteer in Malawi, a very large proportion of the other volunteers were either Scots or had been educated in Scotland.

The Last Slave Market by Alastair Hazell published by Constable and Robinson

The Lost Kingdoms of Africa by Gus Casely-Hayford published by Bantam Press

Thanks to Clicket for the ticket for this event! You can read more about all the festivals on the Clicket blog here.


Also at the Book Festival today, I popped into the Guardian Spiegeltent as I had heard via Nasim of Velogubbed legs, that they had set up a bookswap so I left a book there. But there were very few books there, so either people are taking books and not leaving any in return or the whole thing is just very much underused, so please, if you're going to the Book Festival and have books you are happy to hand on to someone else, leave one or two in the Spiegeltent.

And in other news, I love this etegami artwork that dosankodebbie created in response to my recent haiku.


Ms Sparrow said...

I remember once seeing a documentary about the silk road in China. They had discovered the ancient mummified bodies of red-haired Caucasians wearing tartans buried there. It sounds like you Scots really get around!

RG said...

Very clever art work - captures the situation well!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

I really enjoyed this. Sounded really interesting. My sister worked in Malawi (another Scott!) and I've also met many other people who worked in Africa, so I'm especially interested to hear anything about Malawi and Africa generally. Cheers:)

iamnasra said...

Thanks I enjoyed reading this...