Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono

Cameroon after World War II. Houseboy comes about after World War II, during the last period of French rule, shortly before today’s Cameroon won independence on January 1, 1960. During the nineteenth century, Britain and France had contended for control over most of West Africa. Germany, intent to establish itself as a colonial power too, staked out Cameroonian territory. In 1844, after signing pacts with local rules, the Germans required an area as the colony of Kamerun. Germany’s control would continue into the twentieth century until, defeated in World War I, it lost the African colony. In 1918 Kamerun became a mandate, a territory designated by the League of Nations to be controlled, in this case, by France and Britain. Britain received one-six of Kamerun-in two small, discontinuous pieces bordering Nigeria, named Northern Cameroons and Southern Cameroons. France got five-sixths of Kamerun, renaming its share “Cameroun.” In 1946, after World War II, Cameroon formally became a guardianship of the United Nations, successor to the League of Nations. In theory, in the event of an accusation against France, Cameroonians could request to U.N. authorities. But practically, there was little change in everyday life. France persisted to control Cameroon as colony; actually, the projected long-term purposes of guardianship – independence and self government-were at odds with the policy of assimilation, by which France controlled its colonies from Paris and intended to make French citizens of its colonial subjects. Historians, nevertheless, mean that the practice fell far short of policy: the try to assimilate West Africans was rather weak.

World War II had an unexpected psychological influence on France’s colonial subjects in Cameroon. Before underdeveloped triumphant with the Allies, France had suffered defeat at the hands of the Germans. Now, after the war, France’s hold over Cameroon went on irrefutable, but, in the eyes of Africans, the colonizer’s supremacy was somehow tarnished by its wartime defeat: “French political control over Cameroon had until now been unquestioned and a generation of young Africans had been taught that Paris was the pinnacle of civilization. [yet] it had fallen to the Nazis. France would never again control Cameroon in the way it had before the war” (Quinn, p. 171). In Houseboy the consecutive waning of French authority over the Africans is described through the often disrespectful reactions of servants to the behavior of their white masters. Although the houseboy, Toundi, stays in fear of the French for much of the novel, fellow servants at Commandant Decaz’s “Residence” surreptitiously deride the colonizers. Servant, Ondoua, hired by the agricultural engineer to sound out the hours on his drum, encodes irreverent messages about his French employer in his drumbeats but avoids punishment because in his enlightened view “[i]t’s easy enough to lie to a white man” (Houseboy, p.30). By the end, Toundi himself, disenchanted by the dissoluteness of his so-named superior, shows disrespect. Asked if the water he brings has been boiled and purified, Toundi replies “yes.” Unconvinced, the Commandant has Toundi bring a fresh glass, into which the nolonger- naïve houseboy surreptitiously spits.

Missionaries in Cameroon. Preceded by Presbyterian and Baptist missions, the first Catholic mission to be founded in Cameroon appeared in Marienberg in 1889 under the protection of German missioners, the Pallotin Fathers. By 1913 the Pallotiner Mission numbered 19 European missionaries and over 12,000 students in its schools. Unlike Muslims of northern Cameroon, who wielded no state power in the colonial period, Christian missionaries worked nearly with the colonial authorities. Delegates of the Catholic Church focused on “issues of morality and on the insisting that Africans become monogamous and eliminate superstitions before they could be accepted into the church” This persistence upon moral diktats of Catholicism manifests itself in Houseboy, when the Commandant inquires Toundi about Heaven and Hell while interviewing him for his position.

“What is it like, hell?” “Well, Sir, it is flames and snakes and the Devil with horns “”¦if you steal, I shan’t wait till you go to hell”¦ If you steal from me, I shall skin you alive.” (Houseboy, pp. 21-22) Peoples of southern Cameroon, such as the Ndjem, Maka, and Ewondo were strongly touched by Christian missionary activity. It was not the religious beliefs per se that made an influence, on the other hand. So Houseboy the psychological aspect colonialism has on its victims. The narrative is about a young boy called Toundi who grows up in a small village. Life in the village is coarse, but Toundi, who is renamed Joseph, goes to work for a mission guided by Father Gilbert as his houseboy. Joseph evolves a close friendship with the father and he comes to visit him. The boy’ position toward his own people and country is obvious in the beginning: “My forefathers were cannibals. “After the priest is killed in a motorcycle accident, Joseph is forwarded to live with a commandant and his wife. There Joseph can see the features of the colonialists for whom he works. Joseph falls in love with Madame, but she wrongs him and other members of the household staff, and has an affair with another man. The story takes a terrible deflection when one of the colonialists is stolen by his lover, whom Joseph also knew. He is arrested and flagellated as a conspirator.

As with the different books read for class, Houseboy concentrates on the unbalance of political power that the Africans have under colonialism. Joseph is neither given due justice of the law or a lawyer, which would have been the due direction in France. He is arrested simply on the word of the white lover who was stolen. All throughout the narrative, Joseph is prevised by Baklu, not to get too close to the whites but he does not care for his words until it is too late. As a houseboy, though, Joseph is given a bird’s-eye view of the personal cooperation of the whites. It is while observing the Commandant and his wife that Joseph’s beliefs begin to change about whites and values they keep. Yet his closeness to them also puts him in trouble. He is frequently implicated in their domestic quarrels and is charged of spreading piece of scandal of Madame’s affair with Moreau, though it is obvious that her affair is a mystery to no one in the village but her husband.

Joseph’s romanticization of the Europeans what wounds him. Since he grew up among the white missionaries, his opinions of them are formed from those earlier experiences. Father Vandermayers live in the mission, but for Joseph he does not typify the good he sees in Father Gilbert. When he is taken out of the mission and is sent to work for the Commandant, he requires the feeling of survival that many of the other blacks working for the family have. Even Sophie, who is sexually used by one of the whites, has a clear opinion of the unbalance of strength between the Africans and whites than Joseph does. Houseboy displays in the most personal details the lack of power and control Africans have under colonialist morality and that any connection with colonialist whites will by the nature of things persuade to death and demolition.

In the work, Oyono displayed himself an expert of derision, imagery, and eager observation. Toundi’s youth and simple-heartedness are contrasts for the evils of the colonials, who controlled the natives.

Scientists have discovered reflections of physical demolition to echo the colonials’ psychological destructions of the Africans. The book, though short, is layered with derision. One commentator marks, for example, Oyono’s utilize of the name Joseph as the priest’s name for Toundi, connecting it with Joseph of the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, the Israelite who, enthralled in Egypt, rises in the estimation of his masters until he is falsely charged of longing the wife of an Egyptian. It has also been pointed out that Toundi penetrates into his interrelations with the colonials with candid rapture, accepting the alleged superiority of Western ways and culture until disappointed by the truth. Not only Toundi given a Christian name on joining the church and the colonial world, it is practitioners of Christianity who put on the path that shows the way to his demolition in spite of his chastity. Literary analysts have discovered that Houseboy reveals insights into the psychology of oppression. At first dazzled by the enlightenment his servitude affords and the charm of the Commandant’s wife, Toundi is finally doomed by his close fellowship with the colonials because he finds out too much about their character. Because he knows of the Commandant’s wife’s imprudence and of the agricultural engineer’s affair, he represents a danger although his journal reveals no purpose to betray anyone. Concisely before his arrest, Toundi inscribes bitterly of his place in the Commandant’s household: “Kicks and insults have started again. He thinks this humiliates me and he can’t find any other way. He forgets that is all part of my job as a houseboy, a job which holds no more secrets for me.”

Lillian Corti University of Alaska, Fairbanks

While suggesting parallels between immemorial and contemporary stories of capture and sorrow, Oyono’s Une vie de boy anticipates postcolonial abuses so fervently accused by Wole Soyinka in The Open Sore of a Continent.

A chef ”“ d’oeuvre of psychological acumen and ironic narration, the story describes the short deplorable life of Toundi, an African boy who departs his native village to live in a fictional town named Dangan. The narrative is told by the main character, who changes his name from Toundi to Joseph when he goes to live among colonizers. Unconsciously began a journey that will lead to his own demolition, Toundi tells his horrible narrative in a naively optimistic voice that means the situation of a lamb thrown in among wolves dressed up in sheep’s clothing.

An early suggestion of his inclination to embrace the role of a victim is obvious in Toundi’s complaisant acceptance of the “Christian” name Joseph. This tendency of the victim to identify with the aggressor is, assuredly, the critical component in Oyono’s splendid articulation of the accordance between brutally spoilt colonial administrations.

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