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Wales Book of the Year shortlist review: Brilliant Black British History by Atinuke

09 Jun 2024 5 minute read
Brilliant Black British History by Atinuke is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

Brilliant Black British History by Atinuke has been selected for the shortlist in the English language Bute Energy Children and Young People category of the Wales Book of the Year award.

Eric Ngalle Charles

Growing up, one of my favourite things was sitting on the veranda with my siblings and listening to my grandmother tell stories. We watched as her neck muscles stretched. It was during Esonjo Mekoko, when the rainy season was over. No one knew when she was born, and we did not ask.

Reading Atinuke’s Brilliant Black British History is like looking at life passages, following history traces in what grandma told us sitting on the veranda. She wove tales of Bantu mystics and crabs standing on their claws waving goodbyes.

More importantly, she started her stories with a song, Oma weh Mbundi Wakeh, minamawo, longing for her children and relatives who were gone, knowing she would never see them again.

This book cuts into Britishness, delving into the past three hundred years and modern times. Can I summarise Britain as a hungry caterpillar devouring all in its path at one point? Well, the answer is yes.


Atinuke’s book is a treasure trove of knowledge. It traverses every aspect of British history, from the First Britons to the Black Lives Matter movement.

This review will focus on the chapters about African Empires and Black People Making Britain Great Again. These chapters have been enlightening, providing a deeper understanding of Britain’s colonial loot and its decisions regarding countries like Cameroon.

This is not just history; it’s a revelation. The book explores the Ethiopian, Bornu, Mali and Oyo Empires, Hausa, the Kingdom of Morocco, and many more, revealing the rich tapestry of our past.

History lessons

Atinuke’s Brilliant Black British History is a thought-provoking read. Its language is simple yet effective, inviting readers to revisit and re-evaluate historical events.

‘The wealth of foreign lands like Africa and India was trickling into Britain and Europe. But the Kings and Queens wanted more and wanted it quickly.’

These are lessons from history that we often ignore. ‘North and South America and the Caribbean are called the Americas. Britain and other European nations fought over them. They killed most of the people there, destroyed their civilization and made them colonies.’

These are echoes from the past, warnings we choose to ignore. ‘And the greed of plantation profit led to the most terrible crime in British history.’

I always wondered why my grandmother would cross the fields in the afternoon and stand by the ocean, singing that old song. Reading Atinuke’s book, I now know.

Scars on Grandma’s face zigzagged, scars left by the sorrows of her dearest departed. She had no memory of where she came from. No understanding of HOME.

Deemed unsuitable for plantation labour in the Americas, she was abandoned on the coast of Bimbia (the biggest slave market in West and Central Africa), Cameroon.

Plenty of her generation were not so lucky. Hence, she would sit on the coats and stare into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, longing for those she lost, knowing she would never see them again.


“Stolen people were terrified. Most of them had never seen white people before.’’ These lines reminded me of the late Benjamin Zephaniah and his quote about the hunter, the hunted, and the glorification of the hunt.

This is Black British History; we can whitewash it and run away from it, but it doesn’t mean it did not happen.

As the wonderful Nigerian author Chigozie Obioma puts it succinctly in his Novel An Orchestra of Minorities, The Universe has a way of bringing its inhabitants together. Some of these encounters have been atrocious.

But the universe does not stop. It forges forward, and we are left to deal with the fallout. British history has been full of great migrations and encounters.


In Atinuke’s book Brilliant Black British History, the author invites us to sit by the fire on the veranda, discuss our past, and plan our collective future.

Illustrated by Kingsley Nebechi, this well-researched book is simple and suitable for everyone.

It can be read in the corridors of academia, nursery schools, and handbooks for diaspora organisations rethinking and revaluing their engagement with the Continent of Africa.

We know you. Our ancestors blew the Ezrewa trumpet and warned us about you. In mythologies, they called you Ekongi, a human with no skin.

Like chickens sensing the presence of hawks with talons soaked in blood, we can smell you from far away; we are prepared.

Extra feathers on your cap, Atinuke. This book is truly inspirational.

Brilliant Black British History by Atinuke is published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books and is available from all bookshops.

Vote for the Wales Book of the Year 2024 People’s Choice Award.

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David RJ Lloyd
David RJ Lloyd
50 minutes ago

i’m welsh european & have for ever struggled with the entire concept of being british. i have no idea how that works or what indeed it is? as i have with the term united kingdom? i have never felt part of either.

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