By January 25, 2008 1 Comments Read More →

Cartographical Errors in Long Way Gone?

More on the Ishmael Beah controversy in The Australian. Another former child soldier, Kabba Williams, has questioned Beah’s account of events (“Child soldier questions Beah’s tale,” by Peter Wilson):

“That is not true … 1995 was the period when Ishmael got involved in the conflict,” Mr Williams told The Australian in a telephone interview yesterday.


Mr Williams said he was not surprised by what he believed were the inaccuracies in Beah’s account because the traumatic adolescence of the child soldiers meant “a lot of us do not know our own childhoods”.

The publisher, however, may need to take some blame for another, far less forgivable, error:

Beah, according to his own account, spent at least 10 months wandering between villages before reaching the relative safety of the village of Yele in Bonthe district, only to be recruited by the soldiers occupying the town.

A map that has appeared at the front of Beah’s book in its many reprints — more than 650,000 copies are in print and a new soft-back edition is about to be released in Europe — shows that trek as a winding, 1000km route between Mattru Jong and Yele, about 450km to the southwest.

But the map is deeply flawed. In fact, Yele is just 6km southwest of Mattru Jong.



About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

1 Comment on "Cartographical Errors in Long Way Gone?"

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  1.' sarah crichton says:

    The following is a letter we sent the Australian regarding the issue of the map– which you have blogged about.

    Thank you, Sarah Crichton

    February 14, 2008

    To The Australian:

    A recent article by reporter Peter Wilson ( Feb. 11) challenges the accuracy of the map that appears in the front of Ishmael Beah’s memoir A LONG WAY GONE. As Wilson reported, the cartographer had accidentally provided an incorrect scale for the map, but that was noticed last fall and, as your paper reported, was corrected for later editions. Wilson then wrote: “The other mistake, which has not been corrected and is more difficult to understand, is that Yele [where Beah was recruited by soldiers] is incorrectly located on the map.”

    This is wrong. Further investigation will show that there are at least four Yeles (or “Yile” as they are sometimes spelled) in Sierra Leone.

    Less detailed maps usually show only the large town of Yele, located in central Sierra Leone (08° 25′ 00” N 011° 50′ 00” W). This is certainly not the town in question. Nor is another Yele, which is located on the Turtle Islands off the coast (07° 34′ 54″ N 012° 58′ 48″ W).

    On a website (the Sierra Leone Encyclopedia: used by librarians at the United Nations, one can find maps of Sierra Leone districts on a scale of 1:160,000. On this map of the Bonthe district, one finds another Yele (07° 34′ 42″ N 012° 13′ 49″ W), located in the Jong chiefdom, approximately 10 km south of the Bonthe district’s northern border. This is apparently the Yele that reporters from The Australian declared to be the same Yele in Ishmael Beah’s book. However, it is not.

    The most detailed existing maps of Sierra Leone, Sierra Leone, 1:50,00, were created by the Great Britain Directorate of Overseas Surveys. On the Second edition map (419, series G7 42), the aforementioned Yele is spelled Yile. As is yet a fourth Yele/Yile—which can be found on maps 108 and 114 ( printed together). Its coordinates are 7o16’50’’N 12o7’05’’W, a little more than a kilometer from the ocean, and 19 km south and 9 km west of Kamator (here spelled Kamato). This is the Yele that Mr. Beah writes about and which accurately appears on the map in A LONG WAY GONE.

    Mr. Wilson’s confusion is understandable. However, a correction is clearly in order.


    Sarah Crichton
    Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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