Characters In The African Prose Xala By Sembene Ousmane; This study material is suitable for students who are sitting for the forthcoming IJMB examination. The African Prose text titled Xala is used for IJMB examination till 2024.
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IJMB Literature Xala By Sembene ousmane
Characters Of The Book Xala By Sembene Ousmane
El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye
At the beginning of the novel, El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye is a successful businessman; he is even a board member elected to Senegal’s Chamber of Commerce in the wake of independence. He used to be a primary school teacher, but he was dismissed due to his “involvement in trade-union activity during the colonial period” (3). His nickname, “El Hadji,” stems from the fact that he has completed the pilgrimage to Mecca.
However, instead of living a life of modesty as required by Islam, he is tempted by quick profits, and he runs an import-export business with his warehouse fully stocked. He prefers foreign amenities to local goods, as he wears European suits and owns a German car; moreover, it is known that he is a local front for foreign agents that really remain in charge of Senegalese business affairs. He has two wives, Adja Awa Astou (with whom he completed the pilgrimage) and Oumi N’Doye (a more libertine and sexual woman), and he is about to marry the third (a young girl named N’Gone).
However, his relationships with his wives are superficial and distant; for example, he sends surrogates to finalize the third marriage at the mosque. Moreover, he never has any deep conversations with his wives, only using them for sex or superficial comforts. He has 11 children, but all except Rama (the oldest daughter of his first wife) only seem to want money from him. El Hadji does not believe in supernatural powers, as he does not follow the advice of Yay Bineta (N’Gone’s aunt) to perform an esoteric ritual before the wedding night.
However, after the wedding night, his situation changes when he realizes that he has become impotent. Contrary to his beliefs, the novel follows him as he tries to seek advice from traditional healers and seers. He also neglects his business and his employees until he is unable to pay his debts. In the end, the Beggar that has annoyed him throughout the text reveals that it was really him—and not one of the women in El Hadji’s life, as he had suspected—that afflicted him with Xala. The Beggar also storms El Hadji’s home and reveals how it was that El Hadji really got his wealth: by using dishonest business practices, he stole communal lands from his own people and resold them, leaving his kin to suffer in illness and poverty while he lived a lavish life.
Adja Awa Astou
Adja Awa Astou, El Hadji’s first wife, represents the traditional faction of Senegalese people in the novel. She gave up her Christian faith and is now a devout Muslim, obeying her husband and following the laws of Yalla. She speaks the traditional Wolof language and wears only white clothes after completing the pilgrimage to Mecca. She understands the institution of polygamy, but she cannot help but feel jealous when El Hadji takes his second and third wives.
Nonetheless, as his first wife, she enjoys a special religious and social status, as well as preferred status with El Hadji (who finds her to be the least irksome and most obedient of all his spouses). While she seems fragile from the outside, she in fact has a strong will and is full of determination to not let her husband and family down, even if this requires that she not see her own father and not return to the island of her birth. By the end of the novel, however, she is forced to reckon with the fact that her husband is a crook, and the riotous beggars who storm her house also abuse her and humiliate her.
Oumi N’Doye, El Hadji’s second wife, represents the modern, neo-colonial way of life in the novel. She spends most of her days reading international magazines, wearing expensive European clothes and speaking French. Her relationship with El Hadji seems to be purely physical, and her children constantly demand money and resources from their father (a notable instance of this in the text is her children’s desire to have a car). Whenever she talks to El Hadji, the topic seems to be about money or sex, and El Hadji’s marriage to a third woman enrages her, as she feels devalued and envious. By the novel’s end, however, El Hadji’s bankruptcy drives her out of her comfortable life and private villa, and back into the home of her parents. She also becomes a bit of a libertine, spending her days going out with other rich men.
With no higher education, N’Gone’s parents have almost given up on finding a husband for her at the start of the novel. She has been in many different relationships, but she was unable to find a man who could provide for her. She is young and beautiful, but not very intelligent. Even so, she is guided by her aunt, Yay Bineta, into marriage with El Hadji, and she remains passive throughout the story. Primarily, we see her as a disappointed woman who is not sexually satisfied by El Hadji and who is manipulated, like her parents, by her strong-willed aunt.
Rama is the oldest daughter of El Hadji’s first wife, Adja Awa Astou. She is a university student and independent woman who opposes the idea of polygamy. At the same time, however, like her mother, she has some traditional values and joined a Wolof language group. Additionally, seeing her mother suffer from having to share her husband hurts her as well, and she eases this burden by serving as a go-between between her mother and her estranged father. Whenever she tries to have a deeper conversation with her father, however, he shuts her down, at one time even slapping her in the face when she expresses her disappointment. He comments at one point in the novel that he does so only because she is a woman, whereas as a man he would have been able to make something of her moxie. Rama is in a relationship with a young doctor at the local hospital, named Pathé, but by the end of the novel, she too is reduced to sorrow when the truth of her father’s wealth is revealed.
Yay Bineta, also referred to as the Badyen, is the aunt of N’Gone on her father’s side. She has married twice already, but both her husbands died shortly after their marriage ceremonies, so traditionalists say that a third marriage would be inauspicious for her. Nobody wants to be her third victim, so she is unable to remarry, and instead takes a very active role in planning her niece’s wedding. Additionally, she is a resourceful and educated woman who uses her wit (and, at times, aggressive behaviour) to set up her niece with El Hadji. She is domineering, even over her brother and his wife, and she also believes in traditional superstitions. Late in the text, she uses her strong sense of tradition to her advantage, using Islamic law and El Hadji’s failure to consummate his marriage as vehicles for taking some of El Hadji’s vast wealth.
The President is the head of the Chamber of Commerce, appointed in the wake of Senegal’s independence. He and the other members of the board see it as a great honour and privilege that they are able to occupy this space once reserved only for colonial whites. He is also a close friend of El Hadji, and when El Hadji comes down with Xala, the President takes him to a variety of healers and seers in vain attempts to cure him.
Eventually, however, a wedge is driven between El Hadji and the President when El Hadji’s failure to repay his bills and overdrafting of his accounts puts the Chamber in jeopardy. When El Hadji attempts to atone for his mistakes before the Chamber and suggests that they are not even the real puppeteers of the country’s finances (since he admits that foreigners are really still in charge), however, the final straw has been had, and the President severs his connections to El Hadji.
Sereen Mada is a healer who lives in a rural outpost, only reachable by horse-drawn cart. He is initially very hospitable to El Hadji and Modu, and he is able to remove El Hadji’s xala, bringing a ray of light into his otherwise hopeless months of despair. When El Hadji’s check to him bounces, however, Sereen Mada visits his office in disguise and threatens him, later returning his Xala for lack of payment.
Modu is El Hadji’s personal chauffeur, and he is a fiercely loyal servant who is careful to respect all decorum that is proper between an employee and employer. It is he who communicates with the Beggar throughout the text, and it is also he who recommends that El Hadji pay a visit to Sereen Mada. At the end of the text, he is El Hadji’s last remaining supporter, even attending Yay Bineta’s final meeting with El Hadji in support of his boss.
The Beggar is a relatively inconsequential character for most of the text, notable primarily for the way in which his song outside El Hadji’s office is irritating to our protagonist. At the end of the text, however, he tells Modu that he will cure El Hadji’s Xala for free, and reveals at the novel’s conclusion that it was he who afflicted El Hadji with Xala in the first place. As it turns out, the Beggar knew El Hadji in the past and was from the same area as him, and El Hadji angered him and abandoned his people to live in poverty by stealing and selling all of their lands. The Beggar (and the mob he leads) thus represent the rural and working poor of Senegal, left abandoned by the bourgeoisie and eager to get their revenge
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