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AFRICAN CEREMONIES.

Volumes l&2/HB/slip case

[pounds]95. Harry N. Abramns Inc. (USA)

ISBN 0-8109-4205-4

The traditional rites that mark the passage of life for Africa's peoples are lovingly documented and revealed in this extraordinary work. It is the culmination of three decades of photographic assignments throughout the continent.

The two authors - Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher - a US- and Australian-born partnership, first met at a Maasai warrior ceremony in East Africa in 1978. Pooling their resources, they embarked on a close working friendship and published their first co-authored book, African Ark, in 1990.

Since then they have produced a stream of very high quality and thoroughly researched hooks on a variety of African themes. Their pictures have regularly appeared in National Geographic, Time and dozens of other international publications. In an attempt to make their work more accessible to African readers, they made their pictures available to our own group, IC Publications, especially New African Life which has sadly ceased publication. The impact of their work through such pan-African publications has been immense.

The two volumes of African Ceremonies represent over 40 specific cultural events arranged in six chapters, from `Birth and Initiation' through `Courtship and Marriage', `Royalty and Power', `Seasonal Rites', `Beliefs and Worship' and `Spirits and Ancestors'. They are illustrated by sumptuous photography which captures the fascinating images of important rituals that have been practised the length and breadth of Africa.

Its not only the technical proficiency of these two photographers that is so outstanding. Equally evident is their ability to observe (and record) in harmony with their subjects. Each of the many hundreds of photographs have that important but indefinable quality that suggests the peoples portrayed are totally at ease. This points to the remarkable dedication of the authors to understand, respect and embrace the cultures they are witnessing. Much time was devoted to patiently building friendships and understanding before the lifting of a camera lens.

When you add in the logistical problems of transporting camera equipment and film stock - adequately protected from Africa's dust, heat and humidity - to some of the most far-flung corners of the continent, you begin to realise these authors' remarkable achievements.

These volumes are bound to be controversial. The photographs of ceremonies that are traditionally secret in nature and deeply personal are bound to stir debate. Many conservatively-minded readers, whether African or otherwise, might well raise objections to images of nakedness (some photographs obviously require parental guidance), or ceremonies outside the religious mainstream.

While not necessarily in direct response to these concerns, yet pertinent to any debate, the introduction by Malidoma Patrice Some states that "the book answers an urgent call from the continent's ancestors to record secret ceremonies before it is too late". Indeed, some of the ceremonies portrayed have already died our since they were photographed. Yet the skill and sensitivity with which the author/photographers have met this challenge goes far beyond a purely anthropological study.

Complemented by the book's fascinating text, Beckwith and Fisher's work is a priceless contribution to the record of Africa's and humanity's heritage.

We take great pleasure in presenting a selection of some of the great photographs that appear in the two volumes.

Note: Readers wishing to order books reviewed in this issue through IC Publications should inquire about postage costs before placing their orders.
COPYRIGHT 1999 IC Publications Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1999 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Beckwith, Carol; Fisher, Angela
Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1999
Words:552
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