African Women, Tradition and Change in Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure and Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter

By Ba-Curry, Ginette | Journal of Pan African Studies, July 2008 | Go to article overview

African Women, Tradition and Change in Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Ambiguous Adventure and Mariama Ba's So Long a Letter


Ba-Curry, Ginette, Journal of Pan African Studies


In a 1995 article about the representations of African women in African literature entitled "Francophone African Women Writers: African Feminism and Womanhood," Professor Ojo-Ade warns literary critics about analyzing African novels from a western feminist perspective. According to him, such approach distorts the message that African characters or authors convey. He also states that in order to interpret female characters in African novels, one must know and respect the culture they come from. Thus, in his views, not taking into account African women's cultural backgrounds is equivalent to misinterpreting those literary productions. (1)

Therefore, it seems important not to underscore the role African women play in their cultural contexts and their place in their families and communities. Ojo-Ade reminds us that any analysis of African women's past, present and future challenges needs to be put in the context of their ancestral African values.

The object of this study is to show the plight of the Senegalese woman in pre-colonial, colonial and post-colonial Senegal through the comparative analysis of Cheikh Hamidou Kane's The Most Royal Lady in Ambiguous Adventure (1962) and Mariama Ba's female characters in So Long a Letter (1981). Specifically, it is an examination of how the roles of Senegalese women evolved and changed over a period of time. As a matter of fact, female characters play a central role in Cheikh Hamidou Kane's as well as Mariama Ba's novels.

Binta Racine: Inspirational Figure in Cheikh Hamidou Kane's Life and in Ambiguous Adventure

Some time ago, in an interview with Janet Patricia Little, Cheikh Hamidou Kane revealed that there is a direct link between his biography and his first novel Ambiguous Adventure. He revealed that he belongs to a very traditional Toucouleur family and his male as well as female relatives played important roles in his childhood. In fact, his family's patriarch, Alpha Cire Diallo was his paternal great-grandfather and maternal great-great grandfather. Alpha Cire Diallo was a Fula herdsman from the Yirlabe province (Central Fouta Toro region in Northeastern Senegal) who settled in St. Louis (Senegal) in the early 19th century. Like the main characters in Ambiguous Adventure, Kane was born in the religious aristocracy of the Torodbe (according to Boubacar Boris Diop, the people who pray together). (2) Like Samba Diallo, Kane's ancestors have been profoundly impacted by oral tradition and a strong traditional Islamic culture. Patricia Little confirms that Alpha Cire had four sons and only one daughter called Binta Racine:

 
   [Binta Racine's] son, Aboubacry (who became a deputy in the 
   independent Senegalese government) describes her as a formidable 
   woman, to whom nobody ever said no. (3) 

Kane was named after another son of Alpha Cire, Cheikh Hamidou. The latter was a leading Muslim teacher and had a great influence on the author. Cheikh Hamidou's son was Cheikh Hamidou Kane's father.

Therefore, Kane seems to have been profoundly influenced by the people he grew up with, specifically by the figure of Binta Racine. Furthermore, commenting on the similarities between Ambiguous Adventure's The Most Royal Lady and Binta Racine, Patricia Little notes that: " ... her [The Most Royal Lady] strong pragmatic sense, which is one of her most notable characteristics in the novel, seems also to have been present in the real person." (4)

We can conclude that in real life, Binta Racine (Cheikh Hamidou Kane's aunt), was held in high regards by her brother. Likewise, in Ambiguous Adventure, The Most Royal Lady is a charismatic figure:

 
   In real life, her brother, Hamidou Abdoulaye, who appears in the 
   novel as the Chef des Diallobe did indeed defer to her, being 
   more of a contemplative nature and less the man of action. (5) 

Ambiguous Adventure's The Most Royal Lady: The Dignified Woman of the Past

The Most Royal Lady's main characteristic is her royal status, and the resulting authority and dignity she displays in the novel. …

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