Secrets of Cameroonian women
by Djaïli Amadou Amal
Emmanuelle Collas, 254 p., € 17
“Munyal! “ This call to temperance (“patience” in the Fulani language) is the daily life of the women whose trajectory Djaïli Amadou Amal describes. Three women who are enjoined to remain in their place, to accept their fate with submission. Three linked destinies. Fulani and Muslim, they live in a wealthy district of Maroua, a town located in the Far North region of Cameroon. Each takes the floor in turn.
The first, Ramla, 17, is attending high school year end. She has little relationship with her father, busy with flourishing business and little concern for his numerous descendants, especially daughters – he has about thirty children born to his four wives. This plethora of families lives in a “concession”, a group of buildings behind an enclosure of high walls. Ramla, who dreams of studying to become a pharmacist, is in no hurry to get married, which could mean giving up her ambitions. Yet it is with his wedding that the book opens.
The same day, her younger Hindu – born of another mother – also married a man she did not want. Ramla’s husband is the rich and powerful Alhadji, of whom she becomes the second wife; that of Hindu is her cousin Mubarak, a notorious thug who has already tried to rape her. Second voice of the novel, Hindu relates the ordeal of a union with a brutal man, in the complete indifference of those around him. “Munyal! “, retort to her the few people she can confide in. Then it is Safira, Alhadji’s first wife, who speaks in turn. At 35, married to him for two decades, she saw Ramla’s arrival as a betrayal, and hate him fiercely.
In a simple style that gives strength to his novel, Djaïli Amadou Amal immerses himself in a way of life and a system of thought which, in the name of a certain vision of Islam, prohibit women from any rebellion, whatever the violence suffered. This cruel hierarchy of genres, the obsession with appearances and ” dignity “ give rise to murderous conflicts between co-wives, subject to rigid codes even in their right to address their husbands. If everything rings terribly true in this controlled narration, it is because its author, born in 1975, was forcibly married at 17 to a polygamous man. She related it in her first book: Walaande. The art of sharing a husband, not broadcast in France, but which earned it immediate fame on the Cameroonian literary scene.