Thursday, April 5, 2012

The masque of Africa

It’s the second book of V.S. Naipaul I’ve read. The first one was “India”. This one was a lot more interesting to read for me, maybe because it deals with the beliefs of the African people and tribes, a very exotic and mysterious topic for the one living in Europe. I must admit I like Naipaul’s style of writing and the fact that he always wants to “touch” the thing he describes. This is true also with the things he deals with in “The Masque of Africa”, the book which is a fruit of his journeys through the black continent.

He begins in Uganda, then travels to Ghana and Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Gabon, to end his journey in South Africa. He focuses on the belief, not political or economical life, although he can’t avoid them especially while in South Africa.
I had expected that over the great size of Africa the practices of magic would significantly vary. But they didn't. The diviners everywhere wanted to 'throw the bones' to read the future and the idea of 'energy' remained a constant, to be tapped into by the ritual sacrifice of body parts. In South Africa body parts, mainly of animals, but also of men and women, made a mixture of 'battle medicine'. To witness this, to be given some idea of its power, was to be taken far back to the beginning of things. To reach that beginning was the purpose of my book” – he writes.
The big parts of the book tell about native healers and fortune-tellers. For example in Uganda he enters a small office where he immediately notices a framed certificate on the wall saying that the witch doctor has an official license so that “no believer need feel ashamed”. In Nigeria he teases a fortune-teller to tell him whether or not his daughter will get married (though he has no children). The man replies that she’s cursed and that only a fee will release her.
One of the conclusions of his story is that there’s a constant conflict between the native religion, offering the world of the spirits and the ancestors, and the foreign religions – Islam and Christianity (in its various forms). It seems that they introduced more bad than good to the origin beliefs of the Africans and they didn’t fulfill their promises to bring the truth and freedom. They rather proved to be the source of “an applied and contagious illness, curing nothing, giving no final answers… fighting wrong battles, narrowing the mind”.
My favorite part is that about Gabon and the jungle. The people believe that they are unity with the nature and that you cannot separate from its power. You should learn to understand it and to understand energy that it gives. I admit I like this concept very much.

Title: The Masque Of Africa. Glimpses of African belief

Author: V.S. Naipaul
Publisher: Picador
Year: 2011
Pages: 325
Language: English

V.S. Naipaul

was born in 1932 in Trinidad, in the Indian family. He studied in England, where, after four years at Oxford, he began to write. He published over 25 books, received numerous awards, including Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001. He lives in England.


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