Of African Princes and Russian Poets – NYTimes.com

Of African Princes and Russian Poets – NYTimes.com.

Alongside the luminaries of the town and province were high representatives of Russia and Estonia, as well as the ambassador of Cameroon and the sultan of Logone-Birni (now in Cameroon), resplendent in the colorful garments of their African homeland. 

The requisite speeches were delivered, and all shivered at attention as the local marching band wrestled gamely with the European Anthem (more familiar as Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy”). Then the sultan, Mahamat Bahat Marouf, was ushered forward to pull the veil off a modest plaque affixed to the wall. The legend, in French and Russian, declared that Abram Petrovich Gannibal (Hanibal in French), born in Logone-Birni in 1696 and deceased in Russia in 1781, chief military engineer and general-in-chief of the Imperial Russian Army, was a graduate of the royal artillery academy of La Fère. 

It also noted that he was the great-grandfather of Russia’s greatest poet, Alexander Pushkin.

In Russia, it is common knowledge that Pushkin was descended from an African who was raised to high rank by Czar Peter the Great. Pushkin’s African ancestry was evident in his appearance, and the poet was proud of the heritage, using Gannibal as the model for an unfinished novel known in English as “The Negro of Peter the Great.”