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Out of Africa

Isak Dinesen

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

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

Book Three, Visitors to the Farm: From ""Big Dances" to "Old Knudsen"

Summary

Wamai

A group of elders finally convenes to deal with the shooting and determines to deal first with the death of Wamai, as the condition of Wanyangerri is not yet finalized. Kinanu, the father of the shooter, Kabero, is being held responsible for his son's crime. Kaninu is one of the richest squatters on the farm with five wives and much livestock. The death of Wamai has made his already poor father, Jogona, significantly poorer, as Wamai was his only child. The narrator argues during the deliberation that it was just an accident and no one is responsible. The elders do not agree. Eventually, they determine that Kaninu must pay Jogona forty sheep.

Several days after the settlement, some Kikuyus from another area arrive and try to claim that they deserve the settlement because their brother, not Jogona, was actually Wamai's biological father. Jogona visits the narrator and gives her his account, which she types up for legal purposes. Jogona explains that he knew Wamai's true father and, at the time of his death, owed him money. The two men agreed that if Jogona took on the dying man's wife and Wamai, and finished paying the bride price on the wife, his debt would be relieved. When Wamai's father died, Jogona fully adopted Wamai and his mother and assumed all costs for them.

Jogona appears overjoyed that his account has been inscribed on a written page. He keeps the note in a leather pouch and later uses it to dismiss the claim of those who wanted his settlement. After the incident, Jogona still carries his pouch with him. Whenever he sees the narrator, he asks her to read it to him, looking proud as she does. The narrator finds that many native people are fascinated by stories in written form, whereas they might dismiss the same story told to them orally. Before the Europeans arrived, there was no written form of Swahili.

Wanyangerri

At the hospital, the doctors have reshaped Wanyangerri's jaw by using a piece of metal. He later is able to eat and speak.

The narrator eventually learns that Kabero, the boy who shot the gun, still is alive and has been adopted by a rich, childless Masai. She tells Kabero's father, Kaninu, to bring Kabero to her when he returns to the farm. Five years later Kaninu does so. In his years away, Kabero has become an elegant young Masai warrior, who wears his hair in the Masai way and walks in a formal manner like the Masai. The narrator believes that the Masai are the most aristocratic of the local tribes. They were once warriors and apparently die within three months if placed in jail.

Long before Kabero returns though, the matter of compensation for Wanyangerri is settled, although in a slightly unusual way. A few weeks after Wanyangerri returns, fairly healthy although with some chewing difficulties, Kaninu appears at the farm looking ill. He explains that he has given ten sheep to Wanyangerri's father and is now going to give him a cow and a calf as well. The narrator asks him why he has done so, since there has not yet been a council meeting. Kaninu will not say why.

Farah later explains that Wanyangerri's grandmother placed a curse on Kaninu, which Farah believes she really can do. Since then, Kaninu's cows have been slowly going blind. Kaninu panicked and started handing over animals. The narrator decides that the Kikuyu Chief, Kinanjui, should settle the matter.

A Kikuyu Chief

Chief Kinanjui lives in the Kikuyu Reserve and rules over more than a hundred thousand Kikuyus. The narrator has long known him and once got him drunk on alcohol, which always created a special bond between them. She sends for him and he promptly arrives in a scarlet car, looking majestic in a cloak of monkey skins. Kinanjui sits on a large stone near the farmhouse and waits as the Kikuyus come running over to see him.

When everyone is gathered, it is announced that Wanyangerri's father and Kaninu have come to an agreement, which involves the transfer of ten sheep and a cow and a calf. The selection of the exact cow and calf is debated for a while, as Wanyangerri's family fears that Kaninu will give them an old one, but eventually one is chosen. The narrator writes up the agreement on which the thumbprint of Wanyangerri's father, Kaninu, and the Chief are placed. The narrator signs it as well as Baroness Blixen.

Analysis

The account of the accidental shooting is continued and concluded in these chapters. As the actual legal processes are described, a much more nuanced understanding of the native culture becomes clear, particularly with regard to the Kikuyu tribe.

The family is the most important unit among the Kikuyus. The cases of Jogona and Kaninu display two families of differing wealth. Kaninu has five wives and many children, so he is rich. Jogona had one son, who now is dead, so he is poor. Wives signify wealth because in order to get them one has to pay a bride price. Furthermore, having wives is also a wealth generating measure, since they bear children. Children generate money by bringing in a bride price themselves, if they are girls, or by siring more children if they are boys. With an understanding of the wealth that a family signifies, it becomes clear that the loss of Wamai for Jogona is significant. Had Wamai lived and gotten married, he could have increased the family's ownership of property. The significance of the loss is the reason for the legal arbitration.

The discussion of the Chief of the Kikuyu tribe helps to place the native experience within its colonial culture. Chief Kinanjui rules over 100,000 other Kikuyus, a fairly significant number. He lives with most of his tribe on the Kikuyu Reserve, which was established by the colonial government. The Governments set up the Reserves for natives so that they could have space to live and to keep their cattle. The existence of these reserves is somewhat ironic, since if the Colonial government had not come, they would not have to designate space for the tribes to live on. In the same way, the leadership of the Kikuyu Chief is somewhat superficial because the colonial government and its own judicial system always rules over it. While Chief Kinanjui is allowed to adjudicate, there is little doubt about who truly holds the reigns of power in the colonial state. By outlining the nature of legal disputes, the narrator makes some of these underlying political forces clear.

The character of Chief Kinanjui reveals the narrator's belief that native people can be innately aristocratic. The idea of a "noble savage" fits within the pastoral metaphor that Dinesen explores in her opening chapters. Many natives, such as Chief Kinanjui, have an innately aristocratic quality. This quality exists in certain humans, regardless of their relationship to modern society. The Masai tribe, as well, is seen as a strongly aristocratic group. When Kabero returns to the farm, he has grown more lean, upright, and formal than his Kikuyu father; Kabero has taken on some of the aristocratic Masai qualities. Dinesen even believes the Masai so noble that they die if they are placed in prison for more than three months. This idea is a heavily romanticized notion that blunts the harsh reality of colonial rule, but it is consistent with Dinesen's pastoral vision where the landscape and its people are closely connected.

The motif of paradise additionally recurs when the author comments upon her ability to create characters as a writer. After the narrator records Jogona's account, she compares herself to being like God himself, when God shaped Adam out of dust and breathed life into him. As she writes, "I had created him and shown him himself: Jogona Kanyagga of life everlasting." The narrator's comparison of her own writing to God's act of creation places her metaphor of Africa being like paradise on a textual level. The African landscape appears to be paradise, but her ability to create it in her text makes it even more Eden- like.

Finally, the narrator at last gives herself a name: Baroness Blixen. Despite it, she still appears cryptic and little is known about her. Even though she uses her true name, Out of Africa still very much is a mythic memoir, rather an autobiography, since the author is not trying to describe her own life but rather she is trying to tell a perfect story.

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