Literature Study GuidesOut Of AfricaPart 2 Chapter 3 Summary

Out of Africa | Study Guide

Isak Dinesen

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Out of Africa | Part 2, Chapter 3 : A Shooting Accident on the Farm (Wamai) | Summary



With her servant, Farah, along as translator, the narrator goes to the meeting of the elders—the Kyama—as she must, to settle the matter of the accidental shooting. She knows that the goal will be to make Kaninu, father of the shooter, Kabero, pay dearly for his young son's mistake. This seems unjust to her, as Kaninu, too, has lost his son. The boy ran away after the shooting accident, and his body has not been found.

Kaninu is a wealthy man by the squatters' standards. He has many wives, and much of his wealth has been attained by marrying off his daughters to the nearby Masai tribe in exchange for cattle. Recently, this practice endangered the farm. The Masai cattle were quarantined after an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease, yet Kaninu persisted in smuggling his cows—kept among the Masai herds—onto the farm. If they had been discovered, the entire farm would have been put under quarantine. This action created a great deal of tension between Kaninu and the narrator.

In contrast, Jogona, father of the dead child Wamai, is poor and has no hope of more children. As wives and children equate to wealth, his loss is devastating. He is a friendly, gentle man who once acted as night watchman around the narrator's house. Yet she cannot let this skew her judgment.

The Kyama lasts a week, and Jogona is awarded forty sheep for the death of Wamai. Two weeks later, three old Kikuyu from Nyeri—a distant county—arrive to claim the sheep. They assert that the dead child Wamai was actually their late brother's son, adopted by Jogona. Therefore, compensation for his death is lawfully theirs. Jogona himself confirms the story in a dictated report typed by the narrator. As she reads back the finished report, Jogona delights in hearing facts repeated exactly as he has told them. More importantly, he realizes his name has been captured for all time in writing. "I had created him and shown him himself: Jogona Kanyagga ... it was the proof of his existence."


This chapter finds Blixen immersed in the African ways of justice. Her sensitivity and sense of justice is challenged as she prepares to oversee the Kyama. In conflict are her European standards of justice versus those of the Africans. Furthermore, the rich but dishonest Kaninu is an unsympathetic figure next to the poor and now childless Jogona. Knowing that the chief object of the Kyama will be to strip Kaninu of his wealth, she draws guidance from a quote in the Koran: "Thou shalt not bend the justice of the law for benefit of the Poor."

Blixen tests the possibility of imposing European values on the proceedings by suggesting that the shooting was an accident. Therefore, Kaninu should not have to pay as many sheep as if it had been murder. The elders are dumbfounded, highlighting the gulf between European and African ideas of justice. How does the fact that the shooting was accidental lessen the loss for Jogona or relieve Kaninu of his responsibility to pay for that loss? Would it improve things if the shooting had been on purpose? Guilt is not tied to intention. The death is a loss, no matter how it came about, and the final settlement is based on effect, not cause.

The second half of the chapter is devoted to the power of the written word. Jogona dictates his report for Blixen to type up. She is struck by his response upon hearing the contents read back to him, especially his name. As a storyteller, Blixen appreciates the written word. Yet, like most Europeans, she has forgotten the wonder in the very act of forming words and placing them on paper to be read. Through the unsophisticated eyes of Jogona—his awe and appreciation of the art—she sees this anew. She recognizes that, once written, a story is always there, ready to be read. The facts do not change. The story has been "caught, conquered, and pinned down." Through Jogona and other natives who bring her their simple, but treasured, letters to be read, she perceives how it must have been for all people in the beginning, when "flesh was made word"—a biblical reference to John 1:14: "The Word became flesh."

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