Mongo Beti Wole Soyinka - Essay

Wole Soyinka

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

A certain Lothrop Stoddard prophesied as follows (the year was 1920):

Certainly, all white men, whether professing christians or not, should welcome the success of missionary efforts in Africa. The degrading fetishism and demonology which sum up the native pagan cults cannot stand, and all Negroes will some day be either christians or moslems….

Mongo Beti is perhaps the most assiduous writer to have taken up the challenge of Mr Stoddard dealing expertly and authentically with the claims of Christianity as a filler of spiritual holes. His weapon is a deceptive generosity which disguises, until the last moment, a destructive logic, incontestible in its consistent exposition of cause and effect. His priests are never complete villains but are revealed to be complete fools. Even where he has presented the representative of the Christian Church as a figure of inner doubts on the way to eventual enlightenment, it is only a refinement of Mongo Beti's delectable hypocrisy—his exactions will be doubly cruel and thorough. Thus, in King Lazarus the Rev. Father le Guen, stiff-necked to the last, merely loses his position and is left with the consolation of commiserating with himself as a victim of colonial administrative intrigures. The only reprisal from the victims of his spiritual assault is to witness the reversion of his prize convert to the joys of polygamy. The poor Christ of Bomba is an equally stubborn prelate. He is even more manic in his encounters with 'heathen' practices but by contrast, is revealed as a man tortured by increasing doubts. His inner reflections promise a conversion, some hope for the salvation of the man is awakened in the breast of the reader. But Mongo Beti is not about to redeem his gull. The ramifications of a venereal denouement cover the Father Superior with the stench of failure. Beti's thesis reads: the Church is, by its very nature (doctrine and practice), a contagion; Mongo Beti's expositions are masterly erosions of the Christian myth. (pp. 97-8)

Wole Soyinka, "Ideology and the Social Vision (2): The Secular Ideal," in his Myth, Literature and the African World (© Cambridge University Press 1976), Cambridge University Press, 1976, pp. 97-139.∗