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Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen

Book One, Kamante and Lulu: "The Ngong Farm" and "A Native Child"

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Book One, Kamante and Lulu: "The Ngong Farm" and "A Native Child", page 2

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Summary

The Ngong Farm

The narrator once had a farm in Africa, located at an altitude of six thousand feet on the foot of the Ngong Hills. The African landscape appears dry and burnt, like the colors in pottery. Trees delicately arch into the sky like ships. On the vast plains, the sky is so big that one can see clouds coming from miles away. The heat scintillates the air, often distorting images as it does so. Each morning when the narrator wakes in Africa, she feels that she is where she is supposed to be.

The farm grows coffee. Only part of the farm's six thousand acres is used for agriculture, the rest being partially a forest and partially land where natives live. These natives are known as squatters. As repayment for living on the farm, they work on it a specified number of days per year. Both native women and children, the latter referred to as Totos, help to harvest the coffee. The coffee is then roasted in a factory on the farm. After the factory dries the coffee, it is sealed in burlap bags, taken to town, and sent by boat to England for sale.

The closest town to the farm is Nairobi, about twelve miles away. When the narrator first moved to Africa, there were no cars and one could only get there by ox cart. Nairobi is a lively town with clubs, restaurants, shops, and government offices. Clusters of native people live in small townships around Narobi: the Swahilis, the Somalis, and the Indians, who usually are merchants. The nomadic Masai tribe lives just South of the farm on a large reserve planned by the colonial government.

The author has seen many wild animals in the game country surrounding her farm, such as lions, giraffes, rhinos, and elephants; and has learned to be wary of abrupt movements while in the wild. She feels that learning about African animals has exposed her to the true essence and rhythms of Africa. Her exposure to its native people also has taught her about the true African essence.

Ever since she arrived, the narrator has felt affection for the natives. She believes she is close friends with the native community. Natives differ from Europeans in many ways, such as their tendency to be silent or answer questions in a cryptic manner. Natives also admirably take the difficulties of African life in stride. Although the narrator is close to the many natives on her farm, she also senses that they exist on a different, parallel plane from her. She occasionally feels lonely.

A Native Child

The squatters on the farm primarily belong to the Kikuyu tribe. The narrator meets Kamante when he is small Kikuyu boy, herding his family sheep around the property. The narrator approaches him because Kamante has large open sores all over his legs. She instructs him to come for medical care the next morning. The narrator gives medical care to the squatters on her farm every morning, even though all she knows is basic first aid.

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