Houseboy, Paperback
3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


The contributors to this volume offer an original approach to debates about indigenous knowledge.

Concentrating on the political economy of knowledge construction and dissemination, they look at the variety of ways in which development policies are received and constructed to explain how local knowledges are appropriated and recast, either by local elites or by development agencies.

Until now, debates about indigenous knowledge have largely been conducted in terms of agricultural and environmental issues such as bio-piracy and gene patenting.

The book opens up the theoretical debate to include areas such as post-war traumatic stress counselling, representations of nuclear capability, architecture, mining, and the politics of eco-tourism.




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A novel written originally in French and published in 1960, this work follows the young life of a native Cameroonian until his untimely demise. The book is introduced by a narrator finding and transcribing the journals of the main character, very much like the opening of Lermontov's A Hero Of Our Time. Toundi Onouya is the Houseboy, and begins life in a loveless upbringing that propels him into the service of the local senior priest. He eventually makes his way to serve the leader of the French in Cameroon, a man he calls the Commandant. His travels with his boss and changes when the Commandant's wife comes from France are a background for a range of very stark issues. Unlike other African novels that touch on effects of colonialism, this book puts the day-to-day effects on display, in part by taking the rare approach in African works of exposing the thoughts and behaviors of colonial leaders toward their personal servants. The violence, selfishness, myopia and lust are on display in a tragic work that certainly contributed to the whorl of anti-colonialism Africa experienced through the latter half of the 20th century.

Review by

As this novel opens, Toundi is on the verge of death. He asks:"'Brother...Brother, what are we? What are we blackmen who are called French?'"His voice grew bitter. I had never asked myself that question. I was young then and thoughtless. I felt myself grow stupid."As he dies, Toundi gives his diaries to the narrator, and the remainder of the novel consists of Toundi's diaries.As a young boy, Toundi was fascinated with the local Catholic mission and the priest who regularly distributed candy to the village children. After an argument with his father, Toundi runs away to the mission, and becomes the "boy" of the priest. When the priest dies, Toundi becomes the "boy" of the town's French commandant. (The novel is set in the French Cameroon).From his sometimes naive point of view, Toundi draws clear portraits of the French colonists and their cruelty to and disdain for the native people. Although in becoming the priest's houseboy Toundi gave up his tribal identity, he finds that he will never fit in among the colonizers. Tragedy ensues when the commandant and his vain wife seek to "dispose" of Toundi when they think he knows too many of their secrets.The Times Literary Supplement said of this book:"It is a better guide to French colonial Africa, and to racism, than any non-fiction account, whether by an African or Frenchman."It certainly is a brutal and searing account of a past history that is closer than we may care to remember. Highly recommended.

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