In 1958, French President Charles de Gaulle delivered a stern warning to Guinea during the run up to its independence referendum: “[Guinea] can take Independence on 28 September by saying ‘NO’ to the proposal put before it and in that case la Métropole will not stand in the way. She will, of course, draw her own conclusions but she will not stand in the way…”
More than 1.1 million people voted against the French proposal for more autonomy in a Francophone community, just under 57,000 in favor. Guinea was thus unshackled from French colonial rule, and Ahmed Sékou Touré took the reins of power until 1984.
Guinea: Masks, Music and Minerals begins with the story of Touré’s great-grandfather – Islamic cleric and emperor, Almamy Samory Touré (1830-1900). His unwavering ambition allowed him to expand his Wassoulou Empire into present-day Mali, Côte d’Ivoire and Sierra Leone. Touré’s brand of Islamization banished musical instruments and other traditional artefacts, much to the disdain of the Guinean general public.
He also favored Islamic primogeniture, which would have handed power to his eldest son Djaoulen-Karamo. Touré’s trust in Djaoulen-Karamo diminished after he was sent to France as Ambassador, and his father accused him of “harboring French sympathies if not outright collaboration. Djaoulen-Karamo was starved to death in 1894 on his father’s orders, a method of punishment that was to cast its shadow far into the future.”
Journalist Bram Posthumus first visited Guinea in 1995, marking “the beginning of an enduring fascination with the country, its people and its cultures.” His vast journalistic experience in West (and South) Africa informs his writing, which reminds one of Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. One must read further into his blog, Yoff Tales, for more insightful anecdotes and analyses from the region. In this book, Posthumus goes beyond a rigid documentation of the country’s modern history, and seamlessly entwines perceptive travelogue with his in-depth study of this extraordinary nation.
In Guinea: Masks, Music and Minerals, Posthumus reflects upon the country’s post- independence period, pivotal cultural figures such as writer Fodéba Keita, periods of famine and disease, and Guinea’s recent transition to democracy following the 2009 massacre in Conakry, killing at least 157 people.Guinea has rarely made headlines beyond the recent Ebola outbreak, allowing Posthumus to surpass stagnant reportage and speculate a prosperous future ahead. In the words of Guinea’s most successful prime minister, Sidya Touré (1945-): “il n’y a aucune fatalité guinéenne” (Being Guinea – or Guinean – is not a curse).