As soon as I finished an article about a Senegalese – Sheikh Anta Diop – I was rushed to propose another one. What do I say! I was not offered any, I was forced to do so, like a paranoid Russia that is going to impose a stupid war on a poor Ukraine. The subject of my article is Boubacar Boris Diop; another writer, another Senegalese. And when I say “on,” I mean by this impersonal pronoun, a person who is not at all unknown to me; I mean my boss. She gets me drunk sometimes! I count on you not to blow her anything. I start not to hit her again. Would a Sufi named Diop have promised her a crowned crane, this totemic animal of the Joob? I ask myself the question while throwing the name of Boris Diop in the mouth of the search engine. Amazing! The amount of information he’s getting in my face. They’re all as fragrant as each other.
Who is this man for whom praise is not lacking? Suspicious, I smell, like a drug dog, a trick. I go to the library to stuff some of his books: The Time of «Tamango», 1981; «Murambi», the Book of Bones, 2000; «The Cubs of the Monkey», 2009. The latter would be the French version of his first novel in wolof. «Doomi Golo», 2003; «Frère d’âme», 2018; eLa porte du voyage sans retoure, 2021. I like to form my own opinion of authors who pass under my pen and then sprinkle them with a little of my gall. And as always, I always manage to get a counter-opinion.
I tell you right now – it may not please many people -, but the leitmotiv that transpires through the work of Boris Diop: the decolonization of African literature that he thinks degenerated by literature in African language, left me puzzled. For it raises many questions. One is: How can you write in a language, win literary prizes (Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique noire, 2000; Prix Goncourt des lycéens, 2018 and Booker Prize International, 2021) and want to raise the standard of a hypothetical emancipation? How many readers can read in an African language?
Boris Diop started out as a journalist, writer, screenwriter, to finish – if he has not yet completed his metamorphosis – translator in the Wolof language. He is a bloated man of paradox. A first. Zulma, Paris and Mémoire d’encrier, Montreal. Two French-language Western publishing houses create a collection (Céytu) dedicated to African languages and appoint him as director. I do a tour, curiosity obliged, on the site of the Céytu. Second paradox. The site exists only in French and English. Not in Wolof. Third paradox. The writer lives in Pau. We would not have preferred Dakar.
Why Cetu and not Thiaroye or Ziguinchor?
Boris Diop claims that the choice of the name Céytu, village of Cheikh Anta Diop, would be a nod to the scientist. Beyond the slightly nepotistic character of this tribute. I doubt that the latter, a deeply Afrocentric, would have lifted his thumb to such a rapprochement. I would rather lean towards a finger of honour.
But, beyond my apprehensions, I met, through the work, the imprint of a man of an immense culture, but also that of a fierce revolutionary who wants to crush Idols and Fetishes. Boubacar Boris Diop is a defender of African cultures and identities. He proposed to write in wolof, a purely African language free of all imported stylistic contingencies. One is immediately struck by his revolutionary look and the quality of his writing: an aesthetic performance and a textual dynamism unlike any other. Wolof writing allows in some way to put Western literature and African literature, undervalued, on the same tune.
In short, it is as much a question of a desire to reverse the linguistic relations between colonizers and colonized people as of a demonstration of the linguistic and literary performance of wolof.