Archive for April 27, 2011


out of africa – 5

The Native mind works in strange ways, and is related to the mind of bygone people, who naturally imagined
that Odin, so as to see through the whole world, gave away one of his eyes; and who figured the God of love as a
child, ignorant of love. It is likely that the Kikuyu of the farm saw my greatness as a judge in the fact that I knew
nothing whatever of the laws according to which I judged.

Because of their gift for myths, the Natives can also do things to you against which you cannot guard yourself
and from which you cannot escape. They can turn you into a symbol. I was well aware of the process, and for my
own use I had a word for it,–in my mind I called it that they were brass serpenting me. Europeans who have lived
for a long time with Natives, will understand what I mean, even if the word is not quite correctly used according
to the Bible. I believe that in spite of all our activities in the land, of the scientific and mechanical progress there,
and of Pax Britannica itself, this is the only practical use that the Natives have ever had out of us.

 The Somali town lay exposed to all winds and   was shadeless and dusty, it must have recalled to the Somali their native deserts. Europeans, who live for a long
time, even for several generations, in the same place, cannot reconcile themselves to the complete indifference to the surroundings of their homes, of the nomadic races. The Somali’s houses were irregularly strewn on the bare ground, and looked as if they had been nailed together with a bushel of four inch nails, to last for a week. It was a
surprising thing, when you entered one of them, to find it inside so neat and fresh, scented with Arab incenses, with fine carpets and hangings, vessels of brass and silver, and swords with ivory hilts and noble blades. The Somali women themselves had dignified, gentle ways, and were hospitable and gay, with a laughter like silver bells. I was much at home in the Somali village through my Somali servant Farah Aden, who was with me all the
time that I was in Africa, and I went to many of their feasts. A big Somali wedding is a magnificent, traditional festivity. As a guest of honour I was taken into the bridal chamber, where the walls and the bridal bed were hung with old gently glowing weavings and embroideries, and the dark eyed young bride herself was stiff, like a marshal’s baton with heavy silks, gold and amber.

The Indians of Nairobi dominated the big Native business quarter of the Bazaar, and the great Indian merchants
had their little Villas just outside the town; Jevanjee, Suleiman Virjee, Allidina Visram. They all had a taste for
stonework stairs, balusters, and vases, rather badly cut out of the soft stone of the country,–like the structures
which children build of pink ornamental bricks. They gave tea parties in their gardens, with Indian pastry in the
style of the Villas, and were clever, travelled, highly polite people. But the Indians in Africa are such grasping
tradesmen that with them you would never know if you were face to face with a human individual or with the
head of a firm.

An African Native Forest is a mysterious region. You ride into the depths of an old tapestry, in places faded and
in others darkened with age, but marvellously rich in green shades. You cannot see the sky at all in there, but the  sunlight plays in many strange ways, falling through the foliage. The grey fungus, like long drooping beards, on
the trees, and the creepers hanging down everywhere, give a secretive, recondite air to the Native forest. I used to ride here with Farah on Sundays, when there was nothing to do on the farm, up and down the slopes, and across the little winding forest streams. The air in the forest was cool like water, and filled with the scent of plants, and in the beginning of the long rains when the creepers flowered, you rode through sphere after sphere of fragrance.
One kind of African Daphne of the woods, which flowers with a small cream coloured sticky blossom, had an
overwhelming sweet perfume, like lilac, and wild lily of the valley. Here and there, hollow tree stems were hung
up in ropes of hide on a branch; the Kikuyu hung them there to make the bees build in them, and to get honey.
Once as we turned a corner in the forest, we saw a leopard sitting on the road, a tapestry animal.

Here, high above the ground, lived a garrulous restless nation, the little grey monkeys. Where a pack of monkeys
had travelled over the road, the smell of them lingered for a long time in the air, a dry and stale, mousy smell. As
you rode on you would suddenly hear the rush and whizz over your head, as the colony passed along on its own
ways. If you kept still in the same place for some time you might catch sight of one of the monkeys sitting
immovable in a tree, and, a little after, discover that the whole forest round you was alive with his family, placed
like fruits on the branches, grey or dark figures according to how the sunlight fell on them, all with their long
tails hanging down behind them. They gave out a peculiar sound, like a smacking kiss with a little cough to
follow it; if from the ground you imitated it, you saw the monkeys turn their heads from one side to the other in
an affected manner, but if you made a sudden movement they were all off in a second, and you could follow the
decreasing swash as they clove the treetops, and disappeared in the wood like a shoal of fishes in the waves.

A few miles out, in the Masai Reserve, the Zebra are now changing their pasture, the flocks wander over the grey

plain like lighter stripes upon it, theBuffaloare out grazing on the long slopes of the Hills. My young men of the

farm would come by, two or three together, walking one after the other like narrow dark shadows on the lawn,

they were afoot and aiming straight at their own object, they were not working for me, and it was none of my

concern. They themselves accentuated the position by just slackening their pace as they caught sight of my

burning cigarette end outside the house, and saluting without stopping.

There is something strangely determinate and fatal about a single shot in the night. It is as if someone had cried a

message to you in one word, and would not repeat it. I stood for some time wondering what it had meant.

Nobody could aim at anything at this hour, and, to scare away something, a person would fire two shots or more.

Outside was my mill manager, wild eyed and sweating in the lamplight. His name

was Belknap, he was an American and an exceptionally capable, inspired mechanic, but of an uneven mind. With

him things were either nearing the Millennium, or dark without a glimpse of hope. When he first came into my

employ he had upset me by his varying views of life, and of prospects and conditions of the farm, as if he had

had me up in an enormous mental swing; later I had got used to them. These ups and downs were no more than a

kind of emotional daily gymnastics to a lively temperament, much in need of exercise, and to which too little was

happening; it is a common phenomenon with energetic young white men inAfrica, particularly with those who

have spent their early life in towns. But here he came out of the hands of a tragedy, and was as yet undecided as

to whether he should satiate his hungry soul by making the most of it, or

escape from its grimness by making as little of it as possible, and in this dilemma he looked like a very young

boy running for his life to announce a catastrophe; he stuttered as he spoke. In the end he made very little of it,

for it held no part in it for him to play, and fate had let him down once more.

At that time I had an oldOverlandcar. I shall never write anything against her, for she served me well through

many years. But it was rare that she could be induced to run on more than two cylinders. Her lights were out of

order too, so that I used to drive in to dances at the Muthaiga Club with a hurricane lamp swaddled in a red silk

handkerchief, for a back light.

A Kyama is an assembly of the Elders of a farm, which is authorized by the Government to settle the local

differences amongst the Squatters. The members of the Kyama gather round a crime, or an accident, and will sit

over it for many weeks, battening upon mutton, talk, and disaster. I knew that now the old men would want to

talk the whole matter over with me, and also that they would, if they could, in the end make me come into their

court to give the final judgment in the case. I did not want to take up an endless discussion of the tragedy of the

night, at this moment, and sent for my horse to get out and away from them.

I rode into the Masai Reserve. I had to cross the river to get there; riding on, I got into the Game Reserve in a

quarter of an hour. It had taken me some time, while I had lived on the farm, to find a place where I could get

over the river on horseback: the descent was stony, and the slope up the other side very steep, but “once in,–how

the delighted spirit pants for joy.”Here lay before you a hundred miles’ gallop over grass and open undulating land; there was not a fence nor a ditch, and no road. There was no human habitation except the Masai villages, and those were deserted half the  year, when the great wanderers took themselves and their herds off to other pastures. There were low thorn trees regularly spread over the plain, and long deep valleys with dry riverbeds of big flat stones, where you had to find a deer path here and there to take you across. After a little while you became aware of how still it was out here.

Now, looking back on my life inAfrica, I feel that it might altogether be described as the existence of a person  who had come from a rushed and noisy world, into a still country.

A little before the rains, the Masai burn off the old dry grass, and while the plains are thus lying black and waste  they are unpleasant to travel on: you will get the black charred dust, which the hoofs of your horse raise, all over  you and into your eyes, and the burnt grass stalks are sharp as glass; your dogs get their feet cut on them. But  when the rains come, and the young green grass is fresh on the plains, you feel as if riding upon springs, and the  horse gets a little mad with the pleasantness. The various kinds of gazelles come to the green places to graze, and  there look like toy animals stood upon a billiard table. You may ride into a herd of Eland; the mighty peaceful  beasts will let you get close to them before they start trotting off, their long horns streaming backwards over their  raised necks, the large loose flaps of breastskin, that make them look square, swaying as they jog. They seem to  have come out of an old Egyptian epitaph, but there they have been ploughing the fields, which gives them a  familiar and domesticated air. The Giraffe keep farther away in the Reserve.

At times, in the first month of the rains, a sort of wild white fragrant Pink flowers so richly all over the Reserve  that at a distance the plains look patched with snow.    

As I knew nothing of their laws the figure that I cut at these great courts of justice would often be that of a Prima  donna who does not remember a word of her part and has to be prompted through it by the rest of the cast. This  task my old men took upon themselves with tact and patience. It would also at times be the figure of an affronted   Prima donna who is shocked by her role and, refusing to go on with it, walks off the stage. When this happened,  my audience took it as a hard blow from the hand of destiny, an act of God outside their understanding; they  looked on it in silence and spat. The ideas of justice of Europe andAfricaare not the same and those of the one world are unbearable to the other.

To the African there is but one way of counterbalancing the catastrophes of existence, it shall be done by replacement; he does not look for the motive of an action. Whether you lie in wait for your enemy and cut his throat in the dark; or you fell a tree, and a thoughtless stranger passes by and is killed: so far as punishment goes,  to the Native mind, it is the same thing. A loss has been brought upon the community and must be made up for,  somewhere, by somebody. The Native will not give time or thought to the weighing up of guilt or desert: either  he fears that this may lead him too far, or he reasons that such things are no concern of his. But he will devote

himself, in endless speculations, to the method by which crime or disaster shall be weighed up in sheep and  goats,–time does not count to him; he leads you solemnly into a sacred maze of sophistry. In those days this went against my ideas of justice. All Africans are the same in these rites. The Somali have a very different mentality from the Kikuyu and a deep contempt for them, but they will sit down in identical manner to weigh up murder, rape, or fraud against their  stock at home in Somaliland,–dearly beloved she camels, and horses, the names and pedigree of which are  written in their hearts.

People who  dream when they sleep at night know of a special kind of happiness which the world of the day holds not, a placid ecstasy, and ease of heart, that are like honey on the tongue. They also know that the real glory of dreams lies in their atmosphere of unlimited freedom. It is not the freedom of the dictator, who enforces his own will on the world, but the freedom of the artist, who has no will, who is free of will. The pleasure of the true dreamer does not lie in the substance of the dream, but in this: that there things happen without any interference from his side, and altogether outside his control. Great landscapes create themselves, long splendid views, rich and delicate colours, roads, houses, which he has never seen or heard of. Strangers appear and are friends or enemies, although the person who dreams has never done anything about them. The ideas of flight and pursuit are recurrent in dreams and are equally enrapturing. Excellent witty things are said by everybody. It is true that if remembered in the daytime they will fade and lose their sense, because they belong to a different plane, but as soon as the one eams lies down at night, the current is again closed and he remembers their excellency. All the  time the feeling of immense freedom is surrounding him and running through him like air and light, an unearthly bliss. He is a privileged person, the one who has got nothing to do, but for whose enrichment and pleasure all things are brought together; the Kings of Tarshish shall bring gifts. He takes part in a great battle or ball, and wonders the while that he should be, in the midst of those events, so far privileged as to be lying down. It is when one begins to lose the consciousness of freedom, and when the idea of necessity enters the world at all,
when there is any hurry or strain anywhere, a letter to be written or a train to catch, when you have got to work, to make the horses of the dream gallop, or to make the rifles go off, that the dream is declining, and turning into the nightmare, which belongs to the poorest and most vulgar class of dreams.

The thing which in the waking world comes nearest to a dream is night in a big town, where nobody knows one,  or the African night. There too is infinite freedom: it is there that things are going on, destinies are made round you, there is activity to all sides, and it is none of your concern.