Towards a poetics of decolonization: Mongo Beti’s The Poor Christ of Bomba
The Poor Christ of Bomba (1956), Mongo Beti’s major novel, depicts the effects of French colonial infringement on the Cameroon landscape and consciousness. The novel charts the story of Father Superior Drumont, a Catholic priest assigned to the rainforest region of Cameroon around the 1930s. His professed task is to convert the indigenes of a six-tribe region to Catholicism. Despite Father Drumont’s seeming piety, he is not what he seems. Governed by the French colonial ideology of assimilation, he is bent on forcing his Christian converts to forsake their African traditions and cultural ways as a condition for Christianity. The sixa, a church establishment aimed at grooming young female converts in preparation for Christian marriage, is Father Drumont’s signature project during his twenty-year tenure at the Bomba Mission. In practice, however, the sixa is a complete mockery of Catholicism and a subversion of African traditional marriages. Father Drumont’s increasingly rebellious converts come into a full awareness of his complicity with French colonial administrators like Vidal. Unable to re-establish a strong foothold in a resistant parish, a disillusioned Father Drumont returns to France. The novel depicts an awakening of a growing “national” consciousness similar to the Harlem Renaissance that occurred in the United States in the early twentieth century. Just as slave narratives exposed the brutality of slavery as a means to promote abolition, this essay explores The Poor Christ of Bomba as a fictional slave narrative that exposes French imperialism by constructing a discourse of resistance that is bound to serve as a path to decolonization.
Keywords: discourse of resistance, Mongo Beti, national consciousness, slave narratives