African arts, culture + politics

Kingdom come


(ARISE magazine, issue 14) “It’s the continent with the oldest Christian traditions, oldest earth-built buildings, oldest ceramic  traditions – it completely blows you away”. For historian and presenter Gus Casely-Hayford, Africa was the obvious subject for a documentary series. So in 2010 Hayford, whose family is of Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean descent, and his team travelled through Sudan, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique into South Africa and Zimbabwe, and from Mali down the River Niger into Nigeria. The result of their explorations is Lost Kingdoms Of Africa. The four-part series aired on BBC Four in 2010 and received positive reviews (UK newspaper The Times called it “not only powerful but moving”). It’s now set to be released on DVD for the first time.

The series explores the long-lost kingdom of Nubia, Judeo-Christian influences in Ethiopia, the ruins of Great Zimbabwe and fine metalworking in Nigeria and Mali. “I’ve travelled a lot in Africa over some decades but what this offered was a kind of immersion, not just in local traditional practise but also African expertise,” says Casely-Hayford. “I spent most of the time with my eyes on stalks and jumping around in delight!” For the second series of Lost Kingdoms Of Africa, currently being aired on BBC Four, the team document the history of Zulus in South Africa, the royal Asante family of Ghana, as well as Morocco, Asmara and Uganda.

Lost Kingdoms Of Africa DVD [Acorn Media], out February 6.Lost Kingdoms Of Africa book [Bantam Press, £25], out February 16


Homeless man’s body stolen for WWII plot


(The Pavement, 4 February 2010) The body of a homeless Welshman was illegally used in a British plot to deceive the Nazis during World War II, it was recently revealed.

Glyndwr Michael’s corpse was dumped in the sea off the Spanish coast, in 1943, carrying fake secret documents outlining plans to switch the British invasion of Sicily to Greece.

The plot, known as Operation Mincemeat, was “swallowed rod, line and sinker” (a telegram to Churchill triumphantly reported) and Hitler moved his troops to Greece.

Speculation as to the identity of the body has followed over the years. However, a government cover-up meant Mr Michael’s name was concealed until 1996, when files on Operation Mincemeat were declassified.

Even then, it was not until Professor Denis Smyth, a historian at Toronto University, came across a “secret” memo written by Mincemeat’s chief conspirator, Lieutenant Commander Ewen Montagu, that the truth finally came to light.

Mr Michael had been found in an abandoned warehouse near King’s Cross on 26 January, 1943. He was suffering from acute chemical poisoning, having ingested rat poison, and died two days later.

Times journalist Ben Macintyre has also uncovered a disturbing chain of events behind the celebrated plot, which formed the basis for the 1956 film The Man Who Never Was. Montague had previously claimed that the dead man’s relatives had given their permission for the body to be used “for a really worthwhile purpose” on the condition his identity was never revealed. However, Mr Macintyre discovered this paperwork had been falsified by Sir Bentley Purchase, the coroner of St Pancras, and no attempt had been made to contact Mr Michael’s family.

Sir Purchase also failed to carry out a post mortem examination, identified Michael as a suicidal labourer of no fixed abode and a “lunatic”, and informed the registrar that the body was being “removed out of England” for burial. However, he had secretly agreed to keep the corpse in cold storage until it was needed.

This is not the first time a homeless body has been used without the relatives’ permission. In 2004, a Siberian pathologist was reported to have sent the corpses of homeless people to German anatomist Günther von Hagens, the man behind the recent Body Worlds exhibitions.