- Rethinking Marriage in Francophone African and Caribbean Literatures by Cécile Accilien
In her Rethinking Marriage in Francophone African and Caribbean Literatures, Cécile Accilien argues that marriage is a powerful catalyst for identity formation. In an original and compelling thesis, Accilien argues that marriage is unique because it overlaps with discourses on gender and the body, class and economics, religion, interracial and intercultural identity, and nation building. She examines the theme of marriage in two regions that share a common historical background of French colonization, namely West Africa and the Francophone Caribbean. Using literary and filmic works from Senegal, Mali, Gabon, Niger, Burkina Faso, Haiti, Guadeloupe, and Martinique, she answers fundamental questions: Why do people get married? What are the many cultural and social implications of different types of marriage? She raises and explores key questions pertaining to the role of the family within the institution of marriage, specifically how the social and economic status of African and Caribbean women are in turn determined by religious and cultural codes that govern marriage. Throughout her numerous examples, she argues that marriage is closely tied to religion and culture and even regulates family and property to a nation building.
In the preface she explains how marriage is a powerful lens to investigate examples of literature and film in Francophone Africa and the Caribbean. Although the book does not consider same-sex marriages, her research indicates that one may extend the study to include gay marriage. To avoid generalizations and oversimplifications of representations of marriage, Accilien insists that these texts must be analyzed from two perspectives: “Global Multiplicative Identities” and “Multiple Consciousnesses” to describe the intersection of oppression women in these contexts deal with based on their gender and race/ethnicity.
In chapter 1, “Marriage and Gender Politics,” Accilien looks at the institution of marriage from both a “womanist” perspective and Pan-Africanist discourses on gender. At the same time she cautions against applying these discourses without due attention to the radically different experiences of African women and those from the West. Her chapter builds on gender categories developed in theoretical writings of the last three decades with a broad spectrum of theoretical discourses developed in the writings of eminent African and Caribbean female critics such like Renée Larrier, Obioma Nnaemeka, Clenora Hudson-Weems, Susan Arndt, Patricia Mohammed, Michelle Rowley, Maryse Condé, Christine Barrow, and Eudine Barriteau among many others. The chapter focuses on two major works: La parole aux négresses (1978) by the Senegalese film maker Awa Thiam, and Le couteau seul: La condition feminine aux Antilles by France Alibar and Pierrette Lembeye-Boy (1981). In these works, she explores the woman’s role in marriage and how her identity is affected by it. Her analysis convincingly demonstrates how these texts establish a space to deconstruct woman as object and silent subject in marriage, thereby allowing her to view herself as a whole being. She draws her conclusion on a 1997 humorous film from Malian filmmaker Adama Drabo entitled Taafe Fanga to depict gender and sexual politics in Africa.
In chapter 2, “Marriage, Sexuality, and the Body,” Accilien analyzes a 1989 film Finzan by director Cheick Oumar Sissoko about two women who rebel against tradition and male supremacy in Mali. She demonstrates how the film questions the role of African women in the practice of excision and in the light of tradition. In Sembène Ousmane’s [End Page 172] 2004 movie Moolaade she connects the link between marriage and the practice of female circumcision in Senegal. This practice that many African women reject is brought out in her third case study, a 1994 documentary by Anne Laure Folly, Femmes aux yeux ouverts. Accilien argues that film production has become a political voice to stop these practices which continue due to a lack of education and the maintenance of myths that justify the practice of excision. The novel Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwigde Danticat testifies how the female protagonist, in the context of Haiti, is subject to virginal testing. With these examples, Accilien demonstrates that writers and...