From 1896 to 1933, Njoya [enjoy-ah] was the king of an African kingdom which is now part of the country of Cameroon. When Cameroon was a colony of first Germany then France, Njoya found a way for his people to keep their pride and their dignity in the face of immense change.





Bright Star Cover

Bright Star :: 2016

The Story of an African King


In the entire history of mankind, there have been only a handful of indivuals like King Njoya [enjoy-ah]. He was an astute political leader, an architect, a cartographer, an historian, and an inventor of a writing system for his people, the Bamum, who live in the grasslands of southwestern Cameroon.

It is this last that first drew me to Njoya. After I had finished writing Sequoyah, the Cherokee Man Who Gave his People Writing, I set about to fashion a book about this astounding African king. Writing the book proved to be very difficult. Njoya was far different from Sequoyah. Sequoyah was no king. He didn't have to find a way to lead his people through enormous change. He didn't have to suffer the same kind of defeat as did Njoya, who lost his kingdom to the French in 1933.

Writing about defeat instead of success is very difficult for a children's picture book. In the book Sequoyah, I was able to talk about the removal of the Cherokee to Oklahoma without it seeming that Sequoyah the man was personally defeated. But as for Njoya, there was no way around the humiliation he suffered before he was dethroned. I had to meet it head on and try to make sense of it. But I could not. One rough draft of the story followed another rough draft until my computer desktop was littered with them. Then I realized: Njoyah must have been a man of great dignity, a man with a deep sense of self-worth. Even in defeat, he must have maintained his dignity and pride. Then I happened on to a quote by Eleanor Roosevelt, who in 1941 said, "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent." It was this quote that provided the ending I needed....that and a metaphor about stars like Njoya: they shine brightest in the darkest nights.














Mānoa Press