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Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience by Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis, Jr. Gates

1999; 2,095 pp. $100; Basic Books.

Africana is the first encyclopedia to encompass the story of all African peoples. W.E.B. DuBois, African-American intellectual and writer, was the first to envision such an "Encyclopedia Africana," and struggled unsuccessfully from 1909 until his death in 1963 to get support. The editors of Africana, both Harvard University professors, have succeeded in carrying out the challenge a single work that presents the enormousness and wonderful diversity of the pan-African experience.

In addition to expected encyclopedia fare?country profiles, histories, and biographies?the encyclopedia includes entries for dozens of African ethnic groups; brief features on African fauna, flora, and geographical features; and articles on popular culture and ideological movements. Africana includes twelve opinionated in-depth essays, plus special "interpretation" articles. All of this makes it a great book.

Africana does have weak spots. John Thornton (New York Times, January 16, 2000) cited errors in both African history and contemporary sports. Lack of thorough cross-referencing further impedes ease of use. Fortunately, a sixteen-page list of articles facilitates location and makes for enjoyable browsing.

"Agriculture, African, in the Americas: An Interpretation...Lost Crops of Africa, a 1996 book by the National Research Council, draws attention to the potential of the continent's little-known indigenous crops for improving regional and global food supplies. Featured prominently among the 2000 native grains, roots, and fruits utilized as food staples is African rice (Oryza glaberrima), "the great red rice of the hook of the Niger."

"Filhos de Gandhi...Filhos de Gandhi (Sons of Gandhi) is part of a long tradition of black socioreligious organizations called afox's that began in the late nineteenth century. P'ndegos da'frica (Revelers of Africa) was one of the first afox's to parade in Salvador's Carnival, bringing the ceremonial songs and dances of the Candombl's to the street celebration. With the advent of the Get'lio Vargas dictatorship in 1930, the Brazilian government repressed afox's....By the beginning of the 1970s the only remaining afox was Filhos de Gandhi, and it was almost defunct. The growth of black pride during that decade, however, breathed new life into Filhos de Gandhi and, following their example, several more afox's began to appear at Salvador's Carnival.

"Ibibio, ethnic group of Nigeria...The Ibibio primarily live in the Cross River State of southeastern Nigeria. They speak a Niger-Congo language and number approximately 2 million.

"Transculturation, Mestizaje, and the Cosmic Race: An Interpretation. In 1940 Cuban scholar fernando ortiz (1881?1969) coined the term transculturation (transculturaci'n) to replace the concept of "acculturation"....It became clearer to him that the process by which Hispanics and Africans were first uprooted from their soil and later orphaned in the Americas was so complex that it could not have melded in the harmony evident in such friendly words as "syncretism," "hybridism," or even "mestizaje"....These existing words described the results but ignored the 500-year-long tortuous process.

 

ISBN: 0195170555

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