(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Structured through the device of a young teenager’s daily journal, The Poor Christ of Bomba records the tour of a French Catholic missionary, Father Drumont, and his two assistants—Denis, Drumont’s “boy” and the narrator, and Zacharia, the cook—through a dozen tiny villages in the forest of the Tala region. Bomba, itself a small village surrounded by the forest, teems with activity, sustained primarily by the mission’s sixa, a home for the prenuptial training of young women to encourage monogamy among the traditionally polygamous Talas. These women stay several months at the sixa and provide free labor for various workshops, plantations, and an elementary school. In contrast, the Tala villagers in the forest, who have become familiar with Drumont’s evangelism over the past twenty years, not to mention the German missionaries before him, have remained largely resistant to his faith, despite his practice of soliciting conversions through fear and misery. While nominally accepting Christianity, the Talas have done so only to the extent that the European faith has provided access to what the Talas regard as the secret power of colonialism: money. Ironically, converted Talas have left their villages for those such as Bomba which are scattered along the new colonial roads; motivated by cash rather than Christ, these Talas staff the mission, serving as counterparts to the forest people, who live by essentially traditional customs, integrally bound to the forest’s natural cycles and resources.

Drumont’s tour results from the Talas’ negligence in paying their church dues. Having been absent for three years, Drumont decides that he has “punished” them long enough by withholding his spiritual guidance. As Denis duly echoes Drumont’s bombastic language, the reader soon realizes that the narrator’s voice consists of sustained comic irony. In village after village, chapels have decayed to ruins and the forest people listen obediently but uncomprehendingly to Father Drumont’s sermons, which are composed of alien—to the Africans—biblical rhetoric and anecdotes. Polygamy and “pagan” dances...

(The entire section is 874 words.)