How are are Africa's religions faring in the 21st century? Nobel
laureate V.S. Naipaul visits to find out.
Born in Jamaica in 1932 to a Hindu family, V.S. Naipaul moved to
England as a young man to study and pursue a career as a writer.
series of novels, essays, and travelogues that was recognized
the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2001, Naipaul has drawn upon
personal origins to explore what happens when two worlds meet.
He is particularly interested in the intersection between Western
modernity and traditional cultures, quite often in postcolonial
countries once governed by Europeans.
Naipaul is perhaps the only Nobel laureate whose literary output
focused so heavily on travel writing. His unusual stature as a
writer stems from the unusual nature of the travel books
They're psychologically dense, drawing on reams of interviews
locals to render a narrative that's as much as landscape of the
mind as a landscape of the map.
In The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief, Naipaul
to Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast, Gabon, and South
exploring how indigenous religions, as well as Christianity and
Islam, are faring as Africa faces the 21st century.
Many of the destinations Naipaul visits in "The Masque of
Africa" are places he's been before, which makes the book a
journey not only through geography, but time. Naipaul begins his
in Kampala, a city where, more than four decades ago, he had done
stint as a university writer-in-residence.
He finds the city dramatically changed, and not necessarily for
better, with development marring the green hills for which
was once famous: "All those hills were now built over; and many
the spaces between the hills, the dips, were seemingly floored
with the old corrugated iron of poor dwellings.... The roads
couldn't deal with the traffic; even in this rainy season the
were dusty, scuffed down beyond the asphalt to the fertile red
of Uganda. I couldn't recognize this Kampala, and even at this
early stage it seemed to me that I was in a place where a
The scene keynotes one of the book's prevailing theme: how
physical displacement might portend spiritual displacement as
Much later, in the darkly mystical woodland of Gabon, Naipaul
if a forest religion can survive if the forest is gone.
Naipaul suggests that the answer might come soon: "Thirty-year
[logging] permits have been granted to the Chinese, the
and the Japanese. …