Black Studies 49A Prof. Meischer
Wednesday @ 1:00pm
March 10 2009
Segu Literary Analysis
The historical novel Segu by Maryse Condé is set in the African country of Segu during a time of great cultural change. The African Slave Trade, the spread of Islam, and personal identity challenges were all tremendous and far-reaching issues facing Africa from the late 1700s to early 1800s. Condé uses the four brothers of the Traore family, Tiekoro, Malobali, Siga, and Naba, to demonstrate the impact that the issues of Islam, slave trade, and identity had on African people through the development of each character. The oldest of the sons, Tiekoro exemplifies the influence and spread of Islam through out Africa at the time.
When the reader is first introduced to Tiekoro, he is portrayed as a boy unhappy with his religion and desperately searching for one that focuses on love rather than fear like the native religion he was raised with. Tiekoro is intrigued by a new religion and in Condé’s words, “Islam was new to the region, brought there by the Arab caravans like some exotic merchandise! (Condé 22).” In this way, Tiekoro saw Islam as a means of escaping from a world of sacrifices and old ways to one that offers an exotic, loving appeal. With Tiekoro, Condé is able to show how Islam spread through trans Saharan trade routes, as well as the opportunity it provided for Africans during the time period. Tiekoro ventures off in pursuit of Islamic studies and after being expelled from an Islamic university begins to teach Islam in the city of Jenne. It is in Jenne that Tiekoro states, “How strange that the name of God is should divide people when god is love and power. The creation of all living creatures comes from His love, and not from any other power… (Condé 149).” It is in this insight that Tiekoro again demonstrates the nature of Islam. Unlike the religion he was born into in Segu that focused on sacrifices and ancestor worship, Islam is a religion of love that offers him comfort and strength. It is because of this new knowledge and faith that Tiekoro is unable to fathom how religion could split people apart instead of bringing them together. Upon his return to Segu, Tiekoro is praised and respected for his journey to distant lands. He is also made a member of a high council and consulted on issues of relations with neighboring people (Condé 163). The respect and admiration given to Tiekoro demonstrates how Islam was eventually perceived. Tiekoro, much like Islam as a whole was eventually respected for his worldly knowledge and different opinions, which made him a very powerful person in his community. In this sense Islam, although at first different to the people of Segu, provided helpful diversity to the people of Africa. In the same way that Tiekoro exemplified the spread of Islam in Africa, his younger brother Malobali is a symbol for the treatment of women in African society, as well as one aspect of the African slave trade. First, Malobali’s attitude toward women in Africa will be examined.
In her first description of Malobali, Condé writes, “He was a violent, quarrelsome little boy, completely spoiled because of his extreme good looks (Condé 127).” Malobali is a violent boy who will ultimately reach his end because of it, and after he leaves Segu, Malobali joins a group of warriors with his friend Kodjoe and falls into a world of immoral behavior. While digging yams from the ground that did not belong to them, Malobali and Kodjoe came across a girl wandering in the field. As she ran away Malobali chased her and he pinned her down; “She flashed him a look of defiance unusual to anyone so young. So he penetrated her. (Condé 231).” This is not the first woman Malobali has raped, and in doing so in such a casual way, he demonstrates his lack of respect for women. During this time especially in Africa, women as a whole were not respected when compared to men. Malobali’s actions...
References: Maryse, Condé. Segu. New York: Viking Penguin Inc., 1987.
Word Count: 1,887
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