This week we’ll be reading the classic novel Les Bouts de bois de dieu (Gods Bits of Wood), by Sembene Ousmane. It tells the story of a strike in West Africa that played a crucial role in the broader history of decolonization. (On Tuesday, Achille Mbembe will be lecturing on the broader history of decolonization in French West Africa). The article by Frederick Cooper, which we’ll also be reading this week, provides an excellent historical analysis of this strike. As you read the novel, compare it to the account provided by Cooper. Are there discrepancies between the two accounts? Differences in emphasis? How do the two different forms — a historical article for an academic journal, and a novel — shape what is told, and how it is told? How does each deal with the role of women in the strike?
One of his most remarkable films, Camp de Thiaroye, tells the story of West African soldiers who were killed near the end of World War II after organizing a revolt to demand equal pay with soldiers from metropolitan France. The entire film is on Youtube, and is well worth watching in full, or at least in part. In it, Sembene manages to dramatize a whole series of historical experiences involving World War II and the colonies, including a fascinating encounter between an African-American soldier from Detroit and the West African soldiers.
Anna Yatskovskaya has already posted a great link to a theatrical version of Sembene’s novel. Can you find other materials about his work as a writer and filmmaker?