The Cruelty of the Colonial Times in Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy is a novel through which one can imagine the cruel past that befell black Cameroonians due to colonial power. The creative use of irony, humour and other stylistic devices, confront the negative stereotypes that are at times attached onto black people regarding their intelligence The novel qualifies as a protestant work of literature, This essay is aimed at unmasking the manner that Oyono uses stylistic writing, in order to secure the readers’ awareness ofjudicious literary protest against the colonization of Cameroon, Initially, Oyono provides the reader with a flash-forward because what occurs in the beginning of the novel is the actual end of Toundi’s life, It is from page nine where Toundi’s story begins although the reader had been introduced to this main character from the beginning of the story.

The reader‘s expectations of the story become anchored with the theme of tragedy because of the flash forward The rest of the novel is actually a backstory and this is significant of the fact that Oyono was probably aware that what he wrote would play out as sentimentally historical, When Toundi is found, the combination of a rhetorical question and irony is evident when he asks the question “.

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..what are we black men who are called French?” (Oyono, 1966, pt 9} The question provokes the reader to wonder about and notice the possibility of an enforced or influenced change of identity for Toundi to be in his badly injured position. Secondly, the question is ironic in the sense that it is actually impossible to change a person‘s identity This assumption is factual because of the state that Toundi ends up in.

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Being assimilated to becoming French should have by default made him a more privileged person since the French were privileged, A third aspect besides the initially mentioned dilemma of identity is one of Toundi accepting his Christian name Joseph. According to Corti (2003, p.44), this was a prior indication of Toundi’s inclination to embrace victimization; a brilliant enunciation by the white invader to dominantly associate (as the colonizer) with the colonized African, Irony is also used with humour to expose the hypocrisy of those that were privileged by colonial power.

In Toundi’s first exercise book on page nine, it is evident that white people had taught the Cameroonians to refrain from looking upon other people as animals. Reading on to page 10, we find a sentence in which imagery is used as it is written that the missionary (who was obviously white and taught the previously mentioned “moral principle”) threw lumps of sugar to little black boys as it is done when corn is thrown to chickens. It is humourous how Toundi says that the battle to get one of those lumps was worth all the injuries they suffered but through this situation, the missionary did not practice what he taught Irony and humour are collectively used once again to expose the hypocrisy of the privileged through the beating of native Christians (Oyono, p, 15), I found it “funny“ that Father Vandermeyer would speak “bad Ndjem” (One of the native Cameroonian languages) while beating the native Christians, Without any record of Vandermeyer’s death, Madame the Commandant’s wife (whose position was of the highest rank) commits adultery with the prison director but does not get beaten up. “You shall not commit adultery" is the sixth commandment in the Catholic catechism but Father Vandermeyer’s blind eye to Madam‘s affair is virtuous hypocrisy. Humour on its own has been used to show that both the French and Cameroonians were people The missionary and Father Vandermeyer spoke funny and bad Ndjem but surely understood French (Oyono, p.9, 15). The sentry’s translation of what he told Toundi concerning how much the Commandant could beat (Oyono, pr 25) is also funny and bad. The tendency of not being able to speak other people‘s language correctly was a reality for both the privileged as well as the natives. This common weakness can be associated with a subtle suggestion of a degree of equality between the privileged and non-privileged of colonial Cameroon.

The description of the Europeans in the sentry’s encounter with Toundi is more notorious and such is true for most Europeans although they preached “love for their neighbours”. Africans were exploited and because we learn that Toundi (in his innocence, diligence as a worker and Christian above all) dies from the brutality of his superiors Therefore, one can allude that the reality of Africans being exploited was indeed evil (Enighe, 2013, pl 118 - 119) The incorporation of humour in Oyono‘s work portrays an unemotional portrayal of the experienced brutality (Linemann, 1970, p 64) and this is reflective of how the Africans‘ souls became manufactured by the French colonial system. Humour also deflects and obscures Oyono‘s anticolonial intentions (Linemann, 1970, p 64 - 66) which were in actual fact attacked by his mordant writing. The obscurity of his intentions by using humour was surely securing a place for his novel during that time Houseboy is a plain, direct and as extreme as the Africans’ experiences were; it would perhaps not have been published, Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s book titled “Petals of Blood” was banned and Ngugi got arrested for writing it, Wole Sonyika’s “A Man Died" was also banned and South African authors such as Lewis Nkosi and William Modisane‘s books were also banned. All these books and many other were banned under the authority which was white dominated because of possessing an ingredient of protestant motives just like Housebay. Some of the stereotypes that are attached to Cameroonians to this day are that they are corrupt, lazy and greedy but the goodly commended Toundi disqualifies any of these from being true. Furthermore, most of the characters such as Toundi‘s sister and brother-in-law are portrayed as Christians Kalisia, the sentry, the cook and Toundi are portrayed as diligently working and punctual individuals.

Black Modernism As a black modernism work of art, Oyono’s Housebay can be traced as a product of the fore- existent terrain of debates concerning racial principles and how attention to religion played a part in the possibilities and aims of literature manufactured by black people, Because of Westernization and detribalization ofAfricans by colonial power, it is noticeable that Oyono’s point of view was written in a Western perspective because it suggests the need for political democracy, socialism and economic growth for Africans. My opinion of the book as an intelligently created piece is that Oyono did not write a book like most European novelists did but he instead took two exercise books that were supposedly diariest A not so educated houseboy wrote a diary so well that one can actually derive the use of academic language from how the exercise books were written. Oyono’s wit of publishing Toundi’s diaries as a work of art is by far awesome. His authorship served as a medium for a greater population of black people’s lives in Cameroon for their representation in literature. I am convinced that Toundi’s exercise books were written effortlessly but am also moved to believe that he could have been a great writer had he been given a chance to highly standardised education (as he wished), and would not have worked as a houseboy. Despite Toundi’s ordeal of not becoming very educated, the satirical use of literature in Houseboy has indeed become a beating in the repressive white publisher’s very own game of deceitful and influentially damaging representations of Africans through Western literature (Kuhn, 1980, p.224). Moreover, Oyono also represents positively the white powers that seek to genuinely alleviate illiteracy from black massesi. It is not all a waste of resources, strategies and time to provide black Africans with good education. In conclusion, Houseboy is by all inclusive evidence an effective novel that can still be referred to when challenging the on-going confrontations of how black people are represented and stereotyped in literature. A protestant piece of art such as Oyono’s is judicious as far as the protest for black independence and racial equality is concerned.

Updated: Jul 15, 2022
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The Cruelty of the Colonial Times in Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono. (2022, Jul 15). Retrieved from

The Cruelty of the Colonial Times in Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono essay
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