Father Drumont is a French priest who was sent as a missionary to Cameroon in the first half of the twentieth century. Because he resembles the likeness of Jesus Christ the villagers have seen in pictures, many people at the Bomba mission seem to believe the priest and Christ are one and the same; hence, the book’s title – The Poor Christ of Bomba.
Denis is Father Drumont’s fourteen-year-old assistant, sent by his father to live at the mission after his mother dies. He is the novel’s protagonist, and the book takes the form of his journal, in which he writes every day about the goings-on at the mission. When Father Drumont takes him along as part of the entourage during a tour of other missions in the area, Denis is exposed to a variety of new emotions, viewpoints, and experiences, including his first encounter with sex.
Father Drumont is discouraged because the people in most of the villages he visits have little interest in Christianity. This has been a problem for quite some time, and Father Drumont has punished those villages by staying away from them for three years, thinking they’d feel so abandoned by his absence that they would mend their ways. However, he finds that, with few exceptions, people have been happy enough without him. In their minds, Father Drumont is just another colonizer.
As the tour wears on, Father Drumont begins to question whether his work in Africa has any value. He tells the local colonial administrator, a European in charge of running that part of the country, that he feels as though he and other missionaries are merely “softening the people up and making them docile,” which paves the way for the colonizers.
At one point, Denis muses that misfortune brings people to God. It appears that this theory may be tested soon, as the administrator is planning to build a road, which will require him to conscript the local villagers and force them into labor camps. The administrator takes the cynical view that this will certainly have the effect of bringing people back to the church. The father objects to the use of forced labor, but the administrator reminds him that his mission was built by people who were told, “Go and work at the mission, or you’ll all go to Hell.”
The Poor Christ of Bomba makes a powerful statement about the long-lasting damage inflicted on Africa, not only by colonialism, but also by the church. As Father Drumont observes at the end of his tour, “These good people worshipped God without our help. What matters if they worshipped after their own fashion…?”
At every mission visited by Father Drumont during his tour, the people affiliated with the missions gave him gifts to take back with him to Bomba. In nearly every instance, one of the gifts Father Drumont received was a supply of groundnuts, which is apparently just another word for peanuts. In searching the Internet for Cameroonian recipes, I found one for sugared groundnuts, which turned out to be one of the easiest and most tasty dishes I’ve made for this blog. The recipe for this sweet treat can be found at http://www.africanbites.com/groundnut-sweet-sugar-peanuts-aka-candied-nuts/. I bought roasted peanuts that had already been shelled, so I skipped the whole roasting process described in the recipe, and I followed the first method listed for cooking the peanuts in the sweet syrup. Delicious!
I was appalled by Father Drumont’s treatment of women in this book. Young women who wanted to get married were told they had to live in a special dormitory at the mission, called a sixa, for a period of months beforehand or the father would not consecrate their marriages. While at the sixa, the young women were forced to perform manual labor for long hours, which was just the beginning of the problems there. Toward the end of the book, the father’s actions against these young women were beyond reprehensible, just when I had hoped he was becoming more enlightened.
When I began looking for a project for my donation, then, I naturally searched for one that would help women. At GlobalGiving, I found Reach Out Cameroon’s “Keep a Girl Alive” project, which “enables uneducated and unemployed single mothers and girls to become economically independent through the creation of small businesses.” Training, grants, and continuous counseling are offered, with assistance provided until the woman is completely removed from poverty. Coaching is also provided to deal with gender violence and sexual rights and health.
More information about the “Keep a Girl Alive” project is available at https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/keep-a-girl-alive/.
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