A TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH
OF AMADOU KONE'S TRAITES. SOUS LE POUVOIR DES BLAKOROS
[EXPLOITATION. UNDER THE BLAKOROS' POWER]
DANA CHE MARTIN
A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Dana Che Martin
Dedicated in loving appreciation to my father, Stephen A. Martin, Sr., my mother, Brigid
Cheri Martin, my brother, Dr. Stephen A. Martin, Jr., and my sister, Dr. Nicole Martin
Franks, for all of the moral and spiritual support, encouragement, determined optimism,
and words of wisdom that permitted the successful completion of this ambitious project.
My first expression of gratitude must be directed to Dr. Bernadette Cailler,
Professor of French and Chair of my committee, who provided guidance, professional
expertise, and encouragement throughout the research and writing process. She carefully
read and patiently worked with me through the dissertation. I have greatly appreciated
and profited from her constructive criticisms and valuable suggestions. My appreciation
extends to the members of the dissertation committee: Dr. Sylvie Blum, Assistant
Professor of French, Dr. William Calin, Graduate Research Professor of French, and Dr.
Mark Reid, Professor of English. They have also provided helpful comments and
suggestions which contributed to the successful completion of this project.
I would like to thank Amadou Kone and the African Publisher, Les Nouvelles
Editions Ivoiriennes (formerly Les Nouvelles Editions Africaines) for giving me
permission to translate Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros. I also extend my sincere
thanks to Amadou Kone, my former professor at Tulane University, for granting me a
personal interview and for allowing me to contact him whenever I had additional
questions. I am grateful to the University of Florida's Department of Romance
Languages and Literatures for offering financial support through teaching assistantships,
fellowships, and tuition waivers.
Finally, I wish to thank my loved ones, friends, and colleagues for their moral
support, encouragement, and also for helping me overcome some very difficult times.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNO W LEDG M EN TS.............................................................................................. iv
1 INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF TRAITES. SOUS
LE POUV OIR DES BLAKOROS........................................................................ 1
C6te d'Ivoire........................................................................................................ 2
Amadou Kon6's Life............................................................................................ 8
An Overview of Amadou Kon6's Writing Career............................................... 10
The Thematic Content(s) in Kone's Traites and Kourouma's Les Soleils des
Ind6pendances and their Respective Structures.......................................... 18
Literature from Kone's Generation..................................................................... 28
Kone's Use of Language in Traites, Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros..................... 37
The Task of Translating Traites into English...................................................... 43
2 INTERVIEW WITH AMADOU KONE ............................................................ 48
3 PREFA CE ......................................................................................................... 62
4 PART ONE: A DIFFICULT PATH TOWARD THE QUEST FOR
KN OW LEDGE.................................................................................................. 68
Three ................................................................................................................. 88
5 PART TWO: THE PEOPLE THEY MILK...................................................... 114
Three ............................................................................................................... 138
Five ................................................................................................................. 163
GLOSSARY ............................................................................................................... 169
REFERENCE LIST..................................................................................................... 173
W orks by Amadou Kon .................................................................................. 173
Scholarly and Critical W orks........................................................................... 174
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ....................................................................................... 177
Abstract of Dissertation Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
A TRANSLATION INTO ENGLISH
OF AMADOU KONE'S TRAITES. SOUS LE POUVOIR DES BLAKOROS
[EXPLOITATION. UNDER THE BLAKOROS' POWER]
Dana Che Martin
Chair: Bernadette Cailler
Major Department: Romance Languages and Literatures
In this dissertation, the author presents a translation of Amadou Kond's novel
Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, which is the first volume of a series published in
1980. In the novel, Kone depicts a corrupt post-independence society where certain
native Africans, otherwise known as the "blakoros," exploit their fellow Africans
mercilessly. Unlike those in the community who want to build the future on traditional
values, the blakoros function rather on the basis of new and poorly mastered values
established by Western societies. Kon6, a writer from C6te d'Ivoire, is a defender of the
oppressed and exploited masses, especially the peasant class, who have been betrayed by
their fellow citizens in independent Africa.
Chapter 1, the introduction, presents the following: an examination of some
important aspects of C6te d'Ivoire's history from the pre-colonial period to the twentieth
century; Amadou Kond's life; an overview of the author's writing career; a comparison
of some themes and structures in Traites and Ahmadou Kourouma's Les Soleils des
Independances; a study of Kon6's fiction in relation to several texts written by some
authors from his own generation; Kone's use of language in Traites; and, finally, the task
of translating Traites into English. Chapter 2 is an interview with Amadou Kon6.
Among other things, the interview covers precise questions about translation, particularly
Chapter 3 is the preface to Kon6's novel. Chapters 4 and 5 offer the actual
English translation of the novel. Finally, the dissertation includes a helpful glossary of all
the foreign words and their respective languages. Some critics consider Kone to be a
regional writer, which may explain why he has not yet been fully recognized as a major
writer (one as important as Bernard Dadid, Camara Laye, Mongo Beti or Ahmadou
Kourouma, for example). However, this dissertation confirms that his work merits more
attention. The author hopes that her study will widen Amadou Kon6's readership; and
will stimulate scholarly interest in Ivoirian literature in North America (and, more
generally, among English-speaking populations).
INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGLISH TRANSLATION OF
TRAITES. SOUS LE POUVOIR DES BLAKOROS
"[...] je parole des problemes ivoiriens. Je suis done un auteur ivoirien."
(Amadou Kone, Interview 1987)
Producing fiction designed to encourage questioning and to raise consciousness
about his society, contemporary Francophone African author, Amadou Kone, stands as an
important literary figure from CMte d'Ivoire.' Certainly Kone's narrative Traites. Sous le
pouvoir des Blakoros [Exploitation. Under the Blakoros' Power], which depicts a peasant
community faced with corruption and bribery in a post-independence society, can be
placed within this category of fiction. A study of Amadou Kone's writing reveals that he
is an example of the committed African writer who is extremely sensitive to the social
and political problems of his day and is constantly coming to grips with them, hoping to
play his part in changing society for the better.
This introduction to the English translation of Traites. Sous le pouvoir des
Blakoros includes the following:
* An examination of some important aspects of C6te d'Ivoire's history from the
precolonial period to the twentieth century
* Amadou Kone's life
* An overview of the author's writing career
* A comparison of the thematic contents) in Kone's Traites and Ahmadou Kourouma's
Les Soleils des Independances and of their respective structures
' In 1986, Ivoirian government announced "C6te d'lvoire" as the official name of the country in all
languages. Robert Mundt, Historical Dictionary of the Ivory Coast (Cote d'lvoire) (Metuchen-London:
The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1987) xviii.
* A study ofKon6's fiction in relation to several texts written by some authors from his
* Kong's use of language in Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros
* The task of translating Traites into English
Before European colonization, important kingdoms flourished in C6te d'Ivoire.
Among these kingdoms (which were closely related linguistically and socially to the
neighboring Asante kingdom) were the Abron, Anyi, Baule, Kong, and Sanwi (Mundt 5).
The Asante, who founded the famous Asante Empire, were related to the Akan people; by
the middle of the eighteenth century, this powerful empire practically dominated all of
modem Ghana, along with parts of C6te d'Ivoire (Boahen 54). The Anyi and Baule were
also Akan peoples; these two ethnic groups migrated into the forest region of C6te
d'Ivoire. Smaller ethnic groups also inhabited Cote d'Ivoire along its coast.
France made its initial contact with C6te d'Ivoire in 1637 when missionaries
landed at Assinie near the coast of what is today Ghana (Mundt 5). However, attempts at
permanent settlement were greatly hindered by the inhospitable coastline and other
conditions such as the oppressive climate and endemic diseases. In the eighteenth
century, French and other European traders sought gold, ivory, and especially slaves,
along the coast where trading posts were established. In 1843, the French began signing
treaties with the local chiefs of the Grand-Bassam and Assinie regions, placing their
territories under a French protectorate. Soon afterward, French explorers, missionaries,
trading companies, and soldiers gradually gained control of the coastal areas and began to
move inland. French claims, however, were not matched by effective control over Cote
d'lvoire until the late nineteenth century.
Eventually, the French defined C6te d'Ivoire's borders, thereby solidifying
control over the country. They were able to carry out this mission after the capture of the
Muslim religious leader, Samory Tour.2 Toure, a Malinke warrior chief who often came
into conflict with French military expeditions, was against their expansion in West
Africa. With his supporters, he resisted French penetration, but was finally captured after
prolonged fighting in 1898 (Mundt 7). Six years later, Cote d'Ivoire became a
constituent territory of the Federation of French West Africa and in 1908, Governor
Gabriel Angoulvant began military occupation of the colony.
In the years to follow, Africans had to succumb to forced labor, which
subsequently led to fierce resistance. Revolts broke out as France picked thousands of
Africans from Cote d'Ivoire to serve as soldiers in World War I. However, the French
overpowered these revolts and resistance efforts; and the Africans implicated were
severely punished. By the end of the war, the French had concluded their conquest of
C6te d'Ivoire. To secure their authority during the period of conquest, they subdued the
African tribes and imposed a uniform, centralized administration. In the years between
the two world wars, economic development in COte d'Ivoire became the primary focus.
Not only was a railroad completed to help with the colony's transportation infrastructure,
but Africans also began planting cash crops, such as cocoa and coffee, for export (David
2 Kond's first play was about the great leader, Samory Tour6. He titled the tragedy, Samory de
Thousands of C6te d'Ivoire Africans fought for the French army in World War II.
In fact, a significant number of Africans, in general, served France in the Second World
War. According to Myron Echenberg,3 "at a conservative estimate, the French recruited
in excess of 200,000 black Africans during the Second World War" (88). This time,
recruited African troops played a much more combatant role against Nazi Germany,
which had territorial ambitions in Europe and Africa. Black Africans, as well as North
Africans, made up an important part of the ranks in the French Army; altogether, they
fought vigorously to defend France (Echenberg 88).
These soldiers, no doubt, were made to expect more after the war, not only
because of the economic and social developments in the colonies, but also because of the
suffering and hardships they had endured. As one officer noted:
The man [African] at the war is being thrown in contact with Europeans in a way
as never before. The returning African cannot be quite the same. They will have
fought and lived side by side with foreigners, black and white. They received at
any rate in the Middle East, the same food, the same clothing, they drank side by
side in the canteens the same beer, they were fighting the same battle [...] they
will have seen the world sufficiently to realise that they can have improved
homes, better food, better conditions and better pay for work undertaken [...].
How are we going to keep them down on the farm after the war? (Boahen 142)
Upon their return home, Africans expected employment as well as adequate pensions and
benefits, but a good number were sorely disappointed. Of course, this proved unfair for
the returning soldiers, for "without the rank-and-file black African soldier, their [Free
French forces] victories would have been impossible" (Echenberg 104).
During World War II, C6te d'lvoire, like the rest of French West Africa, fell
under the control of France's Vichy government. Under this authoritarian political
system, numerous severe measures against the African population were established,
3 Colonial Conscripts: The Tirailleurs Snesgalais in French West Africa, 1857-1960.
oriented toward and deriving from economic exploitation and overt racism. The Vichy
regime controlled CMte d'Ivoire and, basically, French West Africa until 1943 (Yansan6
27). After the fall of the Vichy regime, CMte d'Ivoire became a territory in the Union
Franqaise. This political entity replaced the French colonial empire and inaugurated a
number of governmental reforms, including giving Africans the right to organize
politically and abolishing forced labor. In 1946, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, a politician
and physician4 born in Cote d'Ivoire, founded the Parti Democratique de la C6te d'lvoire
(P.D.C.I.). That same year, he also helped found the Rassemblement Dimocratique
Africain (R.D.A.), the leading pre-independence interterritorial political party in French
West Africa (David 32).
Cote d'Ivoire's political history is closely associated with the career of Felix
Houphouet-Boigny. For many years, he represented Cote d'Ivoire in the French National
Assembly, devoting much of his effort to interterritorial political organization and further
improvement of labor conditions for African farmers. As a minister in the French
government, Houphouet-Boigny also played a major role in drafting the 1956 Reform act,
the loi-cadre, which established universal suffrage in the overseas territories and vested a
number of powers in the elected territorial governments of French West Africa. In 1958,
CMte d'Ivoire, along with many other French territories, joined the Communaute
Francaise (formerly L 'Union Francaise) under General Charles de Gaulle's leadership.
Pressure, however, from the French colonies to achieve independence soon began to
grow within the Communauti. As a result, de Gaulle offered full independence from
4 Houphouet-Boigny graduated from the Ecole Normale William Ponty in Dakar in 1925 as a medical
doctor. He was one of the first of his ethnic group to complete the entire course of education under the
colonial system (Mundt 82).
France to the African colonies in 1960. C6te d'Ivoire achieved full independence on
August 7, 1960 and Felix Houphouet-Boigny was elected the country's first president
Political tensions were high during those first few years after Houphouet-
Boigny's election as president. In fact, shifts in tactics and ideology by the Parti
Dimocratique de la C6te d'Ivoire (P.D.C.I.) caused tensions to explode in what became
referred to as the "events of 1963" (Mundt 12). Supposedly, a coup was in the works to
overthrow the president; plotters certainly set out to challenge his authority. But all of
their attempts failed and by the next election, Houphouet-Boigny's control was again
Of all the former French colonies in Africa, C6te d'lvoire was the only one that
had the same president for more than three decades; Houphouet-Boigny was reelected
president in 1965, 1970, 1975, 1980, 1985, and 1990.5 I asked Amadou Kone what he
thought about the country's former president. He said:
Houphouet-Boigny was not a democrat, that is, his system of government was not
like the democracy that [I am] used to. It was not even a dictatorship. It was a
personal power that had the advantage of giving a certain amount of freedom to
the people and also, of functioning economically in spite of corruption. Alas, the
governments that have followed Houphoudt have not succeeded as well.6
While other African nations focused on industrialization, Houphouet-Boigny developed
C6te d'Ivoire's cash-crop agriculture. As a result, the country became a primary exporter
of goods, principally cocoa and coffee; in 1977, it was the world's largest producer of
cocoa (Mundt xviii). Philippe David acknowledges the peasant community in C6te
5 FMix Houphouet-Boigny was born on October 18, 1905 in Yamoussoukro, Cate d'Ivoire. He was known
respectfully as "le Vieux" [the Old Man] by his compatriots. Houphouet-Boigny died in C6te d'Ivoire on
December 7, 1993. Under his leadership, C6te d'lvoire became one of the most prosperous nations in Sub-
Saharan Africa. La C6te d'Ivoire, pp. 38, 45.
6 My translation from the French. Interview with Amadou Kone, 2002.
d'lvoire for playing an instrumental role in the success of the country's agricultural
economy. According to this scholar:
[...] farmers were, and still are, an essential strength for the country ...].
Houphouat will always show, what he has admitted to calling, his "profonde
sollicitude" to all planters [of coffee and cocoa, pineapples, cotton, and sugar
cane] food-producing farmers, stockbreeders, fishermen, and rural artisans, the
backbone of a country that, on this level, has always asserted itself as certainly
different from its neighbors. Even if the "important CEOs" of Abidjan sometimes
grew more and more distant from the low-ranking planters who, nonetheless,
provide the basic essentials of their prosperity, one will see that numerous
personal and financial ties continue to unite one to the other.7
Kond's focus on Africa's peasantry is, therefore, a timely one. Undoubtedly, the
presence of this group in C6te d'Ivoire was important, especially to Houphouet-Boigny
who, along with the peasant class, made agriculture the backbone of Cte d'Ivoire's
economy (David 54, 1st ed.).
The characters, particularly in Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, are farmers
who plant coffee and cocoa to sustain their livelihood in the village. Unfortunately, these
hard-working individuals seem to benefit the least from the fruits of their labor because
their village has been plagued with corruption:
We harvested the last bean of coffee, [...]. We dried, ground, and sold it
unenthusiastically. To make sure we earned enough to repay all the debts.8
In Traites, the new social classes of the post-independence city are made up of scheming
exploiters. They lend money to the peasants, but once the peasant's crop has been
harvested, the good-for-nothing scoundrels cash in and come out ahead every time.
Indeed, "the fruits of independence [are] ripe enough for the greedy ones to pluck" in this
Ivoirian society depicted by Kond (Snyder 12-13).
7 My translation. La C6te d'Ivoire, pp. 68-69.
a My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 164.
Amadou Kone's Life
Amadou Kon6 was born in Tangora Banfora in the south of Burkina Faso,
formerly Upper Volta, in 1953. However, he spent most of his life in C6te d'Ivoire. As a
child growing up in C6te d'Ivoire, he led a very simple life on his parents' farm. It was
there where, often, he would anxiously wait to hear animal tales and epics with all of the
family gathered together. Indeed, oral literature such as this served as the basis for
Kon6's writing career. Of it he related: "Les premiers textes que j'ai 6crits 6taient des
contest traditionnels que j'avais entendu dire dans ma famille quand j'6tais enfant."9
Kone lived with his parents until he was old enough to leave for the school located in
another village. He followed his older brother, who was a school teacher, from one
school to the next during those early years of independence in C6te d'lvoire. Kon6
received his early education at the college in Grand-Bassam. He finished his secondary
education in Abidjan where he attended a boarding school, a very comfortable setting and
a privilege for students like him who came from a village and not a big city. He received
his baccalauriat in June of 1971.
Kone began studying literature at the Universite dAbidjan. After obtaining his
licence &s Lettres Modernes, he continued his studies in France at the Universite de Tours
where he received the Doctorat de Troisikme Cycle in 1977. From there, he returned to
Africa where he taught African and Comparative Literatures at the Universite Nationale
de C6te d'Ivoire in Abidjan until 1990. In addition to teaching, Kon6 also wrote his
9 "The first texts I wrote were traditional tales that I had heard as a child in my family." My translation.
Amadou Kone, "De la mission d'un theitre africain modeme," Lumi&res africaines (New Orleans:
University Press of the South, 1997) 116.
second major dissertation, which he defended in 1987. Kone received the Doctorat
d'Etat s Lettres in Comparative Literature from the Universitj de Limoges (France).
In 1990, Kone obtained a prestigious fellowship from the Alexander Von
Humboldt Foundation. For 2 years, he carried out research on West African literature at
the University of Bayreuth in Germany; he also lectured on literature and held seminars
on his own works. In 1992, Kone came to the United States where he accepted a position
in the Department of French and Italian at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Talking with interviewer Christian Kocani about his decision not to return to C6te
d'Ivoire at the end of his fellowship term, Kon6 remarked:
I regret leaving. I miss my students. I know that there, in my country, I had
responsibilities and I tried to carry them out for about 15 years. When I finished
my Thesis in France, I obtained a position there as Assistant Professor. So, I
could have stayed there, but I preferred to go home so that I could contribute my
time to building the country modestly, of course, in the area of Higher Education.
Then I left after fifteen years for personal reasons. But in my mind, it was not a
definitive departure and it still is not one. Furthermore, you can serve your
country wherever you live. It also depends on the diverse opportunities you have
to do it. As for myself, even in the United States, I continue to serve C6te
After 5 years at Tulane, Kond and his family (a wife and four children) left New Orleans
and moved to Washington, DC. There, he joined the Georgetown University faculty in
1997. Today, Amadou Kon6 continues to teach African literature and culture south of the
Sahara at Georgetown.
The author of novels, plays, short stories, children's stories, essays, and literary
studies, Kon6 is a specialist in Francophone African literature. His teaching and research
interests center around the oral tradition of Africa and its modem written literature. More
specifically, he has focused on African tales and epics and their influence on the modem
10 My translation. Christian Kocani, "L'exil d'Amadou Kon6," L'Aora 24juillet 1998: 12.
African novel. Kone has published two books on the relationships between oral and
modem African literature: Du r6cit oral au roman: Etude sur les avatars de la tradition
heroYque dans le roman africain and Des textes oraux au roman moderne: ttude sur les
avatars de la tradition orale dans le roman ouest-africain. Both studies, which were based
on the two dissertations, were published in 1985 and 1993, respectively. Together with
Gerard D. Lezou and Joseph Mianhoro, Kone published the first anthology of literature
from C6te d'lvoire entitled Anthologie de la litterature ivoirienne (1983). This
compilation of literary pieces, which highlights the originality of the nation's literature,
includes excerpts from myths, plays, poetry, and novels. Kone has also edited a
collection of essays on African literature and cinema in Lumieres africaines: Nouveaux
propos sur la litterature et le cinema africains (1997).
An Overview of Amadou Kone's Writing Career
Amadou Kone's career as a creative writer began at an early age. In middle
school, he wrote his first play, Samory de Bissandougou. This historical drama relates
the tragedy of a son murdered by his own father, Samory Tour6, the great Muslim
emperor. Samory Toure was born in 1830 in Sanankoro, in what is now northern Guinea;
he died in exile in Gabon in 1900. A member of the Malinke people, Samory was a
gifted commander who led a band of warriors in establishing a powerful chiefdom in
Guinea. As already mentioned, the warrior chief also opposed French ambitions to build
an empire in West Africa (Yansan6 133).
In Kon6's play, Samory de Bissandougou, Samory has his son killed because the
son admires the enemy, that is, the French. Here, the emperor's love for his son comes
second to his duty to fight the French enemy. Reflecting on the time he wrote the play,
[...] my classmates who knew my passion for literature asked me to write a play
for the end of the school year celebration. We had just studied Le Cid by
Comrneille. So I searched for a Cornelian dilemma in African history and found
one [...]. This short play, Samory de Bissandougou, was performed with a
certain amount of success and my classmates and my professors encouraged me to
continue writing. That was in 1966.11
Although the play was never published, the experience of writing it made Kond realize
that he was better suited for writing novels; he began writing plays again much later as a
Koni's formal career as a novelist began with the publication ofJusqu'au seuil de
l'irr6el in 1976; he was only 23 years old. The plot ofJusqu'au seuil de l'irreel is
situated in colonial Africa. In the novel, the author describes the life of Karfa, a farmer,
who lost his parents as a child; and who later loses his wife at the hands of evil sorcerers.
Karfa (along with his son, Lamine) decides to leave the village to escape this past life
riddled with nothing but tragedy. However, tragedy seems to follow Karfa and Lamine
when they stumble upon the village, Soubakagnandougou, which is inhabited by evil
witch doctors; they are disguised everywhere and they certainly cause much harm to
innocent villagers. But, there are also good sorcerers present in the village, like
Fanhikroi. The good sorcerer explains this to Lamine:
But your kind-you Moslems-are not familiar with sorcerers. You must be
informed that there are different types. There are those who meet at night to eat
human souls. These blood-thirsty vampires are devoted to decimating their own
families. They amuse themselves by casting spells on those who have succeeded
and whom they envy. They are sadists. Their group is the largest [...] But there
are also good sorcerers, who risk their lives at night, protecting the innocent and
defenseless against the sadists' deeds. 12
" My translation. Lumi&es africaines, p. 116.
12 Translated from the French by Mary Lee Martin-Kond. The Threshold of the Unreal, pp. 55-56. An
unpublished translation. Used with permission from the translator.
In Jusqu'au seuil de l'irrneel, Kon6 reveals the deadly practices of sorcerers who
curse the village of Soubakagnandougou. At the same time, he also presents a traditional
group of individuals who make up an integral part of the African society in which Karfa
and the others live. Of course, Kon6 includes other traditional elements in the text that
characterize an African society. For instance, one reads about farm workers, griots who
play the kora,13 marriages, various celebrations, and funerals. These elements are a
welcome addition to an otherwise heartbreaking story dominated by tragedy and anguish.
Kone wrote Les Frasques d'Ebinto before Jusqu'au seuil de l'irreel while he was
still a student in Grand-Bassam. He finished the novel in high school in Abidjan and it
was later published in 1979. Les Frasques d'Ebinto is well known by middle and high
school students throughout C6te d'Ivoire and is considered one of the most beautiful
novels written by Kon6 (Abissiri). The story is about Ebinto, a young student, around
the same age as the author, who learns about the "facts of life" the hard way when he
must interrupt his studies and marry Monique, a childhood friend, who becomes
pregnant. The narrator-protagonist's dreams are ultimately shattered once he is faced
with this new life, a life without the education for which he so hungered. The novel is
also about love; but in the end, love is not enough to save Monique, who dies from a
horrible tragedy. With regard to Ebinto and Monique, one critic suggests the following:
There is a profound contradiction between the harshness of Ibinto turned towards
the future and the sensitivity of lbinto tied to the past. This contradiction is none
other than the severe, perhaps mutilating, conflict of tomorrow throughout
13 In his book, Epic Traditions of Africa (1999), Stephen Belcher discusses the term griot. He writes that,
"From the French, the word has come into English. The term applies to the musicians and singers of many
ethnic groups in French West Africa; their functions resemble the combined roles of minstrel and herald in
medieval Europe. Music and song are widely seen as their essential activities, but griots also fulfill other
purposes. They are widely credited with diplomatic skills (the art of the word) and may serve as
intermediaries in negotiations; in the past they were the spokesmen for royalty, protecting the majesty of
the ruler by isolating him" (8). Belcher also defines the kora as a "large stringed instrument (a harp-lute)
used by many griots in West Africa" (216).
humanity: the risk of failure, that is death, remains absolute. The Jbinto-Monique
couple is symbolic beyond the anecdote: willpower=life. 14
Essentially, Kon6's narrative traces, in the first-person, a young man's awareness of those
setbacks that can completely alter an individual's life. For Graziano Benelli, "Cette
oeuvre est bien accueillie par la critique car elle pr6sente une certain originality
d'6criture, tout en soulignant les difficulties quotidiennes auxquelles se heurte lajeunesse
de ce pays."15
Published in 1980, Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros depicts the experiences
and survival of Africa's peasantry in a post-independence society. In the novel, old
Mamadou and his family are subjected to hard times in the village of Kongodjan. The
poor peasant family is faced with setbacks, especially with the blakoros in power, and
they have to endure suffering and hardship in the hope that a better day will come
tomorrow. In the preface to the novel, Jesus Kouassi Yoboud explains the meaning of the
In Bambara society, the blakoro is a young boy not yet circumcised. He is
therefore the young man who has not yet been initiated into real life. He does not
have the right to speak out: he is not yet a man.16
In Traites, Kond presents a family that must make sacrifices, which Mamadou does for
his children, and which Lassinan, the protagonist, ultimately does for the whole family.
The novel deals with a corrupt society where problems, which are just as
disturbing as the ones that existed in colonial Africa, are made evident through the
14 My translation. Robert Pageard addressed these words to Amadou Kon6 in a letter. The quote was taken
from the back cover of the 1980 edition of Les Frasques d'lbinto.
15 "This work has been well received by critics because it presents a kind of original writing, while at the
same time stressing the everyday problems which the youth of this country must confront." My translation.
Graziano Benelli, "Le Roman en C6te d'Ivoire," Regards sur la littdrature de C6te d'Ivoire (Anna Paolo
Mossetto. Rome: Bulzoni, 1999) 184-185.
16 My translation. See chapter 3, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 64.
presentation of characters embodying traditional African values, on the one hand, and on
the other, persons who have adopted values established by Western societies. Within
Kond's fiction, the blakoros men do not embody African values and neither do certain
women in the society. They all function rather on the basis of new and poorly mastered
values. Naturally, they impose their own rules out of sheer greed, and as a result, it
becomes more and more difficult for the peasants to make an honest living. Indeed,
Yoboud sums it up best in the preface by stating that the book is "L'autopsie d'une
soci6td d6gdn6r6e dans laquelle la corruption a 6t drig6e en institution."17 Essentially, in
Traites, the reader witnesses a battle between the blakoros, eager for money and power,
and the poor peasants who want to build the future on traditional values, like honesty,
hospitality, hard work, self-respect, and respect for others.
In 1982, the second volume of Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros was published and
entitled Courses. Here the reader discovers that old Mamadou has died and that Lassinan
has continued the struggle in the village of Kongodjan against the blakoroya, that is,
those anti-values perpetuated by the blakoros who insist on exploiting the poor peasants.
The reader also learns that Abou, Lassisnan's youngest brother, has just returned home
after completing his education in France. "J'y suis all6," Abou explains, 'j'ai essay de
trouver des r6ponses aux questions europdennes qui intdressent aussi l'Afrique et qui
m'intriguaient. J'ai essays de comprendre de pros les nouveaux mythes qui s'abattent sur
nous et nous gouvernent."'8 Now, Abou's mission after coming back from Europe is to
17 "The autopsy of a degenerate society in which corruption has been institutionalized." My translation.
See chapter 3, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 63.
18 "I went there. I tried to find answers to the European questions that also concern Africa and that
intrigued me. I tried to understand up close the new myths that beat down on us and control us." My
translation. Courses. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, p. 123.
teach the others about the modem myths that are controlling them. He has every
intention of securing a teaching job at the school in the village, but surprisingly, does not
get the position for which he applied. Abou, instead, decides to accept a temporary
position at the Department for the Arts, where he feels he still might be able to do some
good for his people.
Kon6's latest novel, Les Coupeurs de tetes, was published years after the
completion of Courses. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros. In Les Coupeurs de t&tes (1997),
Kon6 describes an African society that has been afflicted with many evils. For Lilyan
Kesteloot, an expert in the field of Francophone African literature, the novel is one of
"chaos" that portrays an apocalyptic atmosphere (270). Indeed it is an apocalyptic scene
where political corruption, crime, embezzlement, prostitution, illiteracy, and poverty have
all been established as a way of life. After having spent 15 years in Europe, Kassi, the
narrator, comes home only to find the city in this state of turmoil. Kassi's destiny lies in
the social setting presented in Les Coupeurs de tetes.
Les Coupeurs de tetes has been hailed "une oeuvre plus dense et mure."'9 The
entire book is based on a metaphor; there are really no "coupeurs de tetes." It is a
metaphor used by the author in order to depict an Africa where certain people do not
want others to think. Instead, they want to remove their "tate," that is, their capacity to
think and reflect upon the problems in an attempt to come up with solutions for
themselves. Kon6 enjoyed critical acclaim to match the success of Les Coupeurs de tetes
when in 1999, he was awarded the Grand Prix Littiraire de C6te d'Ivoire by the
Association des Ecrivains de C6te d'Ivoire. The Fraterniti-Matin newspaper reported
19 "a more mature and solid work." My translation. Regards sur la littdrature de C6te d'Ivoire, p. 187.
that novels, which are bestowed the Prix Ivoire, like Les Coupeurs de tetes, are sure to
"ajouter A la dynamique du livre dans [le] pays et aider A confirmer la grandeur de la
Although fiction-writing is the focal point of this introduction, it is also important
to mention a genre for which the author has become well known. Kon6 is also a talented
dramatist. He has written four plays: Samory de Bissandougou,21 Le Respect des morts,
De la chaire au tr6ne, and Les Canaris sont vides. Le Respect des morts and De la chaire
au tr6ne were both published in 1980, the same year as Traites. In both plays, the author
presents characters who illustrate the conflict between tradition and modernity in Africa.
Le Respect des morts depicts the construction of a dam, which will supposedly help with
the region's underdevelopment. The villagers, however, are against its construction, for
it represents the destruction of their way of life, as well as the land inhabited by their
ancestors for generations. It is up to the chiefs son, who was educated in Europe, to
convince the villagers of the good that will come from the dam's construction. In De la
chaire au tr6ne, Kon6 tells the story of a university professor who is made a prince, but
because of tradition, must be ritually put to death after twelve years of absolute power.
But when that fateful day arrives, the professor-prince refuses to give into tradition,
thereby refusing death.
De la chaire au tr6ne and Le Respect des morts have been made accessible to
audiences outside of Africa. A German translation of Le Respect des morts [Der
Staudamm] was published in 1991 and an Italian translation of De la chaire au tr6ne [La
20 "add to the dynamics of the book in [the] country and help to confirm the greatness of Cote d'lvoire
literature. "Amadou Kone, Grand Laurdat," Fraternit&-Matin 20 avril 1999: 1.
21 In middle school, Kone wrote his first play, Samory de Bissandougou, which I discussed at the beginning
of this section.
vita provisoria] was published in 1996.22 Kone's third play, Les Canaris sont vides, was
published in 1984. In this play, peasants must deal with a severe drought that has struck
their village in the Sahel region. Consequently, they must also deal with famine. These
three plays by Kon6 have been successful, earning the author awards. De la chaire au
tr6ne and Le Respect des morts won prizes at the Concours Thedtral Inter-Africain in
1972 and 1974, respectively. Les Canaris sont vides won the grand prize at the Concours
Thedtral Inter-Africain in 1976.
There are also children's books to add to Kon6's list of publications. In
collaboration with his wife, he wrote La Force de vouloir (1978). The story is about the
strong relationship between a father and son. When times get hard for Ousmane, his
young son, Birama, is there to support him and give him the confidence to fulfill his
talent despite blindness. Terre ivoirienne (1979) relates the adventures of the protagonist,
Tikilikan, in C6te d'Ivoire. Indeed, he discovers this land, its diverse regions and
inhabitants. At the same time, he also learns the history and culture of his country. As
Kone expressed in an interview with Janos Riesz:
Literature for children is something I consider an area of vital importance for
African culture. Traditional story-telling, once a basic factor in the education on
the African child, no longer exists. It has been replaced by television, the
programming of which comes from abroad, and by children's books, also from
abroad. It would seem to me to be of prime importance to develop children's
literature in Africa, to provide a literature that talks about African culture and
about the concerns of young Africans, a literature that would be a valid
replacement for traditional story-telling. Books conceived of and written locally
will be more likely to create the kind of interest that will induce children to
become habitual readers.23
22 Janos Riesz, Der Staudamm, (K61n, 1991). Paolo Maddoni, La vita provisoria (Roma: Grin sri, 1996).
23 Translated from the French by JAnos Riesz. "Amadou Kond at the University ofBayreuth," Afrika 10-
Kam6lfata ou les ennemis de la traite was actually Kone's first novel written
while he was still in middle school. The novel tells the story of young Africans who
struggle against the slave trade. Although much later in the author's career, Kam616fata
was eventually published in 1987 as a children's book. Kon6 has also published a
collection of short stories that focus on the destruction of traditional African values in the
book, Les Liens (1980).
Thematic Content(s) in Kone's Traites and Kourouma's Les Soleils des
Independances and their Respective Structures
According to the Ghanaian poet, novelist, and scholar, Kofi Awoonor:
Independence brought an era of euphoria and great hopes to Africa. The dreams
of agitators and nationalists were realized when one by one new flags were
hoisted in place of colonial flags, and new tunes replaced imperial anthems [...].
In many countries there were massive jubilations, and many libations were poured
and drunk. There was a vague sense of relief among the African people, who
were only dimly aware of the nature of the changes in their fortune; everywhere
there was talk of Africa's new man: bright-eyed, armed with the righteousness of
his cause, ready to take his place in the sun, self-assured, and no longer abused.
Aggressively proud, he was to become, once and for all, the master of his own
However, this "euphoric" celebration of the arrival of independence in Africa failed to
endure. One soon discovered that after the exploitation of the people by the colonial
masters, the Africans who replaced the Europeans often ended up exploiting their fellow
Africans. Certainly, some writers came to look upon the new ruling African bourgeoisie
as being no better than the oppressive colonizer. Even with regards to Africa's economy
during independence, one critic pointed out that "d'une economic caracterisee par
l'autosubsistance et fondue sur le troc, on est passe brutalement A une economic de type
capitalist fondue sur le profit."24 Writers, like Ousmane Sembene, Camara Laye,
Ahmadou Kourouma, and Amadou Kon6 are aware of the misappropriation of the gains
of independence by rich, unconscionable employers and the corrupt ruling class in Africa.
Consequently in their novels, which were published after 1960, they choose to examine
such problems as excessive bureaucracy, bribary, corruption, neo-colonialism, and forms
of social aberration.
Amadou Kone uses his fiction to denounce the ills of the post-independence
society and try to bring about its reformation. The author discloses, particularly in
Traites, the harsh existence of C6te d'Ivoire's oppressed peasantry. He makes
interrogations and describes events and situations in the novel that relate to the closest
daily reality of the peasant class. Kone is a defender of the exploited masses who have
been betrayed by their fellow citizens in post-independence Africa.
Kon6's Traites may indeed bear some resemblance to Ahmadou Kourouma's Les
Soleils des Independances; this seems to suggest Kourouma's strong influence on Kone.
Ahmadou Kourouma, born in 1927, has now become one of the best-known Francophone
writers from C6te d'Ivoire, in fact, from all Sub-Saharan Africa. In Les Soleils des
Independances (1968), the author presents the social and political realities of the years
immediately following independence. He tells the story of a hereditary Malinke prince of
Horodougou whose entire world changes with the coming of independence. In modem
Africa, Fama, the protagonist and disinherited Doumbouya prince, is unskilled and
illiterate in the European language; he is practically a beggar. In fact, Fama is a victim of
24"from an economy characterized by self-sufficiency and built on barter, we suddenly switched to a
capitalist type economy based on profit." My translation. Bruno Gnaould-Oupoh, La litt&ature ivoirienne
(Paris-Abidjan: Karthala-CEDA, 2000) 311.
independence. He represents the group of deluded Africans lured from the village by
promises of opportunity in the capital city. Misfortune, however, is the only outcome.
Like Ahmadou Kourouma, Kond also denounces the new bourgeoisie who have adopted
In addition, certain individuals in Traites and Les Soleils des Independances are
linked to one another because they share similar viewpoints concerning Africa's
independence. Fama (Les Soleils des Independances) can be linked with old Mamadou
(Traites), and the narrator (Les Soleils des Independances) can be linked with Lassinan
(Traites). Fama and old Mamadou have not adjusted to the changes that have occurred in
Africa since independence. That is because they only know their own culture, customs,
and values. It is difficult for them to see beyond tradition, especially in the independent
society where modernism prevails. Furthermore, neither Fama nor old Mamadou
understand the European language, that is, French. All these factors contribute to their
perception of the independent society. For Fama and old Mamadou, it is certainly one
where traditional values have no place. This makes it all the more difficult for them to
function, because they are blind to certain issues. Yet, the narrator of Les Soleils des
Independances understands how this new society functions. The same can be said for
Lassinan who grasps fully the situation confronting the peasant community depicted in
Traites. Both are aware of the new rules of the game, or rather, the new exploitation in
independent Africa. Kourouma's and Kond's novels are directed against the new native
rulers of post-independence. At the same time, the novels also highlight cultural
problems encountered by Africans because of contact between African and Western
In my opinion, Amadou Kond's narrative technique in Traites is somewhat
reminiscent ofAhmadou Kourouma's Les Soleils des Ind6pendances. First, one notices
the question-response technique used by Kourouma and Kone in their respective
narrations. Thanks to this technique, the writer is able to introduce a new element or
theme into the story, as is the case in the following example taken from The Suns of
Balla wanted to go with them. A blind man what could he see? Nothing. An
old man with swollen aching legs when would they arrive there with him along?
Perhaps at sunset. A Kaffir whose forehead never touched the ground what
would he do there? Nothing and nothing. They thought he was joking. But no!
Balla insisted. He evoked the duty to pay a last visit to the deceased. (78-79)
Kourouma makes known to the reader the unfortunate condition facing Balla. The blind
African is surely one determined individual, but in the end, he must remain in the village.
The author also provides additional details about Balla by using the question-response
technique. He writes: "How did Balla become the greatest hunter of all Horodugu?" (84).
The question is then followed by a lengthy answer that highlights the different events,
which led to Balla becoming a great hunter. Kone uses the same kind of technique in
Traites to explain, for instance, the reason behind Akafu's "exceptionally imposing
potbelly." And as for Bakary, the reader discovers how this master tailor began to lose
So, what did Bakary do with his money? It would have been impolite to
ask him. In any case, they knew one thing. The great tailor was almost
suffocated by his numerous friends, his relatives who came out from the
woodwork. Each one wished him well. And to prove it to him, they would offer
him their daughter to marry [...]. But each one knows that the women who are
offered in this manner cost quite a lot.
But naforo-money-is nothing. And Bakary never knew when his
fortune began to escape him.25
Essentially, the question-response technique allows both authors to reveal more
information in the narratives about the characters in general, their achievements, as well
as their setbacks.
Another important feature of Kourouma's and Kon6's narrative technique is the
use of analepse26 or the flashback. Kourouma certainly uses an incessant number of
analepses in Les Soleils des Inddpendances. For example, he begins with an analepse in
part one of his novel, which informs the reader about how the French deprived Fama of
his inheritance as chief of all Horodougou. Another analepse makes the reader relive the
terrible experience of Salimata's excision and, then, her rape by the fetish-priest. Here,
the analepse takes the form of a remembered memory of the past. Indeed, this horrible
memory will influence the poor, young woman's entire conjugal, social, and
psychological being. In Traites, the reader learns about Adebayo's days as a successful
shopkeeper who could give credit to the peasants. The reader also gains an insight into
Bakary's life as a master tailor. In chapter one, part two of Traites, Kond discusses
Tiefi's life in the capital city of Blakorodougou:
Tiefi had left the village at quite a young age. He had headed directly for the
capital Blakorodougou without even understanding a word of French. It's true
that at that time, Dyula was spoken just about anywhere and you did not
necessarily need to understand French in order to move around in the country.
Therefore, Tiefi had left for the capital. The man's adventure began there. This
adventure immediately became a legend that Tiefi would recount by adding on
each time some new changes.27
25 My translation. See chapter 4, Exploitation. Under the Blakoros' Power, pp. 97-98.
26 This is the technical term used by Gdrard Genette in Figures III, pp. 90-105.
27 My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation. Under the Blakoros' Power, pp. 118-119.
Kourouma and Kone shift the readers' attention to the past experiences of their
characters. In doing so, readers are given information, which they would otherwise not
have. Therefore, by using the narrative technique known as analepse, the authors are
able to provide a clear picture of the background and social circumstances surrounding
the lives of their characters.
Description is another significant element used by Kone and Kourouma. The
authors provide vivid images of events, places, and characters in their texts. These
descriptions not only support and contribute to the narration, but they also play an
integral role in the unfolding of events in the story. Kourouma describes, for example,
Fama's weak condition in prison in these terms:
Fama was not made to perform hard labour, but his health was deteriorating.
Guinea-worm swelled in his armpits and knees. He was drying up; his eyes sank
into sockets deeper than graves, his fleshless ears stood out like those of a hare on
the alert, his lips grew thin and taut, his hair scanty. (The Suns of Independence
Here, Kouroumna presents a rather graphic but clear image of Fama's state of health
caused by twenty years of hard labour. Kone gives an equally clear picture of Issa's
lingering state of health in Traites:
The child, lying on a bambou mat, wrapped in a thick wool blanket, was sweating
and shivering with cold. His yellowed eyes vaguely stared at his big brother.
Souls's hand rested on the child's forehead. His body was very hot and damp
with sweat. However, Issa was cold.28
These descriptions provide detail for the reader. At the same time, in these two particular
cases, they also cause the reader to feel an overwhelming sense of despair for Fama and
Issa. The mental images obtained from these descriptions allow the reader, indeed, to
grasp the reality and severity of the situations confronting these characters.
28 My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 158.
Space in the novel, as it relates to location, is similarly described by Kond and
Kourouma. Essentially, there are two distinct locations to consider: the village and the
city. Traites alternates from village to city; the narrative begins and ends in the village,
unlike the narrative in Les Soleils des Independances, which begins in the city and ends
in the village. The peasants, who are depicted in Kon6's Traites, dwell in the village of
Kongodjan. The poor village is considered a peaceful place, far from the tumultuous life
that exists in the city of Fagodougou, among others. For old Mamadou, it is a familiar
territory where he feels most comfortable, and where some individuals still show him
respect. As for Fama, he is still the respected prince of Horodougou, the last legitimate
Doumbouya, in the poor village of Togobala. He is neither insulted nor looked down
upon and called a beggar, which is the case in the fast-paced city whose name has not
been specified. This particular city, depicted in Les Soleils des Independances by
Kourouma, has an African quarter, which is poor and very dirty, and a European quarter,
which is clean and luxurious. In Traites, the "nouveau riche" Africans have moved into
an area of Fagodougou, which was formerly the European quarter of the city:
There only, two-storied homes stood. This quarter had remained the "Business
District," the most active Center of the city. The big market and its enormous
rusty roof, the only cinema, and the only dance hall were located there. And on
the ground floor of the two-storied homes, Syrian and Lebanese shopkeepers had
replaced the European colony.29
The description of space in the novels is precise. The reader learns that the city is,
overall, a place of desolation and scheming for the Africans in Les Soleils des
Independances; corruption is the order of the day in the city portrayed in Traites. In spite
of oppression, the villages presented in both texts offer a haven of tranquility absent from
29 My translation. See chapter 4, Exploitation. Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 93.
the city.30 Kond's Traites and Kourouma's Les Soleils des Independances do, in fact,
share similar structures which, in many cases, give additional feedback to the reader
about the characters, their surroundings, and the events, both present and past, that affect
and that have affected them.
A look at the roles of some specific characters, particularly in Traites, is
significant, for their roles foster the development of events throughout the story-line.
Kong often makes use of certain individuals in his text to expose corruption, repression,
and hypocrisy in post-independence Ivoirian society. In Traites, one can recognize the
importance of those characters who play either active or passive roles in the struggle
against all the evils-illiteracy, misery, injustice, and exploitation. Lassinan is an active
participant; he essentially takes positive steps to make a change in the environment of
which the peasant community has become a victim. On the other hand, old Mamadou
and Tiefi have passive roles in that they can only hope for a change to occur in society.
Lassinan's role in Traites is paramount. Not only is Lassinan an active
participant, but he is also the hero in the narrative. It is through his role as the hero, more
specifically the non-traditional hero, that he is able to demonstrate commitment to the
cause. One can make a distinction between Lassinan's role as the non-traditional hero
and the role of the traditional hero often found in African literature. Unlike the
traditional African hero31 who works collectively with the group to achieve a common
30 Pius Ngandu refers to villages as "les spaces naturels" and also as a "refuge" in his book, Kourouma et
le mythe, p. 75.
31 Soundjata is an example of the traditional African hero. The great African epic of Soundjata celebrates
the career of Soundjata Keita, the thirteenth-century King of Mali, the largest and most famous of African
empires in the Middle Ages. Soundjata Keita's reign lasted for twenty years during which time he served
as the military leader who defeated King Soumaoro Kante of Sosso at Krina and, in turn, established the
capital at Niani. Soundjata had numerous followers when he went to battle with Soumaoro Kante,
including his mother, Sogolon, his sister, Nana Triban, his brother, Manding Bory, and his griot, Balla
Fasseke. They all united and formed a solid group that supported and helped Soundjata, the great hero and
goal in society, the non-traditional hero takes on the challenge alone. The difference lies
primarily in the representation of the protagonist with respect to the individual struggle
and the group struggle.
In Traites, Kon6 portrays Lassinan as a studious and hard-working young man
with a mission to uncover the evils of the post-colonial society in which the peasant
community lives. Lassinan understands the exploiters' game and desperately wants to
put an end to it. His goal is to open up the villagers' eyes to the scheme; he must get
them to see Habib, Doulaye, and Akafu, to name a few, for whom they really are, that is
low down, heartless crooks. In order to do so, Lassinan must try to convince the peasants
that their village has been plagued with corruption. This will prove, however, to be a
very difficult task for the hero who, for the most part, struggles alone against the ruling
elite that is controlling the community. Through many conversations and debates, he
tries to convince the poor peasants on his own that a change is needed and that justice
must be reestablished in order to put an end to the exploitation.
In one instance, Lassinan wants to convince his father and the entire village that
their poverty is not Allah's will. But one learns that explaining this to devout Muslims is
no easy task. They are blind to the crookedness that has made its way into their society;
moreover, they assume this is the way Allah wanted it to be. In a letter to the
headmistress, Lassinan writes:
[...]. They think that it's Allah's will, if they wade in misery and if others live an
opulent life. If it were true that God guaranteed poverty for some and abundance
for others, I refuse to believe that this is God, except the god of the most
powerful. I have tried to explain all that to my village, I have explained the
warrior, save Mali from the evil clutches of the sorcerer King, Soumaoro. D.T. Niane, Soundiata ou
l'popee mandingue (Paris: Prdsence Africaine, 1960).
deception of the powerful and the mistakes of the poor. But people don't
understand that, to a certain extent, God leaves us free to assume our destiny.32
Not only does Lassinan have to make the peasants understand that they are being
exploited by their own people, but he must also teach them not to accept their condition,
which they believe has been dealt to them by Allah. They have to learn to take control of
their own lives and know that, to a certain degree, they do hold the key to their own
It is important for the peasants to know their rights and to pull together in order to
overcome the exploiters' game. More than ever, they need to unite against the rich and
form the co-op, which Lassinan has envisioned. The hero pushes the idea, for he knows
how much a village co-op would benefit the peasant community. Interestingly, Lassinan
is trying to create a sense of solidarity amongst the peasants by organizing a co-op. He
wants them to join together in the struggle and help him eliminate the new social classes
that have taken over and corrupted their society. But this will prove to be a very difficult
task for the peasants to accomplish by themselves.
Shia is also an active participant; she supports Lassinan's cause unequivocally.
Shia is aware of the bribery and corruption that have become a way of life in the village.
As headmistress, she targets problems which she knows she can control. Indeed, gift
giving takes on a whole new meaning when it comes time for school enrollment in the
village. Shia's role is also very important because she challenges the traditional image,
as seen in the eyes of men, of the submissive woman. One now observes a female
standing up for herself and challenging the male in certain situations. She is not afraid to
question and attack the character and tactics of cruel male exploiters described in Traites.
32 My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 132.
Shia is not the passive observer who only hopes for a change in society. She is a
determined and outspoken woman who finds herself in the position to help the peasant
community, especially Lassinan's family. She does not sit back and watch exploiters as
they con so many villagers out of their hard-earned money. Instead, Shia plays an active
role in the fight against the injustices that prevail all around and, thus, joins the ranks of
Lassinan as a kind of champion of the oppressed masses.
Literature from Kone's Generation
Just as Amadou Kone can be linked with Ahmadou Kourouma, a writer from the
older generation, so too can he be linked with the younger generation of writers from
C6te d'Ivoire. One recognizes this new link with the younger generation by focusing on
the thematic content in their novels. Similarities to and/or differences between Kone's
writing techniques and those of such authors will not be my focal point here, although I
will be led to make some comments. Kon6 discusses various themes in his fiction, such
as sorcery, education, rural African life, cultural problems as a result of the contact
between Africa and the West, and the new obstacles to surmount in a post-independence
society. Several authors belonging to Kon6's generation33 have also dealt with most of
these themes in their fiction. In particular, I have Fatou Bolli, Tidiane Dem, Regina
Yaou, and Denis Oussou-Essui in mind.
Fatou Bolli, for example, depicts sorcery in his first novel, Djigb6, which was
published in 1977. The plot of Bolli's novel is situated in post-colonial Africa. The
characters in Djigb6, like the ones in Traites and Jusqu'au seuil de l'irrnel, are Muslim,
but they are also Catholic. In the novel, a host of sorcerers torment the Krou people, in
33 These authors have published works on or around the same time as Kond.
particular, Kope Yacinthe, the protagonist, and his family, who live in Abidjan. These
men and women, who have chosen to be evil witch doctors, threaten the everyday lives of
an innocent tribe. Kope's daughter explains it to her cousin, Saly, who is skeptical about
the entire phenomenon:
For the most part, they are sorcerers from the time of birth. A great number of
children are sorcerers without even knowing it; they only realize it once they are
grown. The question is whether they choose or choose not to be good rather than
bad and vice versa.34
Kope Yacinthe discovers later on that his eldest brother and sister-in-law are
sorcerers and are the ones guilty of attacking his own children. Their true identities are
revealed at a ritual gathering led by Mansoua, a good witch doctor. With the help of his
tam-tam35 and some magic, Mansoua is able to expose the destructive duo who have
taken, "des leur naissance, les principles vitaux des nouveau-nds" (82).36 Kond describes
a similar gathering, where the real sorcerers are revealed, in Jusqu'au seuil de l'irreel
(1976). Here, the great marabout, Bou6 Ouattara, uses his powers to disclose before all
the villagers of Soubakagnandougou the queen sorcerer who has killed Karfa's son and
the chiefs daughter.
Fatou Bolli's novel, Djigbo, includes 8 chapters and an epilogue. The author
employs the first-person narrative technique in this short novel. His style of writing is
controlled and not at all elaborate, which allows for a smooth reading of the text. The
descriptions are very poignant and, at times, quite graphic, which might disturb the
reader. Stories are also related within the main story-line by different characters; this
34 My translation. Fatou Bolli, Djigbo (Abidjan: CEDA, 1977) 10.
35African drum made from wood and used for transmining messages. The musical instrument also
accompanies dances. "Tam-Tam." Le Petit Larousse. 1994 ed.
36 "from birth, the vital organs of newborns." My translation.
structure alludes to the element of African traditional folklore. Altogether, Djigb is an
interesting novel that highlights the theme of sorcery in a post-independence society.
Sorcery is once again the main theme in Tidiane Dem's novel, Masseni, also
published in 1977. The story takes place in colonial Africa, in a village called Ganda in
C6te d'lvoire. The reader learns that Dady Konatd and his wife, Minignan, have been
unable to conceive a child after five years of marriage because of a spell cast on
Minignan by her neighbor, Nakaridia. Although skeptical, Dady and Minignan decide to
seek help from Karamoko, a well-known marabout. But after many meetings and animal
sacrifices, the couple fail to see any results. In fact, Karamoko turns out to be a fake
marabout and has disappeared with a large sum of Dady's money. Finally, with the help
of a hunter and an old woman who, in particular, holds the key ingredient for a remedy,
Minignan's sterility is cured. She and Dady soon have a baby girl and call her Masseni.
The remaining pages of Dem's novel focus on Masseni's life. She grows up to be
a beautiful and intelligent woman and many men desire her. The area chief turns out to
be the lucky man who wins Masseni's hand in marriage; she will now live in a harem
with his other wives. The first wife who, in the beginning, is a kind of mother figure for
Masseni, ultimately becomes her rival out of jealousy and attempts to do her harm with
the help of her fellow sorcerers. Every attempt fails, and the occult ways of the first wife
are discovered. After some time passes, we learn that the chief suddenly dies after being
struck down with paralysis. Masseni is overcome with grief as a result of her husband's
death, but she must go on for the sake of their daughter. In the end, Masseni accidentally
falls and, tragically, she dies as her friend, Mabrontid, remains close by her side.
Marabouts play interesting roles in Dem's and Kon's respective texts. They can
be defined as Muslim holy men, healers, and teachers believed to have supernatural
powers (Robinson 25). In the novel Masseni, Dem seems to have taken the opportunity
to attack the character of these individuals. On the one hand, the reader learns that
marabouts can help bring peace and resolution to a situation that has threatened a family;
on the other hand, they learn that marabouts can resort to trickery and steal money from
innocent people by making them believe that they only have their best interest at heart.
In the beginning, Dady Konat6 does have his suspicions, for he is well aware of how
"good" marabouts should act:
The good marabouts, those who are worthy of the name, do not ask to be paid
before carrying out a job. They only accept a reward if the work they have
carried out is a success, and if tangible and positive results come from it.
Furthermore, they do not set a price, for one cannot put a pricetag on God's name.
If the client is satisfied, he gives what he can, and the real marabout does not
Nevertheless, Dady takes this risk for his wife's sake and trusts that the marabout,
Karamoko, will find a cure for her sterility. In doing so, he agrees with all of the
marabout's requests but, in the end, winds up being duped.
The marabout presented by Kond in Jusqu'au seuil de l'irreel (1976) is the total
opposite of the one portrayed by Tidiane Dem in Masseni. He distinguishes himself from
the good-for-nothing-scoundrel as well as the evil sorcerer:
I am not one of those wicked Moslems, one of those charlatans who, instead of
spreading the good of their religion pass their time deceiving others. I hate these
deceitful marabouts as much as I do witches. They are cast from the same mold.
They are all crooks and sometimes even assassins.38
37 My translation. Tidiane Dem, Masseni (Abidjan: NEA, 1977) 77.
38 Translated from the French by Mary Lee Martin-Kond. The Threshold of the Unreal, pp. 125-126. An
In the interview with Kone following this introduction, he comments on the behavior of
marabouts, particularly the one who turns out to be a fake in his novel Traites.39 He
acknowledges the scheming actions of these individuals who exist in the society where he
grew up. Marabout behavior is, therefore, a particular target of Kone's criticism as
evidenced in Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros.
Masseni is an easy novel to follow. It consists of a forward, an introduction, and
7 lengthy chapters, which recount a multitude of different events. The author includes
elements of oral tradition in the narrative, such as proverbs and songs. One of many
songs is revealed to the reader in the first chapter on page 14; this particular hymn is sung
by a choir of young girls to celebrate the new moon and the end of Ramadan. There are 2
stories with distinct plots in Masseni. The first 3 chapters of the novel pertain to the first
story; they focus on Dady's and Minignan's desire for a baby, and finally the birth of that
baby, named Masseni. Then, the last 4 chapters, or the second story, revolve around the
life and death of Masseni. With regards to the novel's structure, one can say that the
author proposes an interesting way of not only organizing the narrative, but also
documenting the daily adventures in a village during colonialism. Kone, however, sees
otherwise and candidly states: "Masseni est incontestablement mal construit."40 I do not
agree with Kone's point of view regarding the structure of the novel. In my opinion, I
feel that the novel's unique composition contributes to the readers' overall
comprehension of this beautiful, yet tragic story.
Regina Yaou is another Cote d'lvoire writer from Konr's generation. Her first
39 See interview question with Kone, Chapter 2, p. 58-"What is the function of Islam in the novel?"T'
40 "Beyond any shadow of a doubt, Masseni is poorly constructed." My translation. Amadou Kone,
"Roman africain et literature orale," Komparatistische Hefte 15-16 (1987): 30.
novel, Lezou Marie ou les ecueils de la vie, was published in 1982. In the novel, Yaou
depicts the trials and tribulations of the main character, Marie, whose life changes forever
once she leaves the village A... to continue her education in Abidjan. Not only does her
mother die back in the village, but Marie also discovers that her death was at the hands of
sorcerers who turn out to be family members. Again, we find sorcery as a recurrent
theme in C6te d'Ivoire literature. But, as Kond explained:
Sorcery is a part of certain African societies. It influences the everyday behaviour
of individuals that live in them. There is a need to talk about these practices and
demystify them. Writing on a matter of this kind is a means of inviting each
reader to reflect on it and, possibly, to propose solutions. (Riesz 36)
After the mother's tragic death, Marie's life takes another turn for the worse. Not
only does Marie's father stop funding her schooling, but her fiance, Jacques, also betrays
and leaves Marie with child. The baby is born, but unfortunately, he dies a while later
because Marie does not have the money needed so that he can receive the proper
healthcare. As a result, she loses her faith and resorts to all kinds of vices, among them,
prostitution, when she moves to the city for a job. Marie hides her double life from
Pierre, a journalist whom she loves very much. But when her secret is revealed, and right
before Pierre's eyes, she cannot live with herself anymore and commits suicide.
The plot of Lezou Marie ou les ecueils de la vie is situated in independent Africa,
and it unfolds mainly in the capital city. Regina Yaou primarily undertakes issues that
affect women in modem African society. Education and money, or the lack there of, is a
constant issue, as well as the events that lead her to turn to prostitution. On the whole,
Yaou deals with social problems, especially from a woman's standpoint, in a post-
There is nothing complex about the structure of Lezou Marie ou les 6cueils de la
vie. The novel itself consists of 11 chapters. What does strike the reader is the way the
narrative unfolds in these chapters. The narration is rather abrupt and, consequently, the
story does not read very well. Be that as it may, R6ginaYaou has told a profound story.
The characters, as well as the events depicted in the novel are all plausible. And though
the author's language tends to be flat, she does inject intense feeling into the narrative,
especially when describing those moments of crisis in Marie's life.
Like Regina Yaou's novel, Les Saisons s6ches by Denis Oussou-Essui also takes
place in C6te d'Ivoire. The post-independence city with its corruption and new social
classes forms the backdrop for this novel published in 1979. Kimou Aguid, the so-called
"hero," has just returned to his country after a fifteen-year stay in France where he
received his engineering degree. He hopes to secure a job for which he is qualified in the
city, but is sadly disappointed when he is hired only temporarily at the Centre National
de Renseignements. Kimou realizes that the world is changing, but for his uncle Ahebe,
it is much worse than that:
Say rather that our world is headed for catastrophy. Watch out, my nephew. Be
careful in the city. Our independence is not the same as the Whiteman's
independence. The Whiteman's scandal is obvious. Anyone can see into it. But
we Africans, I tell you, we are black-hearted. We are always ready to step on the
next man to get by.41
In the end, Kimou does manage to write a letter to "Monsieur le President" asking
him to take action against corruption in the country before it is too late. Writing this
letter, however, will be the extent of his accomplishment in the text. In fact, one should
41 My Translation. Denis Oussou-Essui, Les Saisons s6ches (Paris: L'Harmnattan, 1979) 55.
not even consider Kimou as the main character or "hero" because he really does not
The author makes use ofanalepse at the beginning ofLes Saisons seches, which
reveals to the reader the events surrounding the death of Kimou's parents under
colonialism. In addition, he uses African traditional elements such as proverbs (p. 55)
and songs (p. 10), which highlight the oral quality of the narrative.42 Les Saisons seches
depicts a series of situations in 30 chapters. I am referring to situations because the novel
does not have a "plot," that is, in the traditional sense of the term. The author paints a
picture of the current social and political situation in independent Africa. Consequently,
the reader discovers that Africans have learned the ins and outs of the great political
game of the country, and as a result, corruption is the order of the day.
Kone's Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, is a powerful, heartfelt story that
can easily be read at one sitting. It begins with a brief message from the author, which
helps the reader to comprehend more clearly his intentions regarding the language used in
the text. Following Kone's message is a preface written by Jesus Kouassi Yoboue. In
the preface, Yoboue briefly comments on the unfortunate turn of events about to unfold
in the story and he also pays homage to Kond. Following Yoboud's remarks is a short
prelude to the novel. It sets up the narrative and provides a backdrop of daily life in the
The 96 page novel is then divided into 2 parts that are broken down into chapters.
There are 4 chapters in part 1, which is titled, Difficile Chemin vers la Quete du Savoir
42 Elements of oral literature, particularly concerning Kone's text, will be further discussed in the next
[A Difficult Path toward the Quest for Knowledge]. Part 2 consists of 5 chapters and is
titled, Le Peuple qu'on trait [The People they milk]. The chapters are narratively linked
and vary in length. The narrative structure takes the form of a series of episodes that
occur in either the village or the city, and are linked by key figures like Lassinan and
As far as characterization is concerned, Kone presents "types" as well as
developed characters in the novel. For example, there are the low-down, ruthless
scoundrels such as Habib, Doulaye, and Akafui; they are types of exploiters. There is
Fatouma, a mother who exemplifies the traditional role of African women. She has been
brought up to be submissive to males, especially her husband; nonetheless, she has the
important role ofcaregiver for the family. There is Bakary, a faithful friend who has not
forgotten about traditional African values, like respect, honesty, and hospitality. There
are also the fieldworkers, Mata and Drissa, and there is Mori Ba, the so-called "saintly"
marabout who is nothing but a hypocrite. As for the policemen, they are only "typical"
representations of instruments of oppression in society. The roles of characters such as
Mamadou, Tiefi, Shia, and Lassinan, are developed in the novel. In addition, Lassinan's
and Shia's roles further develop in Courses, volume two of Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros.
Now as husband and wife, they continue the struggle together in the hope that they will
be instrumental in raising the level of consciousness of the peasants, in helping them to
be fully aware of their exploitation and of the necessity to resist it.
Like Les Saisons seches, Traites is also a novel of situations; the book has no plot,
as Kone happened to say.43 Furthermore, it is a "recit-expos6" in which Kone unveils a
43 See interview question with Kone, Chapter 2, p. 56-"Can you situate your novel, Traites?"
gallery of portraits, or rather, characters. There are certainly a plethora of them in the
text and, thanks to the author's rendering of dialogue, they seem to come to life right
before the readers' eyes. Kone has told a convincing story in which he describes Africa's
peasant community and all the trials and tribulations it must endure in a corrupt society.
Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros is engaging, at times humorous, and altogether
straightforward. The story will no doubt elicit strong emotions in the reader who will
grasp the severity of the situation presented and will understand the need for a change.
The reader will, indeed, become aware of the socio-political atmosphere and economic
effects created by certain life conditions.
Kone's Use of Language in Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros
Reading Traites, one will discover that Kone does make use of a certain number
of African words and expressions; he seems to be one of those writers who are strongly
attached to their native languagess. As declared by the critic Georges N'Gal, "If one has
to look for a distinctive characteristic or feature of the African writer, it is because his
writing is shaped or enriched first of all by his mother tongue and then by other African
languages" (118). Throughout the narrative, Kone intentionally renders the exact African
words in either his mother tongue or any one of the other African languages he speaks.44
He does so because they cannot adequately be expressed in the French language. In
44 Kone speaks Senufo, his mother tongue, as well as Dyula, Malinke, Bambara, and a little Anyi. Kone
thinks in his native languages, but he also thinks and, above all, writes in French. There are references in
the text that the person behind the character is not Francophone. Old Mamadou, for instance, is one of
those characters: "He [the school director] was speaking in French and Mamadou could not understand
anything" (my translation; see chapter 4, p. 95). There are also instances where the characters speak in
French with occasional words from other languages: "He [Mamadou] said the prayer in his home. After
thefatiha, he mumbled things in Arabic that he didn't understand. Then, he finished the grievances in
Dyula" (my translation; see chapter 4, p. 90). Those characters who do speak French, such as Lassinan,
Shia, and the school director's wife, are able to communicate with the peasants in their African language.
They are even able to communicate for them in French, as is the case for Mamadou who, along with Shia,
must go to the city concerning his brother-in-law's wrongful arrest. Shia is the one who speaks to the City
Police Chief because "she understands city talk" (my translation; see chapter 5, p. 135).
addition, he chooses to translate the native words and expressions into French for the
reader. For example, on page 42 of Traites, the narrator relates: "II y avait encore le
mogoya, une grande consideration des relations humaines" [The mogoya was still there-
a great respect for human relationships]. Also in a footnote, Kone provides a definition
in French for the African word bangui, which means palm wine. The reader can
conclude that the French language does not fully communicate the African thought; the
author clearly seems to think so based on the fact that he supplies a translation or
definition in French for the African words. Kone retains the African words and simply
translates them in an effort to convey their meaning. From the examples mentioned
above, the reader acquires a meaning of two Malinke concepts known as mogoya and
One also finds this style of writing in other African texts written in French,
especially those written by authors from Kone's generation. For example, Tidiane Dem
(Masseni, 1977) writes the exact African words in his text. The author either translates
the word into French directly in the narrative-Matiguitie [Maitre]--or he uses a footnote
to explain what the term means-Sigisbee: cavalier servant d'une dame. Denis Oussou-
Essui (Les Saisons seches, 1979) also translates the words directly in the story-Yako!
Yako! Yako-o-o-o! [Courage! Courage! du Courage!]. Regina Yaou (Lezou Marie ou les
&cueils de la vie, 1982) uses footnotes to define certain African words in her novel-
Djantra: dame de petite vertu, jeune fille aux mceurs ldgeres. Kone and these authors
45 1 appreciate Amadou Kone's help with regards to supplying me with a reference to the specific language
(Malinke) for the African words, mogoya and bangui.
demonstrate in their respective works their ability to "Africanize" the French text by
using words from their own African languages.46
The "Africanness" ofKon6's Traites is not limited to African words. There are
various elements, for example, of oral tradition, which also reveal the "Africanness" of
his French text. The author's prose style is, indeed, reminiscent of African oral literature.
He includes elements which belong to traditional African folklore, such as proverbs,
repetition, and songs. With regards to proverbs, Ruth Finnegan, an expert on oral
literature, writes the following in her book, Oral Literature in Africa:
The exact definition of "proverb" is no easy matter. There is, however, some
general agreement as to what constitutes a proverb. It is a saying in more or less
fixed form marked by "shortness, sense, and salt" and distinguished by the
popular acceptance of the truth tersely expressed in it. (393)
The element of truth or self-evidence of proverbs enables proverbs to be believed as
truths. They have a persuasive force and, therefore, are often used to illustrate, explain or
argue a point.
In the following example taken from Traites, Mamadou uses a proverb to try and
convince the headmistress, Shia. Once Tiefi is released from prison, Mamadou explains
to Shia the family's difficult position concerning the struggle in the village. He
specifically makes use of a proverb to highlight the kind of action his son, Lassinan,
should take once he has told the truth about the evils of the post-independence society in
which his family and the other peasants live. He relates:
Lassinan always says the same thing too, but how can we fight? Yesterday, Tiefi
defended himself. He slept in jail. Without you, I don't know how many days he
would have spent there, nor how many francs I would have been forced to slip
46 Linguists call this device, "code-switching." Code-switching is "the alternating use of two or more
recognizably different language variants (varieties of the same language, or different languages) within the
same text." Sindor Hervey and Ian Higgins, Thinking Translation: A Course in Translation Method:
French to English (London; New York: Routledge, 1992) 248.
them into their hands. In the village, Lassinan has always struggled, but he
doesn't understand that the proverb says: "A sincere man buys a good horse to get
away when he has told the truth." So we always have problems. Finding him a
way out was quite a chore.47
Because of Lassinan, there are always problems. And Mamadou resorts to a proverb in
order to get this message across to Shia. Here, it is a short statement, as is the case for
most proverbs. The proverb also reflects Mamadou's inherent wisdom; indeed, the older
generation understands the importance of transferring wisdom through the use of
proverbs. But they are not the only elements found in Traites that are tied to oral
tradition. There are also several instances of repetition.
Kone repeats certain phrases or word groups in order to emphasize the importance
of some aspect in the narrative. For example, the author writes "les riches sont puissants
et ils se comprennent" [the rich are powerful and they understand each other] several
times to stress that the elite social class is in control of the present situation in which the
peasants find themselves. When Kon6 repeats "avec quelle bouche mange-t-on et avec
laquelle parle-t-on" [what mouth do we eat with and which one do we speak with], he is
trying to emphasize the importance of not speaking at the table when it comes time to eat.
In addition, one must respect both the food and those with whom the meal is taken
according to African custom. The subtitle of the book-Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros
[Under the Blakoros' Power]-is also repeated throughout the narrative. This important
word group acts as a constant reminder of the peasants' position in society; they need to
overcome the blakoro who are in power. Kon6 repeatedly calls to the peasants' attention
their social condition because he wants to create in them a desire for change. It is evident
that Kond's use of repetition helps him to enhance the oral-like qualities of the narrative.
47 My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation. Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 138.
Songs are an additional element that reveals how the narrative strategy of Traites
arises from the rich African oral traditions. For instance, whistling or singing songs
while laboring in the fields is very common, in spite of the strenuous work conditions:
At dawn, they covered themselves with ashes or some other unsavory powder to
protect themselves from the constant bite of red ants which some coffee trees
were packed with. And with basket in hand, they gathered precious fruits while
whistling love songs or work songs.
"Beautiful girl, wait for me.
When I have plenty of money
I will give you the greatest of dowries
Be patient, beautiful girl."48
Songs help the laborers, who work collectively in the field, to forget the worries and
sufferings of everyday life in the village. "It is a common pattern," according to Ruth
Finnegan, "for stories to be interrupted from time to time by a song" (244). She goes on
further to say that "sometimes these songs amount to quite long poems, and are then often
in recitative. Short verses are also very common [...]" (244). Altogether, songs give
rhythm and melody to the narrative and thus, further emphasize the oral-like quality of
the novel. Kon6 recalls his own linguistic and cultural heritage by using such elements as
songs, repetition, and proverbs. The novel Traites is a good example of a number of
African creative texts written in French that have been influenced by African oral
In an attempt to resolve the problem of rendering exactly his African ideas,
feelings, and thoughts in French, Kone decides to employ French words whose meanings
are contingent on the significations that these words have in his African language. In
Traites, for example, the word "soleil" appears eleven times. This is a prime illustration
of an expression that comes from an African language. When one reads the French,
41 My translation. See chapter 5, Exploitation, Under the Blakoros' Power, p. 152.
"meme sous ces soleils ofi le monde est A l'envers, "the word "soleil" obviously does not
mean "sun" here. It suggests rather the Malinke concept of "era, time, or period."
Readers of African literature are already familiar with the expression used by the C6te
d'Ivoire author, Ahmadou Kourouma, in his novel Les Soleils des Ind"pendances
(Gassama 81). On page 18 ofTraites, Kone also writes "L'ecole s'ouvre dans quinze
jours" [School opens in 15 days]. Because of the verb, one realizes that this is an
expression borrowed from an African language, particularly Dyula.49 In standard French,
one will usually see written "l'dcole commence" rather than "l'dcole s'ouvre." Kone has
obviously adopted French to the lexicon of certain African languages.
The language in Kone's text is also metaphoric. This is another element that
highlights the originality of his style. There are two particular instances in the novel
where this is evident. For example, the author writes: "le marabout avait fini lui-meme."
This is obviously the literal translation of a metaphor taken directly from one of Kone's
native languages; it signifies that the marabout has died. Another metaphor exists in
chapter 3, part 2 ofTraites. Kone writes: "Calmez-vous, intervint quelqu'un, refroidissez
vos coeurs." Here the metaphor, which has been taken from the author's African
language, makes reference to the temperament of certain individuals; they need to calm
themselves down and not get all worked up over a certain situation. Altogether, a look at
Kone's use of language in Traites reveals a distinctly African style of French prose to the
49Amadou Kond informed me of the African language from which this expression comes.
The Task of Translating Traites into English
I now discuss the choices made, as well as the problems encountered when
translating Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros. First of all, I am dealing with the
translation of a nonrelated language and culture (that is, African) with related languages
and cultures, particularly European and Anglo-American. The translation process is
certainly one of acculturation, and there are consequences to consider at all linguistic
levels, such as the translation of words, the rendering of syntax, and the coherence
between sentences. Obviously, I needed an effective approach to bring the text across in
the target language and culture.
As the translator of Amadou Kone's Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, I am
dealing with an African author who expresses "African thoughts" in French. According
to Paul Bandia, a scholar in the field of Translation Studies, this kind of process can be
referred to as the "primary level of translation, that is, the expression of African thought
in a European language by an African writer" (61). Moreover, I had the task of
translating the author's European language into Anglo-American. This is known as the
"secondary level of translation, i.e. the 'transfer' of African thought from one European
language to another by the translator" (61). Bandia calls the entire process a "double
transposition process." My goal in following this process was, of course, to produce a
reliable translation for English-speaking readers, always keeping in mind that I was
undertaking the translation of a French text with devices reminiscent of African oral
tradition into an Anglo-American text.
In my early attempts, my English translation turned out to be too close to the
original French. In order to respect Kone's individual style of writing, I went too far in
trying to follow his French, especially his word order and sentence structure.
Consequently, I produced a stilted English which did not reflect his tone and rhythms in
the French language. My own personal style in English was unusual since I retained too
much of the French structure. In order to capture Kone's rhythms and the orality of his
prose, I had to consider not only the "words," but also the discourse. In linguistics,
discourse serves as "the rough equivalent of speech, that is, language as actually used by
the speaker (parole), as opposed to language as a system of signs (langue)" (Makaryk
535).50 I discovered that I had to go from discourse to discourse in my English
translation and not from sign to sign, so that I could capture the nuances and rhythms of
the language articulated by Kon&. Henri Meschonnic explains the process best in his
book, Podtique du traduire:
You cannot continue to think any longer in usual terms of the sign. You do not
translate language (langue) anymore. Or in that case, you ignore discourse
(discours) and writing. You have to translate discourse and writing. Even the
In order to precisely render the discourse, I sought out 2 native English speakers with no
knowledge of the French language. They listened to the English text, and this exercise in
turn helped me to eliminate some of the instances where my French interfered with my
There does appear to be less punctuation in Kone's text. This initially led me to
add several marks of punctuation, particularly commas, to the rather long sentences
50 The terms "langue" and "parole" were introduced by the Swiss linguist, Ferdinand de Saussure, in order
to separate two of the meanings of the word language. Roughly speaking, "langue" is the language system
of a particular language community, while "parole" is speech, the way in which members of the community
actually use the system.
" My translation. Henri Meschonnic, Podtigue du traduire (Lagrasse: Verdier, 1999) 12.
written by the author. Ultimately, I decided to eliminate these commas which did not
appear in the original text because they broke the rhythm of Kone's sentences. Also,
there are many instances where Kon6 uses stressed pronouns and their respective subject
pronouns to emphasize the spoken language in the text; this is otherwise known as mise
en relief in French. In spoken language, emphasis can be expressed by intonation, pitch,
stress and even gesture, none of which is available to written expressions. Emphasis, or
mise en relief, allows one segment of an utterance to stand out. Thus, I had to choose the
best way to emphasize, for example, "Je mange avec le Prefet, moi" in written form.
One obvious way to translate the sentence would be: "Me, I eat with the Prefect."
However, this structure would be considered grammatically incorrect in English. I
looked at English translations from the French, notably the unpublished translation of
Jusqu'au seuil de l'irr6el [The Threshold of the unreal] by Mary Lee Martin-Kon6 to see
how she handled the grammatical point. Interestingly, Martin-Kon6 does not even keep
the emphasis in her English translation: "En tout cas, lui Karfa avait t6 accablW par les
coups d'une fortune hostile [...] [In any case, Karfa had been wracked by the blows of
hostile fortune.] (9). My example, "Je mange avec le Pr6fet, moi", can be translated two
different ways: "As for me, I eat with the Prefect" or "I eat with the Prefect" (italicized
subject). The reader will notice the latter form applied primarily throughout the English
The French indefinite pronoun "on" is also used throughout the French text. For
the most part, I translated the pronoun into English as either "one, they, we, or people,"
depending on the context. In Traites, the narrator tells the story but does not appear as a
character in the text. As we know, Gerard Genette names this kind of narrator
"hitirodiigitique." In Figures III, Genette makes a distinction between two different
types of narratives:
[...] one by a narrator who is not a character in the story he is recounting [...],
the other by a narrator who is present as a character in the story he is recounting
[...]. I call the first type, for obvious reasons, hitirodiegitique, and the second
However, in the first few sentences of the last chapter of part 2,1 felt that Kon6
wanted to introduce a narrator in the story when he used the pronoun "on." This led me
to translate the French "on" as "we" in the English text. In doing so, this collective
narrator becomes, in fact, a character like the peasants. Now, condemning the evils of the
independent African nation, the humiliations, economic exploitation, and administrative
corruption is their problem. They must pull together and work together as one group to
overcome the current aggressive capitalist system dominating their society.
I have, of course, retained all the African and Arabic words of the original text in
my English translation. The words, which have been translated into French by Kone, are
translated into standard English. For instance, "naforo, l'argent," becomes "naforo-
money" and "segues, des paniers ventrus," becomes "segues-balloon-shaped baskets."
This is also true for the names of characters and places. I do not change the orthography
of the proper names or names of places so that English readers can pronounce the words
more easily. Nor does Martin-Kon6, for that matter, in her unpublished translation of
Jusqu'au seuil de l'irrel. Adrian Adams, on the other hand, found the need to do just
that in his translation ofLes Soleils des Ind6pendances [The Suns of Independence]:
Doumbouya [Dumbuya]; Ticoura [Chekura]; le mont Tougbi [Mount Tugbe]. I want to
preserve the original words as they are, specifically because of their link to African
52 My translation. Gdrard Genette, Figures III (Paris: Seuil, 1972) 252.
culture. I have also included a helpful glossary of all the foreign words and indicated to
which languages they belong: thus balafon (Malinke), El Hadj (Arabic), to name a few.
"Traites" is perhaps the most difficult and yet most important word I had to
translate. The word itself has several meanings: trade, traffic, journey, transport,
exportation, draft, bill, milking (Larousse 1023). The word is present throughout the
narrative and is cleverly used in different contexts, which would indicate that it exploits
the different meanings. In my interview with Kon6, I expressed doubt as to whether one
could find a single translation for the word traites? He explains:
It is very ambiguous. I think you have to show all the nuances, so you cannot just
translate it with one word. You can think of it as the crop when the fruit is ripe
and ready to be sold, but it goes much further than that. It is also the exploitation
of the people or the people whom they milk, like a cow. (Interview 2002)
"Traites" appears in the story as "la traite du cafe" [coffee crop/trade]; "traire les
pauvres" [milk the poor]; and "tout d'une traite" [all in one breath]. Indeed, considering
the various meanings of the word traites, Kone's response, and the subject matter of the
novel has led me to translate the title of Amadou Kon6's narrative as Exploitation. Under
the Blakoros' Power.
Translating Amadou Kone's Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros was quite a
challenge. The process was difficult and I faced many problems. But the overall
experience was rewarding. The translation of Kon6's novel is important for me in that I
bring the sense of this source text into the new language, that being English, thereby
widening the readership of Francophone African Literature, and specifically literature
from C6te d'Ivoire. The English translation may even appeal to some potential
researchers who, otherwise, might have been hindered by the problem of language.
Therefore, both readership and scholarly interest in Kon6's novel will be expanded with
this translation. It is my hope that one day, Amadou Kond's Traites. Sous le pouvoir des
Blakoros will be discussed in African literature courses, especially since there are now an
increasing number of them being offered in universities throughout North America.
INTERVIEW WITH AMADOU KONI
Martin: Mr. Kone, I would like to begin by thanking you for having this interview
with me. Can you first of all tell me about your origins, your family life,
and your religion?53
Kone: My parents belonged to the Senufo ethnic group of northern Burkina Faso.
I, however, was born in the south of Burkina Faso, which was formerly
known as Upper Volta. Then we migrated to the southern part of Cote
d'Ivoire in the forest region. My parents were planters. They worked the
land in Burkina Faso and then moved down to C6te d'Ivoire where they
produced coffee and cocoa plantations. They were peasants. I had a very
simple childhood. During the first five or six years, I basically lived on a
farm until I was old enough to go to the school in another village. As for
religion, I am a Muslim; I come from a Muslim family. I give alms and I
also practice the religion, but I am not a fanatic. I have to say that C6te
d'Ivoire was, until a certain time, an interesting country from a religious
standpoint because there were maybe a few more Muslims than Christians,
the Christians being Catholic and Protestant. I believe the relationship
between Muslims and Christians was very interesting in C6te d'Ivoire
because there was no problem; one could not care less if you were this or
that, that is, until recently with political events. It has certainly changed.
Now, there is a kind of religious exploitation and ethnic groups are also
talking politics, which is becoming very dangerous.
Martin: What is your mother tongue?
Kone: It is Senufo. The Senufo people can be found in the south of Burkina
Faso, the north of COte d'Ivoire, and also in Mali. The Senufo ethnic
group has always lived a little with the Malinke people, so generally, they
also speak Malinke. In any case, Senufo is my mother tongue; it is the
African language I speak best. I speak Dyula, like most Senufo people,
but not all Dyula people speak Senufo. I also speak Malinke, Bambara,
and a little Anyi. The Anyi people belong to the Akan group found in
parts of C6te d'Ivoire. I speak Anyi because my parents settled in an area
where the Anyi people lived, in order to plant coffee and cocoa.
53 This interview was conducted on January 25, 2002, at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. I
interviewed Amadou Kone in English. He explained that his English language expression was not perfect,
therefore, he answered my questions in French. The interview was transcribed and, then, translated into
English. While I have faithfully transcribed and translated the interview, I have had to do some minor
Martin: And what percentage of the population, would you say, speaks your
Kone: French is, of course, the main language. However, if you consider those
who are in Burkina, in Mali, and in C6te d'Ivoire, there are maybe 30
million people who speak Senufo. But you have to understand that it is a
family of small languages that are quite different. For example, Tcerama
and Karaboro are distinct Senufo dialects. They have the same linguistic
structures and certain words are the same, but they are different. Senufo is
not just one language and not everyone understands it. It is a group of
dialects that resemble one another and which make up the Senufo
Martin: And of course you speak French and also English. Are there any other
languages you speak?
Kone: Yes, I speak a little German and Spanish.
Martin: Where did you learn the French language? Can you talk a little about that
Kone: I began to learn French in elementary school. My brother was a teacher
and I was in his class, so it was not a shock, strictly speaking. Learning
French was quite natural for me. I studied like everyone, like all the
Africans, in middle school, high school, and at the university. And since I
loved to read, I read in French and I began to write in French.
Martin: As for your educational background, you attended middle school in
Grand-Bassam and high school in Abidjan. Can you describe your life as
a high school student during Independence?
Kone: My high school life was very simple. When I was in high school, the
conditions in Africa were good. The country was stable, socially, and
those first years of Independence were exciting. Independence had just
been attained, colonization was over, and the future seemed altogether
positive. So the young people were happy. They knew that if they
worked hard, they would have a good job later on. So there was no
problem. The environment was completely different from today's where
young people find themselves in a really terrible situation. They have no
perspective, and truly neither goals nor prospects. But high school was
about work and friends; it was quite a pleasant life, which I described in
Les Frasques d'tbinto. The Abidjan High School was a boarding school.
You might have a different image of life at a boarding school, but it was
very pleasant there. It was simple; you get up, you study, you eat, you
play sports, and you have fun. That was high school life for me.
Martin: And then you went on to study at universities in Abidjan and France. You
studied literature and, specifically, you researched West African literature
as a Humboldt Fellow. Why did you decide to teach and do research on
Kone: That was a bit by chance. I did it only because I loved literature. I loved
to read and write ever since middle school. And then, naturally, I earned a
B.A., and later an M.A., etc. So one thing led to the next. This is actually
something I have not thought about. Maybe I regret it. I probably should
have done something else because teaching does not help me much with
my writing, and the research and literary analysis are different from
Martin: Why do you write?
Kone: I began writing at an early age but at a time when the colonial problems
had been resolved, at least from a legal standpoint. From the start, I did
not write to criticize or defend anything. I wrote tales and traditional
stories that I had heard during evening gatherings. I also invented stories
which attempted to describe my "vision of the world," "my experience." I
considered literature a game where the imagination took delight in
creating a universe where the writer was in charge. Then, I realized that
writing could not be a simple game, but rather a responsibility I had
towards my readers. From then on, I had to figure out a way to bring
together traditional African values and Western industrial values. I was
also concerned about the relations between people in present-day African
society. So I write to try to clarify the rules of the game. I write to
encourage the exploited to understand these rules and refuse all kinds of
abuses. However, just as I became aware that literature could not be a
game, I also realized that I had few answers to offer my readers.
Therefore, I had to ask myself the important questions that were of interest
to my country, my continent, and my world. And I continue to write
because of the pleasure I receive from expressing myself and liberating
myself from my obsessions. I write because it allows me to think
intensely about "privileged moments." Though I do not try to fool myself
about the power of literature, I also write because I believe that literature
has always contributed to making humanity more human.
Martin: When did you realize that writing was what you wanted to do?
Kone: Well, it just so happened that I have done it because it was fun, since
middle school or high school.
Does inspiration play an important role when your write? Is it necessary?
Kone: Yes, I think it is necessary. First of all, the word, inspiration, is difficult to
define. One can, however, consider it a force that puts you in a trance,
that is, you become inspired, you are a little outside of reality and it helps
you do things that you did not think about in reality. I think it is
important. If you do not have inspiration when writing a novel on a
certain subject, you end up writing a very dry novel. So it is necessary.
Martin: Which native languages have influenced your French, thus, your style of
writing, grammar, etc.?
Kone: Malinke and Dyula, more than Senufo.
Martin: Why is that? And why don't you write in Senufo?
Kone: Senufo is not a widely spoken language as it is only used by a small group
of people.54 I would have liked to write in Senufo because the images
would certainly be much more colorful than the ones I try to use or
express in the French language. But I do not write in my language
because I have a very small audience. As a matter of fact, the people can
read in French but are unable to read in Senufo because that is something
entirely different. They would have to be able to read and write in Senufo.
It is not easy.
Martin: What is your process when writing? Do you work with an outline or
Kone: It is very eclectic, that is, I do not have just one way of writing. It depends
on the topic. For certain topics, I do not make an outline. For example, I
get inspired and begin writing. That inspiration pushes me, one thing
leads to the next, and the story develops. And, then, I can make an outline
for other subjects, but once I begin writing, it turns out to be different from
the original. So it depends on the subject and on the moment.
Martin: Have you already thought about the kinds of characters and their roles
before you write or are your characters developed as you are writing?
Kone: I think about the main characters. That is important because they lead the
action. I generally know what a certain character symbolizes and, often,
the whole society develops around these main characters. So you do need
a minimum of such characters. As for the others, you can add them later
to enhance the protagonists.
Martin: How would you define the role of a writer, in particular one from an
54 Here, Kone is obviously referring to a small group of people in C6te d'Ivoire.
Kone: A writer has to describe his society and understand social problems. I do
not think a writer can solve the problems. However, he can at least
present them in such a way that those who are capable of solving them
may think about these problems and attempt to solve them. But when you
imagine it this way, you are led to think a little more on political
questions. Writing is a kind of fake action because, on the one hand, you
have action, and on the other, you have writing, and the two must come
together to be truly effective. In the past, I thought a writer did not have to
commit himself politically; I thought it would be enough if he simply
wrote, but now, perhaps I think differently.
Martin: Which authors do you feel have influenced you the most?
Kone: In the beginning, I read French literature practically until I got to the
university. So I was obviously influenced by this literature, the romantic
writing, and authors like Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand. I was
particularly interested in Andre Malraux when I began to read twentieth
century literature. I was drawn to his writing because of the type of
heroism he described in the Orient, which was the setting for these books.
He described an awakening of the Orient with a certain nationalism that
was developing there, which made me think a little of Africa. But,
obviously, African and Caribbean literatures have influenced me. Among
those writers, I think Aimd CUsaire has influenced me. Although I do not
share his style of writing, I think he is a very important writer. I am a
great admirer of Birago Diop and of Leopold Sedar Senghor's poetry,
which is different from CUsaire's. All of these writers have had an
influence on me in one way or another because they have shaped my
literary taste. But my taste in writing is obviously quite eclectic. I must
say though that Ahmadou Kourouma's influence is the determining factor.
I think he has succeeded at something on the level of language, but not
just the level of language. When you know African culture at the level of
expressing the culture, that is something extraordinary. Thanks to the
Africanized French language, Kourouma succeeds more than anyone in
translating African culture in the most expressive way. The one who
knows this culture and how it is expressed in African languages sees how
Kourouma plays on reality and the two languages, that is, African and
French. I am not a big fan of his latest novel, but a novel, such as Monn6.
outrages et defis, I find to be very important. So I am interested in
Martin: Where do you place yourself in the context of West African literature?
Where does your fiction fit in Francophone African literature?
Kone: I must say that my attitude vis-a-vis writing is a very personal and
individualistic attitude. I write about things that I enjoy and that interest
me. I am not concerned about placing myself in a movement or placing
myself here or there. And criticism has no affect on me. That is why I
write what pleases me and in a way that pleases me.
Martin: Among the literary genres, the novel and theater seem to be of more
interest to you. Why are you fascinated by these two genres?
Kone: Theater seems to be a genre that touches the audience more than the novel
because it is performed in public. The audience takes it in and there really
is not much distance between it and the stage. The ideas are immediately
conveyed to the spectators who, in a way, react together. In my opinion, it
is a method of consumption that is effective. If you want to talk about
society, theater is much more effective than the novel. I think the novel is
not as effective because it is received individually-you are alone, you
read your novel, you are happy or you are sad. It is difficult to share this
with someone else. Even if that person reads the novel, he or she will
perhaps feel something different.
Martin: What kind of reaction have you gotten regarding your books, specifically
Traites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros?
Kone: I think the reaction has been quite positive, but it depends on which book.
For example, Les Frasques d'Ebinto has sold very well and the book is in
high schools all over Africa, like C6te d'Ivoire, the Congo, and Guinea.
The plays have also gotten a good response. Traites and Courses won the
Senghor prize at the same time, so they were well received by the public.
Yes, it is true, there was some criticism of Traites. Critics thought the
novel was too short and that I had held back from making it much longer.
It is true, but that is what I wanted because the plan, when I wrote Traites,
was to get the people who are concerned over these problems, that is, the
peasants themselves, to read the text. If they were more or less literate,
they should be able to read these books and understand them. That is why
Traites is written the way it is written. So the fact that I wished to appeal
to a certain readership generated criticism of the novel.
Martin: What other kinds of criticism have you received in Africa?
Kone: Some say that I deal with too many social problems in the novel and that I
need to abandon or forget the problems a little and write a novel where
one can dream. The kind of criticism received will depend on the novels,
the people, and the plans. And perhaps that is the problem. I do not write
for critics. I write what I enjoy writing.
Martin: Lilyan Kesteloot considers you as one author of the "regional" novel. She
writes that this novel is "more deeply rooted in a particular locality and a
specifically rural one which aims at an in-depth exploration of the peasant
mind, and at times takes over from ethnology. Its preoccupations are
limited to the village level and it stands aloof from national or
international politics. It is written in a sober, very controlled, often
classical prose. Its object is to conjure up the 'Africa of the bush'
confronting itself."55 Do you agree with her?
Kone: Critics distinguish between the regional novel and the Parisian novel. But
what is a regional novel? If you write about a small region near Bordeaux,
are you writing a regional novel? This is not my definition; this means
nothing. I agree that the book describes a particular locality, though it is
not as specific as it could be. I think the problems described in these
books are the same for all regions where, for example, coffee is grown,
such as regions of the forest in Africa, in Cameroon, and the Congo. So
the book is not as locally defined as that. This is always the problem with
French critical expressions like "regional novel."
Martin: How do you feel about translations?
Kone: I do not have a problem with translations. For example, I have read
Russian literature, which I like, in French. In the beginning, I read
American novels in French. Therefore, it seems to me that translations are
necessary. When I was in high school, I would read tales by Edgar Allan
Poe, but in French. So I think translations are necessary to reach a wider
Martin: You have said that your wife has translated a few of your books into
English, but that they have not yet been published. Which books has she
translated? A gentleman was also in the process of translating Les
Frasques d'Ebinto. Has that translation been completed? Published?
Kone: My wife has not finished translating Les Coupeurs de tetes. It is too bad
because there were publishing houses that wanted to print the text. But so
far, she has not finished. Jusqu'au seuil de l'irreel was translated a long
time ago, but probably because of my carelessness, we did not really look
for a publisher because I would always say to myself, "no, I am going to
write better books later on." So I do not know if this was a good strategy,
but that is what I did. And as for the young man who translated Les
Frasques d'Ebinto, he did, but it has not been published yet; we have to
find a publisher. Two of my plays have also been translated into English,
but not published: De la chaire au tr6ne (Mary Lee Martin-Kond) and Les
Canaris sont vides [The Bins are empty] (Armand Falk). So we have all
these texts that are translated but not published. Perhaps we will begin
with your translation.
55 Lilyan Kesteloot, "Turning Point in the Francophone/African Novel: The Eighties to the Nineties," New
Trends and Generations in African Literature, eds. Eldred Jones and Marjorie Jones (Trenton: Africa World
Press, 1996) 10.
Martin: Have any of your books been translated into African languages?
Kone: There are no written translations of my books in African languages.
However, the play, Le Respect des morts, has been orally translated. One
year, in the Anyi village where a particular scene takes place, young
students performed the play in the village language. So all the old people
came to hear the language. It was very nice.
Martin: French is the official language of C6te d'Ivoire, but dozens of African
languages are also spoken there. I've read that Bambara, Malinke, and
Dyula are all dialects of the Mande language. How closely related are
these languages? And Malinke is often called Dyula. Is that right?
Kone: Yes, they are pretty much the same language with a few variations in tone
and accent. Dyula is the popular Malinke; it is for popular use, for
commercial use. It was the language spoken by shopkeepers all
throughout West Africa before Independence and everyone easily
understood it. Dyula is really the simplified form of Bambara and
Martin: This is interesting because Dyula is the particular African language you
mention in Traites. But you also include Arabic in the text. What is the
role of this language?
Kone: Dyula is often mentioned in the text because before French, that was the
language you spoke in the market place and everyone could understand
the language. Yes, there are at times Arabic words in the text that are
uniquely spontaneous expressions that we say under certain
circumstances. That does not mean that the one saying those words
understands Arabic. Maybe it is just a reflection of the society in which I
live. If someone is happy, or if someone thinks he has done something
good, I, in the text, often say, alihamdoulilahi. They are just words that
appear spontaneously. For example, if you are surprised, you say Allah
akbar, which is an exclamation; you are surprised to the point where you
say God's name.
Martin: So most of the words in Traites are in Dyula or Malinke?
Kone: Yes, like the word bangui. That is a Malinke word. "Gui" means water,
and bangui is the water from a palm tree; it is palm wine. Allahyi en d
mbN is also Malinke. It can be translated as "May Allah help us." BOlkk,
which means plantain or boiled cassava, is a Dyula word. So it is a
mixture of Malinke or Dyula. But, assalam alekoum, alekoum salam, is
Can you situate your novel, Traites, Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros?
Kone: In fact, I do not think the novel has much of a plot. It is not a novel that
has a plot like Les Coupeurs de t&tes. In some ways, Traites is a novel of
scenes. What is important is the description of a situation, the different
approaches to a situation, and the behavior of key characters who are tied
to that situation, characters like Lassinan, Mamadou, etc.
Martin: Traites is set in Bambara society. Can you tell me more about this African
Kone: I try to describe a society of peasants, and not only Bambara peasants; it is
a melange of people. It just so happens that the characters whom I talk
about are Bambara and Anyi peasants, as well as peasants from other
ethnic groups. The book is a kind of autopsy of a society of exploited
people who do not have the education to understand the workings of that
society. That is their biggest problem. And it won't help to just simply
defend this group of people. Eventually, they need to be educated and,
then, they will be able to defend themselves. Lassinan's and Shia's status
as teachers is very important. They not only have the job of teaching
children, but they also have to educate this class of peasants.
Martin: I think it is important that you have mentioned Shia, one of the women
characters in the text. How would you describe the role of women in your
Kone: They have a very important role. From Les Frasques d'Ibinto to the latest
novel, women have always been important in my texts. They are not
simply spectators. They are actresses and, at times, essential ones. The
roles played by women are really important, even in Traites where few
women are present. I think women are not neglected in what I write.
Martin: Do you believe that Shia's role and the way she expresses herself, or
rather the way you make her express herself, presents the freest expression
of feminine discourse in C6te d'Ivoire literature?
Kone: I would have to say yes to that question. I do not know if it is just in
literature, but in reality, women have always been, even in the struggle for
Independence, the most aggressive pursuers of freedom. They fought,
they were not afraid of being imprisoned and, strangely enough, they are a
great expression of freedom in Africa, no matter what people say. There
are texts that portray women as the obedient ones in society, but in certain
situations, they show their capacity to be liberated and to speak freely. So
yes, I do believe that Shia's role clearly represents modem women in
Martin: Was there any particular reason why you used different French words to
describe the same kind of woman in Traites? For example, you write:
"des filles de petite vertu, des filles de rue, des courtisanes, des femmes de
petite vertu, des filles publiques."
Kone: First of all, I must say that the word blakoro mostly represents a category
of people. The word translates into these people's total lack of education.
A blakoro is a child. He is the one who has not been initiated. He is the
one who is truly not capable of speaking before an audience and who does
not have the right to speak, for that matter. It is interesting that these
blakoro people now run the society. Such a state of affairs is backward
and that explains why we have problems. But the feminine word that
would correspond to blakoro and that would characterize this type of
woman does not exist. It does not exist in reality, and this is very
interesting, even in the African language. A blakoro is certainly a man, a
boy, but there is no word for a woman. That is why I borrow all these
French words which mean just about the same thing.
Martin: Do you express a certain opinion here of what education is all about? Can
you explain exactly what "education" means for you?
Kone: In the context of Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros, education does not just
mean attending a French school. It is also the knowledge of African
culture in which an important part of society functions. One can be very
educated without having gone to a French school. On the other hand, one
can be educated at a French school and not know African culture.
Martin: Blakoroya and mogoya are two very important Malinke terms that appear
in Traites. Can you explain what they mean?
Kone: Blakoroya is the idea. It explains the behavior of a blakoro and this
behavior is not centered on human interests or values, in other words, the
mogoya. Mogoya refers to humanism. It is the act of being human. It is
the respect for all those ancestral values and blakoroya is the opposite.
Martin: Is it possible to find one translation for the word, "traites"?
Kone: It is very ambiguous. I think you have to show all the nuances, so you
cannot just translate it with one word. You can think of it as the crop
when the fruit is ripe and ready to be sold, but it goes much further than
that. It is also the exploitation of the people or the people whom they
milk, like a cow.
What is the function of Islam in the novel?
Kone: Actually, there is not much, except that most of the people described are
Muslims. In the book, I do criticize the religious leaders, especially one
marabout who flees, but I do not criticize Islam. I criticize these people
because they have always gotten on my nerves, although I am Muslim.
These religious leaders behave in a certain way. You listen to what they
say, which is very proper, very strict, very this, very that, and then you
observe what they do which is quite often the opposite of what they say.
So, when I was a child, this contradiction and seeing these people would
always shock me. In fact, if there is one problem with Islam in the novel,
this would have to be it. There is a contradiction between the values
professed by the religious leaders, not by the people who follow them, and
then the failure of those who profess these values to respect them.
Martin: What is the significance of "Cocody, decembre 1972" found on the last
page ofTraites, Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros? You also do the same at
the end of your other novels like Jusqu'au seuil de l'irreel (Ayame, 4
septembre 1969), Les Frasques d'lbinto (Ayame, 25 aofit 1970), and
Courses. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros (Lagrasse, septembre 1975).
Kone: These novels are often written over a long period of time. This is actually
a kind of definitive date where I tell myself that I am not going to touch
that novel anymore. So I know it is finished at a certain time. If not, I
would never finish. As long as the book has not gone to the publisher, you
can always continue working on it. So these dates mark the end.
Martin: There is some confusion surrounding the third volume of your series. I
read that Fuites. Sous le pouvoir des Blakoros was published in 1989, but
that your latest novel, published in 1997 and entitled Les Coupeurs de
t&tes, was the third volume. Can you clarify all this for me?
Kone: In fact, Fuites has not been published, at least not under that name. I had
planned on writing the book. The first 2 volumes were to be followed by a
third called Fuites. But I did not write it. And then, later, I wrote Les
Coupeurs de tetes. But at the last minute, right up until Les Coupeurs was
published, I hesitated; I thought I could make Les Coupeurs the third
volume. In the last analysis though, it did not become the third volume.
There is a small trace in the novel that might make someone say that it is
indeed the third volume because of one character, Abou, who is the main
character in Courses. You find him in Les Coupeurs de tetes, but only a
little. You do not see him, but he is discussed. So he is really the only tie
between those two volumes.
Martin: Do you discuss your own books in the classroom, that is, are they a part
of the required reading?
No, but this semester I am going to do so.
Martin: Which books?
Kone: The plays, because they deal with the place of tradition and modernism.
And I think the two plays, De la chaire au tr6ne and Le Respect des morts,
treat best this problem. So we are going to read them, along with other
books, of course.
Martin: Do you think it is important for a young scholar to interview the writer
whose work he or she is studying?
Kone: Yes, I think it is important. It is always important, in my opinion, when
the author is still alive to ask him or her questions. When the author is
dead, you make what you want of the texts. But if you can sit down with
the author for an interview, you can verify your hypotheses. The
interview can help you clarify certain things that you did not think about.
I do the same thing. If I write about Kourouma, I look forward to being
able to meet with him in order to ask questions. So it seems very useful to
Martin: What are your plans? Do you have any works in progress?
Kone: Always. I have a novel that will be out in a short time called L'(Eufdu
monde, and L'(Eufdu monde is a myth.
Martin: Where will you publish this book?
Kone: CEDA, always. That is because my audience is in Africa. My books are
mostly read there. I have an audience, so I only publish there. And then,
after that, I am thinking about writing a novel that will be much, much
more extensive and that will be more desirable in the public's eyes. It will
probably be a story that takes place in Africa or America. Since I now live
here, I have to exploit the situation, but this is still in the beginning stages.
Martin: In conclusion, where do you see the future of Francophone African
Kon6: I think people will continue to see more and more Francophone literature.
You never know. Perhaps Africans are going to begin writing in their
languages because, obviously, French institutions had, as a goal to
extinguish African languages and force the African, as usual, to write in
French. But maybe with globalization, the French feel the weight of
American culture. Since they are struggling with that, they are becoming
more and more aware that the African must also protest French culture's
need for domination. For example, this year or next year in C6te d'Ivoire,
they are going to begin teaching African languages in school. They have
not done this in forty years, since Independence, but they are beginning
now, and if it works well, other countries will follow. Who knows?
Maybe in 10, 20 or 50 years, we will go back to a national language and
those people who will be instructed in that language will be able to read.
That is the problem now. People cannot read the African languages. They
do study the languages in institutes of linguistics, but ultimately, people
need to learn to read and write them; they need to learn to read and write
Senufo. So this is interesting. In fact, it is not too late. It is possible to
bring back these languages, at least the more prominent African
languages, but not all of them because the less prominent ones are, no
doubt, going to die out. But the more prominent languages will come
back, and maybe one day, there will truly be an African literature.56
56 Kond is referring to Dyula (Malinke/Bambara), Akan, Senufo, and Bete as "the more prominent" African
languages in CMte d'Ivoire that will come back.
For YAHAYA, my quiet and gentle mother.
For some readers
Just as every theme must influence the writing of the novel, every context must
likewise determine the language used by the novelist. Of course, this problem is more
complex in Africa. At any rate, it explains the difference in tone between Exploitation
and the author's other works. The implicit narrator, not to be confused with the author,
and the characters apply here a language adopted to their setting.
This book is a cry.
The cry of a blakoro who has always maintained very solid ties with the people.
It is also, and especially, an autopsy; the autopsy of a degenerate society in which
corruption has been institutionalized.
It is an acknowledgment of the failure of a liberation in which people had put too
For the colonized, bastardized, scorned, and starving African people, the end of
the long colonial night and the coming of independence was supposed to constitute the
beginning of a new era marked by the rehabilitation of values denied until then. Alas!
Alas three times! It did not take into account that other race of abusive starvers created
by colonization and coming forth from the very womb of Africans. The hope, born on
the eve of liberation, was as great as the disappointment, afterwards, was immense.
The disappointed people assert a bitterness that Amadou Kone reveals to us. He
traces for us the people's exploitation in a manner that sometimes is meant to be lax or
casual. But, let's not be fooled. Amadou Kon6 has chosen a subject that is so delicate, so
tragic, that only a tone of voice like the one he uses can allow him to speak of it without
In fact, don't we feel like crying when we see the male nurse refusing to take care
of a child on his deathbed just because they did not "grease his palm?" What other
feeling do we have for El Had] Doulaye who, underneath his devout airs, is nothing but a
despicable exploiter? And what about Habib and Mori Ba? And...
In the presence of all these characters, I experience a disgusting shudder and a
revolting feeling. Disgusting shudder and revolting feeling born from the fact that
ancestral values, like the mogoya, that immense respect for human relations, dignity,
decency, and honesty, are scorned by the very sons of those values.
Thus, we witness in so-called modern Africa, the reign of the ones Amadou Kon6
calls blakoros. In Bambara society, the blakoro is a young boy not yet circumcised. He
is therefore the young man who has not yet been initiated into real life. He does not have
the right to speak out: he is not yet a man. Yet the disruption of colonization and
independence put power back into the hands of the blakoros. Denying traditional values
under the influence of Western rulers without having mastered, for that matter, the values
brought to them from Europe, the blakoros establish a bastardized society by the
widespread imposition of the blakoroya, which is no longer a temporary condition.
In this decaying universe that emits fetid odors, the characters of Lassinan and the
headmistress are genuine models. They are there to explain to the people the new system
of which the people are the victims. They are trying to teach them a means of resistance.
Undoubtedly, the author of this narrative knows these people. He knows their
grief. He has remained attentive to the beating pulse of these people. And he also
deserves our admiration because, despite the "decaying carcass," he believes in the Africa
of tomorrow. He believes in crushing that race of jackals who rip out the country's guts.
What a beautiful example of faith!
Amadou Kone's faith proceeds to cast a balm on my helpless heart. I was among
those who, faced with the death of our values, had lost all hope of seeing Africans play an
important role in tomorrow's world. But Kone's narrative has come in time to rescue me
from my desolation and my uneasiness. He shows, if only tacitly, that Africa can still get
back on her feet.
If you are a profiteer, an abusive starver of men, close this book immediately for
it will jostle you into your stuffed armchair, it will make you miserable. But if, like me,
you are a starved individual, read it. Perhaps it will help you, perhaps it will be of use to
you like the luminous torch of hope that had momentarily flown away.
At a time when Africa, for so long kept in the dark, submits its candidature to be a
continent of purity and salvation, it is essential that she rid herself of her shortcomings.
Especially when one knows that these shortcomings are imported goods.
That is why the African author, spokesman of his community, must face up to his
responsibilities, that is, he must denounce all forms of abuse, whoever the perpetrators
may be and whatever origin they may have.
Confronted with all this, Amadou Kon6 has not failed. His narrative denounces
and indicts those men who, uniquely for their own interests, are ready to squeeze the
people until they are bone dry. It also denounces and indicts the accomplices of all these
It is this attitude that gives the author his strength and his power. Amadou Kone
is a responsible writer. He is not one of those who, owing to some morbid instinct, are
anchored in black pessimism. Nor does he belong to the race of unconscious people
swimming in blissful optimism. He is lucid, "a lucid visionary," as he happened to say
This book raises questions and tries to propose solutions. It is certainly not an
essay. Is it perhaps a poetic novel in which the author paints with emotion and sensitivity
an African milieu that he knows perfectly well because he lives in it? The author says it
is a tale. Perhaps. A tale where the French language itself has been fashioned to depict
the African reality of a country that does not need a name and whose capital is
As for myself, I salute in Amadou Kond the African youth who, in post-
independent times, feel fully conscious and responsible. I hail him as the one who alerts
the conscience of African masses wronged, fooled, robbed, emptied of their substance.
And I admire his lucidity and his boldness.
Jesus Kouassi Yobou6.
Journalist at the R.T.I.
At dawn, even before the second cock's crow, the old muezzin would sing the
azan in front of the small, gray-walled mosque with the rusted sheet metal roof. At the
third call, confused and whitish figures in the half-light of dawn were trotting along
towards the mosque to take part in the morning prayer; the fourth call was the last and
right afterwards, the believers would stand up on their carpet or their sheepskin, turn
towards the east, and would drop their prayer beads loudly to their feet.
Then began the prayer. The singsong voice of the imam was piercing the early
silence and penetrating the meditative believers. Everyone was drawn to Allah-God. At
that moment, they could truly see that Allah was up there. They felt his presence and
totally accepted the idea that paradise was opened to all men-even to the poor-and that
here below, the men were just passing.
The imam would sing, "Allaho akbar." And together, the faithful people would
fervently resume this cry, a magic balm that used to calm the pain of the heart-in any
case for a moment: "Allaho akbar-Allah is great." Thus began the morning greeting to
the Most High.
Once thefatiha was let out, the imam would mumble in Arabic and Dyula an
entire string of wishes and blessings that counted just as much for this earthly world as
for the other: paradise. "Allahyi sini di en ma, Allahyi en di mbN, Allah ka nan en
malo!-God give us tomorrow, God help us, God protect us from shame!-Amina," the
holy people answered. Once the prayer was over, they could then greet each other. And
they returned home.
In the yards, women had been up for a long time. They had already made several
trips to the small river to draw the water of the day. They had swept the yard, washed the
children, and prepared breakfast. They ate very early, right with the sunrise and then...
And then life continued.
The men would conscientiously file their machetes, loudly whistle for their dogs,
then, by small groups, pour into the coffee and cocoa plantations. This was done in order
to remove the weeds tangled under the precious bushes or to cut them back. Or still, men
disappeared well into the forest to cut the rattan cane and the bamboo necessary for the
preparation of the mats serving to dry the coffee or the cocoa beans.
That existence, which varied only with the seasons, was a process of constant
renewal with the passing years. People, however, did not have time to be bored. They
were living under a power that old Mamadou called, "the power of the blakoros and the
girls of easy virtue." Everything seemed dissolute. Mercilessly, there reigned the civil
servants, rich city merchants, and village usurers, the prophets of little influence. And the
life of the peasants was without order, a life aimed at a little bit of happiness, but a life
riddled with complications springing up from the slightest thing. Oh! This life subjected
haphazardly to the mood of the powerful! Yes, those people were forever hoping for
better tomorrows, but the days were always disappointing them. They were living from
one coffee crop57 to the next, at the two poles of the year, with a lot of hope and certain
risks of disillusion.
57 Here, the word "traite" appears for the first time in the text; in fact, the word appears throughout the text.
See my interview with Kone for an explanation.
PART ONE: A DIFFICULT PATH
TOWARD THE QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE
Just as for any other meal, the entire family would eat breakfast together under the
shed in the middle of the yard. It was some black coffee and a little bMlkk--plantain or
cassava. Also at times, they would eat the leftovers from the evening that one had taken
care to reheat and preserve carefully. Food is a sacred thing and the one who enjoys
wasting it is an irresponsible person. Breakfast was eaten rather in silence, as were all the
other meals. Let us respect those with whom we eat, let us respect the food we eat. What
mouth do we eat with and which one do we speak with!
Even under these suns where the world was upside down, old Mamadou wanted
the meal to remain a ritual. As in the past. And old Mamadou cared about his children's
education, especially under these suns of the blakoros and prostitutes. It was not because
he was poor that he was supposed to have children as insolent as baby goats. And during
the meal, the old man would see to it that his three youngest children had, as a sign of
respect for the old, their left hand placed on the edge of the main dish. But Mamadou's
will to make real men of his children-oh, how many real men are there still in this
world!-went beyond that. Children are links. Any man who fears Allah-and one must
fear Allah-has to fulfil his duties towards them. Mamadou dedicated himself entirely to
them, even if it meant not being able to give free rein to the great dream that obsessed
Breakfast was over.
"When do you leave, Lassinan?"
Old Mamadou's tone of voice was almost indifferent. Nevertheless, one could
detect there a hint of seriousness, even anguish.
"School opens in fifteen days," replied Lassinan.
"Already!" his uncle Tiefi exclaimed.
Lassinan was a calm boy, too calm even, people said. His self-control bordered
on indifference. But behind that placidness was a mind in constant movement. Lassinan
observed his father who, staring into space, seemed to have forgotten that he had just
asked a question. He also took a quick glance at his two younger brothers. The news of
the return to school had given Issa the chills; about ten years old, he was going into the
fourth grade. On the other hand, Abou's eyes were sparkling with joy. He was six years
old and was to go to school this year only. Two weeks from now, a good-looking khaki
suit, brand-new shoes and off to discover the wonders of school life! Abou was so
excited that he had not been able to sleep for a month. In fact, Issa thought, he truly had
no idea what school was all about.
"I'm going to lose a half month's work," old Mamadou finally sighed. "And to
think of those laborers today who can no longer bend down... They remain standing,
damage the grass and claim to having cleared the field. One has to keep an eye on them
so that the work is done correctly."
"I wanted to begin preparing the mats for the upcoming drying of the coffee
beans. But since you will be busy with the children's return to school, I will work with
the laborers," Tiefi said. "If Sould were here, that would have simplified things."
There was a hush. Old Mamadou turned towards Lassinan.
"What are we going to do about Issa?"
"There is only the third grade here in the village. I believe we'll have to send him
to the city. We have to find him a space at the city school, and also a good tutor,
someone who won't turn him into a houseboy."
"It appears that you also insist on putting Abou in school?"
"Yes, Ti6fi, he has to go to school. For him, there is no problem. We can enroll
"No problem! With our civil servants, there are always problems," old Mamadou
hollered. "Too many problems! Not even the ones we had when the white man ordered
us around. At your age, there are things that you should understand. You insist that
Abou also go to school. Agreed. But you do not seem to think about the difficulties I
have. Abou is more useful to me here than in their school."
"When I say that he has to leave for school, I am only thinking about his future."
His tone of voice was as calm as usual. He wanted to say a lot of things, explain
the situation. But solely out of respect for his father, he could accept being wrong here
whereas, with other people, he would have easily shown that he was indeed right. He
knew that a man was not supposed to behave in this manner. But his very strict Muslim
upbringing had taught him that a father did not have the right to be wrong.
"I too think about your future," continued old Mamadou. "If not, do you believe I
would kill myself at my age in the field? Well, ifyou were at home, you would be very
useful. But you have been there, at their school, for how long?"
"Eleven years! Do you realize! And besides, you are always over there, always.
And I will have to take care of your younger brothers for eleven years more before they
wind up where you are. Eleven years of a job that brings back nothing. If you had stayed
home, you would have surely plowed fields that would produce right now.
"Lassinan, the days are going by and I am tired."
He regretted that the conversation had come to that. He knew his son well-a
very sensitive boy who quickly grasped all the allusions. He was sorry for having spoken
in such a way.
"One day, I hope to be useful to you, baba," Lassinan said. "With Allah's help
and your blessings. The world is changing too quickly and one does not often have the
strength to follow its changes. That is why Abou must leave for school. We don't know
what tomorrow has in store for us and if you don't send him to school, one day he will go
to your grave to accuse you of having made him a failed man. He will accuse you and he
will accuse me as well. I simply want us to give him his chance."
"If only you had begun to help me..."
Lassinan sighed. Abou looked at him with worried eyes, imploring eyes almost.
Perhaps he grasped vaguely that his life was hanging in the balance there, that morning,
between a father crushed by financial difficulties and an older brother, lucid but
powerless... Perhaps he was simply reducing the drama to a playroom to which his
father forbade him access.
"I cannot help you, baba. Not now. One day, God willing, you will forget your
sufferings. But right now, it's not possible. They don't pay us at the lycee. We have just
a small scholarship that covers room and board."
Old Mamadou calmed down. Perhaps simply because his son was bringing Allah
into the conversation. That "God willing," was Lassinan saying it out of pure habit of
having heard it since his childhood, or did he really think that Allah was guiding him in
life? Indeed, that was a question the father often asked himself about a son who was
troubling him. What disconcerted the old man about Lassinan's character was that self-
control. These suns were the ones by which the son, hardly knowing how to wear the
pants in the family and how to read the letter "a" spoke out loud in front of his father and
insulted his mother. Lassinan had always spoken in an even tone. Never a word too
many nor too loud. He compelled respect with his level-headed and well-thought-out
attitude. This was a boy one could not help but respect.
"As you wish Lassinan," Mamadou surrendered. "Allah willing, Abou will go to
school and Allah willing, we will survive."
"The schoolmasters are going to hit his fat head," teased Tiefi.
"Do schoolmasters hit the children now? They see to it that the parents are hit in
another way. No, school is no longer like it was in the old days when the headmasters
went to the most remote areas to take the children and forced them to enroll in school.
Now, they refuse to take the children and then for that matter, what do the schoolmasters
teach them? To tell you the truth, school is not the same anymore. Only one more way
of 'milking' the poor.
"And it's not only here in the village, because over there, in Blakorodougou..."
Tiefi always spoke of Blakorodougou. The capital, Blakorodougou, had been his
life for nearly forty years. He could not say two words without comparing the capital to
"Over there," he continued, "only the rich send their children to school. The
child's registration already costs too much money. Of course, school is free, but... And
then, the tips here and there, the supplies to be bought..."
"All we have left to do now is go to the field," old Mamadou said.
"The farming civil servants are supposed to arrive today," Tiefi mentioned. "Last
time, they said they would be coming today to take a look at the young plants."
"Good, then Lassinan, you will stay home. And you will drive them to the new
cocoa tree plantation when they arrive. Oh! We must make them something; they will
have to eat when they get back from the field. But what are we going to cook for them?
These are civil servants; they cannot eat the same things as us. Where am I going to find
a fat rooster or a plump chicken'?"
"Why wouldn't they eat what we eat? Do you believe, baba, that at their home, at
their parents' home, these civil servants eat a rooster at each of meal?"
"Well, my child, that is the way we welcome them. To make sure that their work
on their plantation is better than somewhere else, some well-to-do people welcome them
even with a really fat sheep. They've gotten them used to that; and us poor people suffer
"Also in Blakorodougou," Tiefi continued, "the thing exists. So that the civil
servants will quickly fill out a form we need, it's necessary to adjossi-grease their palm.
The rich created the custom and the poor have to follow. Only the rich always have the
advantage; the poor, they lose without a doubt."
"Over there, in Blakorodougou, the blow goes far, very far. Only some things are
better left unsaid.
"Abou, call your mother for me."
Abou left and immediately came back with his mother.
"Fatouma," old Mamadou said to his wife, "you know the farming civil servants
are coming to visit the new cocoa field today."
"Yes. That's why I pounded a little rice yesterday. But, there is nothing for the
sauce. Not even the smallest fish."
"Speaking of which, I wanted you to lend me... in fact sell me your rooster. On
credit, of course. I will pay you at the end of the coffee harvest. There are a few months
remaining and tiriti is around the comer."
"Oh, no! You'll have to look elsewhere. When my children leave for school, I
will surely have to give them money. Where do you want me to find it? I want to sell
my rooster to someone who can give me some cash on the spot."
"And by the way," Tiefi interrupted, "I really don't know what's the use of your
civil servants. Do they come to work or just to eat roasted chickens?"
"Be quiet, Tiefi. You always have to joke around, even when it comes to serious
matters. So, Fatouma, are you going to humiliate me?"
The old woman kept quiet. She was not as old as one could imagine. She had
prematurely aged, that's for sure. Throughout her poor peasant woman's existence, she
had woken up very early, done very many domestic chores and also the fieldwork. She
kept having children, sacrificing herself for them, obeying her husband. All that was too
heavy a responsibility that had worn her out too early.
She still kept quiet. But Lassinan knew that she would eventually give in. It was
the same since his childhood. His father would gently con his mother. In order to take a
chicken from her and offer it to a stranger, he would talk to his wife about buying that
chicken from her. On credit of course. A debt which one would never speak of again.
Lassinan knew she was going to eventually give in, as usual. He was right.
Of course she gave in. What kind of a wife doesn't obey her husband? What
child succeeds with a mother who doesn't worship her husband? In any case, after forty
years of marriage with her husband, Fatouma had become his shadow. She knew what
could bother him or please him. And she knew that herself her children and all her hens
belonged to Mamadou. Allah wanted it that way.
"What are you doing today?" Mamadou asked his wife again.
"I'm going to prepare the farming civil servants' meal, then I'll go gather some
pepper and chop some wood because my firewood reserve is low. This afternoon, I'll go
look for some cassava for the evening meal."
"Good," Mamadou said. "As for us, we are going to the new cocoa field.
Lassinan is going to wait for the civil servants and will bring them to us when they
The two workers, Mata and Drissa, whistled for the dogs and the small group got
Lassinan watched them leaving. His look was not at all indifferent. Rather
indefinable. He admitted it to himself; the work in the field exhausted him in a flash.
And then, those pleasures he had in the past, when he was very young, breathing in the
smell of the fields, running over fallen tree trunks, carving rifle butts, those pleasures had
disappeared. The field for a man of a certain age is far from being a playing field or an
amusement park. Lassinan understood that. Work in the field was painful, very painful.
And his father and mother lived only from this work. His father, past fifty years old, still
bent down with a machete in his hand; his mother still walked with a heavy load on her
And yet at eighteen years old, Lassinan was no longer good for anything, well, he
could not yet be of any help to his parents. His father's words affected him in his heart of
hearts. His father was right. If he had lived at home, he would have already cultivated
some plantations. But what of it? He would perhaps be married, certainly have had
children and then the problems would have still been the same: poverty, increasing and
perhaps perpetual misery. But also, what was he good at with his eleven years spent at
the French school? He probably could have gotten hired somewhere and tried to help his
parents. But under these suns, how much money can a young civil servant earn with no
special skill that allows him to help his parents? Upon receiving his Secondary School
Certificate, he had thought about all these problems; he had wanted to leave school, begin
working, earn a little money. He had talked about it to one of his European teachers.
The latter had advised him to continue school because he was intelligent and destined for
the greatest prospects. To this teacher, he had opposed the family's argument to help:
"My parents are old now and still poor. It's my turn to help them. They need
"Your parents have their life. You, you have your own that you must build
meticulously while you still have the time."
"My parents have always taken care of me. They have sacrificed themselves so
that I would succeed."
"That was their duty. God condemns parents who neglect their children."
"And what about children who neglect their parents'?"
"It's not the same thing. The child can in no case be considered an investment.
One day you will set up home and start your own family. You will have your own
children and you will have to take care of them and not your parents."
Lassinan had not been able to respond. Much later, he had understood that in any
society, at a certain stage of development, the child becomes a necessary asset, a
guarantee for the old days of parents who never manage to save the slightest amount of
money. Lassinan understood that especially in his social stratum, the child remained an
investment for a long time to come. The survival of old parents demanded that. And
Lassinan accepted it. But he had just finished tenth grade in the lyc6e and, a studious
boy, he had begun tasting the delights of intellectual work. He was only two years away
from the baccalaureat.
Lassinan waited for the farming civil servants hour after hour. To kill time and
also to make himself useful, he took some cut rattan, carefully scooped out, and he started
to make a basket that would surely be used during the coffee harvest. Late in the
afternoon, the young man finished weaving the basket. The civil servants had not come.
They were no longer going to come. And that evening, when old Mamadou returned
home from the field, he learned with indifference that the civil servants had missed their
appointment. That didn't even outrage him. What's the use? Everyone knows that a
civil servant, a real civil servant, always misses his appointments when he's not late.
Why be surprised? Going back regularly on his word was in keeping with these suns.
Why be surprised since the widespread triumph of the blakoroya was all around?
Tiefi explained that once in Blakorodougou, they had waited for someone like a
deputy-in any case an important civil servant-for seven hours long, and were still
standing. Only to applaud him on his way.
Be quiet, Ti6fi, some things are better left unsaid.
The former headmaster had been assigned elsewhere, but he had not spread the
news before the school had closed its doors. And now, just a few days before school
started, he hastily came to announce the news and packed up on the double. He left,
leaving behind the ill-suppressed insults of the villagers and the debts he promised to
come back to pay.
Oh, that director-one could now say it out loud-that director, for sure, was only
a good for nothing! And a drunkard, always drunk like the insect conogoli that gets
drunk all day long on bangui produced from the palm tree. And besides, he loved women
too much-a weakness shared by many civil servants. And therefore, since the money he
earned was used to pay for alcohol or girls, he owed as much money to Adebayo, the
shopkeeper, as to the village women who sold him pepper, bananas, and cassava. Above
all, the man was irreverent like the rump of a donkey. He had strength on his side and he
was right. They were forced to respect his strength. Before, it wasn't like that.
Before, things were not done in this way. Today, the world was spinning round
too quickly and one didn't have enough breath to follow its rhythm. And the more things
evolved, the stronger old Mamadou's conviction. He would repeat in an assured tone but
without passion: "We are witnessing the end of the world. It's true, the world is ending."
His conviction was strong because he was a pious Muslim who lent an attentive ear to the
marabouts-those good marabouts of the past who understood Allah's language. One of
his old friends, a venerated marabout, had told him: "When you see the son answering
his father out loud, when you see him screaming at his mother, then don't ask yourself
anymore questions; when you see three-legged lambs and tailless dogs, don't ask anyone
anymore: the world will be at its end. The world will end with the blakoros in power. It
will come. It will surely happen. It is written." But as the saying goes: when a prophet
predicts the end of the world, he predicts his own end. And later, the marabout himself
had died. But his words seemed to be confirmed...
Of course now and before, it was like the wrong and the right sides. Before it was
better. Before before, it was a lot better. There was no possible error. The world was
coming to its end. Did real men still exist? This ridiculous world that no longer tolerated
real men could not last. Nevertheless, it was curiously well organized. Solid even.
Certainly, the useless headmaster had left. But another would come, same as the
one before... or worse even. For the new school year, the same acrobatics would start
up again with renewed vigor. Those who had kids to enroll were already displaying a
feverish activity. They had started selecting their best yam tubercles, their best
developed bunch of bananas, the largest fish from their catch, the biggest game from their
hunt. And they were storing all that to offer it to the headmaster and enter into his good
Old Mamadou explained to Lassinan that there were too many children to recruit
and not enough spaces for all of them. To make sure that one's child would be enrolled,
it was necessary to be in the headmaster's good graces. And each one did what he could.
And this was exactly the reason why the poor man's son had fewer and fewer chances of
going to school and becoming, later on, an important man.
Lassinan understood the problems, but actually, he perceived them in a rather
unclear way. Since his childhood, he had devoted himself solely to his studies. He had
been asked to succeed, that is to say to always be first in his class, to accumulate
diplomas and to one day become an important civil servant. And he had gotten down to
work, confirming all the hopes that his parents had placed on him. He kept himself busy
always being the first in his class, but he dedicated little time to thinking about the
concrete problems of life. It was no doubt because he had always been treated like a
grown child. Yes, an exceptional child, quite different from the other boys of his age but
all the same a grown boy who only had to deal with his endless reading. Nevertheless,
time and again already, the young lyc6en had wanted to speak in the village as a man.
Some years earlier, it was he indeed who had spread the idea of a modem ton-the co-op.
At that time he had conceived the thing down to its smallest details and it was not his
fault if the thing had fallen through.
Still this morning, he wanted to take some responsibilities.
"I will go enroll Abou myself," he told his father.
"I will accompany you," the old man suggested. "Only I don't know what to give
the new headmaster. He will perhaps bring in a new style. The other one, the last one, it
was alcohol and women; the new one, it will be women and something else. Oh, what a
"No, I will go alone with Abou. But before, you will give this new headmaster
neither baby goats nor yams."
"If the new one is like the former, your younger brother will not be enrolled. It's
very simple. Because first of all, they look at the parents' face before enrolling the
children. 'Well, so and so's son? No problem. No, but this is so and so? Then the child
is too young or too old.' Oh, the power of the blakoros!"
"I will go with Abou and his birth certificate. That will do," Lassinan calmly
"I hope that before then, your older brother Soule will be back from his in-laws'.
We cannot put Abou in school without his consent. As for your mother, I talked to her
about it and since you want it, she can only approve."
"I have heard that the new headmaster will be here tomorrow."
"Yes. The village chief says he met him the day before yesterday in Fagodougou.
I don't even know if he's telling the truth because he says it's a woman. A headmistress!
If that is true.., no, but the marabouts are right. The world is upside down and
approaching its end."
"Because a woman is headmistress?"
"Do you believe that a woman like that one listens to her husband's words? Do
you believe she has the time to cook meals?"
"Maybe she should take on a houseboy-cook."
"A houseboy! You, if you were married, would you and your wife eat a meal
cooked by a houseboy?"
"If my wife works, we won't have any other choice."
"But Lassinan, your mother works and she cooks. But Lassinan..."
He was choking:
"But son, eating the meal cooked by a boy, all your life! Do you realize! This
kind of meal does not give strength. With such food, you will never be a real man, a
strong man. First of all, a woman's lot is to cook the meal, then to take care of the
children. The rest comes afterwards."
The new headmistress-she was really a woman-arrived two days after the date
anticipated for her arrival. That day, Lassinan had gone to the new cocoa plantation. He
had accompanied the farming civil servants who had finally come to do their work. And
in the evening, when Lassinan came back to the village, the comments about the woman
prodigy were unlimited.
"Allah, she is so beautiful! But a woman like that, who would dare speak to her
as one speaks to a woman'?"
"Times are changing too quickly and are changing men at the same time. But, a
woman is a woman."
"Oh, those civil servants are truly lucky! Money, beautiful women: my son must
become an important civil servant to avenge me."
"And her husband, has he come too?"
"Who said she has a husband?"
"In any case, she came alone. What if she doesn't have a husband? The other
Lassinan had the chance to see the headmistress closer. Indeed, she arranged a
meeting the very following evening at the school. It was the first meeting with the
notables, but she wanted the presence of some well-read young people of the village.
That had an unpleasant effect on the village chief because he knew Lassinan would no
doubt come to that meeting. And he had noticed since the business with the co-op that
Lassinan was becoming rather dangerous for certain interests.
Lassinan came to the meeting. First, he listened. The headmistress-she was
truly beautiful-claimed that she was there to try to do some good work among "her
relatives and younger brothers" and that she was anxious to hear about the present
situation. She would have had Lassinan's approval right away if she had not had the
unpleasant habit of rolling the r's in order to speak like a white woman.
In the name of the notables, the chief got up and spoke. According to him, the
situation was excellent. The villagers liked the school and loved their children. And they
had always appreciated the masters' excellent, unselfish work. Everything was for the
best in the best of worlds. And the chief sat down again, happy. Then, since no notable
wanted to speak, Lassinan got up and said the chief seemed to have spoken for himself
alone, because the problems were endless. First of all, the peasants were poor. And the
first days of school were always expensive. Buying new khaki suits, bags, and books for
the children before the coffee crop was very difficult for a lot of families. Therefore, they
had to wait, one or two months, before sending the children back home. And then,
Lassinan alluded to a curious, growing custom, the one that consists in giving a lot of
gifts to the state civil servants in order to get what one wants. Some old men coughed; a
cough of approval or disapproval depending on whether they were poor, or rich...
Finally, the headmistress said she had taken note of everything and the meeting
ended. It was totally dark.
Lassinan and old Mamadou returned to their concession. After the meal, they
rolled out the mats around the fire and they sat down to talk as usual. In the past, when
Lassinan was little, those evening gatherings were eagerly awaited moments. It was then
when one used to tell tales, taking the audience out of reality to transport it into the
kingdom of animals where the powerful lion, the panther, the silly hyena or the hare, the
most intelligent animal, reigned. Also in those days, one would create with a dazzling
intensity the marvelous kingdoms of handsome, courageous princes, beautiful princesses
the likes of whom Lassinan had not yet succeeded in meeting. There also, one would
consider the problems of the village from all angles, although it did not really seem that
way. Now, no one any longer told tales. The old people had too many worries and
everyone knows worries drive away tales because they trouble the mind. And then the
children of these new suns no longer appreciated tales as they had in the past. It's also
true that these children, from their first cries, believe they know more about the world
than their parents. Without initiation, they already think they know everything. And the
blakoros also had the floor. So what's the use of tales? When an old man happens to tell
a story to teach a lesson, the children of independence begin by asking for the date and
the places of the story, photos: well, some proof
No, around the fire nowadays, one could only talk about current events and then
curse the power of the blakoros.
"Again you made enemies at the meeting this evening," old Mamadou said.
"Yes I know," Lassinan calmly answered.
"That could cost us a lot. The rich are powerful and understand each other."
"Yes. But if we must wait until we are strong to call things by their real name, we
will die before. In poverty for sure."
"Lassinan is right," Tiefi stressed. "Oh! If you were not afraid of your rights...
"In any case, I will go have Abou enrolled. And without a gilt"
"If you manage to have him enrolled like that, it will be a real feat. Because I
know that, as we are speaking, many people supposedly went to greet the new
headmistress. With a pile of gifts, obviously. That would be very nice if it was without
an ulterior motive. But each one of these visitors, before leaving the young woman, will
have subtly made it clear to her that he has a child to put in school. We must do that
"No. I will manage."
After a pause, the conversation resumed but still with the same problems about
the new school year and Tiefi was speaking about the private schools. Oh, the private
schools, "it was shit there"! One learned nothing there, absolutely nothing at all!
Besides, the teachers in these establishments spent most of their time in the skirts of their
female students who could find no better way to get good grades than to sleep with their
teachers. As for Tiefi, he would never dream of sending a child to these private schools.
Particularly for the girls, these establishments were a waste of time and money. And
besides, they did not issue any diploma to the girls but a baby, a small bastard what's
"When I think that at first, students were fed, clothed and housed in the schools, I
can't believe we must now pay an entrance fee. This is beyond me," old Mamadou
"At the rate things are going, all schools will charge a fee. In Blakorodougou,
there are primary schools that are not for free. And here in the village, this way of
corrupting the headmaster, what does that mean?"
At the yard entrance, a voice called out the traditional assalam alikoum.
"Alikoum salam," old Mamadou answered.
It was Salia, Mamadou's old friend. The two men often liked to chat together. If
they did not reminisce about the good old days, they were just cursing these days when
one does not show any respect for age and wisdom.
"I come from the headmistress's home," Salia said. "I sent her a rooster. I'm not
even sure that will be enough to ensure a place for my son. I thought you too would send
Abou to school this year..."
"Yes, I plan on sending him this year."
"So what are you saving for the headmistressT'?"
"Lassinan is taking it upon himself to have his younger brother enrolled without
giving the smallest gift to the schoolmasters."
"We can trust Lassinan. This boy has his head on his shoulders. But the rich are
powerful and they understand each other."
"Therefore, the poor need to understand each other better."
He wanted to talk about the co-op that had failed as much because of the rich
man's plots as because of the poor man's failure to take responsibility. But he preferred
to keep quiet.
"What did you think of the woman?" Mamadou asked.
"Actually, she seems kind. In any case, she is respectful. But one never knows,
that could be a facade at this point."
Then the two old men talked about the coffee trade that was supposed to begin in
two months; they also mentioned Ramadan that was inevitably approaching. All the
problems occurred at the same time and always at the most critical moment of the year.
On his mat, Lassinan kept quiet. He did not even listen anymore. He reflected on
what old Salia had said. He knew they trusted him. Yes, he had to make sure, at all
costs, that his little brother would be enrolled. He could no longer fail. He knew that if
he failed, he would come out belittled.
Such was Lassinan's life: a legend that was weighing more and more heavily on
him. Since childhood, he had stuck stubbornly to the legend of the studious and hard-
working boy. And he had always fulfilled his promises. At one time, he had understood
that he needed to free the child that was in him, to play without thinking, to make
mistakes also. But he could no longer take it. He was a prisoner of his legend. His
behavior compelled respect, but he was also forced to be a man ahead of his age. Above
all, he was the boy whom one would watch to see if he would make mistakes or fail, and
that is the reason why he continued to keep the legend intact.
He was going to have his little brother enrolled. He was going to even do better.
His stubbornness had become a kind of wager. Everyone was impatiently waiting for the
That night, old Mamadou was restless. Even more, he was worried. Of course!
He planned to go to Fagodougou the next day because ofl Issa. He had to try to find him a
place at the regional school and then a tutor also. All that was worrying him. He knew it
would be difficult to find a place at the city public school. He also knew it would not be
easy to find a good tutor for Issa. The city was no longer the village where, by entrusting
his son to you, a man would honor you with his trust. City men had forgotten the
meaning of hospitality that their ancestors had. They did not have the time to take care of
others. Mamadou's only hope in Fagodougou was Bakary, the master tailor. Bakary had
perhaps not forgotten the manners of his ancestors, but he was too poor and he could
refuse to take in Issa.
That night, while thinking about his trip for the following day, old Mamadou slept
very badly or, to be honest-Allah says that the truth alone is good-the old man could
not sleep a wink all night.
It was always the same on the eve of the new school year. Problems were piling
up: lots of things to do and without a cent. And yet, only money could help solve
problems. But where was he to find money? No, it's not that he wanted to "fill his
pockets." He wanted a little money, only enough to be able to take care of his family.
Oh, each year, to be able to nourish his family properly, dress it decently, send the
children to school without having to tell about his misery to the wealthy! But where
could he find the money, just enough to avoid certain humiliations? Where could he find
the money? When he was young, he thought working was enough. He had worked the
land because he loved the land. Who had exerted oneself more than he? His dream had
been grand and honest: a dikisse dream-a strong-blooded dream. He had ruined his
health staying in the field from morning until night in order to create a large plantation:
work that honors all men. His wife, Fatouma, had courageously followed him. But the
birth of their first child, instead of encouraging them to work even harder, had
disappointed them. The child, who was called Soul6, was lazy like an anteater and at the
age of twelve, Mamadou knew he was not good for working the land. They sent him to
learn how to use a sewing machine. He didn't shine at that either. And since his
departure, he had been unable to purchase his own sewing machine. Mamadou meant to
buy him one after each coffee crop, but every time, more urgent problems would arise.
And his money only ended up in ninguin ninguin-stories not at all clear, mandatory tips
to civil servants.
He had not slept, the old man. He had thought about all these problems and had
not even had enough strength to examine his greatest obsession. Having given up his
former dream of making a fortune, now he simply wanted to take care of his family. But
another important project was challenging: going to the Holy City. The world was racing
to its end and it was necessary to ensure better tomorrows for oneself Going to Makan-
Mecca. That was his obsession. But that is a project of which one never speaks except
when going to carry it out.
Very early in the morning, Mamadou got up, washed himself, but did not go to
the mosque. He said the prayer in his home. After thefatiha, he mumbled things in
Arabic that he didn't understand. Then, he finished the grievances in Dyula. "Allah yi en
d& mbW!-Allah help us, Allah make the day good for us, Allah give us a long life, Allah
give us tomorrow, Allah accept our prayers!-Amina."
Allah help us under the power of the blakoros! More than ever, we need his help
to survive. And just think, we had been promised tranquility-the gnansouman! Of
course, the gnansouman existed under these suns, but for others, for the blakoros.
Allah yi en de mbj!
Mamadou wanted to get on the old bus. But it was full. No more seats and a lot
of luggage between the seats! The old man scrutinized the passengers, imploring a child
who might get up to make room for him. There were some young people, but not a single
one made a gesture. Only a woman, an old woman, made room for him, a tiny space.
But Mamadou's full boubou restricted him and had latched on to an old bowl full of fresh
fish. Mamadou fought to free himself and reach his seat. It was just at that moment that
the novice blakoro yelled out a ringing "that's it" and the bus bounced. Mamadou,
unable to help himself, dove his nose into the bowl of fresh fish while cries and laughs
were also bursting out from everywhere. The driver braked and the old man got back up
while some people were laughing from the ridiculous dive and others were hurling rude
language at the driver. But the frail apprentice replied that only those old men and their
full boubous were looking for trouble. They could not go anywhere unnoticed. When
they took it upon themselves to travel, there were always problems on the bus.
"Allah ka nan en malo," old Mamadou softly whispered. "May Allah not hold us
in contempt; Allah protect us from shame! Amina."
He reached the small space, sat down without looking at his entourage, without
uttering a single word. He only had one look of gratitude for the old woman who had
made room for him. His boubou was probably torn, but he didn't even examine it. He
smelled of fresh fish and he didn't even care about it.
The whole trip, he thought it was little to say that the world was changing. The
world was upside down. When he was young, what young man would have allowed
himself to be seated when an old man was standing? Who would have dared to laugh at
an old man in a situation similar to the one in which he had found himself a while ago? It
was not for nothing that young people, nowadays, didn't succeed at anything honest.
Because they had forgotten that respect for age can offer a greater strength. The sight of
Fagodougou ended the old man's sad thoughts. The vehicle stopped at the station.
Everyone got off.
Mamadou also got off. He took the street that led to the school. Fagodougou
stretched in front, behind, to the left, to the right...
Ahead was the school. An old school built by the Whites shortly after they had
settled in the area. Its roofs of gray tile and its massive pillars revealed the colonial style.
Nearby was the hospital. It had to be just as old as the school. These two places, one
right next to the other, expressions of a civilization that had proclaimed loudly its
superiority, were no longer seen as the thing of others. They were integrated. But now,
ruling in there were the all-powerful blakoros who made the heart to those who needed
Behind, there had been the former offices of the administration, offices that had
witnessed otherwise violent judgements, like the language of the horsewhip: bad
memories! At the same spot was now standing the imposing court house where
judgements took another form: oh, the hypocrisy of the blakoros! Further, on that same