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Allah Is Not Obliged

by Ahmadou Kourouma and Frank Wynne

Paperback, 215 pages, Random House Inc, List Price: $14 |


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Allah Is Not Obliged
Ahmadou Kourouma and Frank Wynne

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Book Summary

After the death of his mother, ten-year-old Birahima leaves his Ivory Coast village to search for his for his aunt, Mahan, journeying across the border into Liberia, where he and his companions are captured by rebels and forced into military service, in a compelling novel of the rivalries, power structures, and customs that fuel Africa's bitter wars. Original.

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Note: Book excerpts are provided by the publisher and may contain language some find offensive.

Excerpt: Allah Is Not Obliged

1The full, final and completely complete title of my bullshit story is: Allah is not obliged to be fair about all the things he does here on earth. Okay. Right. I better start explaining some stuff.First off, Number one . . . My name is Birahima and I'm a little nigger. Not 'cos I'm black and I'm a kid. I'm a little nigger because I can't talk French for shit. That's how things are.You might be a grown-up, or old, you might be Arab, or Chinese, or white, or Russian - or even American - if you talk bad French, it's called parler petit negre - little nigger talking - so that makes you a little nigger too. That's the rules of French for you.Number two . . . I didn't get very far at school; I gave up in my third year in primary school. I chucked it because everyone says education's not worth an old grandmother's fart any more. (In Black Nigger African Native talk, when a thing isn't worth much we say it's not worth an old grandmother's fart, on account of how a fart from a fucked-up old granny doesn't hardly make any noise and it doesn't even smell really bad.) Education isn't worth a grandmother's fart any more, because nowadays even if you get a degree you've got no hope of becoming a nurse or a teacher in some fuckedup French-speaking banana republic. ('Banana republic' means it looks democratic, but really it's all corruption and vested interests.) But going to primary school for three years doesn't make you all autonomous and incredible.You know a bit, but not enough; you end up being what Black Nigger African Natives call grilled on both sides. You're not an indigenous savage any more like the rest of the Black Nigger African Natives 'cos you can understand the civilised blacks and the toubabs (a toubab is a white person) and work out what they're saying, except maybe English people and the American Blacks in Liberia, but you still don't know how to do geography or grammar or conjugation or long division or comprehension so you'll never get the easy money working as a civil servant in some fucked-up, crooked republic like Guinea, C(tm)te d'lvoire, etc., etc.Number three . . . I'm disrespectful, I'm rude as a goat's beard and I swear like a bastard. I don't swear like the civilised Black Nigger African Natives in their nice suits, I don't say fuck! shit! bitch! I use Malinke swear words like faforo! (my father's cock - or your father's or somebody's father's), gnamokode! (bastard), walahe! (I swear by Allah). Malinke is the name of the tribe I belong to. They're Black Nigger African Savages and there's a lot of us in the north of C(tm)te d'lvoire and in Guinea, and there's even Malinkes in other corrupt fucked-up banana republics like Gambia, Sierra Leone and up in Senegal.Number four . . . I suppose I should apologise for talking right at you like this, on account of how I'm only a kid. I'm maybe ten, maybe twelve (two years ago, grandmother said I was eight, maman said I was ten) and I talk too much. Polite kids are supposed to listen, they don't sit under that talking-tree and they don't chatter like a mynah bird in a fig tree. Talking is for old men with big white beards. There's a proverb that says,'For as long as there's a head on your shoulders, you don't put your headdress on your knee.' That's village customs for you. But I don't give two fucks about village customs any more, 'cos I've been in Liberia and killed lots of guys with an AK-47 (we called it a 'kalash') and got fucked-up on kanif and lots of hard drugs.Number five . . . To make sure I tell you the life story of my fucked-up life in proper French, I've got four different dictionaries so I don't get confused with big words. First off, I've got the Larousse and the Petit Robert, then, second off, I've got the Glossary of French Lexical Particularities in Black Africa, and, third off, I've got the Harrap's. The dictionaries are for looking up big words and checking big words and particularly for explaining big words. I need to be able to explain stuff because I want all sorts of different people to read my bullshit: colonial toubabs,Black Nigger African Natives and anyone that can understand French.The Larousse and the Petit Robert are for looking up and checking and explaining French words so I can explain them to Black Nigger African Natives. The Glossary of French Lexical Particularities in Black Africa is for explaining African words to the French toubabs from France. The Harrap's is for explaining pidgin words to French people who don't know shit about pidgin.How did I get the dictionaries? That's a long story that I don't feel like going into right now. Because I haven't got time 'cos I don't want to get tied up in bullshit. That's why. Faforo!Number six . . . Don't go thinking that I'm some cute kid, 'cos I'm not. I'm cursed because I did bad things to my maman. According to Black Nigger African Native customs, if your mother is angry with you and she dies with all that anger in her heart, then she curses you and you're cursed. And afterwards nothing ever goes right for you or anyone who knows you.I'm not some cute kid on account of how I'm hunted by the gnamas of lots of people. (Gnamas is a complicated Black Nigger African Native word that I need to explain so French people can understand. According to the Glossary,a gnama is the shadow of a person that remains after death.The shadow becomes an immanent malevolent force which stalks anyone who has killed an innocent victim.) And I killed lots of innocent victims over in Liberia and Sierra Leone where I was a child doing tribal warfare, and where I got fucked-up on lots of hard drugs.The gnamas of the innocent people I killed are stalking me, so my whole life and everything round me is fucked. Gnamokode!So that's me - six points, no more no less, with my cheeky foul-mouthed attitude thrown in for good treasure. (Actually, you don't say 'for good treasure',you say 'for good measure'. I need to explain 'for good measure' for Black Nigger African Natives who don't know nothing about anything. According to Larousse, it means extra, on top of everything else.)So that's me, and it's not an edifying spectacle. Anyway, now that I've introduced myself, I'm really, truly going to tell you the life story of my cursed, fucked-up life.Sit down and listen. And write everything down. Allah is not obliged to be fair about everything he does. Faforo!Before I got to Liberia, I was a fearless, blameless kid. I slept anywhere I wanted and stole all kinds of stuff to eat. My grandmother used to spend days and days looking for me: that's because I was what they call a street kid. Before I was a street kid, I went at school. Before that, I was a bilakoro back in the village of Togobala (according to the Glossary,a bilakoro is an uncircumcised boy). I ran through the streams and down to the fields and I hunted mice and birds in the scrubland. I was a proper Black Nigger African Native Savage. Before that, I was a baby in maman's hut. I used to scamper between maman's hut and grandmother's hut. Before that, I crawled around in maman's hut. Before I was crawling around on all fours, I was in maman's belly. And before that, I could have been the wind, or maybe a snake, or maybe water.You're always something like a snake or a tree or an animal or a person before you get born. It's called life before life. I lived life before life. Gnamokode!The first thing inside me . . . In proper French, you don't say 'inside me', you say 'in my mind'. Well, the first thing inside me or in my mind when I think about maman's hut is the fire, the glow of the embers, the flicker of flame. I don't know how many months old I was when I grilled my arm. Maman hadn't been counting my age, she hadn't got time on account of how she spent all the time suffering and crying.I forgot to tell you something major, something really extremely important. Maman walked round on her arse. Walahe! On the two cheeks of her arse. She propped herself up on her hands and her left leg. Her left leg was as withered as a shepherd's crook and her right leg - the one she called her crushed serpent's head - was amputated and crippled by the ulcer. (According to my Larousse, an 'ulcer' is 'an inflammatory and often suppurating lesion on the skin or an internal mucous surface resulting in necrosis of tissue'). It's like a blister that never gets better and ends up killing you. Maman's ulcer was swathed in leaves wrapped up in an old pagne (a loin-cloth). Her right leg was permanently sticking up in the air. Maman moved on her arse like a caterpillar in fits and starts ('fits and starts' means 'stopping suddenly then starting again'). I was still crawling back then. I could tell you what happened, I can remember. But I don't like to tell everyone about it. Because it's a secret, because when I tell the story I tremble from the pain like I'm terrified on account of the fire searing in my skin. I was running around on all fours and maman was chasing me. I was going faster than she was. She was chasing after me, her right leg stuck up in the air, moving on her arse in fits and starts, leaning on her arms. I went too far, too fast, 'cos I was trying not to get caught. I made a dash and fell on to the glowing embers.The fire did its job and grilled my arm. It grilled the arm of a poor little kid because Allah doesn't have to be fair about everything he does here on earth. I still have the scar, on my arm, in my head, in my belly like the Black Africans say, and in my heart. It's still there in my heart, in my whole being, like the smell of my mother. My body is saturated with maman's nauseating smell. (According to the Larousse,'nauseating' means 'capable of arousing aversion or disgust' and 'saturated' means 'drenched or soaked with liquid'.)Gnamokode!Anyway, even back when I was a cute kid, back in my childhood, there was this ulcer eating into maman's right leg and rotting it. An ulcer that steered my mother (to 'steer' is 'to guide someone somewhere').An ulcer that steered my mother and the rest of the family. And, around my mother and her ulcer was the hearth. The hearth that grilled my arm. The hearth always belching smoke or sparks; it spits sparks when you poke the fire to get it going. All round the hearth there were kanaris (according to the Glossary,a kanaris is a handcrafted earthenware jar). There were kanaris and more kanaris, and every one of them filled with decoctions (that means liquid obtained from the action of boiling plants).The decoctions were used for flushing maman's ulcer.There were more kanaris lined up along the wall at the back of the hut. Between the kanaris and the hearth, there was my mother and her ulcer wrapped up in a pagne. There was me, and there was the marabout, hunter and healer, Balla. Balla was maman's healer.Balla was a great guy and totally extraordinary. He knew all these countries and other stuff. Allah had given him hundreds of incredible destinies, and talents and opportunities. He was a freedman - according to Larousse, that's what they called someone who used to be a slave but is now free. And he was a donson ba, that's the name we give to a master huntsman who has killed black game and at least one malevolent djinn, according to the Glossary. Balla was a kaffir - that's what you call someone who refuses to believe in Islam and keeps his grigris. (According to the Glossary, a 'grigri' is 'a protective amulet, often a piece of paper inscribed with magical incantation kept in a small leather purse which is tied above the elbow or around the neck'.) Balla refused to burn his false idols, so he wasn't a Muslim, he didn't perform the five daily prayers, or fast for one month every year. The day he dies, no Muslim is allowed to go to his funeral, and they're not allowed to bury his body in the Muslim cemetery. And strictly speaking, nobody's allowed to eat the meat of any animal whose throat he slits.Balla was the only Bambara ('Bambara' means 'one who refuses'), the only kaffir, in the village. Everyone was afraid of him. He had grigris round his neck and all over his arms, in his hair and his pockets. No one in the village was allowed near Balla's hut, but actually at night everyone went to his hut. Some people even went during the day, because Balla practised sorcery, native medicine, magic and a million other extravagant customs ('extravagant' means 'unrestrained or recklessly wasteful').All the stuff I bullshit about ('bullshit' means 'to say stupid things'), I learned from Balla. A man should always thank the shea tree for the fruits gathered from beneath its branches. I will always be grateful to Balla. Faforo! Gnamokode!There were two doors to maman's hut: the big door that opened on to the family concession and the little door on to the yard. (According to the Glossary, a 'concession' is an enclosed piece of land often used for business.) I was crawling around all over the place and getting into everything. Sometimes, I'd fall on to maman's ulcer and she'd howl with the pain.The ulcer would start bleeding. Maman would howl like a hyena with its paws caught in the teeth of a wolf trap. She would start crying. Maman had too many tears, the corners of her eyes were always full of tears and her throat was always full of sobs suffocating her.'Dry your tears and stop your bawling,' grandmother used to say. 'Allah created each one of us and decided our fate, the colour of our eyes, our height and our sufferings. You were born with pain from your ulcer. It is He who gave you your time to live out on this earth in a hut, wrapped in a blanket near a hearth. You should pray Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! (Allah is great!) Allah does not mete out suffering without cause. He makes you suffer here on earth to purify you so that one day he can grant you paradise and eternal happiness.'