|BOOK REVIEW BY JEAN-MARIE VOLET|
Guy Ossito Midiohouan
Maraboutiques : Anthologie de nouvelles
[An anthology of short stories]
Cotonou: Les Editions du Flamboyant, 1996, 280p.
ISBN 2-909130-16-9 (B.P. 08-271 Tél/Fax: (229) 31 02 20)
In the introduction (pp.7-13), Midiohouan makes a brief historic of the word "Marabout", one inherited from the Arabic language and introduced into Senegal in the XIth Century by the Almoravides. As an outcome of centuries of evolution, Marabouts are nowadays at the centre of a constellation of religious brotherhoods that sustain contemporary Islamic tradition in Senegal. "Mouridism" (and its founder Amadou Bamba Mbacké, 1857-1927) has possibly been the most powerful and influential of them in latter years, but a large number of far less well-known characters have gained influence over small groups of followers. It is mainly these "small time" Marabouts that one finds in the world of literature, satirised most of the time, yet as Midiohouan points out, not completely bereft of positive depiction : "Le Maître", from the novel L'Aventure ambigüe by Hamidou Kane, is but one example among many others that could have been listed.
Part One is entitled "Le terreau de la foi" [The cradle of faith]. It is comprised of only one story, "The Madihou de Pikine" by Lamine Diakhaté. This text is reproduced in its entirety by the anthology's compiler in order to provide readers with background information on Senegalese society, its development and religious fervour, against which to read the extracts which follow. It tells of a popular clamour for and the rising fortune of a Marabout of dubious origin.
Part Two, "Le Marabout tel qu'en lui même" [The Marabout the way he is] shows that "holiness" and high moral ground are easily forgotten. Human nature and temptation are also part and parcel of a Marabout's life. Five extracts by Birago Diop (2), Sembène Ousmane, M'Baye Dieye and Abdou Anta Ka comprise this section and the picture chosen by Guy Ossito Midiohouan for the cover of his Anthology tell the tale: Mr Pussy Cat's pilgrimage to Mecca is not enough for him to refrain from eating mice.
Part Three is entitled "Parasitisme and compagnie" [Parasitism and other plagues] and brings together six texts by Birago Diop, Mohamed Lamine Doumbia, Abdou Anta Ka (2), Chérif Adramé Seck and Amadou Lamine Sall. Whereas the texts from the previous Part stress how human nature becomes an easy winner over good intentions, the texts proposed in this later Part go one step further and deal with greedy Marabouts deliberately deluding or fleecing their followers. This of course leads to the exploitation of the gullible and their families: the tragic destiny of some young talibés , given by their father to the care of a Marabout, is a case in point.
Sometimes however, things do not turn to the advantage of the Marabout. "Tel est pris qui croyait prendre" [It's a case of the biter bitten] and Part Four illustrates this saying with stories by Cheik Aliou Ndao, Mbaye Gana Kébé, Birago Diop, Amadou Guyèye Ngom, Pascal Koffi Teya, Sembène Ousmane and others. Altogether eight texts complete the grand total of twenty which make up the collection. A few biographical and bibliographical notes on the authors selected complete the Volume.
From a reading point of view, Maraboutiques offers an interesting mix of
texts by some of the giants of Senegalese writing, yet like any other anthology, the main interest of the Volume lies beyond the literal meaning of individual stories. As hinted by Midiohouan in his Introduction, the purpose of the collection is to show how literature and satire are being used to diffuse social tension. In the face of very powerful social structures and Marabout authority (factors difficult to challenge directly) tales and stories offer people a way to relieve the tension created by unequal relationship. Laughter and caricature are part of the process and, as Midiohouan points out in his Introduction, "ces textes comportent une large part de défoulement que nous ne devons pas perdre de vue" [These texts carry a large element of how pent up feelings are relieved in a light vein]. However, the collection is not a balanced portrayal of Senegalese Marabouts: rather it is an expression of popular and carnivalesque challenge to their hegemony. This emphasis, both satiric and therapeutic, is made plain by the picture chosen to illustrate the cover of the Volume.
Midiohouan's decision to restrict his choice of texts to the realm of the short story has been guided, he says, by the need to promote a literary genre that deserves more critical attention and exposure. In doing so however, the very large pool of novels by male and female authors dealing with the topic has been alluded to only very briefly in the Introduction. That of course, could lead to a different image of the Senegalese Marabout...