Book Review

By Elsa-Brita Titchenell

The Hero with an African Face: Mythic Wisdom of Traditional Africa by Clyde W. Ford, Bantam Doubleday Dell, 2000; 256 pages, ISBN 0553378686, paperback, $15.95.

Among the wealth of extant mythic history, there is a marked dearth of African mythology available to the general reader. This is not for lack of material, for sacred traditions abound in many African countries and languages. The deficit has been reduced by the present volume, which relates legends of the Dogon, Soninke, Yoruba, Fang, Kongo, Nyanga, San, Ronga, and other sub-Saharan African peoples, concentrating on tales with universal themes and symbols -- myths rather than folktales. As a chiropractic doctor, somatic psychologist, and scholar of African and African-American history, Ford's interest in mythology was sparked by his therapeutic work, as he sought a framework in which the African-American experience could be understood, and "answers to how individuals and groups, particularly African-Americans, might heal from long-standing trauma and pain." He found a key in viewing "the African-American experience . . . in the heroic terms of mythology" (pp. vii-viii), and this outlook colors his presentation, which focuses on the symbolic and personal interpretation of the stories he sets forth.

The tales in this book date from before Christian and Muslim contact, and depict the progress of human evolution and its ultimate triumph over evil and ignorance. They embrace such themes as the hero, death and resurrection, the sacred warrior, master animals, the goddess, the divine self, and the soul's adventures. Ford emphasizes the profound religiosity of the many different groups who occupy this vast continent, and at least one of the epics closes with an immensely compassionate forgiveness as a culmination of the human adventure. Considering the African branch of mankind's sacred wisdom, we are reminded that the ultimate of human maturation is the communion of the species in a familial -- indeed, a universal -- brotherhood.

World Spiritual Traditions Menu

A single word even may be a spark of inextinguishable thought. -- Percy Bysshe Shelley