Ousmane Sembene: Dialogues With Critics and Writers

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There are similarities between God's Bits of Wood and Nine Guardians in the way in which the language of the oppressor is used as a unexpected weapon against the agents of the colonizers. In Nine Guardians , the Indian leader Felipe surprises the land-owning Arguello family by confronting them in their ranch home and demanding, in Spanish, that they provide a school and honor the law that Indian children have access to education. The lady of the house, Zoraida Arguello, is incensed that Felipe, someone that she perceives as an inferior, is speaking to the family in Spanish, as if he was their equal.

The constable assumes that because N'Deye is Black and female, that she is an ignorant savage and is incapble of learning French. The constable discusses N'Deye's physical attributes as if she is a call girl, and remarks that he could likely bed her for less than a pound of rice.

It is when the constable later realizes that N'Deye does speak French that his words come back to shame him. Bakayoko points out during the tense negotiations between the striking Africans and their French employers, that "since your ignorance of our language is a handicap for you, we will use French as a matter of courtesy" Ousmane But when Bakayoko informs the management representatives that this courtesy is one "that will not last forever" Ousmane , he is making it clear that he sees the languages and lifestyles of the African train workers to be every bit as significant and worthy as that of the French.

Establishing the equality between the African and French languages is a step in making clear the equality between African and French humanity. Bakayoko puts the French negotiators on notice. If the Africans must learn French in order to deal with the managers, those French managers will soon have to learn Ouolof or Bambara in order to communicate with the African employees. Bakayoko's forthrightness exposes the chauvinism of the French managers and makes known to the French that the Africans are formidable.

In Conrad's work, Africans are at best voiceless savages, distant cousins, estranged from Europeans on the family tree of humanity. Ousmane intentionally shares with readers the customs of indigenous life in pre-independence Senegal, as well as the goals, the growth, the frustrations and the flaws that are signs of humanity.

Ousmane presents complex people that create strategy as they struggle and succeed together in an effort to improve their condition. In Conrad's Heart of Darkness , despite being set in Africa, Africans serve as stage props whose only purpose is to provide shelf and support to Conrad's complaints against the Belgians and his literary white supremacy.

The Voice of Indigenous Resistence and the Chimera of Balance While the novel format of God's Bits of Wood separates it from testimonios like I, Rigoberta Menchu and Elvia Alvarado's Don't Be Afraid Gringo , all three texts place the reader inside the struggle of indigenous people against forms of colonial oppression. All three works expose readers to the vulgar inequaties between the people who come from the land, and the foreign colonizers and their agents who come to the land in order to control and exploit its natural and human resources.

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More pivotal than illuminating the problems caused by western colonial aggression is the process of illustrating indigenous resistence that all three works employ. Menchu and Alvarado provide first-hand testimony of the suffering of the rural agricultural workers in Guatemala and Honduras, while also describing the manner in which the indigenous peoples in their countries have organized and sacrificed in their efforts to lay claim to their humanity, land, culture, and political voice.

In Ousmane's narrative account of the Dakar-Niger railway strike that he himself took part in, Ousmane presents a similar battle for cultural uniqueness in an industrialized African setting. The African trainworkers are engaged in a strike, which by its very nature creates an adversarial relationship between employer and employee. This natural tension is magnified several times over by the fact that the French management is supported by the French government that has subjugated the indigenous people of the region. The strikers and their families are being denied food to eat as a French method of strike busting.

At the same time, the previous way of life and environment that would have provided the African strikers with sustenance has been forcibly replaced by the French with subservient industrialization and the rule of the machine.


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The vast and intentional gulf that separates the foreign haves and the indigenous have-nots is intrinsic to the colonial system. Yet when some Western readers encounter these texts, they are overwhelmed by a sense that these works fall prey to a "language of polarity" that is "as detrimental as armed insurrection" Grate. Rather than forcefully condemn the brutality of the armed colonial aggressor in clear and unambiguous terms, this sqeamish line of thought places the unfair expectation upon the indigenous person of displaying a pie-in-the sky pacifism bordering on masochism that would be beyond even the unholy love child of Martin King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Jesus Christ Superstar.

If there is a complaint that these texts lack a balanced and sympathetic portrayal of the colonizer, then the honest finger must be pointed at the colonizer himself, for it is the colonial system that he has created that is without balance and undeserving of sympathy. It is his colonial system that feeds on the starvation and deprivation of the indigenous spirit. It is his colonial system that requires that denial of adequate food, education, and health care for the indigenous people of the colonized land.

And it is also his same colonial system that actively creates political and military policy to prevent the countries of these indigenous peoples from developing and attaining the necessary means to achieve economic independence. A conscientious reading of these works makes it clear that the colonial system is predicated on the privation of the indigenous person for the direct benefit of the colonizer and his agents. Those that would shy away from blaming the colonizer, and instead place culpability on a dichotomized Power Over system Grate , are declaring the gun guilty of murder yet exonerating the shooter.


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When texts like God's Bits of Wood , I, Rigoberta Menchu , Nine Guardians , and Arrow of God present us with colonial settings that are founded on obvious and brutal inequities, then, if we are persons of conscience, those texts also lead us to certain obvious judgments. The switch in genre between Menchu and Alvarado's testimonio and Ousmane, Castellanos, and Achebe's narrative may provide some Western readers with the guilt-produced fever-dream of fictive distance and impartiality, but all five authors are clearly attacking not only the colonial system, but also the foreign colonizers and the ruling elite that are grasping the reins.

The Changing Role of Women The evolution of the strike causes an evolution in the self-perceptions of the Africans themselves, one that is most noticeable in the women of Bamako , Thies , and Dakar. These women go from seemingly standing behind the men in their lives, to walking alongside them and eventually marching ahead of them. When the men are able to work the jobs that the train factory provides them, the women are responsible for running the markets, preparing the food, and rearing the children.

But the onset of the strike gives the role of bread-winner-or perhaps more precisely bread scavenger-to the women. Women go from supporting the strike to participating in the strike. Eventually it is the women that march on foot, over four days from Thies to Dakar.

Catalog Record: Le mandat de Sembène Ousmane : étude critique | HathiTrust Digital Library

Many of the men originally oppose this women's march, but it is precisely this show of determination from those that the French had dismissed as "concubines" that makes clear the strikers' relentlessness. The women's march causes the French to understand the nature of the willpower that they are facing, and shortly after the French agree to the demands of the strikers. Perhaps no female character better captures transformation of the African female than Penda. Penda is first introduced as an unmarried women who breaks custom by having "periodic escapades" with men Ousmane But the experience of the strike turns what once was anger and stubborn independence to dedication and selfless communalism.

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Her strength of spirit leads the union officials to seek her out to be in charge of the line distributing rations to the striking families. Penda's firmness of purpose proves surprising and implacable to those that try to use her reputation for promiscuity against her. Penda goes so far as to publicly slap a man who chooses to pat her behind Ousmane It is Penda who gives voice to the women's desire to march to Dakar to support the strike. It is also Penda who shifts between cheerleader and drill instructor in order to keep the women walking and together during the journey.

The novel itself draws its name in part from Penda's method of keeping the march together. The local tradition holds that the practice of counting adults and children directly brings misfortune and possibly death. Instead of counting people, the people of the region count God's bits of wood. Published by Indiana University Press About this Item: Indiana University Press, Seller Inventory X About this Item: Condition: good.

Emitai - Ousmane Sembène (1971) [Legendado em Português]

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View basket. Le Dernier de l'Empire , The Last of the Empire is a satire about the various rivaling political groups in postcolonial Senegal. In the s appeared also the novellas Niiwam and Taaw , which were published together in the English translation.

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African Literature part three

In France the film was suppressed for five years. Xala was a farce about polygamy and the downfall of a businessman, who experiences xala , impotence during his wedding night. Behind his troubles is a beggar whom he has ruined. A Muslim who emphasized that he is not against Islam but the misuse of its doctrines, the director ended his story in the victory of a heroic woman, who stands against this brutal, old practice. Sembene traffic in harshness or despair," wrote A. I have female friends and they understand the life I live, that I want to stay independent. He died after a long illness on June 9, , in Dakar.

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