Alexandre Biyidi Biography

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Mongo Beti (BEH-tee), one of the most important and prolific African authors, was born Alexandre Biyidi in a small village close to the major town of M’Balmayo, Cameroon. As a child, he worked on the cocoa plantations of the area and attended the Catholic missionary school in M’Balmayo. He finished his secondary studies in Yaounde in 1951. While in Yaounde, Beti became involved in the Cameroonian independence movement. His political commitment became even stronger at the Sorbonne, to which he received a scholarship in 1951. The stimulus of meeting other African writers and politically committed students (he joined several activist groups while in France) led to the publication of Beti’s first short story, “Sans haine et sans amour” (without love or hate), a tale of the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the journal Presence Africaine under the pseudonym of Eza Boto.{$S[A]Biyidi, Alexandre;Beti, Mongo}{$S[A]Boto, Eza;Beti, Mongo}

Under the same name, he published his first novel, Ville cruelle (cruel city), in 1954. This account of a country boy who encounters the economic injustices of the colonial system, suffers from a rather scattered plot but, more important, it reveals concerns shared by many African authors: the encounter of a traditional culture with a new and dominant one, the demoralizing aspects of the colonial African city, and the progressive alienation of those who try to live in this fragmented society.

Beti’s second novel, The Poor Christ of Bomba, was published in 1956, under the pseudonym he was to keep, Mongo Beti (child of the Beti). This novel, dealing with the unsuccessful attempts of Father Drumont, a French missionary, to Christianize the people of Bomba, employs the irony and humor that became typical of Beti’s later works. Seen through the eyes of Denis, a fifteen-year-old houseboy who is devoted to the priest, Drumont’s efforts to reform the people of Bomba are shown as futile and ridiculous. The traditional society triumphs over the attempted Western overlay.

This superiority of the traditional culture is shown even more clearly in Beti’s third and perhaps best novel, Mission to Kala. Medza, a young man who has gone to the French schools and failed to get his baccalauréat, is sent to retrieve a woman who has gone back to her village in the bush. While there he realizes that what he has learned in school is useless to him in that milieu: The villagers seem to know how to live with integrity, whereas Medza is now helplessly caught between two cultures, neither of which he has mastered.

Beti’s next novel, and the last one until 1973, appeared in 1958. King Lazarus deals with the conversion of the chief of the Essazam tribe to Christianity, a change that threatens to disrupt the tribe. This novel, however, does not depict the villagers...

(The entire section is 707 words.)