Naipaul's The Masque of Africa
The Masque of Africa: Glimpses of African Belief (2010), Naipaul’s latest – quite likely last – full-length work of non-fiction, is a quest through the continent for the spirit of African belief, the belief systems that preceded the arrival of Christianity and Islam – which is very much in keeping with the legacy of Joseph Conrad, who is referenced several times in the book. It is “a travel book which seeks to examine the workings of African traditional belief.”4 It is written with a specific purpose, particularly to witness African belief by going far back to the beginning of things.
The novel is an account of Naipaul’s journey through six countries with a view to investigating the effects of African belief on the progress of civilization. The journey across the African continent takes Naipaul from Uganda, where he lived for a short while in the 1960s, to Nigeria, then to Gabon via the Ivory Coast and Ghana, and finally to South Africa. During his journey, he attends rituals and ceremonies, interrogates fetish priests, diviners, soothsayers, discourses with teachers, writers, academics, pharmacists, kings, queens and chiefs, businessmen, friends of friends and other African intellectuals. These visits transcend the confines of the particular and acquire universality of appeal in earnestly navigating the African mind.