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African Kings: Portraits of a Disappearing Era Hardcover – October 1, 2000

4.2 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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From Booklist

From 1988 to 1991, Laine photographed 70 African monarchs "whose dynasties marked the history of Africa until the middle of the twentieth century." With hundreds of monarchs to choose from, Laine focused on those who continued to "retain a traditional and spiritual authority that is difficult for the Western mind to comprehend." Laine recalls the difficulties of getting permission for the photographs, the sensitive diplomatic negotiations involved in many cases. A war in Sudan prevented Laine from photographing the king of Shiluk, a descendant of black dynasties that ruled Egypt. Others, including the king of Swaziland, declined to be photographed. With each striking photograph, Laine provides a brief biography and historical notes about the tribe and its rituals. Among those photographed are Chukumela Nnam Obi II, the Oba of Ogba, Nigeria; El Hadj Sheehu Idris, emir of Zaria, Nigeria; and Goodwill Zwelethini, king of the Zulu, South Africa. The book includes historical background by Pierre Alexandre on the origins and significance of African kingdoms. Vanessa Bush
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved


...remarkable glimpse of a vanishing world. --Pittsburgh Tribune-Review "riveting images...the richness and elegance of native dress"
--Los Angeles Times "Powerful." --news.nationalgeographic.com"colorful...dramatic portraits." —Dallas Morning News

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Ten Speed Press (October 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1580082246
  • ISBN-13: 978-1580082242
  • Product Dimensions: 11.5 x 11.4 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #767,733 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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I purchased this book a while ago and found much of the data and photos to be "omitting and disturbing." Considering that the author's goal was to trace major African dynasties through evolution and modernization, he really missed the mark towards his own objectives... He is not even close.

Africa is a huge continent with 54 countries (states), and a myriad of cultures and tribal groups. Only a few majority Nigerian tribes - far from all - are represented in over half of this publication, while only certain Ghanian and South African tribes make up the remainder. Cameroon, Congo and Togo are merely sprinkled in for good measure. And, what about the vast majority of other African kings (or queens) which are not represented? What about the subject of queens or matrilineal societies in Africa? The Ashanti, Pende and Serer peoples are examples of matrilineal societies. The only queen shown in this book is the South African "Rain Queen". "Rain Queens" are feared by the Zulu and believed to be four-lunged witches that haunt ponds and marshes. The representation provided is really injust and a travesty.

Now-a-days, African kings often DRESS, RESIDE and RULE with similar distinguishing characteristics as Prince Charles, Carl XVI Gustaf, Don Juan Carlos, King Faud or even the last king of Italy -- King Umberto II. One remarkable feat about the Africans are their ability for "duality" attire. The current president of Ethiopia, Kenya and South Africa exercised this distinction frequently just to name a few. There are several honorable demarcations showing a stunning array of "black" African cultural-traditional royal garb presented.
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I adore this book. I do historical research, and originally ordered it from the library; I loved it so much I had to buy my own copy. Then my brother-in-law (from Nigeria) started reading it to our 8 month old niece, so I bought him a copy. I just cannot believe one dude got access to all these kings, and they agreed to pose for him. I look upon it alternately with reverence and with hilarity. There's a hilarious juxtaposition of the old and new, as with the king riding in a "car," and you can gaze forever and still not see all the strange modern objects in the background such as the fridge one king displays so proudly. It's historically accurate that kings would take any European woman's flowered dressing gown and convert it into a robe, and incongruous hats given to them by colonial powers were always revered.
The one thing they all have in common is they are all men with pride.
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This book with its beautiful photographs chronicles the surviving African royalty. The introduction by Pierre Alexandre, Origins Of The African Kingdoms, deals with the early history of Africa, the influence of the colonial occupation on traditional institutions, post-independence Africa and takes a closer look at the Fulani, Yoruba, Akan, Luba and Zulu peoples. The text is enlivened by historical black and white illustrations.
Following this, the next section deals with current royalty in the form of full colour portraits of the monarchs in full royal regalia plus brief biographies and historical notes on the tribes concerned. The kings and queens come from countries and tribes like Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Zambia, Cameroon, Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda.
South Africa is represented by amongst others, King Goodwill Zwelethini of the Zulu (a descendant of the warrior king Shaka) and the famous Rain Queen, Modjadji IV of the Lobedu tribe. It is an interesting and valuable study of the traditions and personalities of a disappearing African culture. This book will be of great value to historians and ethnologists.
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As a collection of photographic portraits of contemporary African men dressed and posing for the photographer (i.e., not engaged in kingly acitivities) in astonishing and fantastic historic garb, usually shown among their retainers or wives, this book does not disappoint. The fabrics and outfits are pretty incredible, and invite you to stare at the goods. The kings look variously dignified, stately, and occasionally mildly hostile to the photographer's gaze. Some seem plainly overdressed, even to themselves. To the author's credit, the reader is told (briefly and somewhat perfunctorily) of the often complicated political, cultural, and kinship machinations that surround a king. In today's African nations these men have little (or no) conventional political power. In some instances, their claim to royalty is viewed, for a variety of reasons, as wholly illegitimate. The clothing and accoutrements of their position is fascinating to look at, although little information is supplied regarding the meaning of the clothes. Unfortunately there is a stiffness to both the portraits and the commentary, and that distances the viewer from the diverse and likely very interesting subjects of this book.
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Very nice historical work. I particularly enjoyed the different attires worn by kings across Africa. It is not all about the attire only, but also the decor which is amazing, and beautiful. I am grateful to the author for this beautiful work of art, capturing a disappearing era, especially given that many kings no longer wear these attires, and are more prone to wear 'modern' European clothing. Moreover, some of the clothing is very heavy, requires a lot of preparation, and may be worn only once a year, or so often... so kudos to the author for this beautiful work. I just wish the author had included more information about the kings themselves, and not just their names and countries.
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