God's Bits of Wood

by Ousmane Sembène

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Why is the book titled God's Bits of Wood?

The book is titled God's Bits of Wood because the character Houdia M'Baye is described as bringing forth "nine bits of God's wood," a metaphor for her children. This metaphor upholds the Wolof practice of refraining from counting people.

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At first glance, it's not immediately apparent why Sembène Ousmane would choose such an unusual title for the book. However, the mystery is somewhat elucidated when the novel tells of how Houdia M’Baye brought "nine bits of God's wood" into the world. In other words, she has had nine children.

It is not entirely clear why Ousmane would choose to describe Houdia's children in this way. One could argue—and this by no means a universally held opinion—that children, like bits of wood, are a gift from God. And yet, again like bits of wood, they are often taken for granted, despite their arguably being valuable and precious.

The title is also derived from an an ancient belief in indigenous Wolof culture, according to which counting human beings is considered bad luck. So, instead of referring to a certain number of people—say, nine, as in the example of Houdia's children—one would say "nine of God's bits of wood".

The reference to traditional Wolof practices in the title is crucial to the overall theme of the book, which is the revival and rediscovery of indigenous culture as part of an anti-colonial uprising—an uprising which was carried out by tens of thousands of "God's bits of wood."

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