The Shadow of the Sun- Ryszard Kapuscinski

“The population of Africa was a gigantic, matted, crisscrossing web, spanning the entire continent and in constant motion, endlessly undulating, bunching up in one place and spreading out in another, a rich fabric, a colourful arras.”– Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Shadow of the Sun

A man I’d unfortunately never heard of wrote one of the most engaging historical reflections I’ve ever read. Ryszard Kapuscinski  reported on African events for a Polish newspaper for over 40 years. He was definitely in Africa at the right times; during the fights for independence, military coups and so on.  Kapuscinski placed events like the Rwandan genocide (and the lesser-known Burundian genocide that happened alongside it) in their cultural and historical contexts.

There were many surprises along the way,  the biggest shocker for me being the fact that the descendants of former slaves , the Americo-Liberians, just about re-enacted what they had been through in America when they settled in Liberia among the indigenous Africans. It’s definitely a reminder of how history is often repeated.

Why I think this stands out as a historical account is not only because of the proximity of the writer to the actual events, but also his observations. I am always surprised when a non-African writer tries to understand the culture, in a non-judgemental or critical way, as pessimistic as that may sound. Kapuscinski was definitely an observer and tried to understand things that were “foreign” to him, things such as the African concept of time , which  I found very interesting and enlightening.

“The European and the African have an entirely different concept of time. In the European worldview, time exists outside man, exists objectively, and has measurable and linear characteristics. Africans apprehend time differently. For them, it is a much looser concept, more open, elastic, subjective. It is man who influences time, its shape, course and rhythm.”
— Ryszard Kapuscinski, The Shadow of the Sun

The author showed the complexity of the African society, the fact that it’s not homogeneous in the least.

A very easy, entertaining read with passages of the most beautiful and poetic language. A great introduction to African history which encouraged me to learn more about the events in depth.

 

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