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Pierre Makombo Bamboté: Princesse Mandapu [Princess Mandapu]

This is something of a low-key book as not a great deal happens, probably because the action is set in Ouandja, some 700 kilometres from the capital, Bangui, where it is hot, very hot. Many of the characters spend their time lazing around and/or drinking, particularly beer. The period is the 1930s. The main character is Monsieur Boy. His first name is Batila, but he hasn’t used that name for nearly forty years. His wives call him Alphonse but everyone else calls him Monsieur Boy. Monsieur Boy is the senior administrator in Ouandja and seems to control everyone, including the police. He is descended from King Bangasu, a fact of which he reminds us more than once, and fought in World War 1 in France. He has three wives. The first is simply called first wife for much of the book, while the other two are Ya and Za. Ya is pregnant and, when she gives birth, she names her daughter Mandapu which, we then learn is the name of the first wife. Monsieur Boy is not happy with the choice of name, as he wanted to name his daughter after his mother. From this point both the first wife and Ya’s daughter are both called Mandapu.

Monsieur Boy is a tyrant. He sees himself as a fatherly figure but he bullies his wives and even beats them. He uses his children as his servants. And he is tough with the people he deals with professionally, though the only one we really see is Mokhta, a local trader, known as The Arab, though Monsieur Boy suspects that he is not in any way an Arab. He has applied for some sort of permit but has yet to receive it. Monsieur Boy claims that it is stuck in Bangui but Mokhta has been to Bangui where he has been told that Monsieur Boy has it. Mokhta soon becomes aware that the usual threats will not work as Monsieur Boy seems indifferent to friends in high places in Bangui. In short, corruption is the only way and Mokhta duly pays up.

However, the key aspect to this novel is the deal made between Mokhta and Boy. When Mokhta sees that Ya is pregnant, he states that if it is a girl, he will marry her. Mandapu, apparently, means the price of the affair and the unborn child and, later, the young child, is part of this deal. But Bamboté leaves us a few gaps, as the deal is never really explained in detail but hovers in the background. While we do know what happens to the deal and Mandapu at the end, how we get there is left somewhat vague. The novel is certainly fascinating and Bamboté is clearly setting out to write an African novel and not a French novel. The relationship between Boy and his family and between the various wives is shown in some detail but it would have been nice to know a bit more about the deal involving Mandapu.

Publishing history

First published by Présence africaine in 1972
No English translation