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Dende Maro : The Golden Prince
Mallam, Sally; Dende Maro : The Golden Prince. Los Altos, CA: Hoopoe Books, 2009. $17.99, ISBN 978 1 933779 48 5.

Note: "Images and carvings created in Africa over a period of thousands of years provide the source for the illustrations and ... text of a...children's book by California artist Sally Mallam. Mallam adapted the illustrations for Dende Maro...from prehistoric rock art of Africa, which inspired the story....The book takes its title from the stone blocks or 'thrones' found at Rusape in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe, where the story's original figure is found.

Acclaimed California artist Sally Mallam debuts her writing and illustrating talents in the beautiful and engaging book Dende Maro: The Golden Prince. Though marketed for ages 5 and up, the book's drawings and text, which were inspired by the prehistoric rock art of Africa, can be appreciated by all ages.

In Dende Maro, Mallam crafts a creation myth that opens: More than a thousand million years ago, at a time before time, when space was no space, and when everything was nothing, all that existed was a longing. From this poetic sentence on, Mallam's spare tale describes how existence began with a single shape that, over a great length of time, eventually became all other shapesthe universe, the world, and every life form within them.

In this tale, human beings appear last. After they are formed, they desire more than mere existence and yearn for someone to guide them. Eventually their longing grows so strong that it generates Dende Maro's birth. He shows humans how to live in the world and instructs them to take care of themselves and each other. He teaches them language and mathematics, and introduces them to the arts--drawing, painting, carving, writing, playing music, and dancing.

Mallam's spare story, coupled with her lovely illustrations, sparks the reader's imagination and rouses their curiosity about history, human development, and the beginning of time. Since her story transcends continents and cultures, it emphasizes human commonality. This theme continues with the sexes: Dende Maro is male, and the original shape that eventually becomes all shapes is female. Therefore, Dende Maro presents a balanced male/female worldview, with the female being responsible for existence in general and the male acting as a guide for humans.

Dende Maro provides rich fodder for lessons about artistic expression, history, Africa, social studies, multiculturalism, and inspiration. The book's very existence demonstrates that artwork made by distant ancestors continues to inspire contemporary creative practices and reminds readers that they are linked to the past.

Dende Maro offers educational opportunities even after the story ends. Mallam has written a few short paragraphs about prehistoric African rock art. Within these, she explains that she chose the name Dende Maro for the title of the book because it "is the name given to the stone blocks or 'thrones' at Rusape in Mashonaland, Zimbabwe, where the original figure, painted on rock, was found."

Mallam also includes a map of Africa, another excellent teaching tool although, unfortunately, the countries' borders are not demarcated. Instead, the names of "some of the countries on the African continent where ancient rock art has been found" pepper the map. Since 25 of the 30 countries known to have such sites are noted, the other five should have been included.

For readers seeking more information about prehistoric African rock art, Mallam offers a list of six websites and a bibliography of 25 books. Unfortunately, Internet addresses sometimes change and/or websites disappear, and the addresses of Mallam's first and last Internet resources are non-functional. (However, the first site does appear if the final extension, /home/, is dropped.) On the positive side, the functional websites contain useful information about prehistoric African rock art as well as beautiful photo galleries of the same. Therefore, the reader who has Internet access can easily find artworks of the type that inspired Mallam.

Mallam created the Dende Maro illustrations by rearranging and coloring digitized versions of prehistoric African rock art images originally made by artists and archaeologists in the mid-twentieth century. As the reader peruses the book, they notice diversity in the style of African rock art. Considering that the Western world often portrays the people and cultures of Africa as a homogenous whole, the presentation of this diversity is noteworthy.

Sally Mallam's Dende Maro: The Golden Prince is appropriate for a broad audience. In addition to being thought provoking and visually stunning, it accomplishes a wide range of objectives. For example, it prompts children to consider the origins of human life and encourages adults to research prehistoric African rock art. I therefore recommend it for every age group.
Copyright © 2009 by Africa Access, all rights reserved. Africa Access permits the redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web location, date of publication, originating list, and Africa Access Review. For any other proposed use, contact AfricaAccess@aol.com

Rating: HR Grade: P / E / M/ H Type: Book

Reviewed by: Joyce M. Youmans, July 2009

Subject: Africa / Fiction / Rock Art