Mongo Beti’s Narrative in ‘The Poor Christ of Bomba’ Essay
Mongo Beti’s Narrative in ‘The Poor Christ of Bomba’
Postcolonialism is a term that ranges from artistic actions, political theories, cultural theories, and social ideologies which have created a new genre of African writers in the mid to late twentieth century that theorize this term. The fallout, drawbacks, and social emergences that have come out of colonialism appear to have taken the definition of postcolonialism up to a certain point because according to some theorists of postcolonialism, the definition still remains subjective. At this point, what remains is still the level of understanding toward the colonized and remaining questions as to the motives of the colonizers to colonize. Postcolonialism relegates the colonizers intent to just personal financial gains over the colonized, whereas the colonized and its following generations still are dealing with the results of such humiliations and dominations impacted by colonialism.
Perhaps to understand some of the effects of postcolonialism a reader should have a textual analysis of colonialism itself. In the book, The Poor Christ of Bomba, the author, Mongo Beti uses narration to tell a story that takes the reader inside the mind of a fourteen year old who finds himself in a situation beyond his control. The characterization of the narrate personify an age that draws the line between innocence and awareness. The condition as it were in the book takes a satirical approach on how the circumstances under colonialism rule may have been. Betis clever play on words, situations, and storylines open up the mind of the reader to take in some of the implications attribute to colonialism that make the term postcolonialism so arbitrary (Chrisman 8-11).
Postcolonialism is referred to what actually happens after colonialism, its predecessor. The area controlled by is territorial occupier gains its independence and appropriates its own establishment. Politically it may appear that this area is now completely independent; however, the question remains if postcolonialism is completely underway. That issue in trying to define postcolonialism for theorists is answering that particular question. They claim colonialism occupies not just a geographical area but a geographical unconsciousness of the mind of the colonized. Even though the area is now free of its colonizers, is it really free of its conscious self?
When language, culture, religion, and education has been altered to evoke a new one for years upon new generations of people, can those people find their way to their ancestral state? So, if postcolonialism represents a medium of after colonialization, then it must also include the affects of displacement has occurred and perhaps this is why postcolonialism is so inflexible to define to one particular presumption because there are varied implications such as social, economic, political, and religious cultural aspects have to be taken into account before a linear definition is implemented into postcolonialism (305-311).
Post-colonialism also refers to a set of theories in philosophy and literature which tackle with the inherited 19th century British and French colonial rule. As a literary theory, postcolonialism consists with literature created in countries that were once colonies of other countries and in fact, for some, this may still be the case. This faction has produced many theorists that have upstaged the term and its meaning to other nonsingular forms according to Aijaz Ahmad, who by feels a grand perplexity of the definition in literature and feels that the point of what is postcolonialism is being subverted.
He feels that as long as the word does not remain as is and that if independent states the use political strategies of colonizers, there will also be inequalities among people and governments which will be referred to as non-white. This globalization sphere of postcolonialism will historical harness the fundamental effect of constructing this globalized transhistorcity of colonialism is to evacuate the very meaning of the word and dispense that meaning so widely that we can no longer speak if determinate histories of determinate structures such as that of the postcolonial state (31).
Before postcolonialism is understood at some level, colonialism itself has to be defined. Mongo Beti uses his book, The Poor Christ of Bomba, to tell a fictional tale of colonialism. He uses wit, satire, irony, and parodies to bring forth some revelations about this subject matter of colonialism. Beti uses biographical narration. It resembles autobiographical narration which takes the reader through a historical account using a diary-like dialogue of the main protagonists life with other members of society such as the colonizers and the villagers who live alongside of the road of Bomba. Denis is the young boy whose mental imagery where this invasion takes place is ultimately the readers tour guide of what colonialism may have like.
Mongo Beti (1932-2001) was a Cameroon writer who was a theorists, novelist, essayist, and publisher. He is noted for being a prominent African writer who has been known to use satirical approaches to criticize and emphasize the effects of colonialism through his fictional novels. The importance of his characters in his novels, for example, The Poor Christ of Bomba, gives visional insight though the narrative of how the hierarchal order of the colonizer adhered to its position and then how the colonized submission presumably took place. Beti uses satire as a literary device to draw consciousness of a subject whose remnants have tried to define its effects known as postcolonialism.
African Literature revolves around narration whether it is oral or written. Oral literature in Africa is considered enormously colorful, rich, and varied. Oral literature is closely association with rhythmus and music. Audiences are invited to participate; however through narration audience participation is different. Narration is seen as two kinds of art: performance art and informative. It is rich with folktales, myths, legends, and proverbs. Through narration present generations find a connection with ancestral past. Although earliest accounts of Africa literature are religious texts written in indigenous languages, most recently the major theme of African literature is the clash between traditional cultures and modernization which is written in a multitude of languages reflected by cross-cultures and colonization (Abiola 3).
North Africa is dominated by Arabic language and its northern counties are considered Arab countries such as Egypt, Morocco, and Algeria for example. East Africas language is Swahili and dates back to 1652. By the mid-19th century, Latin script became more popular. During the 20th century Africa literatures in European languages resulted because of colonialism. Cameroon literature of the 1990s is considered a reflection of its economic state. What Mongo Beti did by writing a book like The Poor Christ of Bomba, certainly made him ahead of his time. Much the literature is centered on the political status the country is in. Although tradition oral literatures are there for social and religious purposes, written literatures excel in trying to bring political change to the awareness of its people (Krieger 20).
Mongo Betis first hand account of colonialism combined with his traditional milieu with oral literature and creative writing abilities helped him bring a story whose narration posses the elements to place the reader in the middle of situation such as colonialism where for a moment the colonizer and the colonized have nowhere to go but live the life placed on them and leaves the future unanswered for the colonized. It is this wavering end which sets the subjective meaning and tone for the definition of postcolonialism to be so broad and unpredictable. Perhaps one reason why the definition is random is because the effects of colonialism to people are different and cohesive at the same time. As the colonizers in the book bring their culture and religion to villagers in Africa, the people are affected differently and yet very similar at the same time; therefore, postcolonialism more than likely parallels the onset of this circumstance.
Beti uses satire as a literary device to tell his story in his book. Perchance his book may have not been published had he taken a more disconcerting approach to the text. Satire became very popular during the early modern England in the mid-seventeenth century. It usually was used by anonymous authors who mocked the monarch, commonwealth, and then the Oliver Cromwell. By the 19th century it was used to mock social classes and Victorian values. Satire is known to use harsh or light humor to draw attention to a situation or a plight to try to bring attention to it, correct it, or change it. Beti uses strong satirical elements for his narrative to perhaps illustrate a problem such as colonialism to the forefront of his readers mind.
He then mixes in tradition narration like oral literature to set the tone for his story using biographical narration to tell the story of colonialism. Biographical narration is a story relating key facts or events with a person’s life. It relates a sequence of events and communicates the significance of the events to the audience. There are certain scenes and incidents in precise places which are used to describe location of events. Sensory details are vital in describing the sights, sounds, and smells of a scene. Detailed actions, movements, gestures, and feelings of the characters are used to express usage of interior monologue to depict the characters feeling.
Beti uses a biographical description in the life of the characterization of Denis. It is through his naïve eyes that the reader is exposed to the French imperialists domination of Bomba. It is through this lens that the reader sees what the main protagonist, Reverend Father Drumont, is like. The main characters in this book share a parallel to what is perhaps the link that embellishes the dramatis personae that details the account of who are the people represented in colonialism as a whole, for example, the colonizers and the colonized (Gikandi 61-70). The colonizer presents the dominant hierarchical state. This is characterized as a system of power. The elements which comprise this system are first the French government.
The French government felt compelled perhaps to take a different approach then the English to colonize Africa. They embedded their culture, language, and religion so fervently as a result today many Africa areas speak French as their first language and have remained Christian. Those perhaps resemble the colonizer are the Vicar, M. Vidal, Reverend Father Drumont and to some extend the instrument used or weapon of choice was the Catholic Church to influence the people of Bomba.
The Colonized are everyone else and possibly in the end, the reader. The Sixta women, Catherine, the narrator, Zacharia, and the men of Bomba play the roles of the colonized. Although their positions and situations emerge differently in the narrative, they are still under the colonizers rule. Their positions are different which exemplify the fact of how diverse historical factors come into play when defining the after affects of colonialism.
Each character embraces the colonizer and being colonized in a dissimilar way; therefore, the outcome of colonialism will create disparity for each type of person, such as, male, female, child, and/or new regime. This may be part of the problem in defining postcolonialism. Every person is affected uniquely and individually because each person is a separate embodiment of one another. Beti emphasis this predicament in each of his characters colonized or not, the condition is different yet the same. All play roles to feed and fuel colonialism.
The Poor Christ of Bomba is about the Frenchs Christian mission to colonize African society in order to profit and assert dominion over sovereign territories. In order for the French to carry out this mission of authority they had to try to come with gifts of humanity, tolerance, and Christianity. The French engrossed their colonies with their language, their way of life, and culture politics. Words were changed from native tongues to French words. The impact was to make African people more like the French. The French failed to see the way Africans lived and survived. The French saw them as barbaric without religion or culture. The Africans did as they were told for very different reasons and as a result, they were weakened by this dominating force.
Father Drumont is first seen as a compassionate and caring individual who symbolizes the good in a superior-like nation. He message of Christ to help save pagan people bring a message of hope to women in polygamist families and child who appear to be interested in his message. The men are not interested in hearing about Christ but are interested in what the mission may bring to help build their economic state and infrastructures for the betterment of the regions.
What happens is the African system the Africans was known is destroyed and Father Drumont realizes his failure to completely change the people. This book represents the disagreement between Christian and pagan power. This is symbolic of the disparagement between both the French and the Africans. Part of the novels creation relies heavily in the fact that the characters will finally have a better understanding of who they are at the end of the novel and how colonialism affects both sides of the aisle.
While religion plays an important role, the mission is factual a camouflage to hide the genuine reason why the French are there. The use of Christianity which even fools some of the colonizers themselves such as Father Drumont is essentially Betis archetype to use irony as a reflection of which religion and politics go hand in hand. The missionary is the representation is the epitome of irony Beti illustrates in the book. The mission is used as an excuse to continue the spreading of Christ but in reality it is the spreading French propaganda which tries and keeps the people suppressed so they wont be punished for their sins.
The narrator, Denis, is a young fourteen year old boy. He represents the reader. The reader knows possibly nothing of what colonization is or implies. As the reader continues to read the story with the narrators thoughts and dialogue with others, he starts comprehending how easily the Africans were fooled by the French. Denis, in his still naïve state is excited about the mission he will embark with Reverend Father Drumont. Denis assumes the mission is not just a spiritual quest but one of material supremacy. He is easily lured as so many Africans were. All the older characters voice their inner thoughts and Denis, because he still is very immature and makes fun of the situations at hand.
Denis is excited about the mission and the material things it will bring. The French are too but obtain grander things from it. He comments, And we need so many things—an organ for the new church, a tractor for ploughing our fields, a generator for electric light, a motor-car, and so forth (Beti 9). The mission appears to a source for financial possibilities rather than the spreading of love of Christ. In an ironical twist this is the very start when Denis starts receiving mixing messages about Father Drumont and the Christianity he represents.
Certainly Denis feels the church makes money through its members, but eventually finds out that whatever may seen convenient for the Father is convenient for the church without regard of its members and to those where the mission visits them. This inconsistency is a continual motif in the book. While Denis is influenced heavily by Father Drumont and his antics, Denis reveals a sense of maturity and knowledge in the end of the book; however, this knowledge doesnt reveal wisdom, only a sense of trying to remove himself from the problem of colonialism much like the reader may what to do so.
The character of Catherine can symbolize what Africa should be like. She is free and beautiful unlike the Sixta women, she does what she wants. Although she is under colonial rule, she is able to infiltrate the colonizers temporary rule and still live by her own standards. She maintains Africas historical past. She is mysterious, magical, and lures any man she wants. Denis falls under her spell just like the reader may also fall for her because Africa, even though not actually sexual, is sensualized in the form of Catherine.
The emphasis placed on her character by Beti also represents the hope Africa will survive colonialism and find a free self and identity after the invaders leave; however, just as everyone involved Catherine has a major issue within her of her own identity emulated perhaps in Africas because they were so easily taken in. Identity is seen as who and what you are. For Africa, who were ill prepared to fight against the Frenchs intentions and lacked the unification to gather strength among themselves, they identified themselves collectively but not enough to oppose the French (Wolfreys 95-97).
Zacharia is the cook. He is the consciousness of the colonizer even though he is in a colonized position. Beti uses this character to function as the checks and balances between the narrators inexperienced views over Father Drumonts true character. Zacharia goes on the mission along with the narrator and the Father. As a mediator of sorts and the most level headed one of the characters in the story, educates the Father and the narrator, Denis, as the journey gets underway about African culture. He seems zany, corky, and irresponsible. Beti uses this character perhaps to be the voice of the author who finally deposes and exposes Father and the system which he represents and fights so hard to maintain as a symbol of truth.
Zacharia understands Africas former self and goes on this journey to find out what the whites know that they dont. In a way, he also represents those men in the town who seem interested in Christ but really want to make money and do business alongside their oppressor, the French. He is the spokesmen for the African standpoint in the book. He understands that modern society is plagued by the importance of money, so he too wants to know more about it. In a serious, sarcastic, satirical, and ironical way, Zacharia is the only character who can bring truths of African ways to light for the reader, the narrator, and the Father. Zacharia is really the only person the Father listens to beside the system which in turn will also compromise his life as part of the damage caused by colonialism because it will displace the Father after the journey is over. The Father will then have no place to go.
What follows the Father throughout the story is Zacharias advice and knowledge about the people of Africa and the system by which propels that Father to do what he thinks he is there in Africa to do. At one pivotal point in the book that changes things around for the Father is when Zacharia tells the Father that the first notion of God didnt come from him. To much surprise, the Father questions the motives of the roadside construction to M. Vidal and is told by Vidal that his intensions are to use the people into forced labor. This is when the Father has his first realization about his mission that serves capitalistic motives over Christianity (133-34).
M. Vidal is the epitome of the colonizer. He is self-serving without a conscience and without a humane bone in his body much like the system he represents. He is the closest to the colonizer as possible. He wants to insure the people have completely submitted to the teachings of the church so they can do what the real purpose of the mission is. It is there to conquer hearts and minds as a consequent, they can work for the church and by doing so they have enslaved themselves to the very system who served them the illusion of Christianity.
The Sixta women are an example of this kind of manifested slavery granted by the Fathers teachings. The women are used for hard labor and then free sex. When it is discovered most of them have venereal disease that are seen as dirty; however, under French rule, the Father is guilty of not protecting them and placing them in a vulnerable position. This chaotic outcome is a grander scope of the missions failure under the Fathers rule. The Sixta women are submissive, turned into whore-like behavior, and are worked harder than any other kind of people under Raphaels command placed and over sought by the Father. They are forced to confess their sexual misconduct but before are beaten with a cane. The Sixta women endure punishments brought on by the Father, the supposed incontrollable sexual urges of the men, and the system that needs them to work which in many ways mirror the victimization of colonialism, the Sixta women are women are more easily taken advantage of since they are female.
The Sixta women represent what the colonizer may see as Africas people: uncivilized, promiscuous, and in need of a good spanking like misbehaved children. The Sixta women, like Africa, took a beating that was physically, physiologically, psychologically, and sociological by its colonizers. This is why it is so hard to try to define a word like postcolonialism. Parts of a major problem are the people being colonized sometimes didnt support each other much like the men who had sex with the Sixta women. The ones who would get blamed where the women, in as sense the men let their own people get beaten for their won mistakes. Instead of controlling their own urges they only added to this image of sexual savagery the colonizer already theorized that they were.
The Father, the main protagonist in the novel, Reverend Father Drumont, is the life force of the colonizer. The Father is a major part of the structure and working function of the colonizer. In retrospect, he is the colonizer because he is a major player who successful to a certain degree in colonizing the people of Africa. He brings the word of Christianity to keep the people in line. The people, like the Sixta women, are forced to work for the church and change their lifestyles to fit in. By encompassing this transition because of religion, the people in fact serve the French; therefore; the people through no fault of their own serve the colonizer because they are serving the church through the guiding hand of Father Drumont.
Father Drumont is not as harden as Vidal but he is part of the cancer that feeds the people of Africa. Beti makes Father Drumont see the error of his ways through the advice of Zacharia. By making Father Drumont see this turnover, Beti is saying that all those who helped the system work are capable of realizing why it will fail. The reason it will fail is because humanity is not perfect and truth will emerge no matter what scheme tries to suppress it (Young 5-7).
At the end of the book the reader realizes the next step is uncharted and open. Beti lays the groundwork to feel a sense of what colonization can do to people. He also leaves the question of postcolonialism up to the narrator who for some reason is clueless. It is important for Beti to end the book this way because the purpose for the book itself has been carefully and wittingly established.
Postcolonialism is considered the after affects of colonialism. Beti introduces a glimpse of who the people were who lived though the ravishment of colonialism in the town of Bomba. The book should also be noted for other insights and credited for a wondrous storytelling plights. Through the biographical narration, Beti defines the troublesome situations the characters of Bomba find themselves as those colonized may have experienced. He sets the tone and pace the underlying reason the French arrived with ulterior motives to help the people of Africa.
The multiplicity of the characters and their situations mirror the multiplicity of defining postcolonialism. Where the people go from is up to the reader. Other authors suggest two things: revolt against the oppressor or work with them (Memmi 136-141). The dilemma is that it is not that simple because while reading the book by Beti what is ventured in the mission is the complexity of colonialism to begin with. Beti tries to put a face on several varied situations through distinct characters. Perhaps Beti named his book The Poor Christ of Bomba, because one particular meaning for Bomba means a wild, rich dance that culminates between the rhythm and the dancer.
The colonizers instrument of choice to dominate the Africans was religion. The allocation of Catholicism which happened to be a less than a desirable concept to the regions alongside Bomba in the story helped serve the people of Bomba a less than desirable dance embodied the notion of Jesus and rhythmic quest of the French. Conceivably the metaphor for the title is that the combination of the Frenchs intentions with the African people just didnt sound good musically, contiguity, or even symbolically.
Abiola, Irele F. The Origins of a Species: African literature. Black Issues Book Review(January 1, 2001).
Ahmad, Aijaz. Postcolonialism: Whats in a Name? Late Imperial Cultural. Eds. RomanLa Coupa. E. Ann Kaplan, Michael Sprinkler. New York: Verso. 1995.
Beti, Mongo. The Poor Christ of Bomba. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. Reissued 2005.
Chrisman, Laura and Patrick Williams Editors. Colonial Discourse and Post-ColonialTheory: A Reader. New York: Columbia University Press. 1994.
Gikandi, Simon. Reading the African Novel: Studies in African Literature. NewHampshire: Heinemann Publishing. 1987.
Krieger, Milton and Joseph Takougang. African State and Society in the 1990s:Cameroon’s Political Crossroads. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. 1998.
Memmi, Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. Boston: Beacon Press. ExpandedEdition 1991.
Wolfreys, Julian. Critical Keywords in Literary and Cultural Theory. New York:Palgrave. 2004Young, Robert. Postcolonialsim: A Very Short Introduction. New York: OxfordUniversity Press. 2003