FAMA: A PATHETIC DESECRATED PRINCE OR A DISGRUNTLED FOOT-SOLDIER? CRITICAL REFLECTIONS ON THE SUNS OF INDEPENDENCE OF AHMADOU KOUROUMA
This paper examines the character of Fama, the protagonist in The Suns of Independence of Ahmadou Kourouma, as an exact replica of a foot-soldier in contemporary Ghanaian socioeconomic and political development. In this regard, it draws a parallelism between the character of Fama and a foot-soldier and makes recommendations for the way forward in order to sustain socioeconomic and democratic development.
Consequently, the study draws attention to issues relating to political fanaticism and their accompanying tragic disenchantment for unsuspecting self-seeking citizens in emerging multiparty democratic states in developing countries such as Ghana. In the light of the inherent dangers in self-seeking political activism as seen in the character of Fama, for that matter, in that of foot-soldiers, the study recommends steps that will help sanitize political activities and democratic practice in Ghana, and Africa as a whole.
Fama is the main character in Ahmadou Kourouma’s very first novel, The Suns of Independence. Originally written in French language as “Les Soleils des Indépendances”, this novel is seen as a clear departure from the usual attempts by Francophone African writers to fit themselves into a classical mould designed by the French colonialists for literary and artistic production, by attaching themselves to a strict respect for French grammar and syntax. The story of Fama is an authentic African story told the African way in an “africanized” French language. This position on the ‘Africanized French language’ is equally upheld by Peter Wuteh Vankuta (2011) when he asserts:
Postcolonial Francophone literatures exist at the interface of French as a hegemonic language and its many regional variants that transform this corpus of writings into hybrid literature. Linguistic hybridity compounds the reading and teaching of Francophone literatures of Africa and the Caribbean. An incontrovertible manifestation of linguistic variance in contemporary Francophone literatures is the tendency on the part of fiction writers to resort to modes of writing characterized by linguistic indigenization – an attempt to appropriate the language of the ex-colonizer. (p. 1)
Besides the characterization and the setting, the language and style of Kourouma in this novel remain an inexhaustible source of linguistic artistry for researchers and scholars in language and literature, since its first publication in 1968 in Montreal, and subsequently in France in 1970 by ‘Les Editions du Seuil’, following its initial success.
Fama is the last authentic prince of the Dumbuya, the ruling dynasty of Horodugu. Having been deprived and despoiled of his chiefdom by French colonialists and their activities, Fama jumps into political party activism with the inception of the Independence of his country, The Ebony Coast, in an attempt to regain his lost glory. Fama’s hope is further dashed in his activism. He suffers various forms of disappointments, humiliation and rejection. Marked by the stigma of illiteracy, pauperization, marital sterility and social decline, Fama becomes pugnacious and abusive in his disenchantment, contrary to his aristocratic lineage and up-bringing as a legitimate prince.
The final blow to Fama’s battered blue-blooded vainglorious status and cherished dream of restoring the extinct feudal system of the dynasty of the Dumbuya is his arbitrary arrest and imprisonment by members of the very political party for which he laid down his life and militated to win independence from the colonialists.
Chattered in his dreams and aspirations, Fama resolves to return to his native Togobala, following his release from jail. Unfortunately however, he meets his untimely death in a tragic manner on his journey back to his roots, and therefore never has the opportunity to seek refuge in the dark shadows of his dilapidated native village.
The upsurge of the phenomenon of “foot-soldierism” in contemporary Ghanaian political discourse has become a matter of great concern to all and sundry. In recent times, the activities and demands of some individuals under the banner of foot-soldiers have attracted much attention among the Ghanaian populace to the extent of threatening public peace and national security. In our attempt to determine the causes of “foot-soldierism” in order to address them, the character of Fama, the protagonist of The Suns of Independence of Ahmadou Kourouma comes to mind.
The study establishes similarities between Fama and “foot-soldiers” through a careful examination of their motive, behaviour and activities. It therefore examines the new status of Fama, an authentic prince of the famous Dumbuya royal lineage, under “The Suns of Independence” as he falls from grace to grass, having failed to appreciate the exigencies of the new era and the accompanying phenomenal socio-cultural transformations that have long ago rocked the dynasty of the Dumbuya and brought it to its extinction. In fact, this dynasty at the moment exists only in the minds of Fama alone, hence his solitary struggle for reverence under the ‘suns of independence’.
It also examines the character of Fama as a lost soul, a pitiable declining prince in quest of self-identity in a drastically transformed society at all fronts: political, economic and social. This status closely reflects the states and circumstances in which foot-soldiers find themselves in contemporary democratic dispensations across the African continent. The novel, being a socio-political satire, will be examined in correlation with current democratic developments in the Ghanaian politics, marked by abuses, insults, character assassination, media terrorism, and above all, the upsurge of “foot-soldiers’” demands and incessant agitations.
The study is a literary analysis conducted on the basis of data gathered from the set-novel: The Suns of Independence, “Les Soleils des Indépendances” of Ahmadou Kourouma, a renowned francophone African writer of the second half of the 20th century. The data to be analyzed will therefore be mainly collected from this novel. Nonetheless, relevant materials will be accessed from other sources such as journals, articles, newspapers and interviews granted by the writer on the internet in the conduct of this study.
Who is Fama?
Fama is the main character in Kourouma’s famous novel, The Suns of Independence. He is presented as the last legitimate prince of the Dumbuya dynasty of Horodugu. This is revealed in the following lines:
Fama Dumbuya! A true Dumbuya, of Dumbuya father and Dumbuya mother, the last legitimate descendant of the Dumbuya princes of Horodugu, whose totem was the panther – Fama was a ‘vulture’. A Dumbuya prince! A panther totem in a hyena pack. Ah! the suns of Independence! (p. 4)
Fama’s ambivalent status following the era of independence is highlighted in the above quotation. From the status of a legitimate prince whose totem is the panther, Fama is now referred to as a “vulture”, “a panther totem in hyena pack”. This quotation sets the tone for the unveiling of Fama’s devaluation as a blue-blooded character. As such, the very first activity Fama is associated with in the text is a funeral rite. The narrator says: “Fama was going to be late for the funeral rites of Ibrahima Kone.” (p. 4). The enthusiasm of Fama in this venture is also emphasized as follows: “Faster and faster he walked, as if seized with diarrhoea.” (pp. 4 – 5). The comparison in this line is not complimentary, considering the status of Fama as the last legitimate prince of the Dumbuya dynasty. Indeed, this submission serves as a foregrounding to a further revelation of Fama as a mere mortal disposed to anger and insulting behaviour, contrary to virtues associated with his aristocratic status. His propensity toward the use of abusive and foul language is brought to the fore at first instance in a feat of anger occasioned by his inability to arrive at the funeral rites in good time, not for what he is going to contribute but for what he expects to gain from the distribution of the funeral donations, having become a scavenger under the malefic suns of independence. The narrator states: “He was still at the far end of the bridge linking the white men’s town with the African quarter, and it was time for second prayer; the ceremony had begun. Fama grumbled: “Hell and damnation! Nyamokode !” (p. 5)
The term “Nyamokode” is a foul and vulgar insult in Malinke language. Combining with “Hell and damnation” at this stage, it reveals the state of mind of Fama. These should have been the last words to be used by a blue-blooded prince worthy of his salt, brought up to rule and be revered by all. By virtue of his birth and lineage, Fama ought to be measured and decorous in every sphere of his life. His behaviour, language and looks, in both private and public, must depict his aristocratic upbringing at all time. These are however, clear signs of his social disintegration and desecration. This is so, in the light of the spiritual position of royals as true representatives and legitimate intermediaries between the living and the ancestors in the African traditional religion and cosmogony. Indeed, the story of The Suns of Independence is entirely that of the socio-political and economic disintegration and demise of Fama. This position is corroborated by N’guessan Kotchy, Barthelemy (1977) as follow: « En effet, Les Soleils des Indépendances traite de la déchéance du héros Fama, déchéance due à la mutation des structures sociales du pays Horodougou. » (p. 85). These lines translate: “Indeed, The Suns of Independence is about the decline of Fama, the hero, owing to changes affecting the social structures of the Horodugu country.”