Deux classiques

things_fall_apart down_second_avenue

de la littérature africaine, de 1958 et 1959, le premier du Nigeria, publié peu avant l’Indépendance, le second d’Afrique du Sud, sorti trente-cinq ans avant le premier vote libre du pays. Deux grands livres, qui vous marquent d’une empreinte durable, et qui vous font rentrer – magie de la littérature – dans des univers autrement à jamais inaccessibles.

Chinua Achebe (1930-2013) nous fait vivre la vie d’un village igbo, dans l’Est du Nigeria, dans les années 1890, d’abord avant l’arrivée des Blancs, puis avec les premiers missionnaires, juste avant la colonisation. Comment était la vie, les mœurs, les coutumes, les fêtes, les rites, dans une Afrique stable, permanente, non encore perturbée par le monde extérieur ? C’est ce qu’on apprend dans les deux premières parties du livre. Loin de la glorification de sociétés proches de la nature, l’auteur ne dresse pas un portrait toujours flatteur, il y a notamment le meurtre horrible d’un adolescent, condamné par les lois traditionnelles, par le sorcier ou oracle, qui après avoir été adopté d’un village voisin (cédé par celui-ci à la suite d’un différend, et pour maintenir la paix), adopté par la famille du personnage principal, et qui devient en quelques années comme le frère des enfants (famille nombreuse dans un cadre polygame), faisant l’objet de l’affection de tous, est finalement emmené à l’écart et tué à coups de machettes.

Mais dans l’ensemble, ce qui se dégage de cette plongée est un univers rassurant, où tout semble bien fixé, bien délimité, avec des codes de l’honneur notamment fermement établis. Quand les Blancs arrivent, tout cela va s’écrouler (Things fall apart) et le heurt, le choc culturel, la rencontre de civilisations différentes et opposées, à des années-lumières l’une de l’autre, est magnifiquement analysée et décrite. Une culture nouvelle va remplacer l’ancienne, le prix est lourd à payer…

Extrait, page 59 (Anchor Books édition, 1994) :

Thus the men of Umuofia pursued their way, armed with sheathed machetes, and Ikemefuna, carrying a pot of palm-wine on his head, walked in their midst. Although he had felt uneasy at first, he was not afraid now. Okonkwo walked behind him. He could hardly imagine that Okonkwo was not his real father. He had never been fond of his real father, and at the end of three years he had become very distant indeed. But his mother and his three-year-old sister… of course she would not be three now, but six. Would he recognise her now? She must have grown quite big. How his mother would weep for joy, and thank Okonkwo for having looked after him so well and for bringing him back. She would want to hear everything that had happened to him in all these years. Could he remember them all? He would tell her about Nwoye and his mother, and about the locusts… Then quite suddenly a thought came upon him. His mother might be dead. He tried in vain to force the thought out of his mind. Then he tried to settle the matter the way he used to settle such matters when he was a little boy. He still remembered the song:

Eze elina, elina!
Sala
Eze ilikwa ya
Ikwaba akwa ogholi
Ebe Danda nechi eze
Ebe Uzuzu nete egwu
Sala

He sang it in his mind, and walked to its beat. If the song ended on his right foot, his mother was alive. If it ended on his left, she was dead. No, not dead, but ill. It ended on the right. She was alive and well. He sang the song again, and it ended on the left. But the second time did not count. The first voice gets to Chukwu, or God’s house. That was a favourite saying of children. Ikemefuna felt like a child once more. It must be the thought of going home to his mother.

One of the men behind him cleared his throat. Ikemefuna looked back, and the man growled at him to go on and not stand looking back. The way he said it sent cold fear down Ikemefuna’s back. His hands trembled vaguely on the black pot he carried. Why had Okonkwo withdrawn to the rear? Ikemefuna felt his legs melting under him. And he was afraid to look back.

As the man who had cleared his throat drew up and raised his machete, Okonkwo looked away. He heard the blow. The pot fell and broke in the sand. He heard Ikemefuna cry, « My father, they have killed me! » as he ran towards him. Dazed with fear, Okonkwo drew his machete and cut him down. He was afraid of being thought weak.

Paru chez Actes Sud en 2013 sous le titre Tout s’effondre.

Le second livre relève du roman d’apprentissage (Bildungsroman*), c’est l’enfance, la jeunesse, puis le « coming of age » d’un Noir en Afrique du Sud, venu d’un village pour s’installer avec sa mère et ses frères et sœurs dans un township de Pretoria, Marabastad, dans les années 1920-1950. L’histoire est réelle, il s’agit d’une sorte d’autobiographie. Le principe est le même, on rentre dans la peau d’un jeune, puis d’un homme, qui a à subir la ségrégation, ce qui deviendra officiellement l’apartheid en 1948, et le trajet est hallucinant et beau. Ezekiel Mphahlele part en exil au Nigeria en 1957, puis en France (1961-63), au Kenya, aux Etats-Unis, avant de retourner en Afrique du Sud en 1977, pour voir la fin de l’apartheid 17 ans plus tard. Il meurt en 2008 à 89 ans, célébré dans son pays et dans le monde.

Dans la critique de The Observer, à la sortie du livre en 1959 :

An amazingly unembittered autobiography of a Black man growing up in South Africa. No easy indignation, but the reader is closely involved in the boy’s realization of the injustices behind the poverty, brutality and fear. Honest and with an open sense of humour.

Sens de l’humour qu’on trouve par exemple dans cet extrait (p. 175, Faber & Faber édition, 1971) :

The typists liked to send their ‘office boys’ to the shops to buy fish and chips, flowers, sandwiches, or to the dry cleaners. One of them had a passion for dry cleaners, and was in the habit of playing the Sultan’s daughter’s game on me. I refused the role of a large black dumb eunuch, after a time, and would not run her private errands. Almost the same week, a girl in another office said to me:

‘You must come again this afternoon, boy.’
‘What makes you think I’m a boy and not a girl?’ I replied aggressively.
‘Now, don’t you be rude on me!’ She said.
‘I seem to have come to the right school for manners I see.’
‘Now you leave before I call the police.’

I recited to her the number every white man and woman is supposed to know off by heart for dialling the police Flying Squad in cases of burglary and so on.
She did nothing of the sort, and I left, feeling pleased with myself. I should have known it would happen. Twice I had flung back an insult like that, more crudely, when I worked at Ezenzeleni Blind Institute. The aggrieved persons had rung up Mr. Blaxall to complain. All Mr. Blaxall had done was to call me and find out the facts. The matter had ended there. Not so with my lawyer. Not so with my disgruntled typist. I got the sack, and lost a handsome £21 in monthly salary, after working only three months.

 

* Comme Of Human Bondage (Servitude humaine) de Somerset Maugham.

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