The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief

V.S. Naipaul, Knopf, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-27073-3
In this elegiac spiritual return to a landscape he once inhabited in 1966, Nobel Prize–winning author Naipaul (A Writer's People) spirals outward from the central African country of Uganda, to Nigeria, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Gabon, and concluding in South Africa, to unearth in six chapters a sense of African ancestral belief and practice. What he finds, in many cases, is a land of cruelty and depletion. In Kampala, Uganda, where he once was a writer-in-residence, Naipaul tours the 19th-century tombs of Kasubi, burial site of royal Buganda (tribal) leaders called kabaki, who were fierce and ruthless and provided a model for the later bloodthirsty dictators Idi Amin and Obote. Traditional African beliefs have no doctrine or script, and have been gradually superseded by foreign religions such as Christianity and Islam. Naipaul encounters many people who are torn in their religious choices, though they still hang on to the traditional pagan beliefs out of fear and awe. In turn he visits a Yoruban soothsayer; an Ashanti citadel in Kumasi, Ghana; the primeval forest of Gabon, now endangered by deforestation, which lends the pygmies and others their age-old spiritual philosophy. Ever fair-minded, soberly reflective, and conciliatory, Naipaul offers his sage observations in the hope that by learning more, we accept greater. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 08/23/2010
Release date: 10/01/2010
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