The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family
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"Fascinating...adds many interesting details to what we know of the President’s heritage."
--David Remnick, TheNewYorker.com
On January 20, 2009, a few hundred men, women, and children gathered under trees in the twilight at K’obama, a village on the shores of Lake Victoria in western Kenya. Barack Obama’s rise to the American presidency had captivated people around the world, but members of this gathering took a special pride in the swearing in of America’s first black president, for they were all Obamas, all the president’s direct African family.
In the first in-depth history of the Obama family, Peter Firstbrook recounts a journey that starts in a mud hut by the White Nile and ends seven centuries later in the White House. Interweaving oral history and tribal lore, interviews with Obama family members and other Kenyans, the writings of Kenyan historians, and original genealogical research, Firstbrook sets the fascinating story of the president’s family against the background of Kenya’s rich culture and complex history.
He tells the story of farmers and fishermen, of healers and hunters, of families lost and found, establishing for the first time the early ancestry of the Obamas. From the tribe’s cradleland in southern Sudan, he follows the family generation by generation, tracing the paths of the famous Luo warriors—Obama’s direct ancestors—and vividly illuminating Luo politics, society, and traditions.
Firstbrook also brings to life the impact of English colonization in Africa through the eyes of President Obama’s grandfather Onyango. An ambitious and disciplined man who fought in two world wars, witnessed the bloody Mau Mau insurrection, and saw his country gain independence from white rule, Onyango was also hot-tempered and autocratic: family lore has it that President Obama’s grandmother abandoned the family after Onyango attempted to murder her. And Firstbrook delves into the troubled life of Obama’s father, a promising young man whose aspirations were stymied by post-independence tribal politics and a rash tendency toward self-destruction—two factors that his family believes contributed to his death in 1982. They say it was no accident, as described in the president’s memoirs, but rather a politically motivated hit job.
More than a tale of love and war, hardship and hard-won success, The Obamas reveals a family history—epic in scope yet intimate in feel—that is truly without precedent.
never set foot in Africa argued fiercely about Krapf and Rebmann’s findings. The travels of Krapf and Rebmann pioneered the early exploration of East Africa, but their travels only highlighted how little was known of the African interior and other adventurers soon followed. Next into the region were the British explorers Richard Burton and John Speke, eager to find the great lakes which were said to exist in the center of the continent and to locate the source of the White Nile. Burton and
perspective of an African: The African continent was bled of its human resources via all possible routes. Across the Sahara, through the Red Sea, from the Indian Ocean ports and across the Atlantic. At least ten centuries of slavery for the benefit of the Muslim countries (from the ninth to the nineteenth). Then more than four centuries (from the end of the fifteenth to the nineteenth) of a regular slave trade to build the Americas and the prosperity of the Christian states of Europe. The
sideshow during the First World War. His instructions from Berlin were to maintain the defense of the colony at all costs, but he knew he had no real hope of winning this campaign. Instead, he was determined to tie down as many British troops as possible, thereby denying them a place on the Western Front.13 Through a combination of preemptive strikes on towns such as Kisii and brazen attacks on the Uganda Railway, he not only captured badly needed weapons and supplies but also kept more than
After demobilization thousands of young Africans returned home to find a society in turmoil. East Africa had not seen such a drain on manpower since the 1870s, when Arab slave traders had taken twenty-five thousand Africans a year. For more than four years the normal, supportive African village life had been in limbo; families were dislocated, aging parents neglected, farms abandoned. Young men returned—some of them ill, traumatized, or disabled—to find that their traditional way of life had
other Kenyans I interviewed for the book, but their contribution is recognized within the body of the text. In the United States, my old friend Thom Beers was very supportive at a crucial early stage of my research, and in London I have special thanks for my agent, Sheila Ableman, who encouraged me to write a book rather than make a film. At Preface, my editor, Trevor Dolby, offered his constant encouragement and support during both gestation and delivery, and gently nudged me at the right times