Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass

Thesis

As a foreigner living in Africa, the author of Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass supports the colonial system that was imposed by the British colonial in British East Africa now know as Kenya. The author, Isak Dinesen and other European settlers moved to Africa to look for a new and better life away from home (Enloe, 2000).

The colonial governments promised these settlers huge tracts of land and availability of cheap labor for the any production process that they would engage in while at the farm. Most of these settlers were attracted to this offer, including Isak Dinesen (Karin Blixen) and moved to the colonial protectorates.

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The book mainly describes the author`s life in Africa where she lived and called home for close to 20 years. She arrived from Denmark to marry her spouse and settled in a farm located 10 miles from the colony`s capital, Nairobi. She lived in a huge coffee plantation that was about 6,000 acres in size. Labor in the farm was provided by the local squatters from the Kikuyu community. They worked for 180 days and in return they were given wages and the right to live and farm in their master’s land.

Although the book talks about the beautiful life and the landscape of the countryside which the author describes she and other settlers in the colony supported the colonial administration. It is this administration that supported them while in the colony in terms of provision of land and capital during the early days.

The colonial government also offered them protection and security. The settlers were also protected by the law since it favored them more than the native Africans. As a result, the author and the African natives had no option but to support the colonial government.

Response

The book Out of Africa and the Shadows in the Grass mainly talk about the life and experience of Isak Dinesen in British East Africa (Dinesen, 1989). In the book, she has developed several characterless; both Europeans and Africans. Even though she talks about the love and respect that she had with the natives, it is clearly evident that she viewed them to be less superior as compared to the Europeans.

The author had a lot of respect to the government. She respected its administration and ensured that she followed its rules and regulations. In the book she speaks of the great respect she owed to government officials (Densen, 1989, p. 11).

She hoped for the colonial rule to continue its operations in the country as this will lead to a lot of development especially in the town of Nairobi (Densen, 1989, p. 20). Due to this respect, she accompanied the British forces on one expedition during the war although it had to be cut short (Densen, 1989, p. 261).

The book describes the might and power that the white man had over his subjects. The author for example had several squatters who worked in her farm. She paid them a small amount of salary which can be compared to minimum wage for the services that they provided to her farm. “I used to know my squatters children well for they both worked for me on the farm,” (Densen, 1989, p. 21). This act can be considered as exploitation of individuals and violation of human rights.

After the First World War, the prices of coffee went up in the world market. To ensure that they earn maximum profits, the author and other settlers increased the production of the precious commodity to meet the high demand of the world. This meant that more land was put under cultivation of coffee and more labor was required to meet this expedition.

As a result, more Africans were put in the farms and the intensity of work was increased. The settlers had a target to achieve and despite the hard work that was provided by the natives, their wages or terms of living in the farms remained relatively the same. This was a typical behavior of the colonial government and the settlers to undermine the rights of the natives (Lenman and Anderson, 2000).

In the book, the author has developed several characters. These are the people whom she made friends with while living at her farm in the British colony. Denys Finch Hatton was one of them. The author described him as a charming handsome person.

He was liked by everyone including the native Africans. He came to Africa as a farmer and a trader but with time he changed his career and became a white hunter a character that charmed the author. The author had a lot of love and respect for the man and it is believed that they were lovers.

Another character was Farah Aden. When the author first met him, she thought that he was an Indian. However, Aden was a member of the Somali community who inhabited the northern part of the colony.

They were made up of good looking people; slim in body but of fierce character. Most of the settlers loved them and made them the managers of their farms. This is because they were effective, efficient and accountable. Blixen describes them as being a superior community of the Africans in terms of their culture and intelligence (Densen, 1989, p. 12).

Kamante and Kinanjui were the African characters in her book. Kamante was crippled when the author knew him (Densen, 1989, p. 21). Through their relationship, he was treated by the Scottish doctors at a mission hospital near the farm. Kinanjui on the other hand was an African chief.

“He was a crafty old man, with fine manner, and much greatness to him…” the author said (Densen, 1989, p.136). He was a man of good character and greatness as compared to other African leaders of the time. Because of this fact therefore, the colonialist had a good relationship with him unlike his predecessor.

From the characters which have been presented in the book, clearly there is some element of discrimination. The author views her fellow Europeans to be more powerful, well behaved and respected (Steeves, 1998). On the other extreme end are the Africans.

They have the lowest status in the society, with minimal rights. Only a few of them are seen as having a desired character. Most of them are ignorant. As stated by the author, “Until you knew a native well, it was impossible to get a straight answer from him,” (Densen, 1989, p. 17).

The colonial government and settlers relied on those individuals who had the desired character and use them to exploit the rest. That is why they preferred the Somalis to be the managers of their farms.

The author has clearly stated that they were individuals of great character and intelligence as compared to other Africans (Densen, 1989, p. 12). They therefore gave them great positions to have influence and support from them. Also in the book, the author talks about the character called Kinanjui, an African chief. The main reason she liked him was because of his character and greatness.

He collaborated with the colonial government and ensured that the interests of the author and other settlers in the region were safe from any attacks from the natives. His predecessor did not have this character in him (Densen, 1989, p.136). He was against European collaboration and fought for the rights and independence of African. Due to this fact, he was demoted by the colonial government and Kinanjui took his place.

The settlers therefore followed the footsteps and guidance from the colonial government on how to deal with the natives. They used the divide and rule technique to gain influence over their subjects.

They identified individuals from the native communities who had desirable characters and influence over the rest of the community and used them to control the others. Therefore, the settlers were in support of the colonial administration and used several tactics to ensure that their subjects were under their authority and command (Van Zwanenberg, 1975).

As time went by, the tension between the Africans and the European increased. The Africans started to demand for their independence. They wanted their rights to be restored and have the chance to rule themselves. These grievances were not considered at all by the colonial government.

The Africans started to organize themselves into militia groups in retaliation and fight for their independence. Their main target at that time was to kill the European landholders and go against the rules set by the government. By the time the author left the country, the situation was relatively cool but to be on the safe side, she had protection from the colonial government.

She supported the move to minimize the movements of Africans even while at her farm. It was no longer safe for settlers to live freely like they used to. They had to be armed always and have security personnel to ensure their safety and take care of them. That is why it was crucial for Blixen to have a good relationship with the local chief, Kinanjui.

She said, “Kinanjui was a friend of mine and he had been helpful to me on many occasions,” (Densen, 1989, p. 136). He ensured that her safety and the safety of her properties. She also has a good relationship with the natives. She had firearms in her house which she had used for hunting on several occasions (Densen, 1989, p. 171). They were also means of protection in dangerous times although they were never used for this purpose.

Conclusion

The book Out of Africa and the Shadows on the Grass mainly talks about the time that Isak Dinesen (Karin Blixen) time in Kenya. During this time, she developed a lot of love for the people, their culture and the landscape of the region which she was living in. In the process she made a lot of friends and had a lot of experiences that made her life to be like an adventure. However, it is evident from her writings that as a foreigner living in Africa she supported the colonial system.

This is because they gave her the land and support she needed to survive and become successful in the colony. They also provided her with security and ensured her well being. She also shared the same ideologies and characters with the colonial masters. Despite all this, she loved the natives and had a good relationship in them which made her stay in the colony to be great.

References

Dinesen, I. (1989). Out of Africa and Shadows on the Grass. New York: Vintage Books

Enloe, C.H. (2000). Bananas, Beaches and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics. California: University of California Press

Lenman, B. and Anderson, T. (2000). Chambers dictionary of world history. Boston: Chambers

Steeves, M. (1998). Karen Blixen – Isak Dinesen Information Site. karenblixen.com.

Retrieved on 7th June 2011 from http://www.karenblixen.com/

Van Zwanenberg, R. (1975). Colonial capitalism and labour in Kenya, 1919-1939. Nairobi: East African Literature Bureau