Mongo Beti

The Library, Documentation and Information Department of the ASC has compiled a dossier about the Cameroonian writer Mongo Beti, who died in October 2001. The dossier consists of an introduction on the man and his work, a list of publications by and about Mongo Beti, and a selection of Web resources. All titles listed - both fiction and non-fiction - can be found in the ASC library. The library catalogue contains abstracts of most of the (non-fiction) works. For information about this dossier and availability of titles email us at:  asclibrary@ascleiden.nl or phone: +31 (0)71 527 3354.

Introduction

Mongo Beti, one of the foremost writers of Africa's independence generation, started his career as a writer in 1953 with the publication of the short story 'Sans haine et sans amour'. His first novel 'Ville cruelle' followed a year later in 1954. Both works were published under the assumed name of Eza Boto. Two years later came 'Le pauvre Christ de Bomba' under the pseudonym Mongo Beti. Under this name he built up an impressive œuvre, culminating in 2000 with 'Branle-bas en noir et blanc'.

Mongo Beti was born as Alexandre Biyidi (or Biyidi-Awala) in 1932 in a village south of Yaounde. He left to study in France in 1951 and soon became caught up in Parisian African politics. He denounced colonization and the effects it had on traditional societies. After finishing his studies, he went back to Cameroon in 1959 where he became involved in the independence movement. He ended up in jail and returned to France to become a literature teacher in Rouen. In 1978, with his French wife Odile Tobner, also a literary teacher, he launched 'Peuples noirs, peuples africains', a bimonthly review magazine. In the early 1990s, amid the wave of democracy sweeping Africa he returned to Cameroon and started a bookshop. Beti remained deeply involved in politics for the rest of his life.

Mongo Beti's novelistic œuvre can be divided into three distinct periods. During the first, from 1953 to 1958, he produced a short story and four novels, all concerned with the problems of colonialism. The short story, entitled 'Sans haine et sans amour', was published in a special issue of Présence Africaine, 'Les étudiants noirs parlent'. It is an attack on Camara Laye's idealistic view of the African child. 'Ville cruelle' describes how poor Africans were cheated by colonial officials. 'Le pauvre Christ de Bomba' (1956) is a humorous and devastating critique of missionary life in Africa. After 'Mission terminée'(1957) and 'Le roi miraculé' (1958), Beti's reputation as a writer was firmly established. A common aim in all these novels is to subvert colonial rhetoric in order to convince readers to reject the colonial situation.

After a period of silence lasting fourteen years during which Cameroon gained independence, the first two of his five novels about neo-colonialism were published. In 'Perpétue et l'habitude du malheur' (1974), a political prisoner reflects on the death of his younger sister during his detention. 'Remember Ruben' (1974) takes place just prior to independence and describes in the form of an odyssey the development of a young orphan up to the time when he joins the military. 'La ruine presque cocasse d'un polichinelle', published in 1978, is the sequel to 'Remember Ruben'. This trilogy is based on Ruben Um Nyobé, (1913-1958), a trade-union leader who was killed by the French army and the novels provide a counter-history of the decolonization process; an alternative to the optimistic accounts of the nation-building process. 'Les deux mères de Guillaume Ismaël Dzewatama' (1983) describes the return to Cameroon, with his second, French wife, of an intellectual after studying abroad, and 'La revanche de Guillaume Ismaël Dzewatama' (1984) is a sequel to this story of the Dzewatama family. The major point the author wants to make here is that Africa is imprisoned in a neo-colonial situation characterized by a close collaboration between an indigenous elite and foreign interests.

Back in Cameroon Beti published three more novels: 'L'histoire du fou' (1994) is a chronicle of 30 years of dictatorship, while 'Trop de soleil tue l'amour' (1999) is about a journalist in the run up to elections. His final novel 'Branle-bas en noir et blanc' was published in 2000.

Beti's commitment to his homeland is even more apparent in his non-literary work. 'Main basse sur le Cameroon: Autopsie d'une décolonisation' (1971) is a devastating critique of Ahidjo's authoritarian regime in Cameroon, while 'Lettre ouverte aux Camerounais, ou, La deuxième mort de Ruben Um Nyobe' (1986) was directed against Ahidjo's successor, Paul Biya. In reaction to the image of 'blacks' in Western discourse, Beti and his wife produced the 'Dictionnaire de la négritude' (1987). In 'La France contre l'Afrique: Retour au Cameroun' (1993) he accuses France of being too closely associated with dictators, out of self-interest.

With Beti's death, Cameroon loses a man who used his novels as a weapon in the struggle against the colonial and neo-colonial political and economic system that condemns most Cameroonians to a life of poverty and feelings of inadequacy.
 

Fiction by Mongo Beti

Sans haine et sans amour / Eza Boto
In: Présence africaine, vol. 5 (1953)

Ville cruelle / Eza Boto (pseud. de Mongo Beti).
In: Trois écrivains noirs. Paris : Présence africaine. - (1954), p. 7-159.

Le pauvre Christ de Bomba / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Présence africaine, cop. 1976. - 281 p.
ISBN 2-7087-0326-9 . 1e éd. 1956.                                                                                                                                                   

Mission terminée / Mongo Beti. – Paris : Buchet/Chastel [etc.], 1957. - 255 p.

Le roi miraculé : chronique des Essazam : roman / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Buchet/Chastel, 1958. - 254 p.

Mongo Beti : [Anthologie] / [textes commentés par Roger Mercier et Monique et Simon Battestini]. - Paris, 1964. - 64 p. ; 20 cm. - (Littérature africaine ;1er volet de la collection Classiques du monde, 5)

Perpétue et l'habitude du malheur : roman / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Buchet-Chastel, [1974]. - 303 p.

Remember Ruben / par Mongo Beti. - Paris : Union générale d'éditions, 1974. - 313 p. - (10/18 ; 853) (Série La Voie des autres). French text.

La ruïne presque cocasse d'un polichinelle : Remember Ruben 2 : roman / Mongo Beti. - [Paris] : Éditions des Peuples noirs, c1979. - 319 p. Continues Remember Ruben.
ISBN 2-86441-001-X

Les deux mères de Guillaume Ismaël Dzewatama, futur camionneur / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Buchet/Chastel, 1983, cop. 1982. - 199 p.

La revanche de Guillaume Ismael Dzewatama / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Buchet/Chastel, 1984. - 237 p.

L'histoire du fou : roman / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Julliard, cop. 1994. - 212 p. Met noten.
ISBN 2-260-01099-7

Trop de soleil tue l'amour / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Julliard, cop. 1999. - 239 p.
ISBN 2-260-01242-6

Branle-bas en noir et blanc : roman / Mongo Beti. - Paris : Julliard, 2000. - 351 p.
ISBN 2-260-01510-7
 

Non-fiction by Mongo Beti

Main basse sur le Cameroun : autopsie d'une décolonisation / Mongo Beti. – Paris : Maspero, 1972. - 217 p. - (Cahiers libres ; 240-241)

Les procès du Cameroun : autopsie d'une décolonisation / Mongo Beti.
In: Partisans: (1972), mars/avril, 64, p. 111-132.

Peuples noirs, peuples africains / dir.: Mongo Beti. - No. 1 (1978) - no. 80 (1991). - Paris : Éditions des Peuples noirs, 1978-1991. – From no. 5 published by L'Harmattan. ISSN 0181-4087 = Peuples noirs peuples africains

Les langues africaines et le néo-colonialisme en Afrique francophone / Mongo Beti.
In: Peuples noirs, peuples africains: (1982), vol. 5, no. 29, p. 106-118.

Lettre ouverte aux Camerounais, ou, La deuxième mort de Ruben Um Nyobé / Mongo Beti. - Rouen : Éditions des Peuples noirs ; Paris : Diffusion L'Harmattan, 1986. – 131 p. Includes bibliographical references.
ISBN 2-86441-003-6

Dictionnaire de la négritude / Mongo Beti, Odile Tobner et la participation de collab. de la revue Peuples noirs - Peuples africains. - Paris : Éditions L'Harmattan, cop. 1989. - 246 p. ; Met index.
ISBN 2-7384-0494-4

La France contre l'Afrique : retour au Cameroun / Mongo Beti. - Paris : La Découverte, cop. 1993. - 207 p. (Cahiers libres. Essais). - Met bijl., noten.
ISBN 2-7071-2228-9
 

Mongo Beti and his work

Childhood à la Camara Laye & childhood à la Mongo Beti / E.P. Abanime.
In: African Literature Today: (1998), no. 21, p. 82-90.

Critical perspectives on Mongo Beti / ed. by Stephen H. Arnold. - Boulder, Col. [etc.] : Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1998. - IX, 453 p.
A Three Continents Book. - Bibliogr. Mongo Beti: p. 425-444. - Met index, noten.
ISBN 0-89410-586-8

The concept of neocolonialism in the later works of Mongo Beti / Richard Bjornson.
In: Mapping intersections: African literature and Africa's development / ed. By Anne V. Adams and Janis A. Mayes. - Trention, N.J. [etc.] : Africa World Press: (1998), p. 137-149. Notes, ref.

Sur les voies de la fiction : la voix narrative dans l'œuvre de Mongo Beti / Patricia-Pia Célérier.
In: The growth of African literature : twenty-five years after Dakar and Fourah Bay / ed. by Edris Makward, Thelma Ravell-Pinto & Aliko Songolo. - Trenton, N.J. [etc] : Africa World Press: (1998), p. 177-186.

Mongo Beti: la quête de la liberté / André Djiffack. - Paris: L'Harmattan, 2000. - 288 p. - Collection "Espaces littéraires" . Includes bibliographical references (p. 269-285)
ISBN 2-7384-8831-5

The myth of Ruben / Andre Djiffack ; transl. by R.H. Mitsch.
In: Research in African Literatures: (2000), vol. 31, no. 2, p. 91-116.

The novel as transformation myth : a study of the novels of Mongo Beti and Ngugi wa Thiong'o / Kandioura Drame. - Syracuse, N.Y. : Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University, cop. 1990. – XII, 123 p. Foreign and comparative studies. African series ; 43. - Bibliogr.: p. [117]-123. - Met noten.
ISBN 0-915984-68-7

Social function of myth and epic : Mongo Beti and Ngugi Wa Thiong'o / Kandioura Drame.
In: Ufahamu: (1982/83), vol. 12, no. 2, p. 44-67.

Mongo Beti : itinéraire d'un écrivain engagé / par Michel Lobe Ewane.
In: Afrique 2000: (1993), no. 14, p. 125-131.

The significance of the cyclical technique in the novels of Mongo Beti / Cletus Ihom.
In: Themes in African literature in French: a collection of essays / ed. by Sam Ade Ojo and Olusola Oke. - Ibadan [etc.] : Spectrum Books Limited: (2000), p. 107-116.

'L'histoire du fou' de Mongo Beti: le roman du retour / Cilas Kemedjio.
In: Migrating words and worlds: Pan-Africanism updated / ed. by Anthony E. Hurley, Renee Larrier, Joseph McLaren. - Trention, N.J.: Africa World Press: (1999), p. 261-279.

Mongo Beti parle / réalisé et éd. par Ambroise Kom. - Bayreuth : Breitinger, 2002. - 197 p. - (Bayreuth African studies series, ISSN 0178-0034 ; 54)
Met index, noten
ISBN 3-927510-65-3

Mongo Beti: l'homme et le destin / Thomas Melone. - Paris, 1971. - 285 p. : ill. Critique littéraire. - Met bibliografie.

Seven African writers / Gerald Moore. - London [etc.] : Oxford University Press, 1962. - XX, 108 p.- (A Three crowns book)
Leopold Sedar Senghor: assimilation or negritude?--David Diop: poet of the African revolution.--Camara Laye: nostalgia and idealism.--Amos Tutuola: a modern visionary.--Chinua Achebe: nostalgia and realism.--Mongo Beti: the voice of the rebel.--Ezekiel Mphahlele: the urban outcast.--Bibliography of Africanwriting (p. 103-108).

Comprendre l'œuvre de Mongo Beti / Bernard Mouralis. –Issy-les-Moulineaux : Saint-Paul, 2000. - 127 p. Les 308                    

An introduction to the African novel : a critical study of twelve books by Chinua Achebe, James Ngugi, Camara Laye, Elechi Amadi, Ayi Kwei Armah, Mongo Beti and Gabriel Okara / [by] Eustace Palmer. - London : Heinemann Educational, 1972. - xv, 176 p.- (Studies in African literature). Bibliogr.: p.168-173. - Index.
ISBN 0-435-18420-2. ISBN 0-435-18421-0 (pbk)

La religion dans la littérature africaine : étude sur Mongo Beti, Benjamin Matip et Ferdinand Oyono / par Wilberforce A. Umezinwa. - Kinshasa : Presses
Universitaires du Zaïre, 1975. - 185 p. - (Bibliothèque du Centre d'Études des Religions Africaines ; 2). - Lit.opg.
 

Selected web resources

(The ASC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites)

Reading women writers and African literatures: Cameroon
Contains information on Cameroonian literature and on Cameroon in general; maintained by the Department of French Studies, University of Western Australia.
http://aflit.arts.uwa.edu.au/CountryCameroonEN.html

H-Africa/H-AfrLitCine
Discussion list on African literature and cinema, member of H-Net Humanities & Social Sciences Online; contains recent information on Mongo Beti, obituaries and biobibliographies.
http://www2.h-net.msu.edu/~aflitweb/

Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains
The first five issues of Peuples Noirs, Peuples Africains were made available online in April 2003; subsequent issues will be added to the site at the rate of one per month. Contains biobibliographical information. Contact: Jean-Marie Volet, University of Western Australia
http://mongobeti.arts.uwa.edu.au/

Mots Pluriels, no. 6, 1998
Revue électronique de lettres à caractère international. This issue contains an article by Théophile Bissohong on football as metaphor in two novels by Mongo Beti.
http://motspluriels.arts.uwa.edu.au/MP698tb.html

Africa South of the Sahara, Countries: Cameroon
Annotated guide to internet resources, maintained by Karen Fung, Stanford University.
http://www-sul.stanford.edu/depts/ssrg/africa/camer.html