Three Images of the Child: In the African films Un Amour D’Enfant, Keita! L’héritage du griot, and in Moolaade
One of the most intriguing and interesting continents in the present is the continent of Africa. It is no wonder that African films have a unique sense of realism and drama, which most western film viewers are not so familiar. Fresh from the destructive legacy of European colonialism, and presently facing the problems of poverty, disease, and questions of identity, the continent of Africa is now striving to make a future of its own. But how have this situation affected the way children view the continent where they live upon? Or, more interestingly, how are these challenges seen through the perspective of African children? This essay would explore three different images of the child in three African films; the film Un Amour D’Enfant (A Child’s Love), from the country of Senegal; the Keita! L’héritage du griot (Keita! The Voice of the Griot), from the country of Burkina Faso; and the Moolaade, a film made from a collaboration of several Francophone African nations (Senegal, France, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Morocco, and Tunisia).
At first, the film Un Amour D’Enfant may appear as a typical movie about middle class, 12 year-old friends, each having their own dreams and aspirations. The story mainly revolves around the characters of Omar, Yacine, Demba and Layti, all middle class children. Some of the scenes in this movie show the typical story about the dreams of these children, amidst all of the poverty and underdevelopment that their country is experiencing (Dembrow 1). This includes the developing love story between Omar and Yacine; the competition between the boys in measuring their respective “zizis,” Layti dreaming of becoming one “Michael Jordan” someday, and their share of cheating in exams and as well as being caught in humiliating situations (Dembrow 2). However, the interesting fact about this movie is that it also shows how urban kids in a very fragile Third World nation are experiencing the challenges of their society’s problems (Dembrow 2). First here is the experience of Yacine, in their economic instability despite being the best-off in the group (Dembrow 2). Yacine perfectly understands the fact that the instability of the job of her father is due to the negative effects of globalization; in this case, the structural adjustment policies of the World Bank that pushes the liberalization of their country’s economy (Dembrow 2). Opening up a weak economy to liberalization prematurely puts local industries to face stiff competition, resulting to unemployment due to the shutting down of local industries. This is what happened to the job of the father of Yacine; but Yacine still has the courage to say that “our friendship is stronger than the World Bank” (Dembrow 2). It is uncommon to see one child clinging to her friendship in understanding the negative effects of globalization; however, circumstances forced her to resort to such.
In the case of Omar, it is also clearly seen that his personal experiences as a child is very much intertwined with the social realities of his country; when the father of Omar decides to take another wife (which is allowable under Muslim law), their middle class status is suddenly threatened, and their family suddenly faced the threat of gripping poverty (Dembrow 2).
The personal experiences if Layti also showed glances of social reversal and instability present in a Third World country gripped by the challenges and desperately lacking any social safety net for its population, with Layti meeting a young beggar (Dembrow 2). As shown in the movie, the young beggar was actually a contemporary of Layti in a Koranic School (which shas its own share of prestige especially in a predominantly Muslim country). However, the two children suddenly had different paths to follow after their stint at the Koranic school, with the family of Layti continually enjoying some sort of economic capacity to send him to the “French School,” while his contemporary having a tragic twist of fate and settling as a beggar to survive (Dembrow 2).
The movie clearly shows the unique complexities of how it is to become a child in a Third World country, facing the social realities of poverty, unemployment, and globalization. The experiences of the urban children in this movie shows that their childhood experiences is intertwined with the social instability that their country is undergoing, and this is a fact of life. However, they still have something to hold on to: their “friendship is stronger than the World Bank.” In may be true that every child has the right to experience “what it is” to be a child; however, even being in the middle class, their experiences prove that being a child is not separable from suffering from the social ills of their country.
While the film Un Amour D’Enfant shows the intertwining lives of three urban children with the social challenges of their country, the film Keita! L’héritage du griot shows the challenge of remembering the past and learning the future, all in the eyes of a child who lies in between. The film Keita! L’héritage du griot revolves around the young boy Mabo Keïta. The story starts with the young Mabo busy reading a schoolbook at home (Demasio n. pag.), which is common in African countries, where there is an acute shortage of schools and classrooms, especially in his native country Burkina Faso. While the boy is busy reading this schoolbook to learn things about the present, he suddenly confronts one man that will make him learn about the past; which turns out to be an old griot, complete with his hammock and his knowledge of the past.
A griot is a very important figure in West Africa. He is a musician and an entertainer that presents not just some form of entertainment to the people, but with a theme that includes the histories of the different tribes, and as well as their genealogies (Demasio n. pag.). In fact, a griot is also a respected member of a community, honored for his knowledge, which is passed on to the next generations (Demasio n. pag.). In the movie, the griot announces that he has a mission, which is to teach the young Mabo his history (Demasio n. pag.). This includes the myth of the creation, his buffalo descendants, the blackbirds who are busy watching him, and as well as his roots from down the deep earth. Initially, Mabo would want to know more about his past, which would soon interfere with his studies, inducing the anger of his parents. Coming from a middle class family, the mother of Mabo would naturally reject the idea of letting Mabo discover his past at the cost of leaving his studies and stopping to learn the present as well (Demasio n. pag.). However, their family is also torn, for his father would not just ignore the importance of the traditions of the griot, which have been important for generations and generations.
This movie clearly shows the clash between knowing the past and learning the present that usually requires forgetting the past. While his mother believes that the past traditions are of no use in the present, and while his father believes that the past cultures and traditions are still important, the young Mabo is actually caught in between (Demasio n. pag.). And while Mabo may choose to learn his past, he is still bounded by duty to attend school and learn something more significant for the present.
Another film that seeks not just to inquire about the past, but to criticize it, is the film Moolaade. In a region dominated by the belief that women must be circumcised in order to be “purified,” Moolaade bravely explores the realities behind this practice, including a graphic presentation of the deprivation of the sexuality of women, and as well as the domination of women by men as bounded by tradition and religion, among others (Teitelbaum 967). Ironically, the magic invokes by the women in the film to avoid genital mutilation also comes from the past, a nameless ancient religion that invokes the power of the moolaade, represented by a “multicolored piece of rope” (Teitelbaum 967).
The story revolves around six girls who dares to say “no” against female genital mutilation, who at the end of the day where they are scheduled to undergo the process, runs away, and with two of them choosing to drown themselves in a well than submitting to this very painful and humiliating process (Teitelbaum 968). The movie shows the power of the ancient gods which the village also believes, the power of the moolaade, enabling the girls to protect themselves from having to submit through the process of genital mutilation; all of these withstanding the fact that the village version of Islam also calls for the powerful “submission,” and that the domination of the female by the male is also deeply rooted in culture and is dictated by tradition (Teitelbaum 968).
Overall, the three films all present the perspective of a child in the midst of an African continent in transition; striving hard to cope with globalization and other modern changes, and still haunted by the bounds of ancient cultures and traditions, all while confronting the social ills of poverty, patriarchy, and social inequality. However, the three films presents three different images of the African child; an image of a middle class child constantly threatened by economic insecurity, an image of a child striving to learn his past while bounded to look forward to the future, and a child seeking to resist a cruel tradition by seeking the powers of a more ancient religion. Overall, their lives are intertwined with the complexities of society where they live in, and they cannot ignore this fact.
Dembrow, Michael. PCC.edu. A CHILD’S LOVE STORY/UN AMOUR D’ENFANT, 2004. Web. 2 May 2010.
Demasio, Fafa. IMDB.com. Keita! L’héritage du griot, 2002. Web. 2 May 2010.
Teitelbaum, Spefanie. “Moolade.” The Psychoanalytic Review 94. The Psychoanalytic Review (2007): 967-974. Print.