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Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen

Book Two, A Shooting Accident on the Farm: "The Shooting Accident" to "Riding in the Reserve"

Book One, Kamante and Lulu: From "The Savage in the Immigrant's House" to "A Gazelle"

Book Two, A Shooting Accident on the Farm: From "Wamai" to "A Kikuyu Chief"

Summary

The Shooting Accident

The narrator stands watching the stars and moon on the night of December 19th, when she hears a gunshot. The sound alarms her as she cannot imagine why it took place. A few minutes later, the mill-manager of the farm, an American named Belknap, drives up on his motorcycle. He looks distressed. Farah, the narrator's main servant, appears from the house. Belknap tells the narrator and Farah that his seven-year old house boy, Kabero, had a small party in the kitchen, since the cook had the night off. To amuse his friends, Kabero let them all handle Belknap's shotgun. Then Kabero pointed it at the other boys and pulled the trigger. The gun had been loaded and two of the boys were hurt.

The narrator gathers medical supplies and heads to Belknap's house. Its kitchen is a mess, with gunpowder in the air, and two screaming boys on the floor. One young boy, Wamai, is groaning and appears close to death. The jaw of another boy, Wanyangerri, has been almost entirely shot off. Kabero, the boy who fired the gun, has disappeared. The narrator wraps a hasty bandage on Wanyangerri's face, gets the two boys in the car, and heads to the native hospital in Nairobi.

By the time they reach the hospital, Wamai is dead, although Wanyangerri still is alive and crying miserably. They leave Wanyangerri to be treated and proceed to the Police Station. They file a report with a police officer who seems only moderately interested in the shooting.

The next morning, the narrator awakes and senses that many people are surrounding her house. She knows who they are, the old men of the Kikuyu tribe who will want to start a Kyama. A Kyama is a gathering of the elders, authorized by the colonial government to resolve difficulties in the native community. The Kyama will determine who is responsible for the shooting and how the suffering should be repaid. The narrator does not want to yet discuss it. She gets out of bed, sends for her horse, gets on it and rides away, despite the old Kikuyu men who follow, begging her to stop.

Riding in the Reserve

The narrator rides into the Masai Reserve that abuts the farm to the South. She feels great joy in being completely alone with nature and being able to ride wherever she likes on the undulating land. Despite her joy, she grieves over the shooting. As the owner of the farm, she has long been involved in the legal settlements between those who live on it. However, she does not agree with the native system of justice, since it focuses on the way that those injured can be repaid for their suffering.

The narrator has already seen several versions of native justice on the farm. Once Farah's little brother broke another boy's teeth by throwing a stone. The two families handled the issue seriously. Eventually Farah's family agreed to pay the other family fifty camels. Farah thought that they had gotten off easily, since the other boy's injured appearance might mar his future chances of marriage.

Another time, a young native girl was accidentally killed when she was riding on the cart that carries the coffee, which she was not supposed to do. When she jumped off, she fell under the cart and broke her skull. Her parents had expected the narrator to compensate them for their loss, but the narrator refused to do so. Eventually, the older couple approached the local government, who only offered to hang the driver for murder. In the end, the couple received no compensation.

Despite the author's disagreement with the native system of justice, the natives on her farm always hold her up as the final judge in their matters. She believes that she has become a symbol in their minds. As she finishes the ride she meets up with the brothers of Kabero, the boy who fired the gun. They say that Kabero has not returned home and that they assume lions ate him or that he killed himself, a common native act. The narrator then mourns the loss of the young Kabero too, before going home.

Analysis

These two chapters introduce the second section of Out of Africa that deals with an accidental shooting. The account of the shooting and its aftermath is told as an entirely self-contained unit. There is no indication that these events chronologically follow those from the first section. Likewise, there will be no indication in the later chapters that these events took place before them. The story of the shooting exists in an entirely timeless sphere that simply allows the narrator be a storyteller, describing the events around her.

The account of the shooting also allows the narrator assumes an anthropological tone. Particularly, she describes in detail the two different legal systems used by Europeans and natives. But her anthropology does not take place from an unbiased standpoint. The narrator prefers the European system and explains why. Furthermore, after analyzing the native legal system she also speculates, in perhaps a not entirely culturally sensitive way, as to why natives created their legal system and her role in it.

The narrator finds the native system of justice less correct than the European one because it focuses on compensating parties instead of punishing them. She believes that this practice does not fairly allow for occasional accidents, which is what she considers the shooting on the farm to be. The two examples she cites of previous justice, likewise, both involve what she sees as accidents: Farah's younger brother throwing a stone, which is a childish act, and a girl accidentally dying from a fall. Because the narrator believes these incidents to be accidents, she finds the native desire for compensation ridiculous. She blatantly refuses to pay the poor old parents of the dead girl, even though they sit on her lawn all evening. She even seems to take pleasure in the fact that they were never compensated, because she believes that due to the accidental nature of the girl's death, they should never be.

The narrator also observes the irony that the native symbolically appoint her as the adjudicator of their conflicts, even though she does not agree with their method of arbitration. She believes that the Africans are able to do so because their minds work differently from European minds. Natives still have the ability to mythologize and theologize, a skill which Europeans have lost.

The idea that the native and European minds operate in different ways returns again to Dinesen's presentation of Africa as a pastoral landscape. A key element in this theory is the belief that Africans and Europeans live on two different planes of existence, because of their relationship to culture and modernity. Africans, who have not experienced modernity, remain closer to the earth. As such, their minds maintain the ability to mythologize, which most Europeans no longer have. Europeans are further from the original state of man, and therefore no look make meaning and mythologize in the way they once did.

Dinesen's proposal that Africans and Europeans have fundamentally different minds has been criticized as not cultural sensitive. Certainly, her ideas do rely upon outdate notions that stress the separation of races. Modern biological studies prove that African and European brains have no fundamental difference. Migration and modernization have also demonstrated no difference in the way that African and European minds work. Therefore Dinesen's ideas appear to be wrong. Since they implicitly suggest that Africans exist in a more "primitive" form than Europeans, many have labeled Dinesen's perspective racist, even though Dinesen hypothetically argues that it is better for humans to exist in their more natural state.

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