- Hybrid and Practical Life NarrativesThe Year in Burkina Faso
The former French colony of La Haute-Volta was renamed Burkina Faso, which means "land of upright men," by the progressivist leader Thomas Sankara in 1984, twenty-four years after independence. Because before, during, and after the colonial era, specialists were devoted to telling the life stories of aristocratic members of many traditional ethnic groups, oral life narratives have been an integral part of Burkinabè culture. These "griots," or bards, were generally attached to one noble family. The oral stories they told preserved the genealogy of noblemen and also entertained a popular audience. With the advent of colonialism, very few written traces of life narratives of people from Burkina Faso were reported. It was not until 1955 that a life writing text appeared: Le Sacrifice d'Aloys Lankoandé, a biography of a Burkinabè boy scout who was devoted to Christianity and drowned in the Niger River when he attempted to save another man. Because griots have traditionally filled the role of documenting lives in traditional culture, Burkinabè people have shied away from writing about their lives. It is therefore unsurprising that the biography of Lankoandé was written by an outsider to Burkina Faso, the French missionary Alphonse Chantoux.
The high illiteracy rate that has persisted since colonial times is an important factor in the scarcity of written life narratives in Burkina Faso before 1991. From its independence in 1960 to 1987, Burkina Faso experienced at least five coups d'état. The authoritarian nature of the military regimes and the censorship they exerted rendered difficult the writing of life narratives by Burkinabè citizens. In 1992, with France's call to end military regimes and the promotion of democratic rule in Africa, a new era of freedom of expression followed as many private and independent newspapers were created. Subsequently, after 1992, there has been a blossoming of life stories in Burkina Faso and by its citizens (see Sankara). [End Page 546]
In the past year, four life narratives have emerged in Burkina Faso. In 2017, award-winning journalist Alexandre Lebel Ilboudo published Sa Majesté Naaba Baoogo II: Un médiateur naturel.1 In just fifty-five pages, Ilboudo's short biography of the Emperor of the Mossi appears to be self-published because the publishing house's name matches the author's: Lebel.2 The preface was written by Chief Jean Gervais Tchiffi Zié, who is from Ivory Coast and is also the chief of all Krou chiefs and the permanent general-secretary of the Council of the Forum of Kings, Sultans, Princes, Sheiks, and Traditional Chiefs in Africa. Dubbed with this title by Muhammad Gadhafi in 2008, Chief Tchiffi Zié writes in the preface that if countries like Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone had someone with the stature of Burkina Faso's Moogho Naaba Baoogo II, they would have been spared the devastating wars they experienced.
As a Burkinabè journalist and writer who was born and based in neighboring Ivory Coast, Ilboudo may have a skewed perspective on the subject of his biography. Ilboudo did not witness the October 2014 popular uprising that ousted President Blaise Compaoré, who had ruled for twenty-seven years. Emperor Naaba Baoogo II has ruled for thirty years as the traditional sovereign of the Mossé. Ilboudo declares that the idea of writing this biography stemmed from a delegation he led to Moogho Naaba's court in the aftermath of the 2014 uprising and the subsequent change of state power. During this visit, Ilboudo said he was impressed by the unequivocal support the emperor showed him and the various Burkinabè organizations in Ivory Coast Ilboudo was leading during his visit to the emperor.
Ilboudo presents the book as an homage to Moogho Naaba: "En fait, depuis son intronisation le 21 décembre 1982 en tant que 32e souverain moaaga de l'histoire, Naaba Baoogo II rallie tous les suffrages et apparaît comme une référence, un repère pour le peuple Burkinabè" (17) [Since his crowning on December 21, 1982, as the thirty-second sovereign of the Mossi, Naaba Baoogo II gathers unanimous acclaim and appears as a guide, a reference...