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Ryszard Kapuscinski's The Shadow of the Sun encompasses
forty years of incisive and moving reportage about Africa by one of the
world's greatest journalists. From newly independent Ghana to war-torn
Rwanda, Kapuscinski captures the sights, sounds, smells and, above all,
the real lives of this vast continent. Poetic and profound, this
dazzling travelogue has been acclaimed as one of the most significant
works on Africa and its people.
The Beginning: Collision, Ghana 1958
More than anything, one is struck by the light. Light everywhere.
Brightness everywhere. Everywhere, the sun. Just yesterday, an autumnal
London was drenched in rain. The airplane drenched in rain. A cold,
wind, darkness. But here, from the morning's earliest moments, the
airport is ablaze with sunlight, all of us in sunlight.
In times past, when people wandered the world on foot, rode on
horseback, or sailed in ships, the journey itself accustomed them to
the change. Images of the earth passed ever so slowly before their
eyes, the stage revolved in a barely perceptible way. The voyage lasted
weeks, months. The traveller had time to grow used to another
environment, a different landscape. The climate too, changed gradually.
Before the traveller arrived from a cool Europe to the burning Equator,
he already had left behind the pleasant warmth of Las Palmas, the heat
of Al-Mahara, and the hell of the Cape Verde islands.
Today, nothing remains of these gradations. Air travel tears us
violently out of snow and cold and hurls us that very same day into the
blaze of the tropics. Suddenly, still rubbing our eyes, we find
ourselves in a humid inferno. We immediately start to sweat. If we've
come from Europe in the wintertime, we discard overcoats, peel off
sweaters. It's the first gesture of initiation we, the people of the
North, perform upon arrival in Africa.
People of the North. Have we sufficiently considered the fact that
northerners constitute a distinct minority on our planet? Canadians and
Poles, Lithuanians and Scandinavians, some Americans and Germans,
Russians and Scots. Laplanders and Eskimos, Evenkis and Yakuts ? the
list is not very long. It may amount to o more than 500 million people:
less than 10 per cent of the earth's population. The overwhelming
majority live in hot climates, their days spent in the warmth of the
sun. Mankind first came into being in the sun, the oldest traces of his
existence have been found in warm climes. What was the weather like in
the biblical paradise? It was eternally warm, hot even, so that Adam
and Eve could go about naked and not feel chilled even in the shade of
Something else strikes the new arrival even as he descends the steps
of the airplane: the smell of the tropics. Perhaps he's had intimations
of it. It is the scent that permeated Mr Kanzman's little shop,
Colonial and Other Goods, on Perec Street in my hometown of Pinsk.
Almonds, cloves, dates, and cocoa. Vanilla and laurel leaves, oranges
and bananas, cardamom and saffron. And Drohobych. The interiors of
Bruno Schulz's cinnamon shops. Didn't their 'dimly lit, dark, and
solemn interiors' smell intensely of paints, lacquer, incense, the
aroma of faraway countries and rare substances? Yet the actual smell of
the tropics is somewhat different. We instantly recognize its weight,
its sticky materiality. The smell makes us at once aware that we are at
that point on earth where an exuberant and indefatigable nature
labours, incessantly reproducing itself, spreading and blooming, even
as it sickens, disintegrates, festers and decays.
It is the smell of a sweating body and drying fish, of spoiling meat
and roasting cassava, of fresh flowers and putrid algae ? in short, of
everything that is at once pleasant and irritating, that attracts and
repels, seduces and disgusts. This odour will reach us from nearby palm
groves, will escape from the hot soil, will waft above stagnant city
sewers. It will not leave us; it is integral to the tropics.
And finally, the most important discovery ? the people. The locals.
How they fit this landscape, this light, these smells. How they are as
one with them. How man and environment are bound in an indissoluble,
complementary, and harmonious whole. I am struck by how firmly each
race is grounded in the terrain in which it lives, in its climate. We
shape our landscape and it, in turn, moulds our physiognomy. Among
these palm trees and vines, in this bush and jungle, the white man is
sort of outlandish and unseemly intruder. Pale, weak, his shirt
drenched in sweat, his hair pasted down on his head, he is continually
tormented by thirst, and feels impotent, melancholic. He is ever
afraid: of mosquitoes, amoebas, scorpions, snakes ? everything that
moves fills him with fear, terror, panic.
With their strength, grace, and endurance, the indigenous move about
naturally, freely, at a tempo determined by climate and tradition,
somewhat languid, unhurried, knowing one can never achieve everything
in life anyway. And besides, if one did, what would be left over for
I've been here for a week. I am trying to get to know Accra. It is
like an overgrown small town that has reproduced itself many times
over, crawled out of the bush, out of the jungle, and come to a halt at
the shores of Gulf of Guinea. Accra is flat, single storied, humble,
though there are some buildings with two or more floors. No
sophisticated architecture, no excess or pomp. Ordinary plaster,
pastel-coloured walls ? pale yellow, pale green. The walls have
numerous water stains. Fresh ones. After the rainy season, entire
constellations of stains appear, collages, mosaics, fantastical maps,
flowery flourishes. The downtown is densely built up. Traffic, crowds,
bustle ? life takes place out in the street. The street is a roadway
delineated on both sides by an open sewer. There are no sidewalks. Cars
mingle with the crowds. Everything moves in concert ? pedestrians,
automobiles, bicycles, carts, cows, and goats. On the sides, beyond the
sewer, along the entire length of the street, domestic scenes unfold.
Women are pounding manioc, baking taro bulbs over the colas, cooking
dishes of one sort or another, hawking chewing gum, crackers, and
aspirin, washing and drying laundry. Right out in the open, as if a
decree had been issued commanding everyone to leave his home at 8 am
and remain in the street. In reality, there is another reason:
apartments are small, cramped, stuff. There is no ventilation, the
atmosphere inside is heavy, the smells stale, there is no air to
breath. Besides, spending the day in the street enables one to
participate in social life. The women talk non-stop, yell, gesticulate,
laugh. Standing over a pot of a washbasin, they have an excellent
vantage point. They can see their neighbours, passers-by, the entire
street; they can listen in on quarrels and gossip, observe accidents.
All day long they are among others, in motion and fresh air.
A new red Ford with a speaker mounted on its roof passes through the
streets. A hoarse, penetrating voice invites people to attend a
meeting. The main attraction will be Kwame Nkrumah ? Osagyefo, the
Prime Minister, the leader of Ghana, of Africa, of all downtrodden
peoples. There are photographs of Nkrumah everywhere ? in the
newspapers (every day), on posters, on flags, on ankle-length percale
skirts. The energetic face of a middle aged man, either smiling of
serious, at an angle meant to suggest that he is contemplating the
'Nkrumah is a saviour!' a young teacher named Joe Yambo tells me
with rapture in his voice. 'Have you heard him speak? He sounds like a
Yes, in fact, I had heard him. He arrived at the stadium with an
entourage of his ministers ? young, animated, they created the
impression of people who were having a good time, who were full of joy.
The ceremony began with priests pouring bottles of gin over the podium
? it was an offering to the gods, a way of making contact with them, a
plea for their favour, their good will. Among the adults in the
audience there were also children, from infants strapped to their
mothers' backs to babies beginning to crawl, to toddlers and school-age
children. The older ones take care of the younger ones, and those older
ones are taken care of by ones older still. This hierarchy of age is
strictly observed, and obedience is absolute. A four year-old has full
authority over a two year-old, a sic year-old over the four year-old.
Children take care of children, so that the adults can devote
themselves to their affairs ? for instance, to listening carefully to
Osagyefo spoke briefly. He said that the most important thing was to
gain independence ? everything else would follow naturally, all that is
good would emerge from the very fact of independence.
A portly fellow, given to decisive gestures, he had shapely,
expressive features and large, lively eyes, which moved over the sea of
dark heads with an attention so concentrated as to suggest he wanted to
count each and every one of them.
After the rally, those on the podium mingled with the audience. It
was loud, chaotic, and there was no visible police protection of
escort. Joe, who had brought me, elbowed his way toward a young man
(whom he identified as a minister) and asked him if I could come see
him tomorrow. The other one, not really able to hear over the buzz and
commotion what the issue was, replied, at least partially to get rid of
us, 'Fine! Fine!'
The next day, I found my way to the Ministry of Education and
Information, a new building set amid a growth of royal palms. It was
Friday. On Saturday, sitting in my small hotel, I wrote a description
of the preceding day:
The way is open: neither policeman, nor secretary, nor doors.
I draw aside a patterned curtain and enter. The minister's office is
warm. In semi darkness, he is standing at his desk organizing his
papers: crumpling those he will throw into the wastepaper basket,
smoothing out others to place in his briefcase. A thing, slight figure,
in a sports shirt, short trousers, sandals, with a flowery kente cloth
draped over his left shoulder; nervous gestures.
This is Kofi Baako, minister of education and information.
At thirty-two he is the youngest minister in Ghana, in the entire
British Commonwealth, and he has already had his portfolio for three
years now. His office is on the third floor of the ministry building.
The hierarchy of positions is reflected in the ladder of floors. The
higher the personage, the higher the floor. Fittingly, since on top
there is a breeze, while toward the bottom the air is heavy as stone,
motionless. Petty bearaucrats suffocate on the ground floor; above
them, the departmental directors enjoy a slight draft; and at the very
top, the delicious breeze caresses the ministers.
Anyone who wants to can come and see a minister whenever he wants
to. If someone has a problem, he travels to Accra, finds out where, for
instance, the minister of agriculture can be found. He goes to his
office, parts the curtain, sits down, and sets forth in details what's
bothering him. If he doesn't find the official at the agency, he will
find him at home ? even better, because there he'll get a meal and
something to drink. People felt a remoteness from the white
administration. But now these are their own people, they don't have to
feel inhibited. It's my government, so it must help me. If it's to help
me, it has to know the situation. For it to know, I have to come and
explain. It's best that I do this on my own, in person and direct.
There is no end of these supplicants.
'Good morning!' said Kofi Baako. 'And where are you from?'
'You know, I almost went there. I was travelling all over Europe:
Belgium, England, Yugoslavia. I was in Czechoslovakia, about to go to
Poland, when Kwame sent me a telegram calling me back for the party
congress, our ruling Convention People's Party.'
We were sitting at a table, in his doorless office. Instead of
window panes there were shutters with widely spaced slats, through
which a gentle breeze passed. The small room was piled high with
papers, files, brochures. A large safe stood in a corner, several
portraits of Nkrumah hung on the walls, a speaker wired to a central
system stood on a shelf. Tomtoms pounded from it, until finally Baako
turned it off.
I wanted him to tell me about himself, about his life. Baako enjoys
great prestige among the young. They like him for being a good athlete.
He plays soccer, cricket, and is Ghana's Ping-Pong champion.
'Just a minute,' he interrupted, 'I just have to place a call to
Kumasi, because I'm going there tomorrow for a game.'
He called the post office for them to connect him. They told him to
'I saw two films yesterday,' he told me, as he waited, holding the
receiver to his ear. 'I wanted to see what they're showing. They're
playing films schoolchildren shouldn't go to. I must issue a decree
that forbids young people to see such things. And this morning I spent
visiting book stalls throughout the city. The government has
established low prices for schoolbooks, but the word is that retailers
are marking them up. I went to check for myself. Indeed, they are
selling them for more than they're supposed to.'
He dialled the post office again.
'Listen, what are you so busy with over there? How long am I
supposed to wait? Do you know who this is?'
A woman's voice answered, 'No.'
'And who are you?' Baako asked.
'I'm the telephone operator.'
'And I am the minister of education and information, Kofi Baako.'
'Good morning Kofi, I'll connect you right away.'
And he was talking to Kumasi.
I looked at his books, stacked on a small cabinet: Hemingway,
Lincoln, Koestler, Orwell, The Popular History of Music, The
American Dictionary, as well as various paperbacks and crime
'Reading is my passion. In England I bought myself the Encyclopaedia
Britannica, and now I'm reading it little by little. I cannot eat
without reading, I have to have a book lying open in front of me.'
A moment later:
'I've got another, even greater hobby: photography. I take picture
all the time and everywhere. I have more than ten cameras. When I go to
a store and see a new camera, I immediately have to buy it. I bought a
film projector for the children and show them films in the evening.'
He has four children, ranging in age from three to nine. All of them
attend school, even the youngest. It is not unusual here for a three
year-old to be enrolled in school. The mother will send him off,
especially if he's a handful, just to have some peace.
Kofi Baako himself first went to school at three. His father was a
teacher and liked being able to keep his eye on his children. When he
finished elementary school, he was sent for high school to Cape Coast.
He became a teacher, and then a civil servant. At the end of 1947,
Nkrumah had returned to Ghana having finished university studies in
America and England. Baako listened to his speeches, which spoke of
independence. Then Baako wrote an article, 'My Hatred of Imperialism'.
He was fired from his job. He was blacklisted and no one would employ
him. He hung around the city, eventually meeting Nkrumah, who entrusted
him with the position of editor in chief of the Cape Coast Daily Mail.
Kofi was twenty years old.
He wrote another article entitled 'We Call for Freedom', and was
jailed. Arrested with him were Nkrumah and several other activists.
They spent thirteen months behind bars, before finally being released.
Today, this group constitutes Ghana's government.
Now Baako speaks about broad issues. 'Only thirty percent of the
people in Ghana can read and write. We want to abolish illiteracy
within fifteen years. There are difficulties: a shortage of teachers,
books, schools. There are two kinds of schools: missionary-run and
state-run. But they are all subject to the state and there is a single
educational policy. In addition, five thousand students are being
educated abroad. What frequently happens is that they return and no
longer share a common language with the people. Look at the opposition.
Its leaders are Oxford and Cambridge-educated.'
'What does the opposition want?'
'Who knows? We believe that an opposition is necessary. The leader
of the opposition in parliament receives a salary from the government.
We allowed all these little opposition parties and groups to unite, so
they would be stronger. Our position is that in Ghana, anyone who wants
to has the right to form a political party ? on the condition that it
not be based on criteria of race, religion, or tribe. Each party here
can employ all constitutional means to gain political power. But, you
understand, despite all this, one doesn't know what the opposition
wants. They call a meeting shout: 'We've come through Oxford, and
people like Kofi Baako didn't even finish high school. Today Baako is a
minister, and I am nothing. But when I become minister, then Baako will
be too stupid for me to make him even a messenger.' But you know,
people don't listen to this kind of talk, because there are more Kofi
Baakos here than all those in the opposition put together.'
I said that I should get going, as it was dinnertime. He asked me
what I was doing that evening. I was supposed to go to Togo.
'What for?' He waved his hand. 'Come to a party. The radio station
is having one tonight.'
I didn't have an invitation. He looked around for a piece of paper
and wrote: 'Admit Ryszard Kapuscinski, a journalist from Poland to you
party. Kofi Baako, Minister of Education and Information.'
'There. I'll be there too, we'll take some photographs.'
The guard at the gates of the radio building saluted me smartly and
I was promptly seated at a special table. The party was already in full
swing when a grey Peugeot drove up to the dance floor out in the
garden, and Kofi Baako emerged from inside. He was dressed just as he
had been in his office, only he held a red sweat suit under his arm,
because he was going to Kumasi tonight and might get cold. He was well
known here. Baako was the minister of schools, of all the universities,
the press, the radio, the publishing houses, the museums ? of
everything that constitutes culture, art and propaganda in this country.
We soon found ourselves in a crowd. He sat down to drink a
Coca-Cola, then quickly stood up.
'Come, I will show you my cameras.'
He pulled a suitcase out of the trunk of his car, set it on the
ground, knelt down, and began taking out the cameras, laying them on
the grass. There were fifteen of them.
Just then two boys walked up to us, slightly drunk.
'Kofi,' one of them began in a plaintive tone, 'we bought a ticket
and they're not letting us stay here because we don't have jackets. So
what did they sell us a ticket for?'
'Listen,' he answered, 'I am too important a man for such matters.
There are lots of little guys here, let them take care of it I have
issues of government on my mind.'
The twosome sailed off unsteadily, and we went to take pictures.
Baako had only to approach, cameras hanging around his neck, for people
to start calling him, asking for a photograph.
'Kofi, take one of us.'
'And us too!'
He circulated, picking tables with the prettiest girls, arranging
them and telling them to smile. He knew them by name: Abena, Ejua, Esi.
They greeted him by extending their hands, without getting up, and
shrugging their shoulders, which is an expression of seductive
flirtatiousness here. Baako walked on; we took many photographs. He
looked at his watch.
'I have to go.'
He wanted to get to the game on time.
'Come tomorrow and we'll develop the photographs.'
The Peugeot flashed its lights and vanished in the darkness, while
the party swayed and surged till dawn.
ISBN: 9780141037707 ISBN-10: 0141037709 Series: Popular Penguins Audience:
Number Of Pages: 336 Published: 1st September 2008 Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd Country of Publication: GB Dimensions (cm): 18.1 x 11.3
Weight (kg): 0.18
Edition Number: 1