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on 3 January 2010
The Suns of Independence
Paperback
136 pages
Published by: Africana Publishing Company
ISBN: 0841907471

The last of the Dumbuya princes of the Malinke tribe is dying. It is his lineage. It threatens to break with him if he does not have a child. Fama is his name, the Dumbuya prince who, along with his wife Salimata, takes center stage in Ahmadou Kouroumas "The Suns of Independence".

Suddenly divided between two new nation states in West Africa the Dumbuya prince rule is faced with a double-edged crisis of legitimacy and identity. On one side he has to continue his threatened lineage, and on the other hand he has to reestablish his claims to power as a prince.

It began with the French colonial powers who brought in their own version of a modern slave rule, complete with immigrant workers and a strict suppression of traditional power structures.

But Fama's troubles didn't end with the French back on the boats and left adrift. A new independent state rose with a one-party system that hailed independence as Independence, turning the concept into a fetish, as if Independence itself is a country you can inhabit.

This new direction once again undermined the power of Fama's lineage, making people question the validity of his claims. And with a paranoid regime in power the likes of Fama become the local edition of the French revolution aristocracy, finding themselves at best jailed or at worst simply just disappearing.

But Fama is not completely without any social capital, and after having spent 20 years in the capital of the country he decides to head back to his homeland to seek out a role to which the city will not ascribe him.

Upon arriving in his native Togobala in the Horodugu region where the Malinke tribe reigns - now suddenly across the border between two nation-states - after a twenty year absence, he is thrust back into his role as a Prince. He takes a new wife, Mariam, partakes in many days and nights of celebrations and rites, but eventually decides to return to the city for a short while to inform his friends, and more importantly Salimata, that he intends to stay in Togobala and live life as a Prince.

That journey is ill-fated from the beginning, full of bad omens, and eventually ends in turmoil that goes well beyond the initial fights between the two wives and sees Fama unmercifully drawn into the powerweb of the new president and his suns of Independence, those bright burning people running a newly independent country.

Parallel to Fama's story runs Salimata's, which is full of the social stigmas of a woman who cannot have children. Salimata retells the stories of her circumcision, and how the village sorcerer raped her while she was drugged up and feverish, and her troubled line through life continues with attempts to understand the reasons for what she considers her own barrenness, but once again a marabout - or sorcerer - takes advantage of her and tries to rape her.

All the while Fama is never once questioned about his ability to have kids. Women are the ones who are sterile, and so it must be, even if women who could not have children with Fama remarry and suddenly become pregnant. That is Salimata's struggle, finding recognition as a woman who is made the culprit in a social context working against her.

The stories of Fama and Salimata are almost separate lines of flight in a short but intense novel that never ceases to emphasize the way the sun scorches the landscape - always making more or less subtle comparisons to the shape of the new republic and what Independence is doing for the people.
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