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Baye Yimam

Ethiopian painter, diplomat, customs director, entrepreneur, linguist, university professor, and novelist, was born in Zage, Gojjam province of Ethiopia, on 10 July 1868. His father, Gebre Iyesus Denke, was a priest serving a local church, and his mother, Fenta Tehun Adego Ayechew, was presumably a housewife. In Zage, then a center of learning, Afewerq learned the painting, poetry, church music, and liturgical dancing of the Ethiopian Orthodox Christian tradition.

Afewerq was related to Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menilek (1844–1913 on account of which he was brought to the palace to continue what he had started in Zage He was later sent to Italy to further his studies at the Accademia Albertina di Belle Arti in Turin Upon his return from Italy he began to produce mural paintings by order of the palace and decorated the churches at Entotto then the capital city However he soon ...

Article

Elizabeth Heath

Ahmad Baba was one of the best-known Islamic scholars and writers of his time. Born into the prestigious Aqit family near Tombouctou (Timbuktu) in 1556, he was educated in Islamic theology and law. After completing his studies, he began writing books and treatises on theology, Islamic jurisprudence, history, and Arabic grammar. Over the course of his life he wrote more than fifty-six works. More than half of these are still in existence, and several are still used by West African ulama (scholars). Ahmad Baba also was a great collector of books; he amassed a library containing thousands of volumes. At this time, Tombouctou, ruled by the Songhai empire, was renowned throughout the Islamic world as a center of learning.

In 1591 the sultan of Morocco invaded Tombouctou. Ahmad Baba and other scholars refused to serve the Moroccan rulers and, by some accounts, instigated a 1593 rebellion against ...

Article

Mary Hughes Brookhart

Born in Columbus, Ohio, Samuel Allen (also known as Paul Vesey) studied creative writing under James Weldon Johnson at Fisk where he graduated magna cum laude in 1938. He received his JD from Harvard in 1941. Until 1968 when he formally left law for literature, he was active in both fields.

He was drafted into the U.S. Armed Services in 1942 and served as an officer, though under the constraints of the segregated system, until 1946. From 1946 to 1947 he was deputy assistant district attorney in New York City. The following year he studied humanities at the New School for Social Research. In 1948 he went to Paris on the GI Bill, and after studying French, studied at the Sorbonne. He was employed variously with the U.S. Armed Forces from 1951 to 1955 as historian claims officer and civilian attorney in Wiesbaden Germany and in ...

Article

Kelly Boyer Sagert

Born in Hamburg, Germany, Ottilie Assing was the eldest daughter of David and Rosa Maria (Varnhagen) Assing. Her mother was an energetic teacher with a flair for singing and storytelling; her father was a well-known doctor who penned poetry and was prone to depression. David, born with the surname of Assur, was raised as an Orthodox Jew but associated with Christians. He and Rosa, who was not Jewish, raised Ottilie and her younger sister, Ludmilla, as "freethinking atheists, as true daughters of the Enlightenment, who saw themselves as members of a universal human race of thought and reason." They saw education as a "secular form of individual salvation."

Assing's life was not always easy; she witnessed savage anti-Jewish riots, and by the age of twenty-three she had lost both parents. In 1842 she and her sister moved from their hometown to live with an uncle Ludmilla adapted ...

Article

Rasheed Olaniyi

Ulli Beier, author, curator, and publisher, is preeminently associated with Yoruba art and culture, through which he distinguished himself as a quintessential poet, photographer, curator, author, translator, and publisher. Despite the cultural differences, Beier effectively integrated into Yoruba cultural norms and values. He joined the Yoruba society in 1950, and literally never departed. Beier interpreted his childhood through Yoruba cultural norms and worldview. He was a twin (ibeji), abiku child (a child “born to die”), and a dada child (one distinct in birth). As he noted, if he had been born Yoruba, he would have been a Sango devotee. He referred to himself sarcastically as Obotunde Ijimere, Sangodare Akanji, and Omidiji Aragbabalu. His colleagues and admirers refer to him as “Blackman in white skin” and “German-born Yoruba man.” He was known as the “white African” who defended African cultural heritage.

Beier was born in Glowitz Germany ...

Article

Daryle Williams

alias Paula Brito, pardo writer, translator, and publishing entrepreneur, often called the father of the Brazilian black press. Born on 2 December 1809 to Jacinto Antunes Duarte, a carpenter, and Maria Joaquina da Conceição Brito, Paula Brito took the surname of his maternal grandfather, Martinho Pereira de Brito (c. 1730–1830), commander of a pardo (colored) militia regiment and a disciple of famed mulato sculptor Mestre Valentim. He spent his early childhood in Rio de Janeiro, a bustling Atlantic port-city undergoing tremendous changes following the arrival of the Portuguese Court in 1808, before settling in Suruhy, near the upper reaches of Guanabara Bay. The young boy learned to read and write in the household of his older sister.

Returning to the capital in 1824 Paula Brito entered the burgeoning world of print culture first as an apprentice in the national printing office and then as an editor for ...

Article

Jeremy Rich

explorer, the son of Colonel Joseph Burton and Martha Beckwith Burton was born on 19 March 1821 in Torquay, Devon, England. As a military officer in the British Army, Joseph Burton traveled regularly, and his son Richard grew up in France and different Italian states. He showed early in life a tremendous gift for learning languages, and he eventually mastered Arabic to the point he regularly passed for an Arab or Persian or an Indian Muslim. Burton was admitted to Oxford University in 1840, but his wild behavior eventually led to his dismissal in 1842. His taste for adventure led him to join the British colonial army in India, and he first visited Africa en route from England via the Cape of Good Hope to Mumbai (Bombay). From 1842 until 1849, Burton mastered Arabic, Farsi, and Hindustani as he served as a British intelligence officer.

Burton ...

Article

Ari Nave

Sir Richard Burton spoke twenty-five languages and multiple dialects, including Greek, Latin, English, French, Italian, Marathi, Punjab, Arabic, and Hindi. During his travels he observed an enormous range of cultural practices, which he documented in forty-three manuscripts. He also wrote two books of poetry and four volumes of folklore.

Born in Torquay, England, Burton was raised by his English parents primarily in France. He briefly attended Trinity College, Oxford, but was expelled in 1842 for insubordination. He then joined the Bombay army, and served in India (in present-day Pakistan) until 1850. Working as an intelligence officer, Burton learned to impersonate Muslim merchants. His reputation was called into question and his military career cut short, however, when a rival officer spread word that Burton had been investigating homosexual bathhouses in Karachi, failing to divulge that Burton had done so under orders from a senior officer.

After returning to France and ...

Article

Emilio Jorge Rodríguez

was born Nidia Maria Enrica Ecury on 2 February 1926 in the fishing village of Rancho in the western region of Oranjestad, Aruba. She was the daughter of Nicasio Segundo “Shon Dundun” Ecury, a first-generation freeborn Aruban businessman and honorary consul of Haiti in Aruba, and Ana Paulina Wilhelmina Ernst, of German descent and a native of Curaçao who was a famous pastry chef. Nydia was the younger sister of the Aruban war hero Boy Ecury (1922–1944), a member of the Dutch Resistance during World War II, who was captured and executed by the German forces occupying the Netherlands. The family mansion where Nydia was born is a fine example of colonial architecture and is now the home of the National Archeological Museum of Aruba.

Ecury completed her studies in English literature and journalism in Canada and established herself in Curaçao in 1957 where she worked as ...

Article

Reidulf K. Molvaer

was an Ethiopian scholar and legendary wit, although very little is known about him with any great degree of certainty. Ethiopians are known by their own given name, followed by their father’s first name, but even that is not known with certainty: some sources give his father’s name as Gebre Mariyam, others as Desta Tegennye. His dates of birth and death are uncertain as well, variously given as 1804–1901, 1821–1905, and 1821–1915. Even his title, Aleqa, by which he is universally known (Aleqa Gebre Hanna seems of doubtful origin The title may refer to the head of a church or monastery or to a scholar in one of the four branches of learning in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church Some think it was given to him by Empress Menen the wife of the later Emperor Menilek before she became empress However we do know that Gebre Hanna was ...

Article

Ghirmai Negash

Eritrean Tigrinya-language writer, historian, translator, linguist, and professor of African languages, was born and grew up in Yeha, an ancient historical village in Tigray, the northernmost Ethiopian province bordering Eritrea. Yeha is remarkable for its unique and early archaeological sites, as well as for its proximity to and historical connections with the well-known city of Axum, which formed the center of the Axumite kingdom during the reign of the Queen of Sheba, and still remains Ethiopia’s oldest cultural center. Giyorgis is considered one of Ethiopia’s and Eritrea’s most important intellectuals; he lived and wrote during the Italian colonial era in Eritrea. He is considered by many the true founder of secular, modern African literature in Tigrinya.

The consciousness of precolonial history evident in Yeha had a lasting influence on Giyorgis s imagination affecting everything he wrote from literature to history Another important influence on Giyorgis s formation as a native ...

Article

Kizito Muchemwa

Zimbabwean essayist, novelist, poet, editor, translator, writer-in-residence, visiting lecturer, and cultural critic, was born to Ruvaro Muza Hove, a farmer, and Jessie Hove, his wife, in rural Mazvihwa, Zvishavane, a linguistic and ethnic buffer zone in the Midlands Province of Zimbabwe. Hove’s father, a local chief, was a polygamist who brought the family into contact with colonial modernity. The family migrated in the 1960s to Copper Queen Gokwe a district that took in the colonially displaced from different parts of the country following the enactment of many laws dispossessing Africans of their land Hove s time in Mazvihwa and Gokwe explain the writer s ability to speak more than one local language a significant achievement in a racially and ethnically polarized country The aspects that have shaped the writer s sensibility are colonialism missionary education orature war and Zimbabwe s postindependence experience He escaped political persecution at home following ...

Article

Reuben M. Chirambo

Malawaian linguist, poet, and academic, was born in Kadango Village in the lake shore district of Mangochi in southern Malawi. He attended high school at Zomba Catholic Secondary School, then obtained his Diploma in Education and his BA from Chancellor College of the University of Malawi. He completed his MPhil at the Institute of Education of the University of London in 1975 and his PhD in Linguistics at University College London. In 1972 he joined the staff of the English Department at Chancellor College at the University of Malawi. The government of the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and President Hastings K. Banda detained Mapanje without charge or trial in 1987 while he was serving as chair of the English Department; he was not released until 1992.

Mapanje is best defined by his poetry which uses the literary resources of oral culture to construct written poetry that challenges the hegemony of ...

Article

Kate Tuttle

Jack Mapanje, one of Africa’s most respected poets and a scholar of linguistics, became an internationally recognized victim of censorship when the regime of Malawi’s president, Dr. Hastings Banda, imprisoned him without charges or trial in 1987. The human rights monitoring group Amnesty International declared him a political prisoner, and other groups, including those devoted to human rights and artistic freedom, launched a letter-writing campaign that resulted in his 1991 release.

Mapanje attended local Catholic schools as a child and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Malawi and a Ph.D. in linguistics from University College, London. While in London he wrote his first collection of poetry, Of Chameleons and Gods (1981), which contained much veiled criticism of the repressive Banda government but was not one of the many books that the government banned.

At about the time Of Chameleons and Gods was published ...

Article

Joy Elizondo

Born in Havana, Cuba, Nancy Morejón grew up in a working-class district of the city known as Los Sitios. As a young child Morejón was discouraged by her parents from observing the Santería religion (a traditional Yoruban-based Cuban faith). Nevertheless she absorbed Santería's musical rites, including performances of neighborhood Rumba bands, through members of her extended family. (Rumba is an Afro-Cuban song and dance form that synthesizes Bantu-derived rituals and rhythms. It was later modified into a ballroom dance.) She is particularly interested in Afro-Cuban religious forms as modes of cultural expression. In her article “Las poéticas de Nancy Morejón,” she explains that she incorporates Santería themes and motifs in her literary work. References to Yoruba deities such as Eleguá and Oshún are abundant in her poetry (Orishas).

Morejón s parents though not formally educated emphasized her education from an early age and instilled in her a ...

Article

Grant Lilford

Zimbabwean writer, translator, and editor, was born on 2 December 1947 at Manyene, near Chivhu in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). His father had worked in South Africa and was able to purchase land in an area then identified as a Native Purchase Area. The eldest of eight, Mungoshi herded cattle, read avidly, and listened to his mother and grandmother telling stories. He identifies his grandmother as the inspiration for “Mandisa” in his novel Waiting for the Rain (1975 Mungoshi attended All Saints School Daramombe School and St Augustine s Secondary School He published three short stories while he was still attending St Augustine s with the encouragement of his English teacher Father Daniel Pierce Pierce sent some of the stories to the South African writer and editor Richard Rive who commented favorably on them At St Augustine s Mungoshi focused his attention on English particularly creative writing and drama ...

Article

Katharine Rodier

poet and translator, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Melvin M. Nelson, a Tuskegee Airman and serviceman in the U.S. Air Force, and Johnnie Mitchell, a teacher. Moving frequently because of her father's career, she attended school in several states and began composing poetry while still in grade school. After earning a BA in English in 1968 from the University of California, Davis, she earned an MA in English from the University of Pennsylvania in 1970, serving as a lay associate at Cornell University's Lutheran Campus Ministry between 1969 and 1970. Also in 1970 Nelson married Erdmann F. Waniek and subsequently began teaching English in Oregon at Lane Community College and at Reed College. The next year she taught at Nørre Nissum Seminarium in Denmark, and in 1973 she became an assistant professor of English at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. In 1978 ...

Article

Paul Schauert

Ghanaian ethnomusicologist, linguist, composer, and poet, was born on 22 June 1921 in Ashanti Mampong in central Ghana. His full given name was Joseph Hanson Kwabena Nketia. His father, Akwasi Yeboa, and mother, Akua Adoma, were traders in a nearby village called Effiduase. After his father passed away when Kwabena was an infant, he was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents. With the help of his grandfather, Opanyin Kisi Amoa, and grandmother, Yaa Amankwaa, Nketia attended Mampong Asante Presbyterian Junior and Senior Schools. After completing his secondary education, in 1937 Nketia enrolled in the Presbyterian Training College at Akropong-Akwapim, where he focused on music and the Twi (Akan) language. In 1941 he received his teaching certificate and was subsequently appointed to teach music and Twi at the Training College After three years at the Training College Nketia received a two year scholarship to study linguistics at the University ...

Article

Christopher Wise

poet, translator, lawyer, and prominent cultural figure in Burkina Faso, was born not far from Ouagagdougou in the village of Manega, Burkina Faso (then the Upper Volta). Founder of the Bendrology Museum in Manega, he is the author of some seventy separate books, centering on traditional Mossi culture. The village of Manega, a word that means “the land of tranquillity,” is situated in Oubritenga province in the heart of the Moogho, or “land of the Mossi people.” The Mossi empire was founded in the ninth century CE and includes the Gnougnoossi people (or “Tingin-Bissi,” literally “the sons of the earth”), who inhabited the area at an even earlier date. In fact, the Mossi have continually dwelled in their traditional homeland from time immemorial. Throughout the history of the continent, the Mossi have been famous for their success in repelling foreign incursions. As noted in the Tarikh es soudan and ...

Article

Moradewun Adejunmobi

poet, novelist, playwright, and translator, was born 4 March 1901 in Tananarive (now Antananarivo), Madagascar. His baptismal name was Joseph-Casimir Rabe, which, by his own account, he later changed to Jean-Joseph. His mother, Rabozivelo, who was unmarried at the time of Rabéarivelo’s birth, belonged to the Merina ethnic group and was of royal extraction. However, like many other Merina families of royal descent following the onset of French colonial rule in Madagascar, the family lived in poverty. Though Rabéarivelo attended missionary schools till he was expelled in his early teen years, he was largely self-taught and owed his extensive knowledge of world literature to a lifelong cultivation of reading. He met Marguerite (“Mary”) Rabako, his future wife, in 1923 when he began offering private lessons in French to interested students. They married in 1926 and had five children a son Solofo and four daughters Voahangy who died when she ...