God's Bits of Wood

by Ousmane Sembène

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Chapters 4–6

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1297

Chapter 4: Dakar: Daouda-Beaugosse

In another city, three men awaken in the local union office after having kept watch for the night. Beaugosse, whose real name is Daouda, is the youngest of the three and also the most responsible. He scoffs at Arona and Deune for playing cards late at night instead of sleeping, cajoling them into waking up before the local director arrives at seven o’clock.

Beaugosse’s reputation among the other workers is that he is both good-looking and uptight. Deune teases Beaugosse about a young Portuguese woman who has been supplying the night watch with food and coffee, insinuating that she only does so because of her interest in Beaugosse. This irritates Beaugosse, who goes out to scrub the latrines alone, instructing Deune and Arona to clean up the room before he gets back.

Over coffee and bread, the three men discuss the surprising monetary support the strike has received from local French unions, other cities, and ordinary citizens. Beaugosse is annoyed when Deune and Arona praise Bakayoko as if he were the leader of the strike. When the local director, Alione, arrives at the office, he tells Beaugosse that the Portuguese girl is preparing a roast pig for the strikers.

A woman named Ramatoulaye enters into the Place de Djouma with a specific mission: to purchase rice to feed her family of twenty. Hadramé, the owner the “hen roost,” refuses to sell any of the ten pounds of rice that Ramatoulaye requests, saying that he has been forbidden to sell to strike supporters lest his chain of supply be blocked. Ramatoulaye silently sits in Hadramé’s store for hours, but the man still refuses to give her any rice.

On her way home, Ramatoulaye sees her brother, Magibué. She asks him to purchase twenty pounds of rice for her since Hadramé will not sell to her. Magibué tells his sister that he cannot, which angers her since she had witnessed Magibué’s young son buy some rice while she waited in Hadramé’s shop. Magibué says that the wives of strikers should force the men back to work—then the crisis would be solved. After listening to her brother’s tirade about how the strike is a waste of time, Ramatoulaye calls him a traitor and curses him. Once home, she asks a child who has been perched on the communal fountain since Ramatoulaye left that morning if any water has come.

Mame Sofi rides on a horse-drawn cart in the scorching afternoon heat with two other women: her husband Deune’s second wife, Bineta, and her niece, N’Deye Touti. Mame Sofi tells her young niece that a marriage to Beaugosse would be better than to Bakayoko; because N’Deye is young, Mame Sofi believes marrying the old, already-married Bakayoko is a mistake.

Ramatoulaye greets Mame Sofi, Bineta, and N’Deye, who have brought rice, milk, and earthnut cakes back to the neighborhood. When Mame Sofi suggests baking a cake to celebrate a new baby’s baptism, Bineta replies that they have neither the resources nor the energy for such a celebration.

Chapter 5: Dakar: Houdia M’Baye

Ramatoulaye is the matriarch of the N’Diaye clan, of which Houdia M’Baye is a part. Her husband died just as the strike began, and though his other wives returned to their home villages, Houdia M’Baye was heavily pregnant and unable to make such a journey.

Houdia has nine children, including the newborn infant boy whom Mame Sofi calls Strike. Looking at her children gathered in the courtyard of their family compound, Houdia worries about their distended bellies. She instructs one of her older children to bring the water-carrier to...

(This entire section contains 1297 words.)

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the house.

The water-carrier tells Houdia that a jug now costs five francs, but Houdia only has two. Just as he refuses to sell a partial jug of water, Mame Sofi ushers the water-carrier inside and instructs him to pour the water into a large jar. After serving the children and other women of the house, Mame Sofi tells the water-cattier that she will pay him later. Angry, the water-carrier utters a curse on generations of the N’Diaye. At this, the family attacks the water-carrier, drawing attention from neighbors who rush to their aid. The water-carrier escapes, leaving his tin container and shirt behind.

N’Deye Touti dresses herself to go into town. N’Deye is different from those in her family and neighborhood because, until recently, she attended school. As a result, she has become the neighborhood’s resident scribe, since few others know how to read or write. Since she was young, N’Deye has felt as if she does not belong in Dakar or even Africa, preferring international cinema and books by European authors.

On her way to town, N’Deye is approached by a childhood friend named Arame who wants N’Deye to write a letter to Arame’s husband in Madagascar. Arame asks if N’Deye is planning to marry Beaugosse or Bakayoko, a question that N’Deye finds annoying. Just as Arame leaves, N’Deye meets Beaugosse, who confesses his love for her and his desire to marry. He inquires about her feelings for Bakayoko, to which N’Deye replies with an explanation of how she met the older foreigner.

N’Deye finds Bakayoko both fascinating and difficult to please. While she is unsure of her feelings for him, N’Deye knows she could never share a husband with another woman. After asking her an intrusive question about whether N’Deye has slept with Bakayoko, Beaugosse excuses himself, saying that he will abandon his role in the strike and look for another job so that he can marry N’Deye.

Chapter 6: Dakar: Ramatoulaye

Houdia M’Baye runs frantically to the communal fountain, where Ramatoulaye and others are trying to see if the water has returned. Ramatoulaye goes back to the N’Diaye compound to discover that Vendredi, Magibué’s ram, has ransacked the kitchen and eaten all the rice.

Enraged and emboldened, Ramatoulaye uses a rusty kitchen knife to attack Vendredi, who tears Ramatoulaye’s clothing completely off her body. Ramatoulaye drops the knife during the scuffle and, clinging to the ram’s back, yells for Bineta to slit Vendredi’s throat. Bineta reluctantly stabs Vendredi in the side, but she runs away in horror at the sight of gushing blood. Ramatoulaye asks one of Houdia’s sons to hold down the injured ram while she cuts its throat three times.

Neighbors tell the N’Diaye household that Magibué has called the police after hearing what happened to Vendredi. N’Deye goes to telephone the union office about what happened so that Alioune will do something to protect Ramatoulaye. At the union office, Beaugosse tries to resign from the strike but is interrupted by the news that Dejean has agreed to meet with the union leader; he is also interrupted by the urgent call from N’Deye.

Meanwhile, the neighborhood men gather to prepare the ram for cooking, and the women prepare the boiling pot. Mame Sofi fills bottles with sand to serve as makeshift weapons against any police who might arrive, and other women follow suit. When the police arrive, Ramatoulaye boldly refuses to go with them or give them the ram’s meat. A clash between the police and armed militia and the neighborhood women—armed with their makeshift weapons—ensues.

After two months of the strike, the men grow restless. While they first celebrated their newfound freedom from hard labor and the revival of long-forgotten cultural traditions, many strikers now long for the machines to which they have a deeper connection than they ever realized. They linger in the places around the railways, eager to see the “smoke above the savanna” once more.


Chapters 1–3


Chapters 7–9