When he’s not breaking through security to shake hands with Nikita Khrushchev, he is crashing his scooter through a border between Jordan and Israel in the then partitioned Jerusalem, amidst a hail of gunfire, escaping an assassination attempt in Jordan, or dodging the bullets of eager security agents around the Duke of Edinburgh in Sydney. When he’s not trying ‘African ju-ju’ on pretty Russian girls, he’s enjoying a tense audience with Golda Meir in Israel and hobnobbing with Fúnmiláyọ̀ Ransome-Kútì in Moscow. One-man daredevil-traveller, Mashood Ọlábísí Àjàlá saw and did it all, and lived to tell the tale.
An African Abroad, his first and only travel memoir, was first published in 1963 by Jarrolds UK, and then went out of print shortly after. It is the story of Nigeria’s famous travel writer, journalist, actor, and casanova whose fame has turned his last name into a Nigeria-wide synonym for wanderlust and adventure. Ọlábísí Àjàlá was born in Ghana, lived in the United States, where he travelled from Chicago to Los Angeles on a bicycle, then returned to Europe to travel the world, visiting over a dozen countries and documenting his experience in a book.
But for five decades, the contents of the work became a matter of conjecture by people who had only heard about it from second-hand sources. Copies became rare, only to be found in private collections or Western libraries. Àjàlá himself returned to Nigeria in the seventies and became a music promoter, socialite, and newspaper columnist. When he died in December 1999, his name had become world-famous even if his book could no longer be found on the shelves.
However, a new generation of readers is about to be able to encounter Àjàlá’s An African Abroad for the first time. A new edition will be out in October 2022, from OlongoAfrica (international edition) and Masobe Books (Nigerian edition). A pre-order link will soon be available shortly, also for the Kindle editions as well.
The new edition includes the original text, freshly edited. It also contains a preface by Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún, Nigerian writer and linguist, and a new foreword by Joane Àjàlá – the surviving Australian ex-spouse of the writer, now in her eighties – written in collaboration with Àjala’s estate and children.
About the publication, Túbọ̀sún says, ‘I’ve been obsessed with Àjàlá’s story for a very long time. His influence on African travel writing is undeniably large, and his story immensely fascinating. I’m ecstatic about this chance to get the work back into circulation after many decades of scarcity, and to work with his family in doing so. He and Joane lived in three countries together, and raised five children, including three biological ones: David Fẹ́mi, Lisa Abímbọ́lá, and Sydney Ọláyínká Àjàlá. He had other families around the world, too. Working with them to bring their father’s story back into the limelight makes me very happy, and I look forward to seeing Ọlábísí Àjàlá take back his place in the minds of a new generation of readers of (African) travel writing.’
OlongoAfrica is a pan-African literary and culture publication founded by Túbọ̀sún in 2020 and currently published under the Brick House Co-operative. Túbọ̀sún works with editors Olajide Salawu (Managing editor), Ayodele Ibiyemi, Henneh Kyereh Kwaku and Precious Arinze to publish relevant creative content across the African continent: fiction, essays, reviews, translations, journalism, and interviews. An African Abroad is their first book project.
‘This is the extraordinary story of a Nigerian journalist’s travels around the world in the mid-twentieth century, an entertaining and sometimes breathtaking account of his bold adventures, and a fascinating insight into the global politics of the time. Travelling across Asia, the Middle East and Australia, Àjàlá recounts his meetings with world leaders, everyday people, and Africans in the global diaspora, as well as his daredevil border crossings on his scooter, and his encounters with racism, assault and police mistreatment. This important new edition opens An African Abroad up to a whole new generation of readers, and means it can rightly take its place as a classic work in the canon of African travel literature.’
– Rebecca Jones (Scholar of Nigerian print, literary and popular cultures in the Yoruba and English languages, co-editor of Fortunate Traveller and author of At the Crossroads: Nigerian Travel Writing in Yoruba and English)
‘It is a travel book. But it is much more than that… it is more than mere journalism… it is more than a polemical dissertation. As he travels back and forth across the continents on the two wheels of his motor-scooter, the author skillfully describes to us the psychologies and the sociology of the fascinating individuals and groups he meets.‘
– Tom J. Mboya (Kenyan trade unionist, educator, Pan-Africanist, author, independence activist, and statesman)
‘Àjàlá travelled all over the world.’
– Ebenezer Obey (musician)
‘Long before all those theories of migrancy, movement, errantry, deracination, cosmopolitanism, diaspora, borderlands, contact zones, globalisation, flows became compulsory menu items for graduate students in Departments of English all over the world, this Yorùbá man was already a human canvass of all that jazz…’
– Pius Adésanmí (1972-2019) Professor, writer, literary critic, satirist, and columnist, author of Naija No Dey Carry Last
‘…a template for many travel writers and journalists, like myself, as both a kind of guiding light for what is possible, and a documented record of a time when African writers didn’t seek permission to exist in the world as equally valid witness to history.‘
– Kọ́lá Túbọ̀sún writer and linguist, author of Edwardsville by Heart