Authors and Book Reviews  

December 03 - 09, 2004


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lasting legacy on mainland of Africa

Coastweek - - "Phantom Voyagers: Evidence of Indonesian Settlement in Africa in Ancient Times" By Robert Dick-Read.

[To be published by Thurlton Publishing in January 2005.]

The Book: "The Phantom Voyagers" is about Indonesian mariners who came to Africa and Madagascar long before Europeans knew anything of Africa beyond the Sahara, and long before Arabs and Shirazis sailed down the African coast in their dhows to found exotic cities such as Kilwa, Lamu and Zanzibar.

We know that many years ago Indonesian mariners peopled the island of Madagascar.

But we do not know with certainty who these Indonesians were, where they came from, or even why they came.

What this book makes clear is that, though they left no written records, the Indonesian legacy on the mainland of Africa is far greater than generally recognised.

For beneath the surface of the Africa we know today, the footprints and fingerprints of those phantom voyagers are legion.  

Why is "The Phantom Voyagers" important ?

If the History of Britain had been written without any mention of the Vikings we would have a grossly distorted picture of the truth.

Many aspects of the Britain's ancient culture introduced by Scandinavians would have been incorrectly attributed to 'British genius'.

The Indonesian voyagers were, in a sense, Africa's Vikings.

They brought with them important new plants, music, arts, technologies, diseases, methods of divination, and other lasting facets of culture that subsequently became absorbed into the African way of life.

It would be fair to say that without the input of Indonesians in ancient times, sub-Saharan Africa would be a very different place today.

It is doubtful, for instance, whether we would have such marvellous African  icons as The Great Zimbabwe, or the famous bronzes of Benin, or whether Zanzibar and Tanzania would have been so named.

What do the 'experts' say ?

For reasons best known to themselves (because detailed proof is illusive ?) the influence of Indonesians in Africa is a subject that academics have studiously avoided, and thus tend to greet with scepticism.

Many views expressed in "The Phantom Voyagers" will therefore fly in the face of established African history teaching.

But early drafts of the manuscript of "The Phantom Voyagers" have met with the approval of two authoritative historians: Dr Roland Oliver, Emeritus Professor of African History, School of Oriental and African Studies, and  founder of 'The Journal of African History', wrote:

"This is just to say that I have spent three very interesting days reading your book ...

"I can see that in Part One you have to range pretty widely over the South-East Asian seascape in order to establish the most likely origins of your Phantom Voyagers, and I found this section of the book quite enthralling ...

"With all good wishes for the eventual success of your work, which I am convinced could reach and interest a wide public".

Sir Mervyn Brown, ex-British Ambassador to Madagascar, and High Commissioner to Nigeria,  author of "Madagascar Rediscovered", and "A History of Madagascar" wrote:

"... I found it a fascinating read and a most impressive work of scholarship, based on a wide range of sources and a lifetime of travel and study of the art and culture of many African and other countries.

"I learned a great deal, especially about the Indonesian links with Nigeria.."

About the Author: In 1959, while studying for a diploma in anthropology in England, Robert Dick-Read participated in a major seminar on "Indonesia and Africa" organised by Profs. Roland Oliver and John Fage at London's School of Oriental and African Studies.

Discussions were inconclusive, but - convinced that Indonesian penetration of Africa had once been far greater than was generally realised - the author continued his researches privately.

Robert Dick-Read's interest in African culture dates back to his first visit to South Africa, where Zulu design and Chopi music left strong impressions.

Subsequently he became more deeply involved in the world of African arts and crafts, at first commercially, then later setting up a museum for the Nigerian government in Bamenda (now in the Republic of Cameroon), and making educational films in the Sudan and Egypt.

In 1964 he published a travel book - "Sanamu: Adventures in Search of African Art" (Rupert Hart Davis in London: Duttons in the USA), relating his travels through many parts of Africa.

He also made two television films in Ethiopia for David Attenborough's "Adventure" series in the early 1960's.

In 1963 he married and decamped to the British Virgin Islands where he and his family lived for 25 years before returning to England early in 1989.  

"The Phantom Voyagers: Evidence of Indonesian Settlement in Africa in Ancient Times." By: Robert Dick-Read ISBN: 0-9549231-0-3  Thurlton Publishing. 5 St James Villas. Winchester. SO23 9SN.





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