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QUEEN OF IMBIRA (article first published : 2003-11-19)

Queen of Imbira is a delightful children’s book that is the latest title in the Stars of Africa series published by Maskew Miller Longman. Written by acclaimed storyteller Gcina Mhlophe, it deals with a young girl called Khethiwe who is inspired by the sounds of the imbira* and desperately wants to play the instrument.

However, the king of the land is set in his ways and has decreed that no girl should play the imbira. So Khetiwe listens jealously to the men and the boys as they play. Then one sunset evening she swims in the river and a hand arises from the water offering her an imbira. The story continues with her discovery of a secret place in which to practise her instrument as well as her frustrations in trying to master the skill of playing. Then one day she bravely takes her mbira to play to the King to save him from dying.

The book is richly illustrated with enchanting painted scenes by Jeannie Kinsler in pastel shades which will delight both young and old.

The Stars of Africa offer different levels – Starting, Practising, Improving and Independence. Queen of Imbira falls into the latter category. It retails at R27.50 and is available at leading booksellers. It would make a welcome Christmas present for any child who loves gentle stories such as these. Better still, buy two and frame some of the images for a bedroom! - Caroline Smart

*An imbira (or mbira) is described by “A Dictionary of South African English” as “Any of several small hand-held African musical instruments, having metal tongues of varying lengths which are plucked with the thumbs and forefingers over or inside a hollow gourd.




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