watched the Senegalese film, Guelwaar for a second time. It seems almost
strange that the one character who caught my attention was the one most
conspicuous by his absence. I am referring to Pierre Thioune, the deceased
outspoken Guelwaar. Although he was dead, the memories of the other characters
painted an interesting picture of him.
Thioune’s personality captured my
attention mainly because it seemed to be so full of contrasts. The first
impression that I got of him was that of a devout Catholic who led his community
by example. Not only did he allow the Catholic women’s group to meet in his
house, but he apparently also requested that his funeral service be held in
Latin. Significantly, he had also performed a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Afterwards hints of his extremely human nature began to creep in. In his
youth, he would disguise himself as an old woman in order to pursue an affair
with the wife of the village's religious leader . Furthermore, unlike his wife,
he had no qualms over accepting monetary support from his daughter who was
working as a prostitute in Dakar.
The effect of these seemingly
incompatible qualities made Thioune a three-dimensional character in my eyes.
Importantly, they provided a hint of his strong will and of a moral code,
admittedly of his own, that he adhered to. All of these qualities came together
in his political ideals which eventually brought him significant influence and
respect. These political ideals are, admittedly, the feature that clinched my
admiration for Thioune.
One scene stands out in my mind as epitomizing my
view of Thioune. It was set at the height of the famine period. The people were
unable to support themselves, hence were receiving food aid from foreign groups
through the government. A ceremony was organized for the symbolic handing over
of the aid, and several dignitaries, both local and diplomatic, had been
invited. Thioune was one of the individuals invited to make a speech. However,
his speech stirred up a lot of controversy among the different groups present.
They had expected him to express gratitude to the donors. Instead he had
lambasted them, bitterly accusing them of degrading the people and killing their
dignity by reducing them to beggars.
Thioune’s words were extremely
strong. They were critical in that they upset the status quo. His words gave
some of the aid-recipients food for thought. However, they also marked him as an
enemy of the established system. By speaking out on that day, he exposed his
belief in the significance of human dignity. Thioune was not a stupid man. He
must have known that his words would have consequences. However, his pride and
his moral code made the dignity of his people his agenda.
Sembene was using Thioune as his mouthpiece and that Thioune’s speech in this
specific scene was the main message. Because I was particularly struck by this
message, it is only natural that a specific part of it found resonance with me.
Guelwaar summed this part up in a few words, saying that famine, drought and
poverty resulted from a country saying one thing from generation to generation:
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you… (with arm outstretched as if
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