Ian Mathie: A Life of Adventure, Danger and Excitement in Africa

Ian Mathie, one of my favorite memoir authors, has packed more adventure, danger and excitement during his thirty years in Africa, than anyone living a ‘normal’ life at home.

I spent a weekend with Ian and his wife, Gay, in their village about an hour north-west of London in Warwickshire. I had just finished my TESOL course in Greenwich, London, and needed a relaxing weekend.

The countryside was magnificent, and so green, compared to the drought we’re experiencing in southern California.

Ian met me at the Banbury train station, and drove me to his lovely home.



During my visit, Ian showed me the chest where he keeps several African artifacts, that make his memoirs come to life. For example, the monkey below, was the actual carving in his book Bride Price , the first book I read from Ian’s collection. It was so interesting to see the actual collecting basket which Abélé (from Bride Price) took into the forest each day to gather fruit and roots. (Scroll down to see it.)


Z 03 - Makaka - Mpugtu's monkey
Hardwood carving of a monkey – makaka – made as part of the bride price he paid for Abélé by Mputu Ngakwe.
Z 04 - Cooking potCooking pot made to replace the one I broke. Made in a spiral from clay taken from the river bank and baked on the fire outside my hut. It still works!
Z 05 - IkobioIkobio – woven and plaited raffia mats presented by Mputu as part of ibene (bride price) paid for Abélé. Some are stained by smoke and tar from where they were stored in the rafters above the cooking fire.
Z 06 - bPende dancing maskbaPende dancing mask made by one of the village men for me to use at Abélé’s wedding. Made from softwood and raffia, coloured with sap from a forest vine.
Z 07 - CombA comb made for me by Abélé from bamboo and palm fibres.
unnamedThe collecting basket which Abélé took into the forest each day to gather fruit and roots. When she married she gave the basket to me and made herself a new one as her first married duty.
HV 01 - 3 ndaba (hoes)Three ndaba hoes made for me by our village blacksmith in Anéhigouya,Upper Volta (called Burkina Faso today.) Each is a traditional design and is used for different purposes from farming to well digging.
GH 01 - AkuaTwo Akua fertility dolls, from Ghana. Made from soft wood, these are not made to last. They would be placed in their fields to encourage the yams to grow strongly and allowed gradually to rot away in the weather, returning fertility to the earth.
N 02 - Embroidered slippersA pair of traditional embroidered leather slippers peculiar to the northern region. Given to Dad in 1961 as a gift of Alhaji Muhamadu Aminu, the Emir of Zaria, on the first anniversary of Nigerian Independence Day.
N 03 b - Nigerian knifeA traditional Hausa knife with a leather scabbard. This is the knife with which I won the goat skinning competition at the Zaria Agricultural Show in 1961. It was very blunt when first handed to me and I had to sharpen it on a stone before killing the goat and skinning it.Ian Mathie interviewed on Gutsy Google HangoutOne year ago, I interviewed Ian about his life in Africa. You can watch the entire interview below.
Ian submitted a story to the “My Gutsy Story” series. It’s a camel story at the Bilma Oasis in Niger.Ian is not only a brilliant author, but a good friend and supporter of my desire to serve in Africa with the Peace Corps.  Ian Mathie was born in Scotland and taken to Africa aged three, Ian Mathie grew up in the bush. After short service as a pilot in the RAF, he returned to West Africa as a rural development officer. Well adapted to living in the bush, Ian worked with isolated societies, sharing their hardships and understanding cultures from the inside.

Take a look at Ian’s books on his website here.


Comments (3)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Thanks for posting these amazing pictures Sonia. They are fascinating examples of items that serve as memory prompts for stories — in this case an entire memoir of a story. I had to stop and think for a bit that he has these items because they were given to HIM as father of the bride, not to Abele, or so I recall without rereading. I’ve read all of Ian’s books and each well deserved the five-star rating I gave it on Amazon. How lovely for you to have that opportunity to visit him.
    Sharon Lippincott recently posted..A Delicious Way to Eat Your WordsMy Profile

  2. ladyfi says:

    What lovely African items! He sounds like an amazing man.
    ladyfi recently posted..FrolicMy Profile

  3. Sonia,

    These are priceless memories and treasures. Thanks for sharing them with us.

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge