Ground Nuts

Name ID 2444

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 123
Extract Date: 1996

Taking pictures

I stopped to take pictures of children and their schoolhouse. Surprisingly, a crowd gathered, including the village chief and the head of the school, whose permission I asked. However, just as I was about to take the photo, two politicians and two police officers who were passing in a jeep stopped and objected. Although I was the one taking the photograph, they began to threaten Pollangyo, who was with me. "You are selling our people for money," they told him, and accused him of holding up the poor of Africa to the ridicule of the rich by helping me to get my photographs. Pollangyo remained calm, however, and although one of my rolls of film was confiscated, we managed to get away. I gathered that we were lucky not to have been put in detention overnight.

Our next village was Mpwapwa, about two hundred kilometres from Mikumi on the red-earth road that stretched to the base of the distant hills.

There were village boutiques on either side of the road, selling vegetables, tomatoes, sugar cane, and yams. As we crossed the plains we saw women carrying brightly coloured plastic containers of water and bags of peanuts. The peanut, or "ground nut" as it is usually called in Africa, has a curious history. One of the chapters of that history is the story of the infamous British "Ground Nut Scheme" of the 1940s. This was a £25-million plan to cultivate 1.2 million hectares of peanuts in the Mpwapwa region and export them via a new port connected by a railway to the peanut fields — the port and railway to cost an additional £5 million. However, the scheme collapsed because the planners failed to take into account the realities of the soil and climate of the Mpwapwa region, and the difficulties of introducing mecha¬nized cultivation. Perhaps they would have been more successful if they had read Burton. He begins his description of Ukaranga, the country between the Malagarasi Ferry and Lake Tanganyika, by writing: "Ukaranga signified, etymologically, the 'Land of Groundnuts'."

Extract ID: 5749
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