Amelia: a review of Nike Campbell-Fatoki’s Thread of Gold Beads

This entry is part 9 of 12 in the series Reviews Season Three

Last Updated on October 27, 2018 by Memorila

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy believes that Nike Campbell-Fatoki’s Thread of Gold Beads is an important contribution to Africa’s historical fictions and a must read for every lover of African fiction

It is late 17th century, the old king of Danhome (ancient Kingdom in modern day Benin) is dead and a new king has been chosen from among the sons of the dead king, after the usual palace politics of course. The young king ascends the throne and discovers an enormous task before him. Trouble brews from afar, the French colonial administration wants the strong and powerful kingdom of Danhomè annexed under their administration. Great Gbèhanzin, the young king, has to make a choice, and quickly too. He must decide if to bring his kingdom under the French control, or go to war with them. He chooses the later and it turns out devastating, the once great kingdom of Danhomè, famed for its female warriors, is reduced to rubbles! But from these rubbles arises a story of separation, adventure, discovery, and of course, love! Nike Campbell-Fatoki’s Thread of Gold Beads is the novel you cannot afford not to read!

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Amelia, most beloved daughter of great Gbèhanzin (king of Danhome) must flee the kingdom with her guide, Dare – her estranged “stepbrother” – to Abeokuta which happens to be her maternal roots, to escape the French-Danhomè war of late 1890s. Her husband, Dossou, is the commander of the Danhomè army and he realises that his loyalty is to his king first, before his love, so he stays back to defend his kingdom and liege from French invasion. Her father, the king, also stays back with other members of his family to fight.

Amelia and Dare encounter various dangers walking through forests and villages to reach Abeokuta where they seek audience with the Alake of Abeokuta. The Alake meets the duo, sees the rècade (the Danhomè royal insignia) and knows immediately that the strangers could not be impostors. Despite the fact that the Kingdom of Danhomè and Abeokuta have a long history of wars and enmity, he renders what assistance he can to ensure their stay is comfortable. Amelia soon learns trading and comes to discover carefully hidden secrets kept away from her which leads her to discovering her maternal family members in Abeokuta (for her mother had been taken at a young age, as a war prisoner, by the female soldiers of Danhomè during a battle with Abeokuta), she would also come to know that her child which she had been told had been dead for years is alive, and she would also come to find out that her warrior husband survived the war and he is still alive too! However this last bit of information comes a bit too late for she is already engaged to be married the next day!

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Now, would she go ahead and get married to her second love? Or would she go with the man she had always loved and who is the father of her only child? I talk a lot when excited (do I not know!) and something tells me I have said too much already, you must find the answer to this one yourself, haha!

Set in three important locations (Danhomè, Abeokuta, and Lagos), the story is about the best historical novel I have read in a long time and it deserves a conversion into motion pictures, like many others of its kind. The fate of Gbèhanzin reminds me of the fate of Sultan Mahammadu Attahiru I of Sokoto Caliphate as recorded in Ahmed Yerima’s Attahiru (albeit a play); both rejected foreign intrusion and had to go to battle to defend their sovereignty. However, their stories all end in grim sad tales of loss and destruction of their great kingdoms. Thread of Gold Beads is a record of the brute means adopted by European governments to usurp African leadership and replace it with colonisation. As I read the novel, I was fascinated by the cultural practices of the Danhomeans, especially the palace tradition, the dedication and patriotism of the kingdom’s warriors are admirable, and the female warriors are just something out of this world! A lot of research and hard work must have gone into writing the book, there is certainly a lot that is still unknown about Africa’s past and we must thank Nike Campbell-Fatoki for this worthy contribution.

I think “Amelia” would have been a worthy title for the book, yet I love the idea of using threaded beads for anagnorisis, for thread is a symbol of memory and it also symbolises a link between the past and the present; tracing Amelia to Abeokuta and Lagos (by Dopke and Dossou) is also made easy as a result of her weaving craft which majorly involves threads. Dare is quite a complex character in the novel, he had all the opportunity to destroy Amelia on the journey through forest paths to Abeokuta but he does not, only to later plot her destruction when the going becomes good. More than anything, Dare’s case is a psychological issue worthy of attention. Also, there is something eerie about Amelia being pregnant for five months without realising it, but it is all fiction and we can let the writer get away with some inaccuracies. Finally, Marcos is a good man and it pains me that he had to be the sore loser when it ended happily for others, would have preferred that it ends happily for him also.

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Truly, Nike Campbell-Fatoki’s Thread of Gold Beads is an important contribution to the archive of Africa’s historical fiction and it is a must read for every lover of African fiction.

Š Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018

Read Eazy’s reviews every Saturday on Memorila

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Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy

Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy holds a degree in English language and literary studies. He is a short story writer, copy editor, book reviewer, literary critic, poet, and essayist. He teaches English as a Foreign Language in Hargeisa, Somaliland.

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