Beyala, Calixthe 1961–
Calixthe Beyala 1961-
Cameroonian novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
At once admired and reviled in contemporary literary circles, Beyala is a highly controversial African francophone novelist; her works have been both awarded major literary prizes and judged to contain plagiarized passages from other fictional works. Beyala's novels typically consist of nonlinear narratives that draw upon the African oral storytelling tradition to call attention to the misery and misfortune of contemporary women who are dominated physically, emotionally, and economically in postcolonial patriarchal African society. Considered a radical feminist by many commentators and an outright male-hater by some, Beyala boldly challenges the subjugation of women in her works through the use of vivid images of sex and violence.
Beyala was born in Douala, Cameroon, in 1961. Her parents, who had twelve children, were very poor, and Beyala was raised by an older sister in a slum called New-Bell. As a young girl, she went to schools in Douala and Bangui. At the age of seventeen, Beyala immigrated to Paris, France. Once there, she completed her education and got married. In 1987, Beyala published her first novel, C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée (The Sun Hath Looked upon Me). Two years later, she helped found Collectif Égalité, an organization that promotes social and political equality for immigrants and minorities in France. In 1995, a satirical French weekly magazine called Le Canard Enchaine compared passages of Beyala's novel Le petit prince de Belleville (Loukoum: The Little Prince of Belleville; 1995) with the works of two American writers whose novels had been popular in France. Also around this time, Pierre Assouline, the editor of a French literary magazine, accused the novelist of plagiarism in other works. A lawsuit brought against Beyala by the publisher of Howard Buten, one of the writers allegedly plagiarized, ended in 1997 with a court judgment against Beyala, who was ordered to pay 100,000 francs to Buten and his publisher. Assouline went on to claim that he had found numerous other instances where Beyala borrowed the work of others, including the noted American writer Alice Walker. Another French author, Paule Constant, also came forth with accusations that Beyala had plagiarized her works as well. In the meantime, Beyala was awarded the grand prize for literature by the prestigious Academie Française for her novel Les Honneurs perdus (Lost Honors; 1996), which created an uproar in the literary world. Assouline again issued a close comparison of Beyala's writing in her winning novel with that of another writer, Ben Okri. Beyala, for her part, vacillated in her responses to the accusations. She initially struck back with charges of sexism and racism, but later explained that she had been drawing on African oral literary tradition, which borrows heavily from existing sources.
Beyala's first two novels focus on similar themes involving women who have spent their entire lives in subservience, employing scenes of graphic violence and sexuality to trace the female characters' wretched subjugation. In The Sun Hath Looked Upon Me, nineteen-year-old Ateba lives with her domineering aunt in an African shantytown. Eventually, the rage beneath the surface of Ateba's carefully controlled demeanor explodes, and she lashes out against the controlling forces of patriarchal order. In Tu t'appelleras Tanga (Your Name Shall Be Tanga; 1988), the dying young African woman Tanga shares a jail cell with an older white woman, Anna-Claude, who is going mad. As Tanga tells Anna-Claude the story of her life of prostitution and brutal exploitation, their identities gradually merge, until Anna-Claude actually becomes Tanga at the moment of her death. Loukoum: The Little Prince of Belleville departs from Beyala's feminist perspective in her previous works by featuring a seven-year-old boy as the narrator. Raised by his father's two wives in the African immigrant district of Paris, Loukoum observes the adult hypocrisy and institutional racism of modern Parisian society, and he embarks on a journey of self-discovery when he learns that his biological mother is a prostitute. Beyala's prize-winning Lost Honors again addresses the corrosive and disillusioning effects of the adoptive country on immigrants, but it does so in the form of a ribald satire. As the young woman Saïda learns to negotiate life in a Paris slum, she comes to realize that her new country is not that dissimilar from her homeland. In novels such as Amours sauvages (Wild Love; 1999) and Femme nue femme noire (Naked Woman Black Woman; 2003), Beyala employs eroticism to highlight the ambiguous role of women in Africa's transition to a modern society as well as the continued exploitation of women in a masculine world.
Feminist critics in particular have admired Beyala's provocative, anti-patriarchal literary style. They detect in her works a refreshing postmodern approach to writing that allows the author to employ violent and sexual imagery to underscore the harsh realities of the female experience in Africa and immigrant communities without seeming gratuitous. In an essay that underscores the significance of the domestic realm in the nurturing of one's identity and sense of self-worth, Mildred Mortimer demonstrates how Beyala interrogates the validity of such a benign concept through the cultural exploitation of the female characters in her works. Sonja Darlington calls attention to the polemical nature of Your Name Shall Be Tanga, asserting that the novel is both a brash ideological manifesto on women's civil rights and a work of fictional theory that addresses the plight of femaleness in contemporary Africa. In a similar vein, Sigrid G. Köhler (see Further Reading) assesses Beyala's treatment of the archetypal African symbol of motherhood in Your Name Shall Be Tanga, concluding that the author ultimately merges the identity of the African protagonist with that of her European companion, Anna-Claude, to create a hybrid maternal voice that has been silenced an oppressive postcolonial culture. Since the mid-1990s, Beyala has received nearly as much attention for her defiance about the plagiarism charges leveled against her as for her writing itself. In this context, many critics have probed the author's creation of herself and her works as commodified products that deliberately manipulate notions of authenticity, selfhood, and performance—including the possibility that what some see as plagiarism is actually a conscious effort to provoke discussion of these issues.
C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée [The Sun Hath Looked upon Me] (novel) 1987
Tu t'appelleras Tanga [Your Name Shall Be Tanga] (novel) 1988
Seul le diable le savait [Only the Devil Knew] (novel) 1990
Maman a un amant [Mother Has a Lover] (novel) 1993
Assèze l'Africaine [Assèze the African Woman] (novel) 1994
"Lettre d'une Africaine à ses soeurs occidentales" ["An African Woman's Letter to Her Western Sisters"] (essay) 1995
Le petit prince de Belleville [Loukoum: The Little Prince of Belleville] (novel) 1995
Les Honneurs perdus [Lost Honors] (novel) 1996
La petite fille du réverbère [The Small Girl under the Street Lamp] (novel) 1998
Amours sauvages [Wild Love] (novel) 1999
Comment cuisiner son mari à l'africaine [How to Grill Your Husband the African Way] (novel) 2000
"Lettre d'une Afro-française à ses compatriotes" ["Letter from an African-French to Her Countrymen"] (essay) 2000
Les arbres en parlent encore [Still a Matter of Lively Debate] (novel) 2002
Femme nue femme noire [Naked Woman Black Woman] (novel) 2003
La Plantation (novel) 2005
L'homme qui m'offrait le ciel (novel) 2007
Mildred Mortimer (essay date summer 1999)
SOURCE: Mortimer, Mildred. "Whose House Is This? Space and Place in Calixthe Beyala's C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée and La Petite Fille du réverbère." World Literature Today 73, no. 3 (summer 1999): 467-73.
[In the following essay, Mortimer maintains that a protective, nurturing home promotes the healthy development of one's identity and demonstrates how Beyala interrogates this concept in The Sun Hath Looked upon Me and The Small Girl under the Street Lamp.]
The success of Mariama Bâ's novel Une si longue lettre (1980) contributed greatly to the female voice's entering the mainstream of francophone African fiction. Clearly announcing women's literature of revolt, the text revealed to Senegalese and foreign readers that one woman's struggle against polygamy could become the catalyst for personal growth and self-definition, and it subsequently opened the way for the second generation of francophone African women novelists. Ken Bugul, Werewere Liking, Calixthe Beyala, and others would take Bâ's attack on African patriarchy a step further with texts that would prove to be more aggressive, more rebellious, and more audacious in content and form.
Beginning with her first novel, C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée (1987), the Cameroonian novelist Calixthe Beyala has engaged in systematic provocation of francophone African literature, presenting protagonists who are politically, socially, and economically marginalized and exploring a range of cultural taboos. She depicts prostitutes, pimps, sadistic parents. Her characters engage in rape, incest, self-mutilation, and murder. As Odile Cazenave and Béatrice Rangira Gallimore have shown, Beyala uses marginality to articulate a feminist response to an African patriarchal tradition that refuses woman's right to self-expression and control of her body.
Although Beyala joins Bâ in charting her protagonist's evolution toward self-realization, her first novel deconstructs the myths of the nurturing mother and the protective hearth that Bâ carefully constructs. In Bâ's text, Une si longue lettre (Eng. So Long a Letter), it is clear that as her protagonist Ramatoulaye faces the psychological pain caused by her husband's decision to take a second wife, she remains the stable anchor, assuring financial and emotional support for her children after her husband has left. Ramatoulaye never abandons her role as the caring parent affirming the importance of her home as a protective hearth. In C'est le soleil qui m'a brúlée Beyala's protagonist, Ateba, is the daughter of an alcoholic prostitute who abandoned her as a child. Consequently, Ateba suffers from a lack of nurturing space in the house she cannot call her home following her mother's departure. Treated as a stranger, a servant, a commodity, in her aunt's cold and forbidding house, she encounters the "unhomely" which Homi Bhabha defines as "the estranging sense of the relocation of the home and the world in an unhallowed place" (1992, 141). The young woman's physical poverty and psychological dislocation mirror the alienation of inhabitants of bidonvilles, postcolonial African slums.
Linking the concept of home to the concept of self, I will chart the search for place in two of Beyala's novels, C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée and La Petite Fille du réverbère, as I explore the hypothesis that the attempt to recover the protective hearth is integral to the protagonist's search for self-realization. Beyala initiates the quest in her first novel, and her latest work, a largely autobiographical novel published a decade later, develops the theme further in surprising and significant ways. In both texts, the protagonist negotiates between physical and imaginative space, the realms of the real and the imaginary. Ateba attempts to recuperate a childhood home situated in memory, and to construct a future home beyond the confines of carceral space. In La Petite Fille du réverbère Beyala, nicknamed Tapoussière, inhabits a childhood home that her grandmother's mastery of oral tradition opens to mythic space, and seeks to find her place in her community and the world at large.
In this study, I adopt Yi-Fu Tuan's definition of place as space enriched with human experience and understanding, and Gaston Bachelard's analysis of the house as intimate space. In La poétique de l'espace, his topoanalysis or study of the sites of intimate life, Bachelard posits home as the crucial site of one's intimate life, the refuge where the human imagination serves to integrate life's experience. In his analysis, he uses the term espace heureux, felicitous space, to designate home as interior space, the anchor without which men and women remain fragmented individuals.1
Bachelard's topoanalysis, however, does not distinguish between men's and women's experience. The appropriation of space, both physical and imaginative, is an important factor in the process of women's self-realization, and a key element in women's struggle for empowerment in Africa, where patriarchal domination weighs heavily upon women's domestic space. Masculine supremacy is a reality, the important public sphere reserved for man, the less valued domestic sphere given to women. Although the domestic sphere is considered in the broadest sense of the term—in other words, as a household constituting the center of production and consumption of goods—African women are greatly valued as instruments of reproduction but largely unappre- ciated for their significant contribution to their society's economic production.2
Situating both texts in the slums of Douala (Ateba lives with her aunt in the quartier général or QG,3 Tapoussière with her grandmother in Kassalafam), Beyala portrays the lives of rural immigrants who left impoverished villages in the hope of economic gain in the city. Presenting the sociological reality of the uprooted rural poor, she shows rural dislocation often resulting in a "matriarchy by default" with women heads of household replacing absent men, the unemployed who have become transient. Examining the status of Cameroonian women who are single heads of household, Julienne Ayissi Ngono finds that whereas traditional law does not recognize the single mother as the legal head of the family, written law, in contrast, does. Yet despite legal protection, the female head of household most often remains economically and socially disadvantaged, usually earning a living for her family in the informal sector: agriculture, small commerce, or prostitution.
In C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée Beyala depicts Ateba's fight for survival in the QG as a struggle against confinement in two spaces, the real and the imaginary. Throughout the text, Ateba negotiates between the outer visible and tangible world of physical poverty and human misery, and the inner world of dream, memory, and desire. To convey this dynamic, the novelist adopts a double-voiced narrative: the voice of Ateba's soul, "Moi," expressing the protagonist's inner thoughts; and the voice of the narrator, adopting the code of social realism to depict external reality. In both realms, the real and the imaginary, the QG is a carceral space, invisible gates keeping inhabitants locked in and outsiders locked out. Nineteen years old and a high-school graduate, Ateba remains in Aunt Ada's house doing daily chores in exchange for room and board. Monitoring Ateba's daily routine, Ada intends to control her niece's future by negotiating her marriage with a man of means. In the interim, she treats Ateba as a child and a prisoner, her "patriarchal" mentality imprisoning the young woman's body and controlling her movements in accordance with an exacting principle of virginity.
As Ateba is locked in, Jean, the potential tenant of the room for rent in the house, is nearly locked out. Because taxis refuse to venture into the QG, he walks a long distance, crosses a bridge in torrid heat, and faces the hostile interrogation of the proprietor, Aunt Ada, before acquiring the room. Having finally entered this carceral universe, the stranger becomes another threat to Ateba's world. He is a force of disorder disturbing the equilibrium of the house defined as female domestic space. Jean not only keeps a messy room and leaves muddy footprints on clean floors, but also assumes the role of male predator. The room he has rented becomes a dangerous trap for Ateba. After she comes to Jean's room with a neighbor's message, and inadvertently discovers him in bed with a woman, he punishes her for her "transgression."
Il l'oblige a se baisser, à s'accroupir. La tête dans les odeurs de l'homme, la bouche contre son sexe, elle se dit qu'il est devenu complétement fou, qu'elle est devenue completement folle, puisqu'elle est responsable de ce qui lui arrive…. A genoux les visage levé vers le ciel … la position de la femme fautive depuis la nuit dés temps … assise. Accroupie.
He forces her down low, forces her to crouch. With her head pushed into his manly smells, her mouth against his penis, she says to herself he's gone completely mad, that she's gone completely mad since she is responsible for what happens to her…. On her knees, her face raised to the sky … the position of the offending woman since time immemorial … on the floor. Crouched.
Humiliated, Ateba never allows herself to be trapped again in his room. They meet later in public space—a bar, a street, Ada's living room. However, this man has disturbed her world, by forcing her to recognize not only her own impotence in the face of his aggression but also her own conflicted desire—for love or sex? Her motives are unclear to her. Finally, the encounter in Jean's room foreshadows the violent reversal that will occur later in another man's room, when Ateba, in revenge for violence and humiliation, murders the man who rapes her.
Until Jean's arrival, Ateba's emotional defenses work for her. In public space, she wears a mask, co-operating outwardly although inwardly seething with resentment against her aunt's control and indifference. From the private space of her room, she writes letters to imaginary women, folding her sheets of paper into paper boats and launching them on the waters of the QG sewers. And within the privacy of the room, she maintains her freedom from men, releasing her own sexual tensions by masturbating before falling asleep at night. As Jean attacks the emotional walls Ateba has constructed, he threatens Ada's marriage plans for her as well. Alternating the threat of violence with the danger of seduction, his attempted manipulation of Ateba challenges Ada's control over her niece's movements and the young woman's body. Ironically, Ada remains unaware that her renter menaces Ateba—by rape or seduction. To assure herself and the community of Ateba's virginity, she forces her to endure the humiliating "rite de l'œuf," the egg test, which proves that Ateba is still submissive, obedient, intact. Through the psychological portrait of Ada, Beyala reveals women's complicity in rituals that perpetuate patriarchy and abuse women's bodies.
Threatened by female complicity with patriarchy as well as by male intrusion, Ateba experiences increasing anxiety in the house that is no home. At times the "unhomely" space takes on the characteristics of a haunted house filled with avenging ghosts:
Les mânes des ancêtres surgissent. Leurs plaintes illuminent la maison et la transforment en un gigantesque brasier. Ateba hurle, sa voix s'enfuit, les cris refluent pêle-mêle dans son corps, elle ne peut plus les ordonner, elle ne veut plus les ordonner.
The spirits of the ancestors spring up. Their groans illuminate the house and transform it into an enormous inferno. Ateba shrieks, her voice leaves her, the screams flow back into her body, one on top of the other. She can no longer command them, she no longer wants to be in command.
As visions of the house haunted by destructive ghosts terrify Ateba, they risk not only dislodging her public mask of obedience and passivity, but loosening her grip on reality as well. As Eloise Brière notes, the stifled voice is becoming a source of madness (230). Thus, imaginative space that promises refuge may finally imprison Ateba in insanity.
In traditional and modern societies alike, the house has generally been conceived of as female domestic space. In La poétique de l'espace Bachelard links the concept of the house to the body of the nurturing mother: "La vie commence bien, elle commence enfermée, protégée, tout tiède dans le giron de la maison" (26; "Life begins well, it begins enclosed, protected, all warm in the bosom of the house" ). However, Mieke Bal reveals the inherent contradiction in the gendering of the house as female space; it is, she argues, the site of patriarchy: "In the house fatherhood establishes itself; the house becomes fatherhood's synecdochic metaphor" (171).
Turning to the history of architecture, we find that architecture's role has been to control woman's sexuality: the young girl's chastity, the wife's fidelity. Examining the gendering of domestic space, one discovers woman's complicity in patriarchal domination. The patriarch gives his wife authority to replace him as the guardian of their daughter's chastity, a role which, once she accepts, perpetuates patriarchal domination within apparent female domestic space.5 Given the history of patriarchal domination of domestic space, it is not surprising that as Bal challenges the female gendering of the house, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar find that domestic space entraps women, producing women's fiction in which spatial imagery of enclosure and escape is often elaborated with "obsessive intensity" (83). From Virginia Woolf's "room of one's own" to Charlotte Brontë's "madwoman in the attic," women in literature have occupied confined inner spaces.
Beyala's text presents spatial imagery of enclosure and escape as Ateba retreats from painful reality to find refuge in imaginative space. "Etre ailleurs," to be elsewhere, becomes her strategy for survival in the world that denies her the comfort of a nurturing mother and the shelter of a protective hearth. Hence, she withdraws physically and psychologically into the confined space of her bedroom. Although the physical space of her bedroom is disagreeable, a reflection of the physical misery of the ghetto—"L'odeur de renfermé, d'urine et de moisissure la prend au nez" (96; "The smell of staleness, urine and moisture fills the nose" )—the room becomes a creative space for writing and reflection. Here, Ateba, like Ramatoulaye, composes letters to women, but Bâ's protagonist writes to her closest friend, whereas Ateba's narratees are imaginary.
The space in which Ateba writes letters to women opens upon imaginative space, her refuge for meditation, recollection, fantasy. As Ateba retreats into the inner spaces of dream and memory, the room she shared with her mother in the past emerges as an impenetrable fortress against outside intrusion. Betty's bedroom remains anchored in Ateba's memory as a protective hearth, "espace heureux," the place where her mother expressed maternal love. Ateba recalls its warmth and comfort: "allongée dans le lit de sa mère, la tête sur ses genoux" (128; "stretched out on her mother's bed, her head in her mother's lap" ). Although she remembers her mother's care, more often than not it was the child who nurtured the psychologically fragile parent. Ateba denies the painful truth that Betty abandoned her to follow a lover; she patiently awaits Betty's return, dreaming of "their place," the home where mother and daughter, away from men, might live in peace. On the one hand, Ateba, in her search for shelter for her wounded soul, articulates a desire to return to maternal space, a return to the womb. On the other hand, she expresses the desire for alternative space, a space apart from man where woman may free her creative potential.
"Their place," however, is an illusion. As if she were waiting for Godot, Ateba anticipates a return that will not occur. Refuge in imaginative space, Ateba's strategy for survival, leads only to an impasse. Closed space, protecting and reassuring for the person seeking refuge, eventually becomes a prison when the individual must get out. As Bachelard reminds us, withdrawal implies reemergence: "L'être qui rentre dans sa coquille prêpare une sortie" (110; "A creature that hides and ‘withdraws into its shell,’ is preparing ‘a way out’" ).
Ironically, Ateba is blocked by the memory of the very person whose presence she desires. She fears repeating her mother's trajectory: "Pute aussi: à elle-même, à son passé, à son impuissance à briser le fil du désepoir. Doucement, elle se retire en ellemème" (73; "Whore as well: to herself, to her past, to her helplessness in breaking the thread of despair. Gently she retreats into herself" ). Although she never learns why Betty took to the streets, she knows that once her mother was there she was unable to retrace her steps back to domesticity: "Ici, dans cette rue, Betty a vécu, c'est dans sa boue qu'elle s'est façonnée" (92; "Betty lived here in this street; it's this sludge that shaped her" [59-60]). Contemplating the QG streets, Ateba acknowledges the dual nature of the signifier that haunts her life. For families, the streets are centripetal, leading home to the hearth; for streetwalkers, they are centrifugal, leading out to prostitution:
C'est l'heure du crépuscule. Celle qui raméne dans les cabanes hommes, femmes et enfants, les genoux fatigués de la journée de travail. Celle qui paradoxalement déverse dans les rues la femme aux baisers et aux caresses infâmes.
It is dusk. The time of day that brings men, women and children back to their shacks, tired of the day's work. The time of day that, paradoxically, pours into the street the women of easy virtue and loathsome caresses.
For the prostitute's daughter attempting to find her way out of the QG, the streets are snares. They are dirty and ugly: "Le boulevard se rétrécit, devient sale, puis crasseux" (73; "The boulevard grows narrow, becomes dirty, then downright filthy" ). They are dangerous: "Des soldats, mitraillette au poing, débouchent de partout, cernent la rue" (106; "Soldiers, submachine guns in hand, come out from everywhere, check the street" ). Leading nowhere, they define the QG as carceral space: "Le QG ne mène nulle part" (73; "The QG leads nowhere at all" ).
Struggling to situate herself elsewhere, however, Ateba is forced to come to terms with the symbolic referents of Betty's life: the streets where she picked up her clients; the rooms where they exchanged money for sex. Her search for place takes on aspects of an epic journey, ritual purification preceding the hero's confrontation with the enemy. First, Ateba descends into the street on a rainy night, cleansing and purifying her body in the falling rain: "Elle a l'impression que chaque goutte d'eau l'immacule et la sort du QG et de ses noirceurs d'égoût" (135; "She is under the impression that each drop of water is making her immaculately clean and taking her out of the QG and the black filth of its sewers" ). Following the death of a QG prostitute, her closest friend Irène, she takes on the role of prostitute, confronting the male predator in closed space, her client's room. There, in a paroxysm of fury, she murders the man who abuses her.
Through this act of violence, Ateba takes revenge for the physical and psychological harm men have inflicted upon her, her mother, other women. Confusing the man she has killed with her dead friend Irène, and whispering passionately, "Viens dans mes bras…. Viens tout contre moi…. Je t'aime" (173; "Come into my arms…. Come close, close to me…. I love you" ), Ateba transforms heterosexual violence—man's violence against woman met with woman's violence against man—into homosexual love. The murder, in self-defense, is Ateba's ultimate act of resistance, the passionate and erotic embrace of Irène, her ultimate act of female bonding. In this final scene, Beyala links violence with eroticism to boldly challenge the norms of patriarchal discourse.
The text ends with Ateba leaving the room: "Ses pas résonnent sur le bitume, elle avance lentement, pas à pas, vers la clarté diffuse à l'horizon" (174; "Her footsteps reverberate on the asphalt. Slowly she moves on, step by step, towards the radiating brightness on the horizon" [119-20]). Liberation, however, occurs only in mythic space; it remains symbolic, and incomplete. The young woman leaving the room has lost her grip on reality; she is caught in both the inner spaces of her mind and the outer world of reality. Facing imprisonment in an institution, Ateba becomes yet another "madwoman in the attic," literally and figuratively trapped in carceral space.
In La Petite Fille du réverbère Beyala takes key elements from C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée to transform a closed narrative—Ateba's failure to connect past to present, memory to expectation—into an open one, Tapoussière's trajectory toward the future. Borrowing Katherine Platt's distinction between home as centripetal energy enclosing and turning inward and home as centrifugal energy extending its meaning outward into the world. I view Beyala's first novel as enclosed, centripetal, and her latest as open, centrifugal.
In La Petite Fille du réverbère the protagonist is a child of the slums whose mother is absent, her father unknown. Although Tapoussiere lives in physical poverty, she does not experience psychological deprivation. Unlike Ateba, whose memories of maternal love are stored in memory, Tapoussière's are present in reality. A cherished grandchild, Tapoussière is the center of her grandmother's universe. As they share physical space—a house, a bedroom, a bed—Grandmother's shack becomes the space of Tapoussière's progressive initiation into her grandmother's world. Here, fluid boundaries separate the realms of the real and the imaginary. A healer, Grandmother grows plants in her garden, explaining their medicinal properties to Tapoussière. A storyteller, she teaches the child proverbs, myths, legends, using oral tradition to transmit moral values and complex truths. Like Télumée's grandmother in Simone Schwarz-Bart's Pluie et vent sur Télumée-Miracle, Grandmother transforms her tiny cabin into mythic space: "Grand-mère me racontait des histoires, des légendes, certes, mais si vivantes qu'elles vibraient dans mes veines et s'emmêlaient dans mes pensées. Je voyais les esprits courir et les morts danser sur les toits" (41; Grandmother told me stories, legends surely, but so vivid that they stirred the blood in my veins and entered my thoughts. I saw spirits run and the dead dancing on the rooftops). Initiating the child to the power of the word, Grandmother emphasizes the importance of memory and imagination. In their home, Tapoussière, like Ateba, learns to value imaginative space as refuge: "L'expérience m'avait appris à posséder par les images ce que la vie me refusait. Je fermais les yeux et je voyais merveille" (71; Experience had taught me to seize through image what life refused. I closed my eyes and saw marvelous things).
In addition, the home they share is a space for communication. The child comes to value her grandmother's attentive and sympathetic ear: "Je narrais les scènes de la journée…. Grand-mère m'écoutait, attentive" (142; I recounted my day…. Grandmother listened attentively). Significantly, when Tapoussière's mother returns, treating her daughter as a servant and showing her no love, the child confides her sorrow to her grandmother, who explains that it is more important to love than be loved: "La plus grande joie de l'existence, c'est de vivre auprés de ceux qu'on aime. Tu aimes ta mère, c'est l'essentiel" (226; The greatest joy in life is to live close to the one we love. You love your mother, that's what's important). Thus, by talking to her grandmother, Tapoussière finds comfort and security; their home is her refuge. Clearly, Grandmother's humble shack meets Tuan's definition of place, space enriched with human experience and understanding; it is a protective hearth embodying the symbolic value Bachelard attributes to intimate space, the sense of refuge and maternal protection.
Transporting her "magic" from the village, Grandmother represents the force of traditional values within the bidonville, which, as intermediate space between village and city, is liminal space between continuity and change. Bringing words (legends, myths, proverbs), herbs, and potions to protect the community of Kassalafam, the old woman passes this lore on to the others, preparing Tapoussière to take her place eventually. Choosing Tapoussière as her link in the transmission of tradition, she puts her through a traditional initiation into her spiritual world. This ritual includes washing the child's eyes so that she, like her grandmother, will perceive the supernatural. Thus, in contrast to Ada's requirement that Ateba remain passive and silent, Grandmother's goal for Tapoussière is agency: "Grand-mère m'aimait parce que j'étais son espoir, celui de reconstruire un jour le royaume des Issogos" (43; Grandmother loved me because I was her hope for someday rebuilding the Issogo kingdom).
Accepting agency willingly, Tapoussière does not share her grandmother's goal, the return to a traditional world. In the process of individuation, the child moves psychologically beyond her grandmother's "magical kingdom" despite the nurture and protection it provides. For her, agency implies the claim to physical as well as imaginative space. Secure in the inner world, she desires the challenge of the outer world. Structured by reason and logic, interpreted by social discourse, the public arena is dominated by men. Hence, Tapoussière embarks upon the search for her father. We may view her quest as the longing for the male figure representing the power of the phallus, the origin of patriarchy. I believe, however, that we should interpret it as the child's attempt to bond with both parents, assuring access to public and private space which, in postcolonial Africa, is still largely divided into masculine and feminine spheres.
Hence, as Ateba passively awaits her mother's return and their eventual refuge in "no man's land," Tapoussière actively seeks her father—or surrogate—in order to assume her place in public space. In practical terms, a father will give Tapoussière standing in a community that denigrates the child who is poor, dirty, and illegitimate. Tapoussière never meets her father, but she gains her community's praise through intelligence and hard work. By passing her school exams, she earns recognition independently, albeit with the help of her male schoolmaster.
Sustained—but not limited—by her grandmother's strength and wisdom, Tapoussiere achieves agency. She finds her place in both private and public spheres, the inner world of imagination, the outer physical world structured by reason and logic. This duality is symbolized through Tapoussière's acquisition of language, African orality and écriture, the written word in French. As informal schooling enriches the inner world, formal schooling becomes a blueprint for the larger world.
In contrast to Ateba, who experiences the QG as "lost" space where rituals of community life—circumcision, funerals—have lost their meaning and new structures have not replaced them, and to Grandmother, who criticizes Kassalafam's materialism, Tapoussière views the bidonville positively. She finds promise and opportunity in "ce quartier des extrêmes, où la laideur et la beauté avançaient au coude à coude, tant mieux pour l'univers" (57; this neighborhood of extremes, where ugliness and beauty go together, so much the better for the universe). For her, contradictions allow for possibilities; the Douala slum is a dynamic stage, and she believes she will be able to participate in shaping her community's future: "J'étais convaincue qu'un jour viendrait où, d'un seul regard, je transformerais Kassalafam en une ville fantastique, ruisselante de lumière" (55-56; I was convinced that a day would come when, with one glance, I would transform Kassalafam into an amazing city, streaming with light).
Establishing the concept of Kassalafam as a dynamic stage. Tapoussière adds a new dimension to the symbolic representation of the streets. Adapting public space—and city electricity—to her needs, she does her homework in the street, under the light of a streetlamp. Praised in Kassalafam as the first child to obtain a primary-school certificate, Tapoussière is renamed "la petite fille du réverbère," the little girl of the streetlamp. The child who lights her way out of darkness also "reflects" the creativity of those who survive—and thrive—through ingenuity. Hence, an important shift takes place in Beyala's work as she reconceptualizes the African bidonville; no longer carceral space, it is a space of possibilities whose inhabitants create, invent, construct. She explains:
Il suffit de voir combien la créativité est de rigueur dans les bidonvilles. On construit n'importe quoi et n'importe comment. Le fait de vivre au pan de la misère en permanence permet une émulation de l'imaginaire de manière extraordinaire…. Je crois fort que ceux qui feront l'Afrique de demain sortiront des bidonvilles.
(You just have to see the extent to which creativity is required in the slums. People build all sorts of things in every which way. The fact of always living with misery encourages extraordinary imagination…. I strongly believe that those who build the Africa of the future will come from the slums.)
The search for place in these two texts reflects a significant evolution in Beyala's writing. The child of the African slums establishes a new relationship to self and community as the female protagonist with strong ties to her mother—or surrogate—finds her place. With her trajectory to self-expression encouraged and protected by her grandmother, Tapoussière's voice resonates within and beyond the confines of the protective hearth. Articulate, uninhibited, spontaneous, the child becomes the willing and capable narrator of her own story as well as a storyteller of African myth and legend.
As Beyala, through Tapoussière, arrives at autofiction, her readers are left to wonder how the protagonist will deal later with the problems that confronted Ateba: her relationship to men; her life with her cold and indifferent mother following her grandmother's death. This text leaves questions that hopefully another will answer. La Petite Fille du réverbère marks an important stage in Beyala's fiction as "le réverbère de la petite fille," Tapoussière's streetlamp, penetrates the darkness. It simultaneously opens the child's world, projecting her into the future, and lights Calixthe Beyala's way back to her grandmother's hearth.
Despite the bold challenge to patriarchal discourse through the depiction of eroticism and violence, Beyala's fiction reveals a quest for domesticity that may seem conventional rather than iconoclastic, conservative rather than revolutionary. Having first marked a radical departure from Bâ's representation of domestic space, Beyala now appears to join her through the process of restructuring the concept of the protective hearth. Readers will recall that in Bâ's text, Ramatoulaye transforms domestic space into refuge, her space for meditation, literary expression, and healing, as she writes to her best friend during the period of mourning required by Islam. Similarly, in C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlée Ateba transforms her bedroom into her refuge, the creative space for writing, reflection, memory, and in La Petite Fille du réverbère Tapoussière's grandmother, as storyteller, opens their domestic space to myth and legend.
In conclusion, Beyala, like Bâ, depicts home in Bachelardian terms, as the refuge where the human imagination integrates life's experiences. In her texts, the concept of home is crucial to the process of self-realization. In both fiction and reality, however, individuals in search of home often encounter displacement instead. For Beyala, who has found her creative space in Paris, not in Douala, the search for place represents an important and challenging problematic, and one that may continue to engage her in the years to come.6
1. Explaining the importance of home, Bachelard writes: "Elle maintient l'homme à travers les orages du ciel et les orages de la vie. Elle est corps et âme. Elle est le premier monde de l'être humain…. Et toujours, en nos rêveries, la maison est un grand berceau" (26); "It maintains him through the storms of the heavens and through those of life. It is body and soul. It is the human being's first world…. And always, in our daydreams, the house is a large cradle" (The Poetics of Space, 7).
2. For a detailed historical study of African women's role in economic production, see Coquery-Vidrovitch.
3. QG stands for "quartier général" or military headquarters, an ironic misnomer since this area is one of squalor and poverty.
4. All translations of C'est le soleil qui m'a brûlee are taken from The Sun Hath Looked Upon Me, translated from the French by Marjolijn de Jager. The translations of passages from La Petite Fille du réverbère are my own.
5. For a probing analysis of architecture as patriarchal space, see Wigley.
6. For Beyala's reflections on living abroad, see Gallimore, 202, and Matateyou, 613.
Mariama Bâ. Une si tongue lettre. Dakar. NEA. 1980.
Gaston Bachelard. La poétique de l'espace. Paris. Quadrige/PUF. 1957. Reprinted 1994.
———. The Poetics of Space. Maria Jolas, tr. Boston. Beacon. 1994.
Mieke Bal. Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. 1988.
Calixthe Beyala. C'est le soleii qui m'a brûlée. Paris. Stock. 1987.
———. The Sun Hath Looked Upon Me. Marjolijn de Jager, tr. Portsmouth, N.H./London. Heinemann. 1996.
———. La Petite Fille du reverbére. Paris. Albin Michel. 1998.
Homi Bhabha. "The World and the Home." Social Text, 31/32, 10:2-3 (1992), pp. 141-53.
———. The Location of Culture. London/New York. Routledge. 1994.
Eloise Brière. Le roman camerounais et ses discours. Paris. Nouvelles du Sud. 1993.
Odile Cazenave. Femmes rebelles: Naissance d'un nouveau roman africain au féminin. Paris. L'Harmattan. 1996.
Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch. Les Africaines: Histoire des femmes d'Afrique noire du XIXe au XXe siècle. Paris. Desjonquères. 1994.
Irène Assiba D'Almeida. Francophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence. Gainesville. University Press of Florida. 1994.
Béatrice Rangira Gallimore. "Ecriture féminine dans la littérature noire: Bâ et Beyala." Missives, October 1992, pp. 64-69.
———. Le renouveau de l'écriture féminine dans l'oeuvre romanesque de Calixthe Beyala: Afrique Francophone Sub-Saharienne. Paris. L'Harmattan. 1997.
Emmanuel Matateyou. "Calixthe Beyala: Entre le terroir et l'exil." French Review, 69:4 (March 1996), pp. 605-15.
Julienne Ayissi Ngone. "Statut juridique et rôle économique de la femme chef de famille au Cameroun." In Femmes du Sud, chefs de famille Jeanne Bisilliat, ed. Paris. Karthala. 1996. Pp. 315-22.
Katherine Platt. "Places of Experience and the Experience of Place." In The Longing for Home. Leroy S. Rouner, ed. Notre Dame, In. University of Notre Dame Press. 1996. Pp. 112-26.
Simone Schwarz-Bart. Pluie et vent sur Télumée-Miracle. Paris. Seuil. 1972.
Yi-Fu Tuan. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. Minneapolis. University of Minnesota Press. 1977.
Mark Wigley. "The Housing of Gender." In Sexuality and Space. Beatriz Colomina, ed. Princeton, N.J. Princeton University School of Architecture. 1992. Pp. 329-89.
Sonja Darlington (essay date summer 2003)
SOURCE: Darlington, Sonja. "Calixthe Beyala's Manifesto and Fictional Theory." Research in African Literatures 34, no. 2 (summer 2003): 41-52.
[In the following essay, Darlington argues that Beyala's novel Your Name Shall Be Tanga is both an ideological manifesto on the rights of women and a work of fictional theory on the state of contemporary African femaleness.]
Tanga, a girlchild-woman in Calixthe Beyala's Your Name Shall Be Tanga, like the manchild in Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born or the manchild Oskar in Nurrudin Farah's Maps, is one of those significant fictional characters that can be called "widowers of their childhood" (Beyala 47). The protagonist, Tanga, as a girlchild-woman is challenged to live as a girl-child without a beginning known as childhood, though much of the world readily accepts childhood as a universal experience. In that the referent girlchild-woman appears a minimum of thirty times throughout the text, the classifications of girl and woman as well as child and adult are blurred. By categorizing Tanga as neither a child nor a woman during the entire novel, Beyala suggests at the very least an ambivalence towards such categories and at the most a view that "child" and "woman" are theoretically inadequate terms by which to classify Tanga.
Your Name Shall Be Tanga is not a developmental novel about a girl-child becoming a woman. The text does not follow the physical, psychological, and/or social trajectory of a young individual moving towards maturity despite numerous complex obstacles as in Tsitsi Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions. Neither is Your Name Shall Be Tanga a depiction of an age of innocence as in Camara Laye's Dark Child. Beyala cannot be criticized for her so-called glorification of African childhood and/or precolonial Africa. Neither is Your Name Shall Be Tanga a story about conflicts to be resolved, as with the young heroine overcoming a series of trials in Flora Nwapa's Efuru. Beyala does not present the reader with a young figure who endures countless tribulations and still succeeds in overturning established tradition. Finally, Your Name Shall Be Tanga is not a novel filled with stories about admiration, assimilation, or rejection of a colonizer. Her story cannot be neatly labeled a Bildungsroman as does Nedal Al-Mousa for six Arabic novels in "The Arabic Bildungsroman: A Generic Appraisal," wherein he argues that the art of living is replaced with heroes who reconcile two cultures.
Instead, Your Name Shall Be Tanga is in part a manifesto. On one level, it is a political manifesto drawing attention to the civil rights of children. On another level, it is a political manifesto for the rights of women: socially and economically. A significant part of the argument lies in a fight against free market capitalism, which determines the value of girl-children and women through the demand for their bodies. The novel is a social critique like Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina. Your Name Shall Be Tanga strongly contests illegitimacy: it focuses attention on a young female child's right to have others acknowledge her birth, a female child's right to have others value her existence, and a female child's right to control her body. In a real sense, Your Name Shall Be Tanga is an ideological war being fought against psychological, political, social, and economic determinism. A similar war is fought in The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born. Armah's critique of corrupt and greedy Ghanaians and their tyrannical rulers bears a heavy resemblance to Beyala's novel in its narrative struggle against similar forces. However, neither Armah's protagonist, Allison's Bone, nor Beyala's Tanga should be remembered simply as victims of determinism. Doing so would reduce these novels to being articulate examples of nihilistic literature. Tanga does not name herself a victim and deny her own agency. If this were the case, then readers would see Tanga only in terms of their own potential victimization, and they could easily succumb to feelings of hopelessness. Rather, readers are implored to gather themselves up as does bell hooks in "Refusing to Be a Victim" and to argue along with Nada Elia that women such as Fusena in Ama Ata Aidoo's Changes embody defeatist attitudes and need to be contrasted with women who counter such perceptions of victimization.
Juliana Makuchi Nfah-Abbenyi argues in Gender in African Women's Writing that Your Name Shall Be Tanga counters such perceptions of victimization by investigating issues of women's subjectivity, sexuality, and identity. She maintains that significant links can be drawn between Tanga's mother's power and her daughter's objectified body, sexual abuse, and questions of identity. According to Nfah-Abbenyi, one of the radical protests in this novel focuses on the idea that women can stop other women from contributing to forces leading to their abuses (90). While I do not disagree with Nfah-Abbenyi on the power of women over women, I want to examine the psychological, social, political, and economic forces that determine the lives of female children and, just as important, to demonstrate how Nfah-Abbenyi's notion of "theorized fiction" (149) can be applied to this text. By examining the deterministic elements in this novel and also by investigating the discourse related to issues of knowing, being, and becoming, Nfah-Abbenyi's analysis can be developed a step further. My position is that Beyala's contribution to African literature consists of two aspects: one, her brilliant manifesto on behalf of the girlchild-woman through which she critiques the ideological determinism that thwarts the development of girl-children and women; and two, her ability to use fictional theorizing to demonstrate a girlchild-woman's efforts to know and to become a human being. In Beyala's theorizing on indigenous knowing, emotional knowing, and imaginative knowing, she radicalizes thinking about contemporary African childhood as well as African womanhood. Because Beyala's fictional theory is grounded in her critique, the following discussion will be divided into a two-part argument: the first part will address Beyala's manifesto, and the second part will address her fictional theorizing.
Beyala reviles classification, a methodology from which ideological determinism benefits most and a labeling system that eludes the grasp of women and children. This is a system that makes children and women objects rather than subjects. As social and political groups, women and children have not had control over who has the power to classify, why they can classify, and how they classify. In Tanga's world the individuals who are able to classify are men like Hassan, the clitoris snatcher and rapist. As Tanga says of herself in relationship to Hassan, "And, because I am a girlchild-woman, and not the first one to occupy his bed, a girlchild-woman without rank or classification […] I am one of those whom he swallows and captures and expels" (46). Classification is a problematic issue that deeply disturbs Tanga throughout the novel, because she perceives classifying as the systematic way to deny her subjectivity. The classifier is like a blind accountant who "is eager to file anything and everything" (12). Her association with those who have the power to classify and the classification methods they employ demonstrate to her that she is powerless against the insidious practices this methodology promotes.
The men who classify Tanga's sexuality include cops, an arms trader, her father, the butcher, and a stranger. Each of these men classifies her as a whore and does so despite the fact that they are the perpetrators (rapists) and she is a child. Their categorization pushes Tanga further into the only spaces left open to her: prostitution, corruption, and violence. Suffocated by her label, Tanga struggles to find nurturing forces that she is denied. Family, friends, and acquaintances conspire to keep her trapped by the classifications of whore, thief, and butcher. At six, her father shoves her off into the corner of his bedroom while he has sex with another woman. At ten, her father rapes her and then poisons the child who results from their sexual encounter. At twelve, her lover Hassan rapes her and then is unwilling to marry her. By sixteen, so many men from every country and of every color have taken advantage of the girlchild-woman that her body is "wilted from too much suffering" (108). She notes her frustration at the beginning of the novel:
I fell heir to the blood between my legs. To a hole between my thighs. All that I was left with was the law of oblivion. Time passed, I was becoming accustomed to that part of me that was gone. I kidnapped the hordes of memories. I tied them up with string. I shoved them deep inside the drawers of time.
Perhaps worse than some men believing in their right to classify her as a prostitute, others refuse to grant Tanga a classification altogether. She is nonexistent: not classified, not alive. Tanga sees herself reflected in the childhood of Iningué children, who do not have a right to exist and therefore are not given an identity. Like Footwreck, she can say in unison with him, "I'm nobody's child" (76). Within the body of the text, Tanga's inability to name herself represents a core struggle with her own identity. She is not an "I." She does not have the right to name herself. However, her defiance surfaces, and although she is unable to create a meaningful identity within the story, Tanga bequeaths her identity to her prison-mate, Anna Claude, to whom she tells her story. As terrible as not having a classification is, Tanga also knows that acquaintances of hers, like sixteen-year-old Kangue, can also be misclassified. She learns from experience that in life, murder can be made to look like suicide and can be classified as such by cops. As a twelve-year-old she had been envious of cops, believing that "they represented the strength that would allow [her] to struggle against decay and find [her] way back to the stars"; as she learns quickly, however, "dogs and wolves look alike at night" (97). Most significantly, Tanga has learned through her experiences that those who have the power to classify can "transform lies into the truth"; in her mind all they need to do is codify them: "That is how man has constructed his world, put together his history" (20).
Tanga's psychological determinism begins with the destructive forces unleashed by her immediate family when she is born. She describes her conception as an encounter that destroyed her and at the same time gave birth to her (27). Her mother torments her from the beginning, because Tanga's existence brings to mind her cheating husband. Mother old one, as she is called, has no dreams for Tanga and insists that Tanga sell her body to men in order to provide her with security. Nfah-Abbenyi criticizes her character for playing a key role in contributing to her daughter's physical and psychological imprisonment. According to Nfah-Abbenyi, she is an example of women being oppressive agents towards one another (86-87). Psychologically destitute, as her father has no aspirations for her either and has himself raped her when she was ten, Tanga has no opportunity to develop beyond her focus on food, shelter, and clothing. As a result, the denial of her psychological needs is translated into a self-hatred. As she says of her deprivation, "Until now the only love I, girlchild-woman, have had is self-hatred. […] How do I explain to others that I hate myself? I was born of decay" (13).
As adolescent researchers such as Douglas and Barbara Schave find, young adults are particularly vulnerable to experiencing intense feelings of shame (75). They use disavowal to sever their emotions from events and memories when their affective lives are out of control. In Tanga's case, she expresses shame as she reflects upon some of her memories. She is ashamed of her birth, when her father, a womanizer, sires her (29). She is ashamed of her clitoridectomy that her mother commands (12). She is ashamed of her poverty, when she sees her mother begging for food, shelter, and clothing. She is ashamed of her rape, not only by her father, but also by Hassan, Monsieur John, the Butcher, and the One-Night Stand. She is also ashamed of not being marriageable (92). A poignant description of her sense of shame is reflected in her description of her mother's shanty, after the authorities have demolished her home and her mother has rebuilt it at least ten times "with the patience of the poor" (22):
Perhaps when they come through for the hundredth time, they'll open their eyes and take in the spectacle of our wretchedness? Then they'll notice that we are the shame that day in and out they themselves have woven […] they'll see us—we who are the fleas in their silk jackets […].
Actually, the memories of events that bring Tanga shame are the same as those she realizes determine her social capital. In effect, her birth, her poverty, and her rape mar her. Her social capital, as that of many African women, lies in the status of her family, her virginity, and her ability to bring a bride price. Buchi Emecheta's The Bride Price suggests explicitly that the value of African women is determined by how much they can fetch at the time of their marriage. A woman's refusal to marry the man who can pay the highest bid and/or has been chosen for her incurs such a stigma that many women fear an unlawful relationship will cause them to die at childbirth, remain barren, or, in the case of Nwapa's Efuru, cause the death of a child. In the case of Tanga, she is socially deficient on many levels. She is a girlchild and not as valuable as a boychild and neither her mother nor father wants her. At birth, they say to her coldly, "[S]ince you're here, since you're alive, have a seat on the debris of ages; feed us with your body" (27). Furthermore, because her duty is to give men pleasure, she is not marriageable. When Hassan takes Tanga to his motel room, he indicates that she is crazy to think he'll marry her: "Do you know what would happen to you? You'd lose your beauty. Like all the others" (93). Then he offends her even further by elaborating on wives who have become lazy matrons with flabby bellies and sagging breasts.
Beyond the fact that Tanga has had no social capital since birth, Tanga also never experiences the rites of passage that are assumed by many to mark the connection between psychological and physical development from girlhood to womanhood. These rituals in her society ordinarily celebrate the onset of a menstrual cycle, marriage, and the birth of a child. Carole Boyce Davies theorizes on these ritual markers in her introduction to Ngambika, a feminist critique of women in African literature, and notes that they have often been used as undesirable stereotypes (15). For Tanga these events simply do not take place. First, Tanga cannot be initiated into womanhood, because she is, after all, born a girlchild-woman and remains so throughout the novel. Second, when Tanga has her clitoridectomy, she experiences immediate shame from which she says she does not survive. She bitterly remembers her "mother old one, shimmering in her immaculate kaba, a black scarf in her hair, crying out to every god: ‘She has become a woman, she has become a woman’" (12). Third, Tanga never marries, she copulates. She tells of how she would like to hold on to the idea of marriage, but Hassan will not marry her (28). Fourth, Tanga never becomes a biological mother: her father kills the child he sires. As a substitute, she adopts Mala, the ultimate misfit in society. He is a twelve-year-old "spermatozoon" who, when he was abandoned by his mother, lost part of his legs to the maggots that attacked his body. Like Tanga, Mala represents children for whom society does not provide rites of passage. They remain, as does Armah's manchild, freaks who look old but are children.
By having first learned to be submissive to the authority of her parents, Tanga is never given the opportunity to act on behalf of her own needs and interests. As she battles the authority of her parents, she remains a child who is denied an opportunity to overrule her parents in decisions about her. For example, even as her father acts violently towards her, he is able to legitimize his relationships with other women and also has the power to lay down the law and establish a new civil code in the home (29). Equally confounding is her lack of political power in relationship to other males who, because they are older males, have the authority to abuse her as a girlchild. Tanga is totally powerless in her rape by Hassan, who blindfolds her with a red scarf and then walks around Tanga "as children go around a Christmas tree" (18). Still other men, such as Monsieur John, an arms dealer who has killed fourteen people, can overpower Tanga and abuse her sexually without feeling any obligation toward the girlchild-woman, because they are wealthy. The power of authority is an overwhelming issue for Tanga, who has no sense of how to access power either from within herself or from outside her world of Iningué. Beyala's point is that the girlchild-woman has no obvious advocates or nurturers; she has been sexually abused, objectified, and denied an identity. Her dilemma rests in her vulnerability as a child to control her subjectivity, sexuality, and identity.
Lack of political power also plays a prominent role in other manchild/girlchild novels. For example, in Ken Saro-Wiwa's Sozaboy, the protagonist, Meme, learns that listening to Nigerian authorities during the Biafran War (1967-70) leaves him confused about the reason for fighting a war. The brutal conflicts leave "sozaboys" like him battle-scarred, confused, and depressed—without any personal political meaning. Likewise, Farida Karodia's Shattering of Silence depicts the political insignificance of eight-year-old Faith whose life following the massacre of her parents and village people in Mozambique leaves her mute. Along with Tanga, these characters wrestle with forms of political determinism that overwhelm them as children. These forces include abusive families and/or leaders, violent circumstances, and greedy and corrupt adults. Highly indicative of Tanga's feelings of political imprisonment is the scene in which she refers to Iningué children as holocaust victims. She sees the children of Iningué shorn, with a ring through their noses, confined to the fields. They are bullied by men with whips and "biceps as big as logs and skulls like bats" (48). A legless woman binds their hands and feet, beats them, and then spins them off into the sky while chanting "Child, you do not exist. / Child, you were born to obey. / Child, you are born to be a slave to your parents" (48).
Despite Tanga's struggle to create something out of the rubble of her life, she is economically determined to live off of her body. Women's capital socially, politically, and economically, as she knows, lies in their virginity. When mother old one's own mother, Kadjaba Dongo, declares herself deaf and blind because the villagers have raped her, her illegitimate child, mother old one, is raised by her aunts. Out of spite for herself at thirteen, mother old one pushed as many palmnuts as possible into her vagina to insure she would never be able to enjoy a man. Although mother old one marries Tanga's father, he cheats on her and shows disrespect. Regrettably, over time mother old one becomes the ultimate symbol of a cash cow. She finds herself overpowered by her need for security in old age, when her body will no longer bring her any benefits and she must rely on the bodies of her children. She has taught Tanga that "money alone, clean or dirty, allows us to live" (50).
The most succinct description of the tenacious power of money appears when Tanga reflects on her mother's view of life. She observes that money protects her mother from decay; it holds death at bay; and it is what she hopes will halt "the gusts of misfortune" (23). Tanga knows the fear of not having money, because she has seen Mama Mede "rotten all through, as smelly as a croaked dog," and Lady Dongue hacked to pieces (23). Economic determinism has such a hold over individuals, like her mother, that the infatuation with money causes them to be mistrustful of everything (106). The fear of poverty leads her mother to bury her money in shithouses and carry banknotes in her underwear. Once when she was menstruating, she lost her entire savings. Like Firdaus in Nawal El Saadawi's Woman at Point Zero, Tanga's economic existence depends solely upon her prostitution. Within the framework of her Iningué village, Tanga has no alternatives; she is trapped by an economic system that enshrouds her in the fiercest indignities known to girlchildren.
In a determined world such as Tanga's, existence is not about being in the Cartesian sense nor about becoming in the Heideggerian sense. As she reflects upon herself as a girlchild-woman, Tanga questions her nonexistent status. Turning Descartes's Enlightenment proposition on its head, Tanga says, "I am a child. I do not exist" (28). By arguing against the philosopher's idea of being, "I think therefore I am," the author suggests that for the girlchild-woman human existence is not possible. While Tanga is at once a child, presumably alive, she knows the conditions of her nonexistence: "My death exists before I do, and well beyond me" (1). Not only does Tanga struggle with the idea of not being, she is stymied by the Heidiggerian idea of becoming. Because the ideological determinism that surrounds her does not allow her to transform the self, she does not have the freedom to become. The here and now is the only world that she is allowed, and becoming is only a dream:
[…] I want the episodes that come next, those that will set woman free and bury dead childhood forever. Like the others, those in far-off countries, I want to stride over unhappiness and step on board the train of my becoming.
By explaining that being and becoming are not part of Tanga's experience, Beyala attempts not only to deal with the epistemological limitations in Tanga's world but also to deal with ontological issues. She establishes fictional theorizing in a serious manner by using "camera eye" description, interior monologues, cinematic time-montage, and omniscient narration (Niandou 99-111). Thus, the second part of my argument: Calixthe Beyala's fictional theorizing is the other significant means by which she resists various guises of determinism. On the one hand, Beyala presents an argument against an epistemology based on classification. She reviles a process that oppresses not only the girlchild-woman, Tanga, but also Anna Claude, a native of France who, though she studied Western philosophy, has not found meaning in her life. On the other hand, Beyala demonstrates the ability to overcome so-called victimization through theorizing on being and becoming, based on indigenous ideas and practices and the legitimacy of emotions and the imagination. Repeatedly, she debunks rationalism through her careful depiction of how indigenous knowing influences the girlchild-woman, Tanga. Rather than an epistemology linked to the abstract reason, Beyala values indigenous knowledge found in local social practices.
Beyala is very persuasive in her argument for indigenous knowing as she depicts the street life of Iningué children to which Tanga belongs. For example, her careful observations include a description of Tchoumbi's son who gets up from his mat of straw, rain or shine, and digs "his vermin feet into the garbage" (46); Yaya's son who is blinded by his father in order for his son to appear pitiful enough to receive alms (47); and Nono's daughter who is sent away to the city where she works so hard that her hands have been transformed into crocodile skin and her dress torn up to the armpits, a fertile victim for any man's penis (47). Beyala provides another example of indigenous knowing in the scene of the family council that gathers around to judge Tanga's so-called guilt for stealing her mother's money. At mother old one's home, the elderly members are gathered, all "jerking their carcasses around, spitting proverbs" (95). Cousins, second cousins, and third cousins of Kadjaba Dongo, her grandmother, are included. One-eyed Mede is there, as are the paralytic Essoumba, the carpenter Wolfgang, and their wives. Even the senile old people of Iningué have come (95). Through these details, the significance of knowing about Iningué society is established as a counterpoint to classification within the framework of Western rationalism.
For Beyala theorizing about indigenous knowing also includes examining the relationship between the Iningué people and nature. She lets readers see the majesty and power of trees and their significance for Tanga and other Iningué people. Tanga's earliest memories are of the mango tree, where she sinks down and spends end- less hours (8). The mango tree is also the place where Kadjaba holds court with the young men of her village (24), and where dogs and chickens seek out protection from the heat of the day (46). In addition, mango trees are the subjects in fables. At night when people are asleep the mango trees become men and when the cock crows twice they kiss each other and hand life back over to humans (62). Aside from mango trees, Beyala also identifies the significance of other kinds of trees. For example, following Mother old's accusation that Tanga had stolen her money, Mother old does not find solace in alcohol, as others do, but in looking for a baobab tree in which to plant a seed of hope (108). In Beyala's text, trees and forests have a mystical quality so that even a rapist like Monsieur John spins his seductive tales of money in forests that are made of silver and gold (37).
While identifying the significance of indigenous knowing, Beyala simultaneously turns the reader's attention to the legitimacy of emotions. For at the heart of Your Name Shall Be Tanga is Tanga's potential to give maternal love to Mala and also to accept his love in return. Tanga's desire to adopt him is born out of her desperation to save the widowers of childhood, and she knows that she must begin her rebirth with someone who can "weed the path of love" (47). The first time Tanga begins to have faith in someone is when she tells Mala that she wants him to become her child. Her ability to nurture Mala allows her to tell Mala that she will teach him to believe in Santa Claus and then even God will be forced to acknowledge them (74). At first, Mala, who is as disengaged and damaged by life as Tanga, rejects the possibility of her becoming a surrogate mother. However, over time he realizes the sincerity of her offer and recognizes that her offering will free him from walking alone and that she will raise him "in the gentleness of the world" (56). In a critical scene near the end of the story, Tanga is overwhelmed by her emotional encounter with Mala and as she pulls him toward her, she thinks, "I want to keep him against my heart as long as possible—to purge a long long affliction of love" (122).
In turn, Mala gives Tanga the love she so desperately needs for being alive herself. He makes his first important declaration of affection when he names her Mango. By identifying Tanga with the name Mango, Mala helps Tanga piece together her memories of the story telling tree and her associations with the security she has found there. His second, and the most significant gesture of love, occurs when on a blue Mother's Day he gives her a drawing of "a house with a magpie at the end of the meadow" (121). The drawing of her favorite dream, which has been mentioned more than eight times in the story, finally legitimizes Tanga's life. Through his gift, Mala acknowledges that she exists for him. Tanga notes the significance of this moment by saying, "[The] gift attests to my birth. He gives me a place. He violates unhappiness" (121-22). The importance of giving to others is recorded a few pages earlier as Tanga exclaims:
I tell myself that the first word—the one that ought to announce the beginning of life and toll the bell before anything moves—that every breath should be: GIVE! GIVE! GIVE!
The theme of legitimacy resonates here as loudly as in Allison's Bastard Out Of Carolina when Bone's mother finally retrieves a valid birth certificate for Bone after having demanded it for years. One of the most revealing passages in the entire novel appears when Mala says:
‘I've struggled for the existence of this place where childhood can live and speak. I've sacrificed everything for it. I wanted the wind to blow across their destiny so it would change its course. I wanted the child to go all the way to the death of childhood, and to be reborn divested of his parents. And nothing but love to dress him in. […]’
At the same time as Beyala interjects these episodic reflections about Tanga and Mala's love, she also identifies the life-affirming qualities of the imagination and theorizes about its power. By acknowledging each other's existence, both Tanga and Mala break through what they had only been able to imagine. Their love for each other makes it possible for each of them to believe in their existence. The power of the imagination is made clear in a conversation between Mala and Tanga when he tells her that the worst that Tanga ever experienced happened when she was born and her mother did not even give Tanga a treeless forest where she could hang "the robes of the imagination" (110). As Tanga has said earlier, she is eager to climb up the ladder of the imagination and escape the realities which make life so miserable (13).
In Beyala's text, the importance of the imagination can be measured in part by the number of times Tanga, Mala, and Anna Claude refer to dreams and how dreams are connected to the theme of love. In the case of Tanga and Anna Claude's relationship, dreams provide an antidote to the bleak existence that Tanga and Anna Claude speak about in prison. While their own love is eroticized and reaches the level of physical consummation, as Nfah-Abbenyi suggests, it is equally important that they both share in a common dream of becoming. Like Tanga and Mala's love, Anna Claude and Tanga's love is the way these individuals are validated and given the opportunity to develop. In terms of her craft, Beyala's lyrical emphasis on the emotion of love provides a dramatic contrast to the manifesto-like phrases waged on behalf of women and children throughout the novel. In terms of her fictional theorizing, Beyala articulates clearly that Tanga and Mala, along with Anna Claude and Tanga, reach the sublime in human relationships as they share issues of subjectivity, sexuality, and identity.
In a sense, the interplay of subjectivity, sexuality, and identity with the difficulty of being and becoming is foreshadowed in the relationship between Anna Claude and Ousmane. Anna Claude's dream of Ousmane, her African lover, begins the story. Anna Claude invents her man to fit her dreams and to "endlessly affirm that the meeting point of the world lay in the imaginary […]" (2-3). She tells stories about him, draws portraits of him, and even keeps other suitors at bay by saying that she is married and is expecting a child. Anna Claude's dream is at a most basic level also an attempt to believe in her agency to change the world (1). She imagines that Ousmane, a symbol of African ingenuity, can replace the disillusionment that she has found in France, where she experienced people living without thinking or feeling. A parallel to this belief in which agency is accessed through the imagination is reflected in a scene wherein Tanga says to herself:
I want to anchor myself amidst my dreams, to raise myself up above destiny. The story must be—to challenge the disruptive elements that are unsuited to the enlightenment of the state of grace; to plunge into reverie to cross the threshold of the impossible universe. To invent.
Another way in which the struggle of being and becoming is foreshadowed in the text is Beyala's provocation against an all-knowing, Christian God. As Your Name Shall Be Tanga begins, the first attribution to God is that even he knows fear:
I see him sitting on his cloud of dust, trembling at the thought of blowing the wind of knowledge into the world, or song or laughter, and finally setting the wheel of love going. What can I, woman, do about that? My death exists before I do, and well beyond me. That's God's way—his very personal way—of getting rid of all undesirables. Otherwise, he'd die poisoned, killed by his own work.
The God Beyala portrays is an all-powerful male who is like Hassan (16). In Africa, he has given the sun but removed the light (35), so that while he may reign over the universe, for individuals like Tanga their experience is that his power does not extend to them (41). He has swindled them (51) and made an error by not giving them a place in the world (72). Clearly, he ought to think like Mala does—start at the creation and stay right there (103-04). As far as Tanga is concerned God's son, Christ, "stopped in the North" (77). At the conclusion of Your Name Shall Be Tanga, Beyala draws her strongest image of the God from the North. She carves out his caricature in icy tones as she describes him as a "tall and blond, a good-natured man, with the broad gestures of a Lord" (135).
His name is Lord von Deutschman and as he enters the stadium full of throngs of hopeful people, he urges the people to praise the resurrected Christ. While he solicits their praises to God, his men simultaneously collect from the poor and destitute whatever they have: money, jewelry, watches, even the last one hundred-franc coin (136). Tanga sees Mala die in her arms at the very moment that she believes he will be healed by von Deutschman. Because she recognizes immediately that a cruel ruse has been played on the throngs of beggars, blind, and cripples, she searches for the tree of money that has eluded her and her people (136). With Tanga caught by the police as the finale to her life, Beyala denounces any connection between Tanga and the God of the North, because he has deserted her people and stolen their last objects of value. For readers who understand the cross-purposes with which writers must work, Beyala's Your Name Shall Be Tanga can be read like a cosmic tale of South meets North. The gritty face-off between these sides can leave readers critical of the epistemology, ontology, and theology of the North. Beyala's polemic, however, does not end with a manifesto designed to destroy the opponents of women and children or even of the South. Rather, she can be seen to make a place for women and children by addressing serious issues related to knowing, being, and becoming.
When Your Name Shall Be Tanga is examined through the lens of fictional theorizing, Beyala's major contribution is that she wages a battle against ideological determinism by writing on the significance of indigenous knowing, the legitimacy of the emotions, and the life-affirming quality of the imagination. Her literary achievement lies in her ability to posit these ways of knowing, being, and becoming as a challenge to the limitations of rationality: its thinking, questioning, and classifying. While Beyala purports to have few definitive answers, reading Your Name Shall Be Tanga invites readers to delve deeply into meaningful human questions. Beyala theorizes that an epistemology grounded in lived experience, relationships with nature, the legitimacy of emotions, and imaginative knowing is as valuable, if not more so than an epistemology based on rationalism. The strength of her kind of knowing confronts the reader in the form of a manifesto, a major contribution by Beyala, as discussed earlier. As a manifesto against adults, Your Name Shall Be Tanga can be a solemn reminder that children have no childhood without nurturing by mature adults. As a manifesto against Western colonizers, Your Name Shall Be Tanga can be a call for African nations not to be driven into helplessness and deprived of their humanity. As a manifesto against the Bildungsroman, Your Name Shall Be Tanga can be a new form of fiction that bears the stamp of African genius, experiments with new language and images, and does not need to be named by someone else. In tandem with the manifesto, as a work of fictional theorizing Your Name Shall Be Tanga can be read as an example of a polycentric perspective that as Carole Boyce Davies notes "pursue[s] and account[s] for a range of relations of African peoples internationally as they interact with a variety of cultural spaces" (106). In the case of Tanga, a girlchild-woman, this suggests that an understanding of the civil rights of children and women cannot be derived from a single center, or function to continue to privilege certain experiences and marginalize others. In the end, if Calixthe Beyala's Your Name Shall Be Tanga is more than a manifesto, it is be up to readers to make a place for her fictional theorizing on the girlchild-woman and to acknowledge that in her text issues of knowing, being, and becoming intersect with issues of subjectivity, sexuality, and identity.
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Beyala, Calixthe. Your Name Shall Be Tanga. Trans. Marjolijn de Jager. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1996.
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Nfah-Abbenyi, Juliana Makuchi. Gender in African Women's Writing. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997.
Niandou, Aissata. "Marginalized Feminist Discourses: The Black Woman's Voice in Selected Works by Calixthe Beyala, Simone Schwarz-Bart, and Toni Morrison." Diss. Pennsylvania State U, 1994.
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Asaah, Augustine H. "Veneration and Desecration in Calixthe Beyala's La Petite Fille du réverbère." Research in African Literatures 36, no. 4 (winter 2005): 155-71.
Presents a comprehensive examination of the controversial radical feminist aspects of Beyala's The Small Girl under the Streetlamp.
D'Almeida, Irène Assiba. "Calixthe Beyala: Becoming a Woman/Resisting ‘Womanhood?’" In Francophone African Women Writers: Destroying the Emptiness of Silence, pp. 72-87. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.
Discusses Beyala's frank portrayal of contemporary African women (in Your Name Shall Be Tanga) who struggle to establish an identity in an oppressive postcolonial patriarchal society.
Köhler, Sigrid G. "Mad Body-Gifts: A Postcolonial Myth of Motherhood in Calixthe Beyala's Tu t'appelleras Tanga." In Body, Sexuality, and Gender: Versions and Subversions in African Literatures I, edited by Flora Veit-Wild and Dirk Naguschewski, pp. 31-46. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: Rodopi, 2005.
Analysis of Your Name Shall Be Tanga as a story of "mythic motherhood" in which Beyala combines the African character of Tanga and the European character of Anna-Claude into a hybrid maternal voice that is marginalized within its own culture.
Contends that Alice Walker and Beyala both create a radical feminist humanism in their writings that serves as an alternative to traditional religious spiritualism.
Nfah-Abbenyi, Juliana Makuchi. "Calixthe Beyala's ‘femme-fillette’: Womanhood and the Politics of (M)Othering." In The Politics of (M)Othering: Womanhood, Identity, and Resistance in African Literature, edited by Obioma Nnaemeka, pp. 101-13. London: Routledge, 1997.
Maintains that Beyala subverts notions of femaleness—especially as they exist in traditional cultures—by disassociating womanhood from motherhood in Your Name Shall Be Tanga.
———. "Calixthe Beyala (1961-)." In Postcolonial African Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook, edited by Pushpa Naidu Parekh and Siga Fatima Jagne, pp. 75-83. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.
Brief biographical and critical overview of Beyala's life and career.
Volet, Jean-Marie. Review of Maman a un amant, by Calixthe Beyala. World Literature Today 68, no. 3 (summer 1994): 618.
Provides a favorable review of Beyala's Mother Has a Lover, deeming the novel "sophisticated" and "poetic."
Additional coverage of Beyala's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale: Encyclopedia of World Literature in the 20th Century; and Literature Resource Center.