The guy in the picture is Abubakar Suleiman, a 15 year-old Boston student whose hobbies apparently include taking condescending local reporters for a ride. When one of the more august organs of the American press, the Boston Globe (founded 1872), came calling this week at his school in Boston’s suburbs (“thousands of miles from the beautiful, ruthless place where he was born”in Nigeria) in order to tell his story, he was only too happy to provide them with some quite remarkable copy. They had clearly come for the whole Coming to America schtick, and that’s exactly what they got. The profile begins in unforgettable style:
Five years ago, Abubakar Suleiman was hunting zebras with spears and trying to avoid antagonizing cheetahs.
He went on to explain to reporter Yvonne Abraham that his childhood spent hunting zebras in Northern Nigeria had given him the edge in his new school’s javelin competition, in which he had triumphed.
Something didn’t quite add up. A sharp-eyed AIAC reader Bob Blewett got to what we think is the bottom of the mystery on his blog:
Yep, being a spear-chucking, zebra-hunting African gave him a leg up in Massachusetts and now he is at the top of his age group in the javelin.
Problem? There are no zebra in the wild in Nigeria. (There are zebra on Nigerian postage stamps but that is about selling stamps to collectors, not zebra habitat.) While it is possible for a cheetah to exist in the savannas of northern Nigeria, this is extremely rare. Humans would frighten, not antagonize, any wild cheetah there. Besides, hunting is about accuracy; javelin is about distance.
UPDATE: Bob alerted us to the discussion on Yvonne Abraham’s column on Metafilter as well as this correction by Abraham in the Boston Globe today:
After this column ran, I received several notes from readers saying there are no zebras in the Nigerian wild. They’re right. I spoke to the Abubakar Suleiman, and he admitted that the hunting escapades he told me about, stories he told friends and teachers since arriving at the age of 10, were tales he’d heard from an uncle, and not his own. But in conversations with his mother and teachers, the rest of his story checks out. His many remarkable accomplishments in Boston stand.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Novelist Zakes Mda has weighed in on his twitter account. “He’s giving gullible Americans the exotic narrative they crave,” Zakes reckons.