Magazine article New Internationalist

Emitai

Magazine article New Internationalist

Emitai

Article excerpt

FILM SHOULD BE A SCHOOL OF HISTORY,' says Ousmane Sembene of Senegal, widely considered the father of African cinema. 'We have to have the courage to say that in the colonial period we were sometimes colonized with the help of our own leaders... We mustn't be ashamed of our faults and our errors.'

Sembene made these statements concrete with the 1971 premiere of Emitai, his visually rich and complex drama set in the Diola society of rural Senegal. Perhaps the ideas struck too close to home. The film was immediately banned in Senegal, indeed throughout Africa.

Emitai tells the story of key incidents that took place in French colonial Senegal during the Second World War. The film centres on attempts by the colonial administration to impose a new rice tax in a Diola village and the resistance that followed. The community becomes divided over what strategy to take. The traditional elders are backed into a corner and humiliated, while the village women adopt new tactics and take strong action. In a series of startling and vivid scenes, visions of the gods appear to the elders, while in another part of the village women rapidly organize and hide the substantial rice crop.

The Diola people Sembene focuses on in this film are a small ethnic minority who possess a distinct language, culture and history, and refer to their part of the world as 'the Sacred Forest'. Before European colonization the Diola organized themselves as a stateless society, 'roughly speaking as a democracy,' says Sembene. The traditional elders functioned as political spokespeople, especially in times of crisis. Women played a central role, with responsibility for agricultural production. The Diola religion dictates that the rice crop is sacred. Although it can be eaten, it is the property of the gods-and this forms the thematic core and central paradox of Emitai. The rice cannot be given up because it belongs to the gods. But if it is not given up the society will be destroyed by the French.

Based on his own screenplay, Emitai was Sembene's third drama and the film that launched his world reputation. But reaching an international audience was not his aim. Rather he wanted to communicate directly with the Diola society. He is proud that the villagers 'were happy to hear that there was a beautiful language for them'. The film is not about the elders, or the women, the act of resistance, the cruelty of the French or the leading characters. It is all these at once, touching on economics, social structure, religion and culture. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.