Birago Diop and Bernard Dadié.
Born ten years apart in French speaking colonies
in Africa, both find their way to their native forms of storytelling and imprint
upon it their own French language style. To some extent, each is enabled by
an aspect of their involvement with France to become illustrious authors
|Birago Diop (1906-1992)
Born in Dakar, Senegal, to a Wolof family
that was Muslim but had ties to traditional ways of life. Koranic school
at 5, French school on his own at 10. He is recognized for his passion for
literature and learning as well as his ability. It is ironic that it is
in the French Anthropologists Hardy and Delavignette that he discovers a
new respect for the indigenous traditions of Africa.
Veterinary School in France (Toulouse).
Colonial service in Senegal, where he finds
time on his travels to listen to various sets of stories with which he had
been familiar as a child. Eventually he is reunited with his family griot,
Amadou Koumba, to whom he attributes the origin of his tales. Although it
must be noted that he puts his own stamp of elegant prose (in French) on
the re-telling of the tales in writing.
Back in France to update some of his knowledge
of animal medicine, he is stranded by the travel restrictions imposed by
WWII, and in the time that is opened up for him, he writes the Contes.
Connection, in Paris, with some of the writers
and philosophers of Negritude, like Leopold Senghor and Aime Cesaire, and
becomes acquainted with the novels of Rene Maran. Like both of the above
mentioned writers, he served the new independent government of his country.
He was ambassador to Tunisia for 4 years before retiring to Tunisia to serve
as veterinarian and to write.
The stories seem to me to have a conflict,
whose resolution is then a kind of punchline but which might also lead to
“the moral of the story.” But there is at least another dimension
to each of his stories, and to those of Dadié, where much can be
learned about the terrain and the flower and fauna of Africa, about complex
aspects of human nature, etc. We can explore how Diop “builds”
his stories from these various elements.
Two proverbs to start the story.
Then we get a rather elaborate account of the local
economy, and how it depends on weather and other conditions and also on scarcity
in other kinds of economy. We also get, it the Tong-Tong, a native ceremony that
here, at least, is practiced in a village in which the native customs coexist
All of which leads up to the main confrontation,
between the two hut brothers Moussa and Mor Lame. It is a battle of patience and
persistence on the part of Moussa, and for Mor Lame as well—but there is
for him a ticking clock in the form of meat which has achieved the desirable degree
Here is the question. In the end, Moussa wins. How is he so much more deserving
of victory than Mor Lame?
Begins with a series of claims about animals, what
they believe, their various trits, and etiology of these characteristics.
Note on animism.
Descriptions of animals and of the earth upon which
these animals live (the origins of thinking the crocodile has the best memory.
Why the little crocodiles yawned when the Mother
told them exploits of men. 2499 bottom the exploits of which they dreamed. Is
this meant to suggest something about the dissatisfaction with the European system
of education? Is it then to suggest why knowing European education is important
Insertion of songs to reflect the way the griot might tell the tale. Perhaps also
to suggest the crow call as a kind of medium for transmitting info.
Only in the last line do we get the “punchline”
and with it the moral of the story.
Bernard Binlin Dadié (b. 1916)
Ivory Coast. Educated in the more cosmopolitan
Dakar, Senegal. Encouraged to write stories that deal with their own
native communities. Involved in militant anti-colonial activities. After
independence of Ivory Coast, serves for a decade in various ministerial
posts (including Minister of Culture). Poet, dramatist, memoirist, and
of course the transcriber of traditional tales.
Look at onomatopoeia, and ideaphone..
Dadie considered a styloist that bring these stories to life in the
French language for the modern French Reader.
“The Mirror of Dearth”
Begins with a lengthy description rehearsing the
traits of and reputation of the hero, Ananzè.
Continues with the involved depiction of famine,
which shows the anthropomorphism used on animals and nature. Even after reuniting
with Ananse, the text goes back to description of the river, with the suggestion
that because the river is dynamic, the objects on its bank static, the river is
the repository of stories it picks up on its journey. The stories that are told
in the sound of the river are silenced by the lack of vigorous flow.
Ananze tries to recreate his success as a fisherman
by his stance.
Then there is the magic story of the sheaf fish
and the promise of happiness.
And in the lure of the magic mirror, is there not
something of the lure of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden
of eden, (although Mr. Spider needs no prodding from the serpent to test the prohibition.
Was all the travel real, or the daydream of the
hunger weakened hero?
Or was it real, leading to a different “moral
of the story”?
“The Black Cloth”
Part Cinderella story, this one is intent on the
interpolation of song to summon the mother. In the travel to different domains
where different kinds of bodies of water exist, we get yet another view of Africa,
its landscape, etc. Finally, in the end, why does this particular body of water
The importance of ancestors, even those who are
“The Hunter and the Boa”
Again, set within a fable that is a morality tale,
we get a fairly detailed description of Africa (all the places the hunter had
set his traps). We get the enchanted animal story, and the reversal of fortune
that really occurs for someone who had pit on his victim (also a critique of men
and their behavior delivered by the boa).
Why the mangy dog had access to the future.
The demand for active participation on the part
of the audience to complete the tale—what would you do?