God's Bits of Wood

by Ousmane Sembène

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Chapters 18–19 and Epilogue

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Chapter 18: Dakar: The Edge of the Sea

Bakayoko and N’Deye Touti lounge side-by-side at the Atlantic edge of Dakar’s port, watching children play in the sand. When she asks when he will return to Dakar, he tells her that he does not know. He has arranged for a boat to take him to Saint-Louis.

On their walk back to N’Diayène under the stars, N’Deye asks Bakayoko how he knew Penda. When N’Deye calls Penda a whore, Bakayoko explains that everyone prostitutes himself or herself in some way, and he asserts that N’Deye will never be as worthy a person as Penda was.

Undeterred, N’Deye tells Bakayoko she wants to be his second wife, despite her convictions against polygamy. He rejects her proposal, and they walk the rest of the way to N’Diayène in silence. Alioune tells Bakayoko that the boat has arrived, but someone needs to go to Thiès—because Doudou has died of sudden illness. Bakayoko will not commit to going, at which Alioune calls him heartless.

N’Deye allows Bakayoko to see silent tears flow down her cheeks as they say goodbye, but he does not say anything to her. Afterward, N’Deye falls into a deep depression, slowly losing her haughty attitude and dislike for African customs. N’Deye performs useful chores for her family, eventually realizing that she had been foolish before.

After abandoning his boat at Saint-Louis, Bakayoko travels stealthily up the Senegal River on the boats of friendly fishermen to evade detection from authorities. He eventually arrives in Kati, where he disembarks and heads into the interior towards Sudan on foot. When he rests for a moment, he withdraws a letter he received from Lahbib about the goings-on in Thiès, from Doudou’s funeral to the power struggle with the returning women.

Lahbib urges Bakayoko to return home as soon as possible, and Bakayoko thinks about Penda. He loved her, and he might have even taken her as a second wife, because she reflected back the best qualities he saw in himself. Bakayoko resolves that he will return home after all.

Chapter 19: Bamako: The Camp

After having been taken from his home, Fa Keïta arrives at an isolated prisoners’ camp, where he is thrown into a dark room with a few other prisoners. Unable to see, the Old One accidentally topples a container full of excrement and waste, coating himself in a horrible stench.

The other prisoners are hostile toward the Old One until he tells them his identity. Although they are better accustomed to the dark, they had not recognized him. They help find the Old One a clean place to sit. Ten days after his arrival, Fa Keïta and the other prisoners are forced outside for exercise.

The sadistic commander of the camp, a Corsican veteran named Bernadini, forces the prisoners to endure silent marches on the hot sand while he abuses them physically and mentally. 

Konaté, the secretary from Bamako, is brought before Bernadini as the newest prisoner. Because he refuses to withstand Bernadini’s verbal abuse, Konaté is stripped naked, tied, and forced into a pit. Above Konaté, Bernadini pours water on a hot steel plate with tiny holes drilled through it; the scorching water burns Konaté’s skin.

When Fa Keïta strays from the others to pray in the direction of Mecca, Bernadini allows him to kneel next to the barb-wire fence. As soon as the Old One leans close enough, Bernadini kicks the man’s head into the barbs. Bernadini repeats this injury at least two more times before losing interest. As the men are thrown back into their dark cell, Fa Keïta wonders...

(This entire section contains 1344 words.)

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if he had been wrong not to support the strike.

At the same time, Bakayoko has returned to Bamako. At the union office, Tiémoko intercepts a telegram from Lahbib reporting that the strike is over, but he is confused about some of the wording. Tiémoko goes to Bakayoko’s house, where the man sits with Ad’jibid’ji and Assitan. Bakayoko and Assitan’s marriage has warmed since his return.

Bakayoko goes to the union hall with Tiémoko to announce the plan. Tiémoko will go to Thiès that night so that he can meet with Lahbib to discuss what to do next. By the afternoon, the prisoners—including Fa Keïta—are released, further confirming the end of the strike.

That evening, Fa Keïta hosts the other prisoners at his home, including Tiémoko, Konaté, and two others. He has invited them to come at dusk because Fa Keïta heard them talking about killing the camp’s commandant, Bernadini. Fa Keïta wisely explains that the prisoners should not seek revenge on any of those who wronged them, because oppressors are easily replaced. Fa Keïta emphasizes the importance of achieving justice for its own sake; acts of hatred only corrupt.

Having listened intently, Ad’jibid’ji exclaims that she has finally solved the riddle that Niakoro had told the girl before Niakoro’s death. Ad’jibid’ji says that the spirit washes the water, because it is purer and cleaner.

Bakayoko regards the words of Ad’jibid’ji and Fa Keïta with skepticism. He believes that his hatred of the oppressor has made him a better fighter of oppression. Bakayoko takes Ad’jibid’ji with him into town, telling her there will be a “great bara” that evening.

Thiès: Epilogue

Upon their return home from Dakar, the women who participated in the march occupy a new social space. Rather than behaving with fear and despair, the women walk daily to the lake to wash, cook, and gossip with one another, without permission from their men.

On the last day of the strike, Lahbib tries to contain the news that an agreement has been reached, for he fears that it may incite panic. However, rumors quickly begin circulating about the end of the strike. Since Doudou’s death, Lahbib has been in charge of the local strike committee, so he asks for its six members to meet one more time to arrange for a return to work.

One of the conditions of the strike’s end is that Isnard, the murderer of the apprentices, is removed from his position. Although Dejean has yet to travel to Dakar to request reassignment, the strikers are confident that he too will be removed.

The following morning, the men gather outside the gate to return to work, and the familiar sights and sounds of the time before the strike are observed once more. The workers discover Sounkaré’s remains in the oil pit, but few of them care about providing a proper funeral service, because the watchman was not well-liked.

Dejean calls Lahbib after discovering that the workers are mostly idle at the trainyards. Lahbib replies that until Isnard is gone, the men will refuse to work. Soon afterward, a train from Bamako arrives, driven by Tiémoko. Both freight and passenger cars are unloaded at the sound of the whistles, which attract the attention of the marching women, who ask Lahbib if everything is alright.

After Lahbib says the men are upset about Isnard’s presence in the city, the women march to the Vatican to confront the Isnards at their home. Holed up inside with weapons, Isnard and his wife Beatrice are enraged that no one in the company will help him keep his job in Thiès. When Eduoard tells Isnard that the car is waiting outside for their exit, Beatrice protests that the Africans liked her husband. Frantic, Beatrice rushes outside with one of the guns in hand; rifle shots from the cordon of soldiers surrounding the Vatican signal her death.

When the marching women hear that Isnard’s wife is killed, one of them responds with sympathy. The women begin singing one of Maïmouna’s old ballads, which ends with a line that exalts those who win in battle without hatred.


Chapters 16–17