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BellaOnline's African Culture Editor

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I Am Because We Are Book Review

Guest Author - Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu

I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom In Image And Proverb is an amazing book pairing over one hundred black and white images of daily life in Africa with African proverbs. Betty Press has spent over twenty years photographing life in Africa as a photojournalist. She spent time in over 15 African countries including Kenya, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal, Mali, Liberia, Togo, Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Madagascar, Benin, Gambia, Ivory Coast, Somaliland, Southern Sudan, Eritrea, Burundi, Morocco, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Tanzania.

Betty partnered with her friend Annetta Miller to couple her photos with African proverbs. They spent a year in Nairobi compiling I Am Because We Are. The decision was made not to create chapters in the book, nor to alphabetize by proverbs, but to simply create a certain flow throughout the book. When reading through the book you sense a very gentle flow through life, childhood, home, education, friendship, work, earth, war, music, religion, wisdom, old age, death, and finally hope. Overall, creating this flow was a very wise decision and is more reflective of African culture in general than to try to definitively categorize the photos and proverbs.I Am Because We Are

Betty's photographs are simply wonderful showing many aspects of African life, some pleasant and some not so pleasant. I asked Betty why she decided on using black and white photos instead of color. My thinking being that the continent of Africa is so colorful why not show it off? Her response was the black and white photos were used for this project so the reader wouldn't be distracted from the message of the photo and accompanying proverb. She learned to photograph in black and white first (this was before digital photography) and then branched out to color photography. Betty said she usually carries two cameras - one for black and white and the other color.

While looking through the book if you start to wonder where each photo was taken, there is an index in the back listing where and when the photo was taken along with a few sentences explaining the photograph. I found this invaluable and was impressed with Betty's forethought to keep all of this information organized over the years. I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this section of the book and flipping back and forth through the photos matching them up with the descriptions.

This book really is a "must own" for anyone interested in African culture and/or proverbs. There is a brilliance to the way this book was very carefully thought out and put together.


I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb has been featured by NPR - A Photographer Changes The Focus In Africa.

You can purchase I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb from African Wisdom In Image and Proverb


Betty Press provided this review copy of I Am Because We Are: African Wisdom in Image and Proverb to me free of charge.
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Content copyright © 2014 by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Jeanne Egbosiuba Ukwendu. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Dawn Denton for details.

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