Study Guide

Out of Africa Justice and Judgment

By Isak Dinesen

Justice and Judgment

There was no white Police Officer present when we came, and while they sent for him we waited outside in the car. (2.1.32)

It's unclear why the Baroness and Belknap need to speak to a white police officer. The victims of the shooting and the shooter himself are all Kikuyu, so it must have to do with Blixen and Belknap's being white. Perhaps they believe that they will get their own brand of justice served if they talk with someone from their own race.

Since, before anything, I wanted peace on the land, I could not keep out of [the legal affairs of the farm], for a dispute between the Squatters, which has not been solemnly settled, was like those sores that you get in Africa, and which they there call veldt-sores: they heal on the surface if you let them, and go on festering and running underneath until you dig them up to the bottom and have them cleaned all through. (2.2.6)

For the Baroness peace and justice go hand in hand. She must ensure that justice is served whenever squabbles come up because, if not, there goes her peace. The nasty simile comparing an unsettled dispute to a sore gives us an idea of how things that seem to be settled can come back to bite you if they're just patched up superficially.

As I knew nothing of their laws the figure that I cut at these great courts of justice would often be that of a Prima donna who does not remember a word of her part and has to be prompted through it by the rest of the cast. (2.2.7)

The Kikuyu always ask the Baroness to weigh in on their cases, but since she doesn't have any idea about their laws or sense of justice she has to fake it until she makes it. She compares herself to a famous, but maybe past-her-prime opera singer who is good for selling tickets but doesn't deliver onstage.

To the African there is but one way of counterbalancing the catastrophes of existence, it shall be done by replacement; he does not look for the motive of the action. (2.2.8)

Rather than figuring what someone's motive is for committing a crime (crime of passion, hate crime, boredom, etc…) the Africans that Blixen deals with are more interested in a sort of yin and yang balancing of the cosmic forces. They don't care why the wrong is done, just that it must be righted.

The Natives of the farm never realized my views on their legal systems, and they came to me first of all for their indemnification when any ill-luck befell them. (2.2.11)

We'll just have to take Blixen's word for it that the natives on her farm didn't notice that she thought they were cuckoo for cocoa puffs when it comes to justice; she must have a great poker face. But the fact that she doesn't agree with the system doesn't matter; as the owner of the farm and the big cheese, her word counts whether her heart's in it or not.

I knew before I arrived at the assembly that the chief object of the proceeding would now be to shear Kaninu as close as possible. He would see his sheep driven away to all sides, some to indemnify the families of the dead and wounded children, some to maintain the Kyama. (2.3.2)

The Kyama, or the legal assembly of the Kikuyu, is supposed to decide how to right the wrong committed by Kabero. His dad is responsible for it since he's just a kid, and there is a symbolic importance to fining him. The assembly has to charge him a lot in order to repay the great loss— "shearing" him, as though he were a sheep, which (probably not coincidentally) is a pretty common animal used for sacrifices.

I thought: "This accident and the things which have come from it, are getting into the blood of the farm, and it is my fault. I must call in fresh forces, or the farm will run into a bad dream, a nightmare. I know what I will do. I will send for Kinanjui." (2.4.55)

The festering sore from earlier is ready to do some serious damage that no amount of acne cream can combat. The lack of balance left by the killing means that some justice has got to be meted out quickly or things will get really ugly. The Baroness calls in the big guns, aka, Chief Kinanjui who, luckily, makes house calls.

I told the people, slowly and in an effective manner, that the matter between Kaninu and Wainaina had been settled and the settlement put down on paper, Kinanjui had come over to certify it. (2.5.34)

The Baroness jumps in and serves her purpose as the final word of justice in the Kyama. She knows that the written word is very respected by the Kikuyu, so her trick of writing down the settlement beforehand guarantees that there won't be any more jibber jabber about how much livestock Kaninu owes Wainaina. The Chief's presence is like a tag-team combining with the written document, giving tribal power to the decision.

With the payment of this cow and her heifer calf the Shaurie shall be finally settled. Nobody, after this, must speak of it or mention it at all.

Quoting directly from the document deciding the settlement for Wanyangerri's being shot, the Baroness lets us have a little taste of the Kikuyu justice system. The dispute, or Shaurie, is never to be mentioned again, which is probably more for the Baroness' sanity than anything else.

It is true that the African Native has not handed over his country to the white man in a magnificent gesture [...]; the white men took over the country as a Protectorate. But I bore in mind that not very long ago, at a time that could still be remembered, the Natives of the country had held their land undisputed, and had never heard of the white men and their laws. (5.4.50)

The Baroness is most certainly not crusading for the rights of Africans or trying to fight against the colonizers, but she is a little bit thoughtful about the grand injustice of showing up on a continent and suddenly applying new laws and systems of justice to the people that live there. This twinkle of thoughtfulness makes her worry about being fair with her squatters and fight for their placement in a new area all together.