African libraries in “Library World Records” by Godfrey Oswald

For the ones who love rankings and are interested in libraries and Africa I want to recommend Godfrey Oswald’s book Library World Records. Here are some quotes to attract your interest…

Notable people who have worked in libraries or as librarians (p.121):

“Christopher Okigbo, the Nigerian poet, was acting librarian at the University of Nigeria in Nsukka, where he helped to found the African Authors Association. He was killed while fighting as a soldier during the Biafran war.”

Unusual things that happened at libraries (p.111):

“The National Institute of Studies and Research Library in the capital of Guinea-Bissau was turned into a military garrison by soldiers in 1998. But first they had to destroy several thousand books to make way for military equipment and sleeping quarters.”

Libraries that have suffered devastating fires or natural disasters (pp.107):

“Fourah Bay College Library in Free Town, Sierra Leone, […] was obliterated during the civil war of the early 1990s. It has since been rebuilt.”

And there is a list on the oldest university libraries in Africa (p. 83) – third is Monrovia University Library, Liberia, 1851. And the oldest public library in Africa (p.34.) was Luanda Municipal Library in Angola, founded in 1873 by the Portuguese colonial government. The two oldest national libraries in Africa “are the National Library of South Africa, Cape Town branch, founded 1818, and the National Library of Tunisia, Tunis, founded 1845.” (p.13).

And finally, what do you think: Which is the oldest existing bookstore in Africa (p.195)? Its Juta Bookshop, Cape Town, South Africa, founded in 1923.

Source: Godfrey Oswald: Library World Records, 2nd ed., Jefferson, NC, 2009.


On Display: Translations as examples of German-African cultural cooperation to preserve the cultural heritage of the Ewe people in present-day Togo and Ghana

Recently a new translation of Jakob Spieth’s book on the Ewe people was published:

  • Jakob Spieth: The Ewe people : a study of the Ewe people in German Togo. – Accra : Sub-Saharan Publishers, 2011.

Already in 2009 a French translation appeared:

  • Jakob Spieth: Les communautés ewe. – Lomé : Presses de l’UL, 2009

The stories behind these two translations give examples for the successful collaboration of a multitude of dedicated persons and institutional stakeholders. Academics, publishers, diplomats, librarians and representatives of cultural institutes joined efforts, time and money to make an important historical source available to the local people.

For more than twenty years the German missionary Jakob Spieth (1856-1914) lived in Ho, located in former German colony of Togo, now part of the modern Ghana. In his magnum opus called “Die Ewe-Stämme: Material zur Kunde des Ewe-Volkes in Deutsch-Togo“ published in 1906 by Reimer in Berlin he gives a detailed account of the history, the social, cultural and economic life of the Ewe. He also translated the bible into the language of the Ewe people.

The English translation of 2011 was edited by Komla Amoaku of the Institute for Music and Development, Ho, Ghana. The translation work was made by Marcellinus Edorh, Emmanuel Tsaku, Raphael Avornyo and Mary Esther Kropp Dakubu. The German Goethe Institut in Accra, Ghana, provided organisational support and contacts to Germany’s Federal Foreign Office which contributed a substantial amount of money. Already in 2007 Akoss Ofori Mensah from the Sub-Saharan Publishers, Legon, became involved. We got in contact at the Frankfurt Book Fair in October 2007. In the colonial special collection two copies of the original German publication of 1906 are available. Given its age and rarity an international interlibrary loan was not possible. However, I could find the kind support of the colleagues at the Bavarian State Library. They quickly digitized the roughly 1000 pages by Spieth and put the high quality scans on the web for free and worldwide usage of the German original document. Then the Goethe Institut in Ghana printed this version as the physical base for the translation team.

The French translation was done at the “Centre d’Etudes et de Recherches Germon-Togolaises” (CERGETO) at the Département d’Allemand, Université de Lomé, by Séna Akakpo-Numado, Dotsé Yigbe, Kokou Azamede and Komi Kossi-Titrikou under the direction of the professors Nicoué Gayibor and Amétépé Yaovi Ahadji. The German embassy at Lomé supported the work and the publication financially to support the preservation of the Ewe culture in Togo, but also to make this source available to the francophone public worldwide. Frankfurt University Library could support the work of Kokou Azamede in 2009. For further information on the Ewe see our “internet library sub-saharan Africa” (ilissAfrica).

The laborious translations into English, French and contemporary Ewe might create a revival of interest amongst researchers, contribute to the preservation of the cultural heritage of the Ewe people and become reading material in schools and universities.

Dr. Hartmut Bergenthum, head of the Africa department, Frankfurt University Library