An Analysis of Segu by Maryse Conde

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Madeline Sayre
Black Studies 49A- MIESCHER
Wednesday 12 pm
3-12-13

In the novel Segu, Maryse Conde beautifully constructs personal and in depth images of African history through the use of four main characters that depict the struggles and importance of family in what is now present day Mali. These four characters and also brothers, by the names of Tiekoro, Siga, Naba, and Malobali are faced with a world changing around their beloved city of Bambara with new customs of the Islamic religion and the developing ideas of European commerce and slave trade. These new expansions in Africa become stepping stones for the Troare brothers to face head on and they have brought both victory and heartache for them and their family. These four characters are centralized throughout this novel because they provide the reader with an inside account of what life is like during a time where traditional Africa begins to change due to the forceful injection of conquering settlers and religions. This creates a split between family members, a mixing of cultures, and the loss of one’s traditions in the Bambara society which is a reflection of the changes that occur in societies across the world. The novel immediately projects the fear and misunderstanding felt by the people of Bambara due to the unexpected early changes that are taking place in Africa. “A white man...There’s a white man on the bank of the Joliba” is exclaimed by Dousika’s pregnant wife Sira (Conde 5). The family is instantly struck with a curious mind but also one that is uneasy. The sight of this white man causes great despair already for the man of the house Dousika: “White men come and live in Segu among the Bambara? It seemed impossible, whether they were friends or enemies!”(Conde 10). The unexpected appearance of this white man marks the beginning of anguish for Dousika and his four sons, especially for Dousika at first for he is embarrassed by the council due to this stranger’s intrusion. This white man at the start of the novel symbolizes the first stages of the expansions of different cultures into the “dark continent” and what curiosities and burdens are yet to come from this (Africa 9). Soon after this event takes place, which ultimately shames Dousika, the characters start to unfold and so does Africa’s transition to a trading and religious sanctum. Tiekoro is not only the eldest son but the son to completely accept and practice the steadily conquering Islamic religion regardless of strong family traditions. As the eldest son, Tiekoro is technically in line for many responsibilities as head of the household when his father passes and also must remain a positive role model for his brothers. However, this all doesn’t matter for Tiekoro finds his life’s calling as he exclaims, “O for another religion that would talk of love! That would forbid those sinister sacrifices! That would free man from fear! Fear of the invisible, and even of the visible!” (Conde 21). These overwhelming feelings of joy that fill Tiekoro’s heart with liberty also have to be kept secret for what would his family think? The fear of rejection and disappointment may be considered because after all Islam is a religion that “undermined the power of king, [and] according sovereignty to one supreme god who was completely alien to the Bambara universe” (Conde 41). As long as Tiekoro accepted Allah as his god he would be shunning his own family’s traditions and be adopting the ways of a foreigner. Not only has Tiekoro accepted and has become open with his new found way of life but now it was because of his recent opening that he would lose some important relationships between his father, mother, and brothers. Since his declaration of his yearn for being Muslim he “had started to think of [Dousika] as a barbarian and an ignorant drinker” (conde22). Also with Tiekoro’s departure for Timbuktu he would be leaving his loving mother, his mother who thought of him as her favorite, the one...
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