By a recent count, the continent of Africa comprises some 1,300 cultures. Some of them number millions of people, some only a few families; some are thriving, while others are in danger of disappearing, the victims of acculturation or, in extreme cases, of genocide. This diversity--and the dangers to it--is little known outside Africa. Photographers Carol Beckwith
and Angela Fisher
highlight both matters in African Ceremonies
, an extraordinary two-volume collection of some 850 full-color images. The two artists have traveled to almost all the continent's 53 countries in the last three decades, documenting traditional tribal life in earlier books and articles for National Geographic
, among other publications. Here they focus on the religious customs of several dozen peoples, combining stunning images with well-written essays to illustrate the enduring power of traditional beliefs.
Among the book's finest moments are a record of the Fulani cattle crossing, when for 10 days young males drive their herds across the wide Niger River to receive gifts from their grateful compatriots; a sequence showing a healing ceremony of the Himba people of Namibia and Angola, whose "wild women," possessed by lion spirits, are riveting actors on the page; and a remarkable series of photographs of Wodaabe courtship dancers, who compete to attract wives by charming them with exaggerated smiles and the skilled use of cosmetics. The authors note that, as women, they entered places men never could--and as foreigners, they were also often welcomed as "honorary males" and allowed to witness male-only ceremonies. Many of these rites are in danger of extinction as old ways are forgotten and in some cases suppressed. Beckwith and Fisher have captured them before it's too late. Beautifully designed and manufactured, African Ceremonies makes a fine companion to Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s Wonders of the African World, and invites leisurely reading--and constant revisiting. --Gregory McNamee
From Publishers Weekly
From the collaborative team behind four award-winning books on Africa (Africa Adorned; Maasai; Nomads of Niger; and African Ark) comes an outstanding two-volume survey of the continent's rituals, rites and ceremonies. Divided into six sectionsAbirth and initiation; courtship and marriage; royalty and power; seasonal rites; beliefs and worship; spirits and ancestorsAthe set documents 43 ceremonies in 26 countries. In addition to the more than 800 arresting color photographs, the text respectfully details each ceremony (including controversial ones, such as Maasai clitoridectomy). The authors lived with each of the groups they photographed; their bonds with their subjects are apparent in the images, which drive home the point that these ceremonies are simply conducted by ordinary people with different traditions than ours. Thus, young Taneka men dancing before a circumcision look nervous; Kassena mothers gaze lovingly at their babies as they are shaved during naming ceremonies; and Krobo girls preparing for coming-of-age dances look as cheerful as teenagers at a prom. Because masks, textiles, jewelry, sculptures and body painting often have a prominent role in rites, the books also highlight the diverse beauty of Africa's traditional arts. Ten years in the making, the volumes also represent an important anthropological achievementAsome of the rituals have never been seen by outsiders and many others are disappearing under the cumulative pressure of drought, famine, political upheaval and Western influence. 45 maps. BOMC selection; 8-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.