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Joaquin Mbomio Bacheng: El párroco de Niefang [The Priest of Niefang]

This short novel covers that traditional theme, how to marry the culture of the coloniser with that of the colonised. Father Gabriel had been arrested under the Macías regime. It was assumed that he had been killed but, unlike his cell-mate, a dyed-in-the wool Marxist called Patricio, he had survived. Patricio had been killed in front of Gabriel. At the start of the novel, Gabriel has just been released, post-Macías, and is recovering in a local missionary, prior to returning to his own parish of Niefang. While he is at the missionary we meet Father Matanga, a missionary who had been educated in Rome, and Father Nlang Zama (it means servant of God in Fang), who seems to have a way of charming the market ladies into selling him food at half price. Matanga will later be arrested and abused by soldiers but is released when the commandant intervenes.

Gabriel ponders his future and feels that he has lost his vocation. However, a visit from Cardinal Sindona, from Rome, a relative of Michele Sindona, as he himself points out, has him changing his mind. Rome is very keen, according to Sindona, on having good priests in Equatorial Guinea and, indeed, Gabriel will be put up for beatification after his death. After reversing his decision, he is persuaded by Father Matanga to come and visit a dying man who had been a good Catholic but who had, in accordance with local custom, communicated with the dead and then married a fourteen-year old girl when he was seventy, thereby committing bigamy. Gabriel persuades him to renounce his child bride on his death bed and thereby saves his soul. Patricio, his old cell-mate, will later speak to Gabriel from the grave, through Ondo Nnang, a medicine man.

Gabriel travels slowly back to his parish but stopping off at other places, in particular Edum, where he sees the mixture of Christianity and the old customs. We hear the story of Ndong Mbona who worked hard to get a dowry but one day, is arrested by Macías’ men, simply because his boss has been accused of being a neo-colonialist. As a result he is sent to prison and his beloved mother dies from the shock. When he is released, he flees to Gabon but is thrown out and has ended up back in Edum. There he meets Catalina at a dance but she is married. Sadly, the story does not turn out well. We also hear the story of María Soledad. Her husband and father had been arrested and killed by Macías’ men and she had been raped and now had a child as a result of that rape. For a long time, before his arrest, she had assisted Gabriel in his work and this lifted her out of the gloom resulting from her situation but she sank back into the gloom when he was arrested. However, once he was released and came back, they renewed their warm relationship and became very close, perhaps too close for a traditional European Catholic priest though not necessarily for a Catholic priest with a background in a traditional African culture. It all turns out well, with Gabriel meeting John Paul II. It is a simple tale but Mbomio makes the point well that a) Macías caused untold harm to people and to the country and b) that African Catholicism is not the same as European Catholicism.

Publishing history

First published 1996 by Centro Cultural Hispano-Guineano, Malabo