*Grimari (gree-MAH-ree). Village in the southern part of French Equatorial Africa’s Ubangi-Shari colony (which is now the Central African Republic) that is the novel’s principal setting. Grimari lies in a hilly terrain with many small rivers running through the grasslands, forests, and jungles in its immediate vicinity. During the rainy season, its rivers swell and make travel and communications difficult. At the time in which the story is set, game and beasts such as lions and panthers are still abundant in the bush outside the village limits. The village’s people grow rubber for the country’s French colonizers, while growing millet and hunting wild game for their food and raising livestock.
The novel’s action is contained within a radius of no more than thirty miles around Grimari, which houses a colonial outpost governed by one French commandant and a few local militiamen. Every time the militia’s commandant is away, the atmosphere and mood of the place changes, and the village’s African residents become happier. However, while the people are depicted as clearly being better off without their French masters, they still resign themselves to foreign occupation of their homeland. Every time the commandant returns, he brings a more oppressive mood to the town by enforcing harsher aspects of French rule and terminating frowned-upon tribal rituals and festivals, such as the Ga’nza, during which male and female genitalia of teenagers are mutilated in an ancient initiation rite.
By restricting the action of his novel to a relatively small space, René Maran draws a powerful and detailed picture of the environment and its people where he himself, an Afro-Caribbean man, served in the French colonial administration. His first-hand experience gives his description of Grimari and its environs an eye-witness clarity, and his criticism of the abuses of French rule appear as trustworthy as his depiction of the place where the French govern.
Batouala’s hut. Home of the paramount chief Batouala in which the novel opens and closes. A traditional house near Grimari, the hut has an open entrance so close to the edge of the forest and jungle that Batouala always keeps fires burning through the night to keep out predatory animals and to repel mosquitoes with its smoke. Batouala and his first wife, Yassigui’ndja, sleep on mats on the hut’s earth floor, along with some of their small livestock. Nearby are huts Batouala has built for his other eight wives and children.
After Batouala receives a mortal chest wound from a panther, he is carried into his hut, which his people believe is the best place for exorcising evil spirits that threaten his life. The exorcisms fail, and Batouala dies a slow, painful death. Before dying, he rises a last time to chase out Yassigui’ndja and his young rival Bissibi’ngui, after they engage in sexual intercourse beside his death bed, thereby desecrating his home.
*Bangui (bahn-GWEE). Capital city of Ubangi-Shari to which Yassigui’ndja dreams of fleeing with her young lover. The capital represents her hope of escaping from her husband Batouala’s oppressive power over the villages he rules around Grimari.
Land of Koliko’mbo
Land of Koliko’mbo. Land of the dead where spirits go in the system of belief of Batouala’s Banda people. Free of worldly cares, it represents a paradise.
*M’Poutou (mm-PEW-tew). Banda name for France, the colony’s ruling country. To the Banda, France is an almost mythic place, the home of their colonial masters, who despite their arrogance are quite ridiculous to the Africans. With World War I engulfing France at the time in which the novel is set, France also represents a detested place to...
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which Africans dread going, out of fear of being inducted into the French army.
Cameron, Keith. René Maran. Boston: Twayne, 1985. A monograph of general criticism of Maran, an analysis of his fictional and nonfictional works, and an appraisal of the controversial French reception of Batouala. Chapter 1 provides a general background of Maran; chapter 2 sketches the genesis, structure, style, and reception of Batouala.
Irele, Abiola. The African Experience in Literature and Ideology. London: Heinemann, 1981. Contains a short but informative essay establishing Batouala as the likely precursor of French African prose and Maran as an important forerunner of the Negritude movement.
James, Charles. “Batouala: René Maran and the Art of Objectivity.” Studies in Black Literature 4, no. 3 (1973): 19-23. Commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Maran’s 1921 Prix Goncourt for Batouala. Revisits its controversial reception and affirms the novel as “the very epitome of Maran’s subtle and overt rebelliousness,” noting its success in objectivity.
Ojo-Ade, Femi. René Maran, the Black French Man: A Bio-Critical Study. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1984. Comprehensive, well-documented, critical study. Critiques Maran’s passionate crusade to denounce victimization, injustice, and the evils of a colonial system. Questions the morality of Maran’s stance and concludes that Maran’s claim to “help the negro cause” is ambiguous and his reputation as “promoter of negro culture,” paradoxical.