God's Bits of Wood

by Ousmane Sembène

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Chapters 7–9

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Chapter 7: Bamako: Tiémoko

Back in Bamako’s local union headquarters, a trial is set to begin against a ticket collector named Diara. While other strike-breakers, or “renegades,” have simply been beaten under orders from Tiémoko, Diara is formally charged with dynfa—a Bambara word for betraying your own people. The local secretary, Konaté, acts as judge, while a group of strikers have been appointed to the jury.

Tiémoko begins the trial by saying that Diara is his uncle, so he harbors no ill will toward the man. He recounts the series of events leading up the trial: It began with a summons issued to all strikers to return to work; when five of the summons papers were missing after the union collected them, Tiémoko formed a commando to hunt down and assault the renegades. However, a group of policemen escort and protect Diara wherever he goes. Tiémoko is angry that Diara has been betraying strikers’ wives to the police. He enlists Diara’s own son, Sadio, in the commando, and Tiémoko boldly enters the train station to fetch his uncle.

While there, a retired watchman accosts Tiémoko about the strike, saying he and all the other workers should be in jail. Tiémoko leaves the station without Diara, having remembered a phrase he read in one of Bakayoko’s books. Tiémoko and Sadio go to the Bakayoko house, asking permission from Fa Keïta and Niakoro to borrow a book from Bakayoko’s library.

Before leaving the house, Tiémoko tells the elders that he plans to put Diara on trial. Niakoro is horrified at the thought of a good man being publicly shamed in the manner of the toubabs—a term that refers to whites.

Tiémoko demands that Konaté hold a meeting that evening to confer with the union council about the trial. After hours of deliberation, Tiémoko successfully persuades them to approve the trial. He asks Konaté to procure three police uniforms so that Tiémoko and two others can capture Diara.

Chapter 8: Bamako: The Trial

Once Tiémoko finishes his story, the women whom he had asked to attend the trial begin testimony. Four women openly accuse Diara of betraying their identities to the toubabs, stranding them in the brush or in neighboring towns. Next, a worker publicly condemns Diara as a traitor, saying the elder should have supported his fellow workers. An argument over what punishment should befall Diara erupts in the hall, with some supporting imprisonment and others flogging.

Amid the tumult, Fa Keïta, who is seated next to Ad’jibid’ji in the crowd, rises to speak. He praises Tiémoko’s trial, noting that he had never before witnessed one. The Old One cites Bakayoko’s assertion that the machines have united the people, and he notes that this trial has united the strikers. The Old One asserts that Diara’s public shame is sufficient punishment and none will dare break the strike knowing what fate now awaits such traitors. The Old One leaves, and Tiémoko is jealous of the elder’s persuasive eloquence. One by one, people exit the hall, leaving only Sadio, Diara, and Ad’jibid’ji remaining. Overcome with shame, Diara cries out in agony, collapsing into his son’s arms while Ad’jibid’ji watches.

At home, Fa Keïta feels sickened after what has taken place at the union hall. He goes into his room immediately, pondering why he had allowed Ad’jibid’ji to convince him to go to the trial. She has promised that if he went, she would not go again until her “petit peré ,” Bakayoko, returned home. Fa Keïta has asked why Ad’jibid’ji even likes the meetings, to which she replied that Bakayoko...

(This entire section contains 1403 words.)

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told her that she would one day be a train conductor like him.

Niakoro feels uneasy the next morning when the other women leave on a days-long journey to a faraway market. In her loneliness, Niakoro turns to the precocious Ad’jibid’ji for company, since Keïta has secluded himself in his room. On the third morning after the women departed, a persistent knocking at the gate wakes Niakoro, who tells Ad’jibid’ji to unlock it. To the child’s surprise, three armed police and militiamen barge through the unlocked entrance, demanding to know where Mamadou Keïta is.

When one of the men slaps Keïta, Niakoro lunges at the man, who hits her with his elbow in her chest, knocking her against the wall. Ad’jibid’ji tries to claw her grandmother’s attacker, but he kicks the girl in the stomach, causing her to collapse next to Niakoro. Fading in and out of consciousness, Ad’jibid’ji cannot move to help Niakoro, who slowly dies.

Tiémoko discovers the lifeless Niakoro and unconscious Ad’jibid’ji when he goes to their house to tell the Old One about the impending meeting with Dejean. Niakoro is buried soon after the other women return home, and a message from Dakar halts negotiations with the railroad company. Many people leave Bamako in search of food or to evade arrest; Keïta sits in prison with other strikers.

Chapter 9: Dakar: Mame Sofi

After the police leave the neighborhood, Mame Sofi goes to Magibué’s house with several women, still armed with sand-filled bottles. One of them hits Magibué’s servant in the head, and they enter. Mame Sofi instructs the women to take anything that can be eaten.

At N’Diayéne, Ramatoulaye, and other women who did not participate in Mame Sofi’s raid discuss what will happen if the police return. N’Deye Touti says that the police originally came for Ramatoulaye and that the women had all broken the law by attacking those officers. Ramatoulaye, moved by N’Deye’s logic, says she will go with the police if necessary. Mame Sofi arrives, interrupting the conversation to say that N’Deye does not understand that people must sometimes take the law into their own hands.

A neighbor announces that the mounted police, called spahis, are coming. Mame Sofi immediately organizes a plan to use fire to intimidate the horses. When the spahis arrive, the village women are waiting: They fling hot coals, they strike with burning hay, and they force the men to dismount, rubbing their faces in the latrine ditch. In the commotion, one of the burning bundles of hay lands close to a hut, which quickly catches fire. Soon, the entire row of houses on that side of the street are engulfed in flames. With no water to put it out, the people must wait for the firemen to arrive, but even their hoses are no match for the blaze.

At dawn, the N’Diaye women return home, but N’Deye Touti wanders to observe the charred remains of the neighborhood. She regards the wreckage gleefully, imagining in its place a tidy European-style neighborhood, but her fantasy is interrupted when she sees three white men, among them the police chief.

The men talk about arresting Ramatoulaye, and when they notice N’Deye, who is frozen with fear nearby, one of them makes sexually degrading remarks about her in French, which she understands.

The men arrive at N’Diayéne, requesting that Ramatoulaye come to the station to sign a paper. N’Deye, filled with rage, joins the women in defiance, announcing what the men had said about her. Ramatoulaye emerges from the house, surrendering herself to the men’s custody, but the women, soon followed by a procession of all the neighborhood women, accompany Ramatoulaye to the police station.

Once there, N’Deye is forced out of the interrogation room. Fearing that Ramatoulaye will be taken to prison through another door, Mame Sofi instructs the women to encircle the building. Soon, firemen arrive and turn their hoses on the women; the spray strikes Houdia M’Baye’s face so forcefully that it snaps her neck, killing her.

The Imam and Magibué arrive at the station, and the Imam delivers a speech blaming the women and their husbands for the suffering they have endured. In the interrogation room, the Imam tells the police that Magibué has withdrawn his complaint. Although they try to manipulate Ramatoulaye into apologizing to Magibué, Ramatoulaye refuses and leaves. She is devastated at the sight of Houdia’s lifeless body.


Chapters 4–6


Chapters 10–12