THE OLD MAN AND THE MEDAL
By Ferdinand Oyono
The Old Man and the Medal is a 1956 post colonial novel by Cameroonian diplomat and writer Ferdinand Oyono. The novel was translated into English and republished in 1967 in the influential Heinemann African Writers Series.
When reflecting on the novel, in Oyono's obituary, The Guardian writer Shola Adenekan described the novel as "evoking the deep sense of disillusionment felt by those Africans who were committed to the west, yet rejected by their colonial masters."
THE OLD MAN AND THE MEDAL
By Ferdinand Oyono
Meka wakes up at daybreak in a very poor hut and finds his wife Kelara still snoring. He wakes her up wondering how she can sleep while her husband has troubles. He has a summons to see the Commandant this morning. They pray together for the same. Meka then dresses and his wife praises him that he looks nice like an American missionary. He ate his breakfast and left. His wife warns him to be careful when he presents himself before the Whiteman.
He makes his way to town on foot; he comes across the European Town and decides to stop at Mammy Titi’s place to have arki. Arki is an illegal drink that has been banned not to be distilled so those who sell it do so in secret. We are given a flashback that Meka gave his plot of land to the Catholic mission and now lives in a small hut in the village. He was told that it was the will of God to give his land.
When he finished he started off to the Whiteman. He was singing a song of war they used to sing. Back in the village Catechist Ignatius Obebe leads a mass for prayers then they disperse. Kelara refuses to go in but sits at the door gazing at the direction her husband had gone. Finally he comes in a car sitting beside the white man. He informs the villagers who come and gather around him that the great chief of all the white men who is at Timba is coming to give him a medal on the 14th of July. Many People come to his house to hear the good news. Meka tells them how it all happened. Even Ignatius Obebe comes to hear the good news. However he seems a bit jealous and gives some remarks that make people angry at him. He leaves. They talk about another catechist who loved the wife of the Chief and seduced her.
This chapter shows the events taking place at the village of Zourian where Kelara was born. His brother Engamba is eating but he seems to hide behind the door so that the passersby may not join him. When he finishes he gets out. There is noise from the other side of the village. People get out from every direction. They see a stranger who introduces himself as Nkolo Mendo son of Mendo from Ngolman. Many people are interested to know if he brings the good news. After a long wait of leaving the villagers in suspense he finally breaks the news.
He says that the day before he had gone to Doum to see his future parents-in-law and give them a bundle of stock-fish they had asked him in order to marry their daughter. On top of that he has already given them; thirty thousand francs, a case of beer, a pith-helmet, a sack of salt, three machetes, three sheep, a water-bucket, a cast-iron cooking pot, and a sack of rice and all that was left was the stock-fish.
He says when he got to Doum the place was so busy and the lorries full of soldiers were speeding through the town. They thought the war was about to start. Then he cools them down because it was not the war but the Chief of the Whites from Paris was coming to Doum to give a medal to Meka. Engamba was happy to hear that because Meka is his brother in law. Mbogsi suggests that Engamba should introduce himself to the Commandant that he is the brother in law of Meka. Even the friends of Engamba want to use that privilege to get favours.
Finally all the villages leave and Nkolo is left with Engamba. We are told that Nkolo is a polygamist. He has five wives and is soon going to take the sixth. Moreover we are told that when Engamba’s father died he left him six young wives and his mother.(widow inheritance). He enjoyed the pleasure of being polygamous because the completion of his wives worked in his favour. Things began to change when the missionaries started teaching about Christian marriage and some of his wives demanded their liberty to be baptized. Engamba was the first of the pagans to be converted and married Amalia officially in church.
A flashback is given that one day Meka passed through Zourian and Engamba’s father called Kelara when she was still a baby and told Meka that she is his wife and he could go and take her when she was ready. (early childhood betrothal)
Engamba sees Meka as being lucky and he calls him “The lucky devil” Engamba catches one of his goats called Ebogo (the name of his youngest wife) and starts his way to Doum to attend the celebration of the medal award.
The preparation for the 14th of July had changed the atmosphere at Doum just as Nkolo said. The place was very busy preparing for the event under the supervision of M. Fouconi, the Chief Administrator. Because the soldiers were moving here and there in lorries and practicing in the streets, the Africans were in terror thinking that the war is back. After supervising the preparations M. Fouconi goes to his residence. Some Africans bring the crates of the drinks that will be used on the celebration day. He orders them to take the crates direct to the African Community Center where the reception party will take place.
We are told that this Centre was a corrugated iron hut. It was whitewashed all over to hide the color it had been before.
Meka had gone to see the tailor – Ela who was sewing his jacket and was worried whether it would be ready by the following day. Ela assures Meka that he will make it ready and Meka will love it. When the tailor is done he gives the jacket to Meka but he says the buttons will be sewn by Meka’s wife because he is rushing to go and see his wife who is sick. Meka pays 500 francs and they depart.
Engamba and his wife Amalia were still on their way to Doum. They proceeded like this until night fell over the bush. Engamba complained that Amalia was going too fast since he was pulling his goat. A flashback of Amalia’s life is give. She used to carry some heavy baskets of wood when coming from the fields, baskets of sans for the hut, baskets of stones for the for the priests’ house so she could go to confession, and baskets of food for journeys… She had done so purposely because her mother said she was lazy. Finally the villagers praised her saying “A girl who will know how to fed her husband, he will never die of hunger”. Atema-Amalia’s mother has a daughter among daughters. Amalia got ten offers of marriage. Among them was the wealthy Engamba of Zourian. Amalia preferred this man though he had many wives. That was how Amalia married Engamba.
They continued with their journey but it was getting dark and came to Nkango hamlet. Someone welcomed them to have a meal with them because the night has many mysteries he said. The man recognized Amalia as he entered the hut while Engamba was tying his goat outside. The man was Binama. They talk about Meka’s fortune of getting a medal at his old age. Agatha – Binama’s wife brings them the food. When the eating is over Engamba raises to leave. Binama and Agatha escorts them to the river. Binama tells Engamba to tell Meka that he should tell the Chief of the whites that they need a road to their village.
They passed through several villages at night and there was only one village left. They entered the forest of Boton. They had to cross the whole of European quarter, pass across the African location before they come to Meka’s house.
Meka comes back from taking his jacket and finds a number of people at his place all who came to celebrate with him. He greets them all in a normal traditional way while joking and bursting into laughter. There were Engambas and Essombas, all his cousins male and female were there, with their children. Everyone connected intimately or distantly with Kelara was also there. For example there was an old woman who nursed Kelara’s mother who died before the WWI. There was Nua, Nti, Mvondo, Evina. The cousins of Meka and his wife and their brothers-in-law who had come there before also postponed their departure. There were also all the villagers who had come to honour their fellow countryman.
Meka welcomes them all and they start the normal chatting. Meka retells his story as he’s been doing ever since. Kelara brings them the food but for men it was not enough as they finished it before other had managed to reach the plate. After that Kelara arranges the beddings for everybody and announces the arrangement. Others slept on beds, others on sleeping mats and others on banana leaves. Before the sleep they remember to tell Meka to try on his jacket. All the other praise it except Kelara who says it is oversize and not good. Kelara brings the leather shoes Meka had bought at Madam Pipiniakis. Meka had gone barefooted until when he married Kelara. So his feet were disfigured and that was also complicated by the two little toes which hung on each side of his feet. So when he bought canvas shoes he had to cut two little windows for the little toes. At the shop he did not try them on despite the insistence of the white woman since he did not want to display his suffering in front of a stranger.
Meka puts them on but they hurt him and says he wouldn’t get far with them the following day. Engamba suggests that they should fill in the sand and moisten the leather a bit to make them more supple. Finally they say their prayers and go to sleep. While others are asleep Meka has a sleepless night as a lot of thoughts and imaginations of the next day cross in his mind but eventually he fell asleep..
Meka is placed inside a whitewashed circle waiting for the Chief of the Whites to come and give him a medal. He waits for so long but the chief is nowhere to be seen. It was very hot and Make was feeling uncomfortable because of his shoes. He comforts himself by saying that he is a real man who was circumcised and did not cry. He also believed that his ancestors who made him a man were watching him and he shouldn’t let them ashamed of him. He said that even if the Chief of the whites doesn’t come until the night, tomorrow or for a year or till the end of the world, he was ready to wait.
Meka asks himself whether he should go away or not, but later he begins to pray for God to take away his trouble. It was now 10:30 a.m. and the High Commissioner was an hour late. The white men began to cross before Meka and he thought they were lucky not to suffer with their shoes. Meka could not tell what hurt the most, his feet, his belly, the heat or his teeth.
Finally the Chief arrives after the usual reception they go where Meka is. Meka becomes nervous after a handshake they go to sit with other whites at the veranda of M. Foucon’s office. Meka wondered how in the world they could leave a man of his age standing there for an hour. He thought maybe they had forgotten to bring the medal or maybe they lost it. After sometimes they came where Meka was and pinned a medal on his jacket. Meka was so happy that he no longer felt the pain.
Meka is invited by the Chief of the Whites to attend a reception party to be held at the African Community Centre. Someone gives a careless remark by saying “I think they ought to have him with medals. That would have been a bit more like it. To think that he has lost his land and his two sons just for that…’ This comment reminds Kelara of her two sons. She pushes her neckerchief into her mouth so that she couldn’t cry but it doesn’t help. Kelara weeps bitterly. After feeling in control again she looks at Meka and sees him as a betrayer. She thanks the boy who said so and says it is the Holy Spirit who spoke through his mouth.
On the veranda outside M. Foucon’s office Meka was the only black among the whites of Doum. He felt proud because no one among the whites was wearing a medal like his. Meka didn’t know at what time they would go to the Community Centre and he had no one to ask. Finally the Whites got into their cars and started off. Father Vandermayer invited Meka to get into the Back of his car although there was no one with him in the cabin. Meka took off his shoes.
Kelara was sitting in the dust of the courtyard weeping. Engamba could not understand what was going on because he didn’t manage to attend the celebration because his feet could not manage the journey. As Engamba tried to calm her down she wept even further rolling down like a log. She came back home crying and lamenting that she is a wretched woman. She says “I thought I had married a man, a real man… instead I married an arse-full of shit. My Children, my poor children – sold like the Lord who was sold by Judas… He at least did it for money. The man who lay with me so that I should bear you did not get a good price for the drop of his seed. Both of you together, my little ones, priced at one medal… so Kelara was not satisfied with only one medal that her husband received at the expense of the life of her Children.
Meka and other Africans, officials and Chiefs were invited to the African Community Centre. Meka drank his glass of champagne at one mouthful and began to analyse the taste of this whine that he had never drank in his life because it begins to fizz in the stomach.. Meka began to force the boy who was serving the dinks to add him some more.
Finally the boys decided to serve whisky to the Africans contrary to the instructions given them by M. Fouconi. M. Fouconi becomes angry because he had instructed the boys not to serve wine until the sparkling wine and all the red wine is gone. But now they were serving whisky to the Africans. He becomes so angry that he could hardly follow the speech of the High Commissioner. Finally the interpreter translated what the High commissioner was saying. This is what he said. “The great chief says that he is very pleased to be among you; he says thank you for the welcome you have given him. He finished by saying that we are more than friends, that we are like brothers;” the Africans were so happy to hear that.
On hearing this Meka also makes an offer to the High Commissioner. He invites him to his hut to go and eat with him a goat brought by Engamba-his brother in law. He said so because “ever since the white men came here he has never known a white man invite a native or a native invite a white man. Seeing they are now friends or more than friends as the great chief had said someone must begin. The High commissioner appreciates the invitation but excuses himself that he was busy and was going away. He assures Meka that he eats his goat in thought but he invites Meka to come and eat with him some other time.
The Africans praise Meka for his wisdom. Meka returns to his seat and because of the fatigue of the day when listening to all these compliments about him he falls asleep. Then M. Fouconi sees that the atmosphere at the Community Centre is getting more restless he ushered the High commissioner to stand and leave and other Europeans followed.
The Africans were left alone drinking and chatting. They discuss the hypocrisy of White men who say they are now more than friends while there was no any African eating with the whites in the same dish of food, there was no any Africa sitting on the platform with them. They also say that although white men build roads, hospitals, towns… no any African owned a car. Even at the party the Whites touched glasses among themselves.
As they were discussing this topic M. Varini-Gullet comes with his men and announces that the party is over they all have to go out or else they would be in trouble. They all get out heading to the pathways leading to the African location. No one remembers Meka who is still sleeping. As he turns over the medal slipped round into the hollow of his armpit and it gradually came unpinned. After the reception all the Europeans went to the European Club.
Meka wakes up and finds himself alone at the Community Centre. There was heavy rainfall accompanied with thunder, lighting and storm. Meka wonders if perhaps that was the end of the world. He struggles to get out of the hall and finally manages to get to the door. In the courtyard visibility was zero. He struggled again until he reached the road. Rain was still falling and he had no lamp. He wondered what he was going to do to find his way across the wilderness of water where the road was completely covered.
Kelara and Engamba and all the rest were waiting for him before beginning the goat. Meka tried to walk home while wondering how it happened that he came to be all alone in the middle of the disaster that was passing over him. Without thinking he brought his hand up to his chest and stopped in dismay. The medal he had been given by the Chief of the whites had gone.
He walked until he came to the first hut of the location. He sees the light from the torch and thanks God for bringing him a helper only to discover that they were the constables. They beat him seriously, until he loses consciousness and ask him for the papers (ID). When he fails to produce the papers they suspect him for a thief. They say he used the storm as a cover to go and loot (steal) the European area. Meka tries unsuccessfully to prove his innocence saying that he had just gone to be given the medal of friendship by the Governor.
Meka is taken to charge office where he is charged for Loitering with suspicious intent. The sergeants mistreat him while laughing at him for calling himself the friend of the High Commissioner. Meka was looked in a dark room. He thought of Gullet. After sometimes Meka became desperate and he too began to use insults and abusive language toward the police constables. Finally he slept.
When he woke up in the morning a door was opened and a constable directed Meka to go and see Gullet. Meka challenged him and wanted to fight with him. The constable blew the whistle to alert his colleagues. They came and beat him heavily and slipped handcuffs over his wrists and he was taken to Gullet. Gullet took his riding-crop (whip) and whipped Meka ten times in the shoulder and spate on his face before even being told the crime he has committed.
Later Gullet talks to Meka though the interpreter and asks hi who he is. Meka being desperate responds that tell him I am a very great fool, who yesterday still believed the white man’s friendship. He says they may do to him whatever they like. A flashback passes through Meka’s mind on how life had been before the coming of the whites. He ends up saying he is not afraid of the white men. Meka is taken to Gullet’s office. Gullet gives him a cigarette but Meka makes no move. He puts it in his mouth and lights it. The interpreter tells Meka that his case has been completely fixed up and he was to go back home and the white man promised him another medal.
Meka walks home after being released. He curses the whites. On the way he sees a panther-rat and utters the ritual words he was taught to say whenever he saw a panther-rat. Then the dove drops the dung on his head he believes it is good luck. All these superstitions had sprung up again in his mind like a great tide sweeping away the years of Christian teaching and practice. Meka reaches the village and find many huts demolished by the storm. Only his and a dozen others had survived the storm. He finds people busy trying to rescue their properties covered by the heaps of mud. They wonder what had happened to him because he looked like the beggars Father Vandermayer was always chasing from his church.
Meka tells them how he was mistreated in Gullet’s prison. All gather around Meka who is trembling because he was feeling cold. Mvondo suggests that they should praise the Lord that at least he came back alive. Meka becomes angry because after all they did to him he didn’t want to hear the name of the Lord again. Then Ignatius mentions Yesoo-Christooss. Meka grows angrier and says “Fuck off out of here! Go on get out of my hut!. Page 147. They all wonder the sudden change of Meka and they think he is about to die.
Kelara comes with Amalia crying and other cries answered them from inside the hut. They come and roll on the ground crying and other women join in. after this they speak in turn cursing the white men. They also wonder why their ancestors have deserted them. Meanwhile Mvondo who has eaten the entrails of a sheep without the permission of the clan confesses in front of the villagers. The charge him to bring a ram from his paternal uncles so that they can bless and purify him. Ensomba starts the dance and all others join him. Finally Meka gives them a thousand and sixty francs and they send Nua to go and bring the wine.
Engamba volunteers to go to the Administrative Centre to find out what had happened to Meka. However the thought of being arrested for loitering in the European Area without being invited came to his mind and he became more careful. He said “You don’t go into the trap with your eyes open.” He also thought “our ancestors used to say “If you heart begins to beat when you get to the end of your journey, retrace your steps.” Pg 157 so Engamba turned back and asked several people on the way if they have seen Meka but no one seemed to have seen him. He decided to go back home.
When he reached the village he found a lot of people at Meka’s hut. He wondered what had happened because the women started weeping. He found Meka stretched out. Engamba becomes angry when he sees Nua sponging Meka but they assure him that it is their custom to do so as their ancestors taught them. But Engamba becomes angrier and furious when he sees the drinking palm wine and talking nonsense with all that had befallen Meka. There happens a great conflict among themselves almost fighting. Someone tells them that it if a shame for men of mature ages to fight. Nti pretends to leave but they calm him down. Seeing this atmosphere Engamba pretends that he was just joking. They all start laughing again.
Engamba begins cursing the white men for taking everything from Meka; his land and his sons. Essomba suggests that the best way Meka would have shown his dissatisfaction with the medal was to go there bare-chested with only the bila, in Which case the Chief of the Whites would have to bend down and pin the medal on –on- his bila. They all laugh at the good joke but finally Meka orders everyone to be given some wine. One by one Meka’s friends began to leave only Nti and Engamba were left. Engamba was wondering what he would tell his people in Zourian.
Ø He is a husband to Kelara. Is married to Kelara and he is a brother-in-law of Engamba.
Ø He is a poor old man. He is a poor old man who has lost his land and his two sons. He lives a very poor life with his wife Kelara. They live in a hut with rotten raffia thatch that is full of chinks”.
Ø He is pompous. When the white man drives him back home he learnt out of the window so that everyone in the village could see him. Page 15. Also when he was given the medal he was bragging saying “Who said that the Mekas were finished? Was there not one of them, himself, Meka the one African of Doum decorated by the Chief of the white men?” pg 93
Ø He is a Christian convert. Meka is a Christian convert who is very committed to his faith. He gives his land to the Catholic mission at Doum. “He had given his lands to the priests and now lived in a small wretched hut in the village which had given its name to the Mission and lay at the foot of the Christian cemetery” pg 9
Ø He is a heavy drunkard. Meka is a heavy drunkard despite the fact that he is a Christian. He was drinking Arki at Mammy Titi’s place before going to work. Also when he is invited to a reception party he drinks to the fullest until he loses his medal.
Ø He is loyal to the Whiteman. Meka is very loyal and submissive to the white men. He offered his two sons to go and fight for the French colonizers and they were killed. He still gives the land to the white men missionaries to set up a mission.
Ø He is patient. Although the white men placed him under the hot sun, his feet boiling in his shoes and they did not care about him, he was willing to wait for his reward. In his own words he says “Even if he doesn’t come till the night , I will wait, even if he doesn’t come until tomorrow, or for a year or till the end of the world…” pg 87
Ø He is religious but not spiritual. Meka is a Christian who is not serious with his faith. He mentions the name of God every time and crosses himself and prays most of the time but he is a distinguished drunkard contrary to the Christian faith and biblical teachings. They were taught in church that it was a sin but he continued. Pg 9
Ø He is awarded a medal but loses it. The whole book is about Meka’s medal. He waits optimistically for the medal but because of his drunkenness and carelessness he loses the medal.
Ø He is a victim of the police brutality. Meka is arrested by the police for loitering with suspicious intent and the fact that he is walking at night without papers (ID) and a lamp. He is sent to the police station where he is mistreated.
Ø He has a changing behavior. At first he was a traditionalist then he was converted to Christianity but later went back to his traditional faith. Also when he is arrested by the police he speaks politely but when they keep on mistreating him he changes his face and uses derogatory language. In page 123 he says “I am a Christian, officer! The mouth that receives the Saviour is forbidden to lie…officer’. The same mouth later says these words in page131 “slaves of the uncircumcised! Open up, open up. See the real Meka! …Swine! Dare you face me? My shoulder blades have never been forced into the dust by the strength of another man. Sons of whores”
Ø She is Meka’s wife. She is the wife of the Old Meka and the mother of two sons who were killed during the war. She was born in Zourian and she is Engamba’s sister.
Ø She is a convert Christian. Like her husband she too is a convert Christian but she is not serious with the Christian faith because she sees the whites as hypocrites.
Ø She has true love. When her husband is summoned to see the Commandant she refuses to go inside the house waiting for her husband her eyes fixed at the far end of the village where her husband had disappeared. She also loved her children dearly that whenever reminded of them she cries bitterly.
Ø She is a victim of WWI. She lost her two sons who went to fight the war on the side of French. This pains her so much when she remembers her children.
Ø She feels betrayed by her husband. Kelara sees her husband’s acceptance of only one medal as a compensation for her two sons as a betrayal. She regrets by saying says “I thought I had married a man, a real man… instead I married an arse-full of shit. My Children, my poor children – sold like the Lord who was sold by Judas… He at least did it for money. The man who lay with me so that I should bear you did not get a good price for the drop of his seed. Both of you together, my little ones, priced at one medal… pg 99
Ø She is highly emotional easily heartbroken. When she is reminded of her two sons who died during the war she cries bitterly as though she had received the news for the first time. The author says; “as quick as a flash she was down on the floor. She rolled from the dresser to the head of Meka’s bed and from there to hut where the chickens slept. She waved her legs and arms about, crawled, knelt, lay down again, panted, spat, tore her dress and uncovered her aged body…” page 149
Ø She was betrothed when she was very young. We are told that Meka betrothed Kelara when she was very young. The author says “He called Kelara who was then still a baby with a fat belly and had her set on Meka’s lap. ‘There’s your wife’ he told him. ‘You can come and fetch her when she is ready.’” Page 38. So she is a victim of early and forced marriage.
Ø He is Kelara’s brother and Meka’s brother in law. Engamba is Kelara’s brother who lives at the village of Zourian. To get to Zourian from Doum one has to cross two streams, four villages, three forests, and three rivers.
Ø He is greedy. He complains for being five a small share of the viper by Bieng and when he was eating the breakfast, he had eaten near the door almost behind the door itself avoiding the villagers.
Ø He is very supportive. When he hears the news of the medal award to his brother in law he supports him by giving him the goat to celebrate his ceremony of the medal award. Meka commented that “He’s a good fellow, Kelara’s brother” he is the only one who had thought of bringing him a goat. Also when Meka delays to come back home he promises to go and look for him whatever the cost.
Ø He believes in superstition. When Nkolo comes to his house to bring the news of Meka’s medal award, he warns one of the men who were there. “Don’t you start your witchcraft here. The stranger has a piece of news for me” pg 32
Ø He was a polygamist. Engamba had six wives inherited from his father and then he married Amalia. The author says “Engamba used to spend his day in the indaba hut, sitting between the legs of one of his wives, discussing one of the thousand matters that go to make up the life of a polygamous African. Pge 37. Later on all the wives demanded their liberty to be baptized ana he remained with Amalia only.
Ø He is a traditionalist. He believes in widow inheritance. He inherited his father’s wives and his mother when his father died. The author says “when he died, his father had left him six young wives and his mother” page 37
Ø He is a Christian convert. He was converted and became a Roman Catholic when the missionaries came to their land. We are told in page 37 that he was the first of the pagans to be converted.
Ø She is the wife of Engamba. She was the last wife of Engamba whom she married after inheriting other wives from his father.
Ø She is very hardworking. At first she was lazy but her mother told her that she wouldn’t get a husband if she continued with her laziness. She changed her behavior and soon there were ten offers of marriage.
Ø She was married in a polygamous family. She married Engamba because he was wealthy despite having many wives. In this way she is also a traditionalist. Finally she is the only one who agreed to marry Engamba in Church when other wives claimed their liberty to be baptized.
Ø She is sympathetic. She sympathizes with Kelara when she is crying by supporting her and at times she cries with her to share her sorrows the author says; “Kelara went into the hut supported by Amalia” also when Kelara rolls on the ground crying the author says “Amalia followed her example…” page 148,149.
Ø He is the chief Administrator at Doum. He is the one who supervised all the preparations of the visit of the High Commissioner.
Ø He is a cigar smoker. The author says “When it was all ready M. Fouconi rubbed his hands and threw away the stub of his cigarette” page 46
Ø He is a hypocrite. He lived with an African woman but he used to hide her in the store room whenever he had white visitors. And the day before the Governor’s arrival he sent her back to the location.
Ø He has a terrible temper. When the boys who were acting as waiters served Whisky to the Africans contrary to his instructions, he becomes angry at the boys. Also he becomes restless when the High Commissioner delays for one hour.
M. VARINI GULLET
Ø He is a White Superintendent in charge of the police.
Ø He is cruel to Africans. All the Africans feared him a lot. When Meka was brought to his office before he recognized him he took his riding crop (whip) and whipped Meka ten times on the shoulders, the spate on his face.
Ø He is a heavy cigar smoker. He always has cigarette with him as seen when He called Meka in his office he lit him one.
Ø He is a hypocrite. When Meka was arrested and sent to the police station he whipped him seriously but when he recognized him he tried to give him a handshake and smile at him. He lit him a cigarette and forgave him, promising him another medal.
THE TITLE OF THE BOOK
The title of the book is “The Old man and the Medal”. The title of the book is relevant to is content because;
i. The whole book is about the old man called Meka who has lost his two sons and the land that he gave to the whites. He is now very old and lives a very poor life.
ii. The old man is given a medal. Because of the sacrifices ha has made for the French colonizers they promised him a medal which was given to him on the 14th of July by the High Commissioner himself. However, he lost it the night of the same day because of being heavily drunk.
iii. The old man is promised another medal when Gullet later learns that he has lost the first medal he was given. Although up to the end of the book he never received the second medal.
Ø The setting of the novel is Cameroon During colonialism. The novel shows the dilemma Africans found themselves in living in two worlds; that of the Blackman and his culture and that of the Whites (French colonizers). The novel further portrays some sub-setting such as rural and urban setting.
Rural setting is portrayed by;
Ø The mentioning of villages like Zourian where even the mode of transport is mainly walking on foot.
Ø Customs like Polygamy, widow inheritance, early marriage, complete the rural setting.
Urban setting on the other hand is portrayed by;
Ø The mentioning of the town like Doum where White people live.
Ø Presence of police stations, Community Centres, European Club etc. complete the urban setting.
Ø The novelist has used different techniques to enrich his style. The following techniques have been employed.
Ø Narrative technique. (Monologue). Mostly the novel is written in a monologue in which case the author is the narrator. Third person point of view is the dominant one although other points of view have been used as well.
Ø Dialogue: (conversation). To bring the events and characters to life dialogues have been employed here and there.
Ø Songs: the novelist has employed poetic style in his novel by including the songs in page 12 which Meka was singing and 148 that Kelara and Amali were singing.
The language used is simple and straightforward. However there are some words purposely used for particular effect.
Abusive language 122, 131
Figures Of Speech
ü Woman you are as weak as the disciples were on the mount Olives.
ü They said their prayers in a monotonous sing-song, kneeling on their bamboo bed like camels waiting to be loaded.
ü A good hunter is like a whore, you can smell one a mile of. Pg 7
ü Arki became as scarce as dog’s tears. Pg 9
ü It (the sun) was sending down a gentle pleasant warmth like the fire in a hut pg 14
ü He was like a piece of smoke-dried meat…pg 17
ü At thirty he was bald, wrinkled and gnarled like an ancient lizard. Pg 18
ü Hands that shook like a leaf in the wind. Pg 18
ü We missionaries are like owls pg 22
ü In those days Kelara had breasts as big as lemons pge 37
ü The sun had turned as red as the bottom of a chimpanzee. Page 46
ü She walked as if she had wings page 54.
ü Children today grow up like maize pa 57
ü For him White men were like antelopes, their faces all looked the same. Pg 85
ü M. Pipiniakis stood as still as a statue. Pg 91
ü The chief was sweating like a wrestler. Pg 92
ü Boots jumping down made a sound like rain stones falling on the gravel pg 112
ü The hut was already alive pg 5
ü Oh, road, daughter of all our labour, lead me to the white man! Pg 11
ü The mouth had tired itself with talking…pg 13
ü The whole village was now on its feet. Pg 29
ü A bottle of whisky was waiting for him on the table. Page 47
ü The whole village heard it too (the sound of a car) pg 15
ü Fellow wayfarer... What good news do you bring me? (Meka addressed the bird as if it were a man. Pg 142
ü I forgive you because you know not what you do. (quoted from the bible) page 23
ü You could say that he is the camel that will pass though the eye of the needle page 59 (quoted from the bible)
ü Now that her husband is going to have a medal she will become a white woman. Pge 34
ü A child is a strange fruit. Page 62
ü All these people who pretended they had come to grieve with Meka were just dogs. Pge 163
ü They are black as the bottom of a pot, and their heads are the same shape as a ram’s scrotum and their teeth are like the teeth of a saw. Page 33
ü Last night I dreamt I was bigger than an elephant. Page 34
ü The skin around that place had become as thick as an elephant’s. page 55
ü Even if he doesn’t come till the night , I will wait, even if he doesn’t come until tomorrow, or for a year or till the end of the world” pg 87
ü But they could feel M. Fouconi’s eyes on the back of their neck. Pg 104
ü He (Meka) slept bathed in the sweat inside the shed… pg 113
ü I am all alone, alone in the world. Pg 121
ü Who would have thought that the yesterday’s masters would be the slaves of today? The Mekas he murmured. The lion-men, the thunder-men, the sky-men, men who were incarnations of strength and ruled the sky and the earth in this country. Pg 135
ü Meka could not tell what hurt the most, his feet, his belly, the heat, or his teeth. Pg 89
ü The morning, two streams, four villages, three forests and three rivers away from Doum… pg 26
ü If you want to know what your friend thinks of you, drink a few glasses with him. Pg 106
ü “You don’t go into the trap with your eyes open.” Pg 157
ü “If you heart begins to beat when you get to the end of your journey, retrace your steps.” Pg 157
ü The chimpanzee is no brother to the Gorilla. Page 151
THEMES IN THE NOVEL
AFRICAN TRADITIONS AND CUSTOMS.
a) Bride price.
In this society bride price has to be paid before a girl is married. Using Nkolo as his mouthpiece to express this traditional rite the author has the following to say in page 33; “My future parents-in-law had asked me for a bundle of stock-fish so that I could marry their daughter according to civil rites. I have already given them thirty thousand francs, a case of beer, a pith-helmet, a sack of salt, three matchets, three sheep, a water-bucket, a cast-iron cooking pot, and a sack of rice. All that was left was the stock fish.” All these have to be paid just for one woman. In a way some girls won’t be able to marry men of their choices if they can’t afford to pay the bride price.
Ø When Nkolo comes to Engamba’s house to bring the news of Meka’s medal award, he warns one of the men who were there. “Don’t you start your witchcraft here. The stranger has a piece of news for me” pg 32
Ø When Meka goes back home after the mistreatment he had received from the whites he decided to pick back his superstitious beliefs he had before he became a Christian.
Ø When a panther-rat ran across the path to the bush he mutters the ritual words he was taught to say whenever he saw a panther-rat so that he would not lose his way. He said “A panther-rat runs along the path. He knows where he is going” page 141.
Ø When a dove dropped a splash of dung on his head he believed it was good luck. The author says “All these superstitions had sprung up again in his mind like a great tide sweeping away the years of Christian teaching and practice.” Page 142
c) Widow inheritance page 41
Ø In this society it is possible to inherit the wives of someone who dies. Worse still the son can inherit the wives of his father including his own mother. Engamba inherited his father’s wives and his mother when his father died. Using Engamba as a case in point, the author says; “When he died, his father had left him six young wives and his mother” page 37 he adds “he had given it this name, which was the name of a young wife, the last of the series that he had inherited on the death of his father” page 41.
o In this society men marry many wives for leisure and pleasure. Polygamy is portrayed in the following scenarios.
Ø Engamba’s father was a polygamist with six wives. “When he died, his father had left him six young wives and his mother” page 37
Ø Engamba was a polygamist with seven wives. Six that he inherited from his father and Amalia whom he married. “Engamba used to spend his day in the indaba hut, sitting between the legs of one of his wives, discussing one of the thousand matters that go to make up the life of a polygamous African. Pge 37
Ø Nkolo was a polygamist with five wives and was about to marry the sixth. The author says “Nkolo had not had such bad luck. He already had five wives and was soon going to break the legs of the antelope for the sixth time” page 37
e) Early marriage.
Ø In this society betrothal can be made when the girl is still a baby and she could be married when she matures. Kelara is a case in point she was betrothed to Meka when she was still a baby and Kelara’s father allowed him to come and take her when she is ready. The author says: “He called Kelara who was then still a baby with a fat belly and had her set on Meka’s lap. ‘There’s your wife’ he told him. ‘You can come and fetch her when she is ready.’ Page 37
Ø This custom is very bad because it forces the girl to marry a man who is not of her choice since the decision is done when she is too young to decide.
f) Food taboos.
Ø In this society the youngsters are not allowed to eat the entrails of a sheep without the permission of the clan. If one did, he was charged to bring a ram from his paternal uncles so that they may be able to spit on his face to bless and purify him. Mvondo ate the entrails of a sheep and when he admitted it they wondered who game him permission and whose it he had eaten. The author says “Remarks came from all sides. What was the village coming to if even the youngsters, who even yesterday were running naked were allowed to eat the entrails of a sheep? And without the permission of the clan.” Page 152.
a) Intrapersonal conflict.
ü This conflict happens within the mind of an individual. Throughout the novel Meka has been having intrapersonal conflict for various reasons.
ü One, on the day he was summoned to go to and see the Commandant he was wondering what would happen to him. He asked his wife to pray for him.
ü Two, on the 14th of July he was left under the hot sun waiting for the medal award he was wondering whether he should go away or wait for it.
ü Three he also suffers intrapersonal conflict when he is arrested and mistreated by the police as if they didn’t know him. He sees the real hidden side of the colonial regime.
b) Personal conflict.
This happens between two or more people. In the novel there is a conflict between Meka and the police. This happens when Meka is found at night walking without a lamp and no papers (ID) he is charged for loitering with suspicious intent. He is taken to the police station where he is mistreated.
c) Cultural conflict
This involves contradictions between two cultures. There is a cultural conflict between European culture and African culture. Europeans preach to Africans that distilling and drinking the local brand like Arki is a mortal sin, but imported drinks like wine and whisky are okay.
Also they interfere with African customs by condemning polygamy. As a result all the wives Engamba inherited from his father demand their liberty to be baptized.
d) Political conflict
There is a conflict between the colonial government and Africans. Africans are mistreated by the colonial government and they are forced to go and labour for the white colonizers. The police force led by Virini-Gullet is there to enforce the colonial laws. They complain by saying that they have no even liberty to refuse their gifts. Page 165
POSITION OF WOMEN IN THE SOCIETY.
(a) Women are portrayed as tools for pleasure. Men marry many wives because they want to use them for sexual pleasure. Nkolo has five wives, Engamba’s father had six wives, Engamba had seven. The author comments “Engamba used to spend his day in the indaba hut, sitting between the legs of one of his wives, discussing one of the thousand matters that go to make up the life of a polygamous African. It was a life full of leisure. All the competition and emulation among his wives worked solely to his advantage. Page 37
(b) Women are portrayed as People who are emotional. Women are portrayed as people who cannot handle disappointments. When Amalia is reminded of her dead sons, she cries bitterly as though she has received the news for the first time. On top of than Amalia who was comforting her, cries with her, all other women join in weeping and rolling down the ground. The author says “Amalia followed her example and so did the other women” 149
(c) Women are portrayed as Parents and caretakers. In this book we have seen women playing the role of good parents and good care takers. Amalia’s mother gave Amalia good upbringing to become a responsible woman in the future. She would tell her “Who will want to marry a girl as fail as that? She went on. “Who will ask for a girl in marriage when she can’t even carry a basket?” page 55. This made Amalia change and become a hardworking girl and later on she had ten offers of marriage.
(d) Women are portrayed as sympathetic people. When Kelara is weeping for her lost sons, Amalia not only supports her but also weeps with her. All other women joined in, mourning with Kelara while men were just watching the performance.
(e) Women are portrayed as people with true love. Kelara had sincere love to her sons and though that the one medal offered to her husband as a compensation to he lost sons is betrayal. She says “The man who lay with me so that I should bear you did not get a good price for the drop of his seed. Both of you together, my little ones, priced at one medal… pg 99
Also we are told that Amalia loved her mother that when her mother cried she cried with her. Page 55
(f) Women are portrayed as weak people. Women seem to have no say in this society, they are married in polygamous family and they start competing for one husband. Also they are the victims of early childhood betrothal. Kelara was betrothed to Meka when she was still a baby. So when she grew up she had no choice to choose her own husband.
Awareness means having the knowledge of what is going on around you. Awareness is portrayed in different scenarios in this book.
a. Africans are aware of the hypocrisy of white people who tell them that then have become more than friends and they are now brothers. The Africans say “These whites were very funny people. They didn’t know how to tell lies properly and yet they expected the Africans to believe them.” Pg 111
b. Meka is aware of the hypocrisy of white people and the kind of friendship they are talking about. When they inform him that they will give him a medal for the sacrifices he has made he believed that they have opened a new chapter of friendship. Yet when he is arrested and beaten by the same people he discovers the lie and hypocrisy of the colonialists. When he is asked who he is by Gullet through the interpreter, he says “He asks me who I am. Tell him I am a very great fool, who yesterday still believed in the white man’s friendship …I am very tired. They can do what they like with me...” Page 134. This shows that a sense of awareness had come to Meka and he speaks ironically calling himself a great fool while in reality he means that I am no longer a fool.
c. Kelara is aware of the white men’s hypocrisy in awarding a medal to her husband. She learns that it comes as a compensation to the land he gave the missionaries and the two sons he lost during the war. Kelara laments “I thought I had married a man, a real man… instead I married an arse-full of shit. My Children, my poor children – sold like the Lord who was sold by Judas… He at least did it for money. The man who lay with me so that I should bear you did not get a good price for the drop of his seed. Both of you together, my little ones, priced at one medal… pg 99
Hypocrisy means pretending to have qualities or beliefs that you do not really have. The white men are portrayed as being highly hypocritical. This is shown in the following cases;
i. They praise Meka for his contribution but they don’t mean it from their hearts. Here they say “You have done much to forward the work of France in this country. You have given your lands to the missionaries; you have given your two sons in the war when they found a glorious death. You are a friend” “the medal that we are going to give you means you are more than a friend. Page
On the medal awarding day they ignore the old man under the hot sun while they are sitting at the veranda. Also the same night they arrest him and treat him brutally.
ii. M. Fouconi is a hypocrite. He lived with an African woman but he used to hide her in the store room whenever he had white visitors. And the day before the Governor’s arrival he sent her back to the location.
iii. The white missionaries are also hypocrites in a way that they preach that drinking arki is sin but they drink imported drinks from Europe. “The missionary lost no time in condemning the drink friom the pulpit for, he said, it blackened the teeth and the soul of his parishioners. He decreed that every Christian who drank it was committing a mortal sin with each mouthful that he swallowed.” Page 9
iv. Father Vandermayer is a hypocrite. He is a religious leader but he practices racism. He was not comfortable sharing his cabin with Meka when he gave him a lift. “The whites got into their cars. Father Vandermayer invited Meka to get into the back of his van though there was no one with him in the cabin.” Also in page 145 the author says he used to chase beggars from his church. This is hypocrisy of religious leaders.
The whites in this book are portrayed as oppressors to Africans. Oppression is portrayed in the following scenarios.
a. Blacks are tortured and oppressed by the police constables led by M. Virini-Gullet. Meka was tortured and oppressed by the police when he was arrested and sent to the police station. He is beaten by the police including Gullet himself despite the fact that he explained that he was innocent.
b. Africans had to walk with (IDs) and when one was found without an ID he was arrested. When the police found Meka the first thing they asked was his papers. When he failed to produce one he was arrested.
c. Africans’ land has been taken from them by force. The Africans lost their land to the French colonizers through land alienation. Most Africans now have to go and work for the Europeans to earn a living.
d. Africans are arrested for distilling and drinking local beer- Arki. Africans were not allowed to make, sell or drink the local beer instead they had to buy beer and other drinks imported from France. Those who sold and drank the local brand had to do it secretly.
Ø The people in this society portray the spirit of nepotism. They use every opportunity to benefit from their relationship with other people. The whole village and some close and distant relatives from distant places come to join Meka in his cerebration of the Medal award so that they can be known that they are related to Meka and as a result they may be treated with preferences. The author uses Mbogsi to stress this point. “If anything happens to you, all you’ll have to do is to tell the commandant that you are the brother-in-law of the White Chief came to give the medal.” Page 34
Ø To extend it further the stranger suggests that it should not be confined in the spheres of close relatives only but also the friends of the friends of Meka’s relatives. The stranger says “Your family, your friends, and your friends’ friends from now on will be privileged people. All they will have to say is ‘I’m the friend of a friend of Meka’s brother in law’ and all doors will be opened to them.” Page 35
Ø They also believe that even other development projects like constructions of roads have to be treated under the grounds of nepotism. When Binama and Engamba discuss about the road problem from Zourian to Doum, Binama suggest that Engamba should inform Meka so that Meka may send that message to the Chief of the whites. Binama says “You must speak to Meka about it so that he can speak in turn to the chief of the Whites when he gives him his medal.’ Nepotism is not good because it makes people get unfair advantage they do not deserve at the expense of those who deserve it.
Racism means discrimination and abusive behavior towards other members of the society based on their races (color). In this book racism is shown in the following ways:
a. Father Vandermayer segregated Meka because of being an African while he is white. When he was driving to the African Community center he gives Meka a lift but in the back of his car. The author says “The whites got into their cars. Father Vandermayer invited Meka to get into the back of his van though there was no one with him in the cabin.” This shows that Father Vandermayer - though a religious leader - was not comfortable to share the cabin with Meka.
b. The whites refuse Meka’s invitation to eat a goat with him pretending that they are going away. They say they will eat his goat in thought. Page 107
c. On the cerebration day the whites were alone on the platforms and the blacks were saying. “There was no African on the platform with them. The High Commissioner hadn’t talked as a man with any African” page 111.
d. There are special residential areas for whites and Africans. African are living at the Africans’ location while Europeans have their own residential areas. Additionally Europeans have their own Club where Africans are not invited. After the celebrations at the African Community Centre Whites went to the European Club where African were not invited. In page 113 he says “After the Reception all the Europeans went back to the European Club. This belonged to M. Pipiniakis who was giving a party to celebrate his Legion d’honneur.”
e. M. Fouconi lived with an African woman but he used to hide her in the store room whenever he had white visitors. And the day before the Governor’s arrival he sent her back to the African location.
In this society people are morally corrupt in some ways. The following are few cases in point.
Because of life difficulty some women decided to engage themselves in prostitution to earn a living. This causes serious moral corruption in the society. The author uses Ignatius to present this point. “Our world is corrupt …take for example this prostitution that is everywhere in the African location. Page 21
Alcoholism is also rampant in this society both local and imported. Most Africans wake up and go Mammy Titi’s place to drink arki before even going to work. Also on the Medal awarding day the African who were invited drank to capacity to the level of bringing shame in front of white VIPs. It was a drinking behavior that made Meka lose his medal. To stress the point the Ignatius continues “the alcohol that keeps coming into the country…Alcohol in which the soul itself is consumed…page 21
ü Polygamy, bride price, superstition, widow inheritance, early marriage and food taboos are all out-dated customs. They should be discouraged as they lead to unnecessary conflicts in the society.
ü We should fight against oppression, hypocrisy, exploitation and classes in our societies.
ü Alcoholism and prostitution are not solutions to problems. They lead inevitably to more problems. For example Meka loses his medal because of drinking too much.
ü Nepotism and racism should be discouraged in the society.
ü We should be aware of the oppression and injustice in our societies and fight against them.
ü Although the novel is set back during the colonial time its themes are still relevant today in our contemporary societies in a number of ways:
ü Classes, oppression, hypocrisy, and exploitation are still prevalent in our societies.
ü Polygamy, bride price, superstition, widow inheritance, early marriage and food taboos and other out-dated customs are still practiced in most rural African communities.
ü Moral corruption especially prostitution and alcoholism is prevalent in big cities and rural communities.ü Racism and racial segregation is still practiced in many countries in the world. There are also few cases of racism in Tanzania as well.