The Poor Christ of Bomba

by Alexandre Biyidi

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Last Updated October 31, 2023.

The Poor Christ of Bomba is a satirical novel by Cameroonian writer Alexandre Biyidi Awala, otherwise known as Mongo Beti or Eza Boto. First published in French in 1956, it centers on the efforts of French Catholic missionaries to convert the tribes of southern Cameroon in the 1930s. 

The Poor Christ of Bomba is told through the journal entries of fourteen-year-old Denis, whose catechist father sends him to Father Superior Drumont to serve as a steward after the death of his mother. The first chapter takes place on the first day of February in Bomba, with Father Drumont’s announcement that he will be touring the six-tribe Tala region for two weeks—an area the mission has abandoned for three years. He will bring Denis, his cook Zacharia, and other attendees.

On the first few stops of the tour, Father Drumont is displeased to find that the churches built for each region have been abandoned and left in disrepair. Many of the locals have also been failing to attend mass and pay their cult dues. At each palaver, where he listens to the locals’ grievances, Father Drumont is disappointed to discover that polygamy is still commonplace. He emphasizes the importance of sending girls to the sixa, a program that houses and prepares them for Christian marriage. 

At Kota, Father Drumont meets with Administrator Vidal, who informs him there are plans to drive a road through the Tala region. The reverend surmises that this project might bring the locals closer to religion, as there will be forced labor, floggings, and much suffering. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Father Drumont, a girl named Catherine has been following their tour and sleeping with Zacharia. It is revealed that she is one of the sixa girls back in Bomba. Although Denis disapproves of this, he says nothing.

During the palaver at Bitie, Father Drumont hears the case of a son who enlisted the help of the local witch doctor, Sanga Boto, to prove that he did not cause his father’s death. The reverend is informed that Sanga Boto lives in Ekokot as a rich man, having convinced the people of his mystical powers. 

The following day, Father Drumont drags Sanga Boto to the presbytery and humiliates him during High Mass, condemning him as a false prophet. He then makes a show of forgiving Sanga Boto’s sins and orders him to recite the Lord’s Prayer. Later in the afternoon, the reverend falls into the water while attempting to cross the river. He becomes very ill as a consequence. 

Denis lays in bed at night, worrying about Father Drumont’s condition, when Catherine sneaks into his room. They have sex after she makes advances on him. Even though this drives Denis mad with guilt, he has also fallen in love with Catherine. Meanwhile, Sanga Boto has fled the village, all the while spreading that he cursed Father Drumont and caused him to drown.

Denis is confronted by Zacharia’s wife, Clementine, who had been secretly spying on them and discovered her husband’s affair. The mass in Kondo is disrupted when a public brawl between Clementine and Catherine draws the congregation outside. 

Father Drumont breaks off the fight and arranges a private meeting with the two girls. He listens to Clemetine’s side of the story and has Catherine thrashed with a cane as punishment. Meanwhile, Zacharia insists that Clementine should’ve been the one to be punished. 

At nightfall, Father Drumont calls Denis to his room and orders him to confess. After Denis tells him everything about Catherine, Father Drumont advises him to be...

(This entire section contains 981 words.)

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more careful of women and then sends him to bed. On the road the next day, a man who is later revealed to be Catherine’s fiance charges Zacharia and beats him senseless.

At the last stop of the tour, Administrator Vidal once again visits Father Drumont, who announces that he will be leaving for Europe in a few days, as he feels that the Catholic mission has been a failure. He distances himself from Vidal and the rest of the colonialists, who claim to be implanting civilization but are there instead to uphold the class interests of the European merchant class. Failing to convince Father Drumont to stay, Vidal bids the reverend farewell.

The tour ends, and Father Drumont, Denis, and the others return to Bomba. However, Clementine approaches Father Drumont with her nose and mouth bleeding, claiming that both Zacharia and Catherine had beaten her. 

The reverend retrieves Catherine and thrashes her once more, but the latter protests that she had agreed to the affair because Zacharia was able to make her life at the sixa easier. She is also not the first sixa girl whom Zacharia and the rest of the mission men have taken advantage of. Horrified, Father Drumont interrogates the others and discovers that the catechist-director of the sixa, Raphael, had been abusing his power by pimping out the girls.

The mission at Bomba has been thoroughly vacated, with only Father Drumont, Father Le Guen, Denis, Anatole, and three catechists left. All the mission workers and their families have fled, having been implicated in the sixa girls’ confessions. The town doctor, M. Alfred Arnaud, confirms that 29 girls from the sixa have some type of venereal disease. Father Drumont disperses the sixa and commands the girls to return to their village. Denis is able to say goodbye to Catherine, who begs him to visit her sometime, as she and Zacharia are getting married.

At Father Drumont’s final High Mass, he announces his departure for Europe. Before leaving, he bids a crying Denis to embrace him and promises to write letters. However, Denis does not receive word from Father Drumont. The novel ends with him reporting that the construction of the road has started and that he is contemplating working for the Greek merchants to evade forced labor.

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