Mongo Beti Critical Essays

Introduction

Mongo Beti 1932–2001

(Pseudonym of Alexandre Biyidi; also wrote under the pseudonym Eza Boto) Cameroon francophone novelist, short story writer, and nonfiction writer.

Beti has been called among the most perceptive of the French-African writers in his presentations of African life from an African perspective. His first novel, Ville cruelle (1954; Cruel Town), appeared under the name Eza Boto. Although Beti eventually rejected both novel and pen name, the book fore-shadowed the subjects of his later work, especially the confusions experienced by rural villagers trying to adjust to cultural changes in an emerging Africa. Beti's theme is the destructive influence of colonialism, particularly in education and religion, which results in the loss of African identity and tradition. His principal method of conveying his ideas is satire, often presented in colloquial dialect or language inappropriate to the situation, from the viewpoint of a young, naive narrator.

The focus of both Le pauvre Christ de Bomba (1956; The Poor Christ of Bomba) and Le roi miraculé (1958; King Lazarus) is on the attempts of European missionaries to Christianize the Africans. Part of the failure of these attempts stems from the paternalistic assumptions by the priests that the people have no valuable culture of their own and must therefore be enlightened by the West. Mission terminée (1957; Mission to Kala) satirizes the shortcomings of the colonial educational system. Though the book has no European characters, their ideology is embodied in the protagonist, a lycée-educated African student. The pretensions of the student, as of the priests before him, are exposed by the very villagers whom both had discounted as inferior. Recently, after a sixteen-year hiatus from fiction writing, Beti published Remember Ruben (1974), a documentary-styled account of colonial politics. It was followed by Perpetué (1974), a sympathetic treatment of the plight of the modern African woman in a traditional, male-dominated society.

Critics praise Beti for his humanistic presentations of characters from different, even conflicting, viewpoints. While he satirizes misguided missionaries or self-important students, he also sympathizes with them as human beings. In this way, Beti relates specifically African matters to the larger context of humanity in general.