by René Maran

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 776

At the start of the day, the great chief Batouala arises at dawn to his usual morning ritual of scratching himself, yawning, rubbing his eyes with the back of his hand, and making love to his sleeping wife—all mundane acts he performs daily and mindlessly. His days consist of a morning smoke, his favorite pastime; breakfast with Yassigui’ndja, his first and favorite but childless wife; and disdainful reflections on how the whites’ way of life is different from his. Because his thoughts and actions are tradition-inspired, he rejects anything that opposes custom. He muses disdainfully on the ridiculousness of whites, the boundjous, who are “the vilest and most perfidious of men” and therefore worthy of contempt. Their “witches’ inventions”—from shoes and the radio to the telescope and the bicycle—their proud claim of knowing “everything and then some,” their atrocities and exploitation of the natives in the name of civilization, their paternalism and enslavement of the black people, and their “malignity and omniscience” make them “terrifying.” Unlike the Banda concept of life and work, the boundjous’ concept of work means fatigue without immediate or tangible remuneration. More important to Batouala, the guardian of obsolete customs, the boundjous robbed the villagers of their dances and songs, their whole life. Batouala vows that he will not tire of telling about the boundjous’ cruelty, duplicity, and greed until his last breath.

Batouala begins his formal duties by summoning the villagers, among them Bissibi’ngui, to remind them of the approaching feast of the Ga’nza, three days hence. Unbeknown to Batouala, Bissibi’ngui, a young, handsome, muscular womanizer, popular among the village women, slept with eight of Batouala’s nine wives. The exception is Yassigui’ndja, to whom Bissibi’ngui is attracted but whom he did not yet seduce. Feeling young and “rich in unused passion,” particularly since Batouala is beginning to grow old and seems mostly interested in smoking his pipe, Yassigui’ndja is tempted to and does finally accept Bissibi’ngui’s advances, intimating through her musings that Batouala, although a good husband, no longer satisfies her sexually.

Batouala’s suspicions about Yassigui’ndja and Bissibi’ngui are aroused, and shortly thereafter confirmed, during the climax of the fertility dance of the Ga’nza ceremony, when “all things are permitted, even perversions and sins against custom.” Seized with the drunkenness of the dance, Yassigui’ndja and Bissibi’ngui fall to the ground entwined, but they are soon separated by the enraged, knife-wielding Batouala, who swears to skin his wife and emasculate her seducer. The feverish festival of the Ga’nza ends abruptly, but not until Batouala’s drunken father dies from a heavy dose of Pernod, “foreign kene” (the white man’s liquor). Because the villagers’ dances and songs are forbidden by the colonial administration, Batouala’s people are able to satisfy their customs only in the absence of the French commandant. At his approach, however, the drunken villagers flee, leaving behind the dead body of Batouala’s father.

After the customary two-week ritual burial of Batouala’s father, Batouala begins planning his revenge on Bissibi’ngui. While the men are out burning the bush and arranging the nets for the great annual hunt, Yassingui’ndja and Bissibi’ngui pledge their desire to possess each other. The villagers hold Yassigui’ndja responsible for the death of Batouala’s father, and they threaten to ascertain her guilt by subjecting her to a series of violent tests. Bissibi’ngui agrees to leave the village and become a soldier, but not until after the great annual hunt. Joining Batouala and his hunting party, wily Bissibi’ngui schemes to kill Batouala, the renowned hunter warrior. The hunt begins, but not before a panther bounds into their midst, causing confusion. Taking advantage of the...

(This entire section contains 776 words.)

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pandemonium, Batouala aims his lance at Bissibi’ngui, hisouandja (enemy), but misses. Disturbed by the confusion and Batouala’s flying spear, the enraged panther mauls and disembowels Batouala, the great chief and celebrated warrior, whose exploits in love and in war are unparalleled.

Chaos prevails for two weeks of exorcism, fetishes, and incantations, and the villagers finally give up all hope of saving their chief. While Batouala lies dying, the villagers plunder his belongings, raid his flock, and steal his weapons. In his delirium, Batouala reproaches the whites. Emboldened, Yassigui’ndja and Bissibi’ngui make love in his hut. Suddenly, in one final defiant gesture, the chief rises from his bed and lunges at the pair, causing them to flee into the night. Batouala collapses and dies. The great chief is felled by Mourou, the panther, and by the implacable witchcraft of Do’ndorro.