Archive for April 22, 2011


OUT OF AFRICA -3

The Kikuyu are adjusted

for   the unforeseen and accustomed to

the unexpected. Here they differ from the

white men, of whom the majority strive to

 insure themselves against the unknown

and the assaults of fate. The Negro is on

friendly terms with destiny, having been

in her hands all his time; she is to him, in

a way, his home, the familiar darkness of

the hut, deep mould for his roots. He

faces any change in life with great calm.

Amongst the qualities that he will be looking for in a master or a doctor or in God, imagination, I believe, comes high up in the list. It may be on the strength of such a taste, that the Caliph Haroun al Raschid maintains, to the hearts of  Africa and Arabia, his position as an ideal ruler; with him nobody knew what to expect next, and you did not know where you had him. When the Africans speak of the personality of God they speak like the Arabian Nights or like the last chapters of the book of Job; it is the same quality, the infinite power of imagination, with which they are impressed.

To this characteristic in my people I myself owed my popularity, or my fame, as a doctor. When I first came out to Africa I travelled on the boat with a great German Scientist, who was going out, for the twenty third time, to experiment with cures for sleeping sickness, and who had over a hundred rats and guinea pigs on the boat with him. He told me that his difficulty with the Native patients had never been any lack of courage in them,–in the face  of pain or of a great operation they generally showed little fear,–but it was their deep dislike of regularity, of any repeated treatment or the systematization of the whole; and this the great German doctor could not understand.

 But when I myself got to know the Natives, this quality in them was one of the things that I liked best. They had real courage: the unadulterated liking of danger,–the true answer of creation to the announcement of their lot,–the echo from the earth when heaven had spoken. I sometimes thought that what, at the bottom of their hearts, they feared from us was pedantry. In the hands of a pedant they die of grief.

Rarely, rarely, have I met such a wild creature, a human being who was so utterly isolated from the world, and, by a sort of firm deadly resignation, completely closed to all surrounding life. I could make him answer when I questioned him, but he never volunteered a word and never looked at me. He had no pity whatever in him, and
kept a little scornful laughter of contempt, and of knowing better, for the tears of the other sick children, when they were washed and bandaged, but he never looked at them either. He had no wish for any sort of contact with the world round him, the contacts that he had known of had been too cruel for that. His fortitude of soul in the face of pain was the fortitude of an old warrior. A thing could never be so bad as to surprise him, he was, by his career and his philosophy, prepared for the worst. All this was in the grand manner, and recalled the declaration of faith of Prometheus: “Pain is my element as hate  is thine. Ye rend me now: I care not.” And, “Ay, do thy worst. Thou art omnipotent.” But in a person of his size  it was uncomfortable, a thing to make you lose heart. And what will God think,–I thought,–confronted with this attitude in a small human being?

I had the Church of Scotland Mission as a neighbour twelve miles to the North West, five hundred feet higher than the farm; and the French Roman Catholic Mission ten miles to the East, on the flatter land, and five hundred feet lower. I did not sympathize with the Missions, but personally I was on friendly terms with them both, and regretted that between themselves they should live in a state of hostility.

The French Fathers were my best friends. I used to ride over with Farah, to hear Mass with them on Sunday  morning, partly in order to speak French again, and partly because it was a lovely ride to the Mission. For a long  way the road ran through the Forest Department’s old wattle plantation, and the virile fresh pinaceous scent of
the wattletrees was sweet and cheering in the mornings.

The Scotch Mission I did not know so well. There was a splendid view, from up there, over all the surrounding Kikuyu country, but all the same the Mission station gave me an impression of blindness, as if it could see nothing itself.

Kamante always carried himself with much collected or restrained dignity, but this time he shone with repressed triumph as well.

All Natives have a strong sense for dramatic effects. Kamante had carefully tied old bandages round his legs all
the way up to the knee, to arrange a surprise for me. It was clear that he saw the vital importance of the moment,
not in his own good luck, but, unselfishly, in the pleasure that he was to give me. He probably remembered the
times when he had seen me all upset by the continual failure of my cures with him, and he knew that the result of
the hospital’s treatment was an astounding thing. As slowly, slowly, he unwound the bandages from his knee to
his heel there appeared, underneath them, a pair of whole smooth legs, only slightly marked by grey scars.When Kamante had thoroughly, and in his calm grand manner, enjoyed my astonishment and pleasure, he again
renewed the impression by stating that he was now a Christian. “I am like you,” he said. He added that he
thought that I might give him a Rupee because Christ had risen on this same day.

I had an Evening School for the people of the farm, with a Native schoolmaster to teach them. I got my
schoolmasters from one of the Missions, and in my time I have had all three,–Roman Catholic, Church of
England, and Church of Scotland schoolmasters. For the Native education of the country is run rigorously on
religious lines; so far as I know, there are no other books translated into Swaheli than the Bible and the hymn
books. I myself, during all my time in Africa, was planning to translate Aesop’s fables, for the benefit of the
Natives, but I never found time to carry my plan through. Still, such as it was, my school was to me a favourite
place on the farm, the centre of our spiritual life, and I spent my pleasant evening hours in the long old
storehouse of corrugated iron in which it was kept.

Kamante would then come with me, but he would not join the children on the school benches, he would stand a
little away from them, as if consciously closing his ears to the learning, and exulting in the simplicity of those
who consented to be taken in, and to listen. But in the privacy of my kitchen, I have seen him copying from
memory, very slowly and preposterously, those same letters and figures that he had observed on the blackboard
in the school. I do not think that he could have come in with other people if he had wanted to; early in his life
something in him had been twisted or locked, and now it was, so to say, to him the normal thing to be out of the
normal. He was aware of this separateness of his, himself, with the arrogant greatness of soul of the real dwarf,
who, when he finds himself at a difference with the whole world, holds the world to be crooked.

Kamante was shrewd in money matters, he spent little, and did a number of wise deals with the other Kikuyu in
goats, he married at an early age, and marriage in the Kikuyu world is an expensive undertaking. At the same
time

I have heard him philosophising, soundly and originally, upon the worthlessness of money. He stood in a  peculiar relation to existence on the whole; he mastered it, but he had no high opinion of it.

All Natives have in them a strong strain of malice, a shrill delight in things going
wrong, which in itself is hurting and revolting to Europeans. Kamante brought this characteristic to a rare
perfection, even to a special self irony, that made him take pleasure in his own disappointments and disasters,
nearly exactly as in those of other people.

I have met with the same kind of mentality in the old Native women who have been roasted over many fires,who have mixed blood with Fate, and recognize her irony, wherever they meet it, with sympathy, as if it were
that of a sister.

The Masai, the nomadic, cattle owning nation, were neighbours of the farm and lived on the other side of the river; from time to time some of them would come to my house to complain about a lion that was taking their cows, and to ask me to go out and shoot it for them, and I did so if I could. Sometimes, on Saturday, I also walked out on the Orungi plains to shoot a Zebra or two as meat for my farm labourers, with a long tail of optimistic young Kikuyu after me. I shot birds on the farm, spurfowl and guineafowl, that are very good to eat. But for many years I was not out on any shooting expedition.

Still, we often talked on the farm of the Safaris that we had been on. Camping places fix themselves in your mind is if you had spent long periods of your life in them. You will remember a curve of your waggon track in the grass of the plain, like the features of a friend.

Out on the Safaris, I had seen a herd of Buffalo, one hundred and twenty nine of them, come out of the morning mist under a copper sky, one by one, as if the dark and massive, iron like animals with the mighty horizontally swung horns were not approaching, but were being created before my eyes and sent out as they were finished. I had seen a herd of Elephant travelling through dense Native forest, where the sunlight is strewn down between the thick creepers in small spots and patches, pacing along as if they had an appointment at the end of the world. It was, in giant size, the border of a very old, infinitely precious Persian carpet, in the dyes of green, yellow and black brown. I had time after time watched the progression across the plain of the Giraffe, in their queer, inimitable, vegetative gracefulness, as if it were not a herd of animals but a family of rare, long stemmed, speckled gigantic flowers slowly advancing. I had followed two Rhinos on their morning promenade, when they were sniffing and snorting in the air of the dawn,–which is so cold that it hurts in the nose,–and looked like two very big angular stones rollicking in the long valley and enjoying life together. I had seen the royal lion, before sunrise, below a waning moon, crossing the grey plain on his way home from the kill, drawing a dark wake in the silvery grass, his face still red up to the ears, or during the midday siesta, when he reposed contentedly in the midst of his family on the short grass and in the delicate, spring like shade of the broad Acacia trees of his park of Africa.

Out in the wilds I had learned to beware of abrupt movements. The creatures with which you are dealing there are shy and watchful, they have a talent for evading you when you least expect it. No domestic animal can be as still as a wild animal. The civilized people have lost the aptitude of stillness, and must take lessons in silence from the wild before they are accepted by it. The art of moving gently, without suddenness, is the first to be studied by the hunter, and more so by the hunter with the camera. Hunters cannot have their own way, they must fall in with the wind, and the colours and smells of the landscape, and they must make the tempo of the ensemble their own. Sometimes it repeats a movement over and over again, and they must follow up with it.

When you have caught the rhythm of Africa, you find that it is the same in all her music. What I learned from the game of the country, was useful to me in my dealings with the Native People.

The love of woman and womanliness is a masculine characteristic, and the love of man and manliness a feminine characteristic, and there is a susceptibility to the Southern countries and races that is a Nordic quality. The Normans must have fallen in love with the foreign countries, first with France and then with England. Those old Milords who figure in the history and fiction of the eighteenth century, as constantly travelling in Italy, Greece and Spain, had not a single Southern trait in their nature, but were drawn and held by the fascination of things wholly different from themselves. The old German and Scandinavian painters, philosophers and poets, when they first came to Florence and Rome, went down on their knees to adore the South.

A queer illogical patience towards an alien world came out in these impatient people. As it is almost impossible for a woman to irritate a real man, and as to the women, a man is never quite contemptible, never altogether rejectable, as long as he remains a man, so were the hasty red haired Northern people infinitely long suffering with the tropical countries and races. They would stand no nonsense from their own country or their own relations, but they took the drought of the African Highlands, and a case of sun stroke, the Rinderpest on their cattle, and the incompetency of their Native servants, with humility and resignation. Their sense of individuality itself was lost in the sense of the possibilities that lie in interaction between those who can be made one by reason of their incongruity. The people of Southern Europe and the people of mixed blood have not got this quality; they blame it, or scorn it. So the men’s men scorn the sighing lover, and the rational women who have no patience with their men, are in the same way indignant with Griselda.

As for me, from my first weeks in Africa, I had felt a great affection for the Natives. It was a strong feeling that embraced all ages and both sexes. The discovery of the dark races was to me a magnificent enlargement of all my world. If a person with an inborn sympathy for animals had grown up in a milieu where there were no animals, and had come into contact with animals late in life; or if a person with an instinctive taste for woods and forest had entered a forest for the first time at the age of twenty; or if some one with an ear for music had happened to hear music for the first time when he was already grown up; their cases might have been similar to  mine. After I had met with the Natives, I set out the routine of my daily life to the Orchestra.

My father was an officer in the Danish and French army, and as a very young lieutenant at Düppel he wrote home: “Back in Düppel I was officer to a long column. It was hard work, but it was splendid. The love of war is a passion like another, you love soldiers as you love young womenfolk,–to madness, and the one love does not exclude the other, as the girls know. But the love of women can include only one at a time, and the love for your
soldiers comprehends the whole regiment, which you would like enlarged if it were possible.” It was the same thing with the Natives and me.

The Natives have, far less than the white people, the sense of risks in life. Sometimes on a Safari, or on the farm, in a moment of extreme tension, I have met the eyes of my Native companions, and have felt that we were at a great distance from one another, and that they were wondering at my apprehension of our risk. It made me reflect that perhaps they were, in life itself, within their own element, such as we can never be, like fishes in deep water which for the life of them cannot understand our fear of drowning. This assurance, this art of swimming, they had, I thought, because they had preserved a knowledge that was lost to us by our first parents; Africa, amongst the continents, will teach it to you: that God and the Devil are one, the majesty co eternal, not two uncreated but one uncreated, and the Natives neither confounded the persons nor divided the substance.

The Natives were Africa in flesh and blood. The tall extinct volcano of Longonot that rises above the Rift Valley, the broad Mimosa trees along the rivers, the Elephant and the Giraffe, were not more truly Africa than the Natives were,–small figures in an immense scenery. All were different expressions of one idea, variations upon the same theme. It was not a congenial upheaping of heterogeneous atoms, but a heterogeneous upheaping of congenial atoms, as in the case of the oakleaf and the acorn and the object made from oak. We ourselves, in boots, and in our constant great hurry, often jar with the landscape. The Natives are in accordance with it, and when the tall, slim, dark, and dark eyed people travel,–always one by one, so that even the great Native veins of traffic are narrow footpaths,–or work the soil, or herd their cattle, or hold their big dances, or tell you a tale, it is Africa wandering, dancing and entertaining you. In the highlands you remember the Poet’s words:

Noble found I

ever the Native,

and insipid the Immigrant.

The Colony is changing and has already changed since I lived there. When I write down as accurately as possible my experiences on the farm, with the country and with some of the inhabitants of the plains and woods, it may have a sort of historical interest.

The geographical position, and the height of the land combined to create a landscape that had not its like in all the world. There was no fat on it and no luxuriance anywhere; it was Africa distilled up through six thousand  feet, like the strong and refined essence of a continent. The colours were dry and burnt, like the colours in pottery. The trees had a light delicate foliage, the structure of which was different from that of the trees in
Europe; it did not grow in bows or cupolas, but in horizontal layers, and the formation gave to the tall solitary trees a likeness to the palms, or a heroic and romantic air like fullrigged ships with their sails clewed up, and to the edge of a wood a strange appearance as if the whole wood were faintly vibrating. Upon the grass of the great  plains the crooked bare old thorn trees were scattered, and the grass was spiced like thyme and bog myrtle; in
some places the scent was so strong, that it smarted in the nostrils. All the flowers that you found on the plains,  or upon the creepers and liana in the native forest, were diminutive like flowers of the downs,–only just in the  beginning of the long rains a number of big, massive heavy scented lilies sprang out on the plains.

The views  were immensely wide. 

 Everything that you saw made for

greatness and freedom, and unequalled

 nobility.

The chief feature of the landscape, and of your life in it, was the air. Looking back on a sojourn in the African highlands, you are struck by your feeling of having lived for a time up in the air. The sky was rarely more than pale blue or violet, with a profusion of mighty, weightless, ever changing clouds towering up and sailing on it, but it has a blue vigour in it, and at a short distance it painted the ranges of hills and the woods a fresh deep blue.

In the middle of the day the air was alive over the land, like a flame burning; it scintillated, waved and shone like running water, mirrored and doubled all objects, and created great Fata Morgana.    Up in this high air you breathed easily, drawing in a vital assurance and lightness of heart. In the highlands you woke up in the morning and thought: Here I am, where I ought to be.

The wind in the highlands blows steadily from the North North East. It is the same wind that, down at the coasts  of Africa and Arabia, they name the Monsoon, the East Wind, which was King Solomon’s favourite horse. Up  here it is felt as just the resistance of the air, as the Earth throws herself forward into space. The wind runs  straight against the Ngong Hills, and the slopes of the hills would be the ideal place for setting up a glider, that
would be lifted upwards by the currents, over the mountain top. The clouds, which were travelling with the wind, struck the side of the hill and hung round it, or were caught on the summit and broke into rain. But those that took a higher course and sailed clear of the reef, dissolved to the West of it, over the burning desert of the Rift Valley. Many times I have from my house followed these mighty processions advancing, and have wondered to see their proud floating masses, as soon as they had got over the hills, vanish in the blue air and be gone.

We grew coffee on my farm. The land was in itself a little too high for coffee, and it was hard work to keep it  going; we were never rich on the farm. But a coffee plantation is a thing that gets hold of you and does not let you go, and there is always something to do on it: you are generally just a little behind with your work.In the wildness and irregularity of the country, a piece of land laid out and planted according to rule, looked very
well. Later on, when I flew in Africa, and became familiar with the appearance of my farm from the air, I was filled with admiration for my coffee plantation, that lay quite bright green in the grey green land, and I realized how keenly the human mind yearns for geometrical figures. All the country round Nairobi, particularly to the North of the town, is laid out in a similar way, and here lives a people, who are constantly thinking and talking of planting, pruning or picking coffee, and who lie at night and meditate upon improvements to their coffee factories.

Coffee growing is a long job. It does not all come out as you imagine, when, yourself young and hopeful, in the streaming rain, you carry the boxes of your shining young coffee plants from the nurseries, and, with the whole number of farm hands in the field, watch the plants set in the regular rows of holes in the wet ground where they are to grow, and then have them thickly shaded against the sun, with branches broken from the bush, since obscurity is the privilege of young things. It is four or five years till the trees come into bearing, and in the meantime you will get drought on the land, or diseases, and the bold native weeds will grow up thick in the fields,–the black jack, which has long scabrous seed vessels that hang on to your clothes and stockings. Some of the trees have been badly planted with their tap roots bent; they will die just as they begin to flower. You plant a little over six hundred trees to the acre, and I had six hundred acres of land with coffee; my oxen dragged the cultivators up and down the fields, between the rows of trees, many thousand miles, patiently, awaiting coming bounties.

There are times of great beauty on a coffee farm. When the plantation flowered in the beginning of the rains, it was a radiant sight, like a cloud of chalk, in the mist and the drizzling rain, over six hundred acres of land. The  coffee blossom has a delicate slightly bitter scent, like the blackthorn blossom. When the field reddened with the  ripe berries, all the women and the children, whom they call the Totos, were called out to pick the coffee off the trees,together with the men; then the waggons and carts brought it down to the factory near the river.

It is impossible that a town will not play a part in your life, it does not even make much difference whether you have more good or bad things to say of it, it draws your mind to it, by a mental law of gravitation. The luminous haze on the sky above the town at night, which I could see from some places on my farm, set my thoughts going,  and recalled the big cities of Europe.

And it was a live place, in movement like running water, and in growth like a young thing, it changed from year to year, and while you were away on a shooting Safari. The new Government House was built, a stately cool house with a fine ball room and a pretty garden, big hotels grew up, great impressive agricultural shows and fine flower shows were held, our Quasi Smart Set of the Colony from time to time enlivened the town with rows of quick melodrama. Nairobi said to you: “Make the most of me and of time. Wir kommen nie weider so jung–so undisciplined and rapacious–zusammen.” Generally I and Nairobi were in very good understanding,and at one time I drove through the town and thought: There is no world without Nairobi’s streets.

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