Abstract: The original Mandingo in Ahmadou Kourouma's Les soleils des independances, a space of happiness

Koné Diakaridia§

Summary: An interstitial space between the real and the fictional, Horodougou, or at least its representation in Ahmadou Kourouma's Les Soleils des indépendances, is the place where Fama Doumbouya, confronted with the many material difficulties of daily life in the "capital", rediscovers the honor and happiness he should never have lost because of his princely origins. The great discrepancy between the image of this wretched character in the big city, where the "sons of bastards" reign, and that of a Malinké prince respected and venerated in the land of his ancestors in Horodougou, confers a meliorative function on the all-embracing space of the Mandingue and makes it a place of full blossoming for this being. This article attempts to describe the "little moments of happiness" that animate the character in this novel, and which have a considerable impact on his psychology. We can thus deduce that the feeling of happiness can also be the consequence of the type of relationship the individual maintains with an intimate space.

Keywords: Representation - Horodougou - space - happiness - Mandingo - novel.

Abstract: An interstitial space between the real and the fictitious, Horodougou, at least its representation in The Suns of Independence by Ahmadou Kourouma, is the place where Fama Doumbouya, faced with the many difficulties of everyday life in the "capital", rediscovers honor and happiness. That he should never have lost because of his princely origins. The great gap that exists between the image of this miserable character in the big city where the "sons of bastards" reign and that of a Malinké prince respected and venerated on the land of origin of his ancestors in Horodougou, confers an improving function to the encompassing space of the Mandingo and makes it a place of full development for him. This article attempts to describe these "little moments of happiness" which animate the character in this novel and which have a considerable impact on his psychology. From where the deduction that the feeling of happiness can also be the consequence of the type of relation which the individual maintains with an intimate space.

Keywords: Representation - Horodougou - space - happiness - Mandingo - novel.


Ahmadou Kourouma's Les Soleils des indépendances is best known as a novel that recounts the disillusionment of a Malinké prince, Fama Doumbouya, after the advent of independence, for which he had worked so hard. In the "capital" where he lives, Fama leads an erratic and difficult existence. It was in this atmosphere of uncertain future that he was informed of the death of his cousin Lacina in Togobala, his native village in the Mandingue region. As tradition recommends in such cases, Fama is obliged to go there to take part in the funeral of the deceased. Once in the land of his ancestors, and despite being in mourning, Fama returns to happiness and joie de vivre. There, shrouded in glory and honor, he is the object of every attention and every consideration.

This observation, and many others, which show that in Horodougou, Fama bathes in a certain plenitude, is reinforced by the fact that, in the general economy of this text[1]this interstate space[2] remains a locative landmark of full fulfillment, both for the character and for the author[3] himself. On this basis, the notion of a "space of happiness" that we attribute to Horodougou in the context of this reflection becomes fully operative. However, it should be pointed out that in this case this notion is not reducible to the mere satisfaction of economic and social needs, or even to the quest for an ideal of permanent pleasure where the mind would have nothing left to desire. Far from it! Rather, it's a matter of rediscovering a certain glory and prestige akin to those he enjoyed when his ruling family, the Doumbouya, still held power in Horodougou.

So, while happiness remains, above all, a universal principle, in Kourouma's novel it remains intimately linked to a specific community space belonging to a character, Fama Doumbouya, and a community, the Malinkés. The Malinke have always been at home here, on their own land, and have led a princely existence since time immemorial.

What narrative strategy does Ahmadou Kourouma use to describe the happiness of his main protagonist in Horodougou? Why does the author make this area a locative landmark of full blossoming for the Malinke Fama Doumbouya, as opposed to the "capital"? But first, what does "happiness" actually mean?

The present contribution, based on a semiotic of places and a pictorial of images and feelings, attempts to re-appropriate the question of "happiness" and shows the extent to which this notion, which is at once a matter of philosophy, poetics, sociology and psychology, remains above all indebted to the sphere of the intimate, and is built to the measure of each individual and each situation.

I-The notion of "happiness": framing the terminology of a plural meaning

A universal principle, sought-after and desired by every living being worldwide, the notion of happiness is of interest to many fields of knowledge. From philosophy and psychology to poetics, sociology and literature, this notion is at the heart of every preoccupation. Philosophers define it as a state of plenitude in which the individual has nothing left to desire. Immanuel Kant establishes a close link between this disposition of Being and Morality. Thus, in The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, the philosopher postulates that "to ensure one's own happiness is a duty [...] for the fact of not being content with one's state, of living pressed down by numerous worries and in the midst of unsatisfied needs could easily become a great temptation to violate one's duties (65)". However, he points out that the end of morality cannot be happiness, since happiness, being an indeterminate concept, risks leading existence into a series of contradictions.

As early as 1966, in his book Bonheur et civilisation (Happiness and Civilization), sociologist Jean Cazeneuve attempted to establish a typology of happiness: on the one hand, "Dionysian happiness" or the happiness of existence, and on the other, "Apollonian happiness" or the happiness of being. For him, "[...] happiness is like a utopian middle ground between its own contradiction in Apollinarianism and its negation in Dionysianism" (Cazeneuve, 1966: 186). For this researcher, technicist civilization creates a specific type of happiness in the individual, operating in tandem with consumer society. However, the question posed by this sociologist's definition remains the unsurpassable nature of the human enigma. Does this leave the individual at a loss when it comes to thinking about his or her own happiness as a human being?

Some philosophers answer this question in the negative. For Immanuel Kant, for example, man is always worthy of the happiness he is constantly striving for, whatever happens to him. For him, the quest for this ideal is a historical task of human freedom. In other words, for this philosopher, it is impossible for man to be happy by himself, since true happiness consists in what he calls "accomplished morality". This Kantian position, albeit briefly, at least evokes three essential components of the dignity of human happiness: freedom, temporality and sociality. 

As with Kant, the question of happiness is also central to Spinoza's work. For this philosopher, the pursuit of happiness is the essence of Man. Spinoza's happy man practices reciprocity, seeking happiness for others as much as for himself.

In literature, on the other hand, happiness has long remained a notion with indeterminate boundaries, precisely because of its enduring nature. According to Robert Mauzi:

The idea of happiness is part reflection, part experience, part dream. It can be sought within a system of morality, in the fabric of a life, through fiction or in the simple unfolding of wandering thought. To grasp it, we need to become historians of ideas, historians of souls, and practice that existential analysis which recognizes in the choice of a sensation or the obsession with an image the attitude of a conscience before the world (Mauzi 9).

This theme subsequently appeared in French letters as early as the eighteenth century[4]. Much later, in the mid-1960s, writings relating to happiness and its neighbouring sentiments such as the happy life, joy, ecstasy, etc., continue to feed the literary field. In a seminal article on the subject, "Les romans dédiés au bonheur" ("Novels dedicated to happiness"), Rémy Pawin concludes that the "[...] various categories of happiness novels disseminate an agreed-upon discourse that each reader has come to seek out for the occasion" (Pawin 25).

The followers of post-modernism, who are simultaneously waging a trial against mass culture, are also interested in the question of happiness. Jean Baudrillard, in his stigmatization of "the egalitarian ideology of well-being", [of] the "democratization of television, the car, [and] the stereo" (Baudrillard 60), calls into question certain principles of life. Thus, he asserts that happiness does not simply arise from a natural impulse inherent in the individual, but rather remains dependent on the socio-historical dynamics that orient the world. In this way, we can speak of a plurality of meanings for a notion whose ultimate aim is to procure pleasure. The notion of happiness is therefore relative. It depends on the subject. Because what makes me happy is not necessarily happy for others, and vice-versa.

Although born in rather dramatic circumstances[5] because of the issues at stake at the time, the African novel very early on took up this state of the human being and turned it into a literary motif. Thus, in Kourouma's novel, when Fama Doumbouya returns to her native Horodougou, the princely figure of the Malinké character, the one who reigned when the Doumbouya dynasty reigned in Horodougou, reappears and is reaffirmed. The character becomes sacralized and institutionalized, bringing out a new state of being. He rediscovers the joy of living, and with him, the joy of others. In the words of André Gide

There is so much misery, distress, embarrassment and horror on earth, that the happy man cannot think of it without being ashamed of his happiness. And yet he can do nothing for the happiness of others who does not know how to be happy himself. I feel an imperious obligation to be happy. But I hate any happiness that is obtained only at the expense of others and through possessions of which I am deprived [...] My happiness is to increase the happiness of others. I need everyone's happiness to be happy (220-221).

For Gide, happiness is neither a matter of possession nor of appearance, but rather of simply being happy first oneself, before acting on behalf of others. The notion can only be a subjective state, or better, a certain personal disposition of the human spirit to fulfill man's most intimate desires, his deepest, dearest wishes...

In Kourouma's case, however, it's a happiness linked to an origin, a space, places and emblematic characters. In Les Soleils des indépendances, how does the author present this state of human happiness in Fama Doumbouya's home region, Horodougou? What is the narrative strategy deployed to show this happiness? How does this space ultimately contribute to the happiness Fama feels as his death approaches?

II-The narrative strategy for describing Fama's happiness

In Les Soleils des indépendances, there is a narrative rhetoric that relates to Fama's sense of happiness in her homeland, among her own people. Collective behavior, the protocol put in place to welcome Prince Doumbouya, all contribute to this feeling of inner joy. But for this to happen, the character needs to be in a space-time universe conducive to his full development: Horodougou.

     1-Space and time

Space and time play a dynamic role in Fama's new state of mind in Horodougou. By offering a different kind of relationship between this Malinke prince and his people, they both influence the character's mood and enable him to reconnect with the thread of time, ultimately allowing him to recapture fleeting moments of joy.

For Fama, the all-encompassing space of Horodougou is the place of glory due to his princely lineage, which he cannot find in the capital. He has a kind of intimate relationship with it that gives him a sense of joy and inner pride. For in this place, in this province, long before "bastardy" changed the order of things: "His forefathers had the heart, the arms, the virility and the tyranny. Master of the lands, the things and the living of Horodougou, the dynasty gave birth to virile and intelligent warriors. [Everywhere here, they attacked, killed and conquered (Kourouma 100-101)". The narrator accumulates a meliorative discourse, expressions and memories of an epic that began with "Soundjata", through "Samory (136)" to the great warrior families (17). Summoning the names of these valiant historical figures fertilizes the popularity and grandeur of this area, and in turn of the Doumbouya of Horodougou. In the past, Fama Doumbouya, still a young Malinke prince, "born in gold, food, honor and women (5)" lived in total happiness.

Alongside his glorious memories and those of his Doumbouya forebears, another feeling of great fulfillment awakened in him during the harmattan season, reminding him of his princely childhood in Horodougou:

We rode through the bushes that Fama had ridden through, and his heart warmed with the mornings of his childhood. Forgotten sounds, smells and shadows sprang up everywhere, even a familiar sun came out and filled the bush. His childhood! His childhood! In everything, he surprised her, followed her far over the horizon on a white steed, listened to her pass and repass through the trees, smelled her, tasted her (101-102).

In the process, he even received "majestic salutes (103)", as well as a large crowd made up of "an escort of locals and a swarm of toddlers (103)". All this entourage accompanied him to the family plot, where, despite his mourning, he was the object of every attention. Fama's joy rises a notch when he finds himself in the family yard, surrounded by his own family. Here again, says the narrator, "[...] Fama was enthroned, swelling, bulging out (101)". For, at that very moment, "[...] for a moment, a legitimate world hovered". (110)

The novel is peppered with these predictions, which contribute to a kind of manipulation of chronology. The character's present is lived in opposition to a glorious past that independence wiped out.

 Unlike the "capital", where his life is nothing but bitterness and despair, for Fama the Horodougou is the place where his "self" is protected and his social rehabilitation begins. Unable to find happiness in a materially overburdened capital, Fama finds joy at home, on his land, in his Horodougou. This universe is therefore an adjuvant space that has a real influence on the character's state of mind. To this, we must add the role played by other characters and certain emblematic places in Fama's development.

2-Characters and emblematic media

Other incubators of happiness in the narrative are the emblematic objects and characters introduced by the narrator. These objects and characters fulfil both a structuring and symbolic function, through their symptomatic presence in the narrative.

The first emblematic figure whose presence at the side of the Malinké prince creates happiness is the griot Diamourou. Indeed, once in his native land, and by virtue of his princely lineage, Fama is obliged to submit to a set of protocolary devices imposed on him by tradition. The first element of this system is the griot, who decides to (re)take his traditional place with his master. Now reinstalled at his master's "right hand (106)", Diamourou can serve his master with ease, thanks to a fabulous oratory art of which he alone has the secret. In this way, he assumes the role traditionally assigned to his caste. Of course, this can only add to Prince Doumbouya's sense of joy, as he saw it as an opportunity to make the most of his status: "Fama held power as if begging, marrying a barren woman, being a bastard during the Indépendances, all his past life and present worries had never existed" (110).

Like the griot Diamourou, Balla also contributes to Prince Doumbouya's happiness, thanks to his presence with the latter during his stay in Horodougou. With a reputation for being fundamentally animist, he and Diamourou were the only two "[...] witnesses to the great days of the great Doumbouya (112)". Alongside the Malinke prince, he and Diamourou formed the duo who attempted to regain power: "[...] to regain his power, Fama had a sorcerer, a griot, money, political support; in short, the last enthusiasms of two old men on their last legs" (114). A power, ephemeral of course, but nonetheless important for the state of mind of a prince forgotten in the capital and trying to enjoy the moments of joy in his Horodougou.

Apart from these two men, there's also Mariam, the youngest widow of the deceased cousin Lacina, who contributes to Fama's happiness in her village. Mariam, who is young and a very good seductress, is now a heartthrob following the death of her husband. Fama remains interested, especially as Salimata, his first wife, has so far been unable to procreate. Just the idea that he can still hope to have an heir to perpetuate the Doumbouya dynasty, and also spend warm nights at Mariam's side, makes him happy: "Mariam's loincloths, handkerchiefs, joys and words popped up at every moment in all [his] thoughts and dreams of the night." (128). To the point where Fama only thought of his wife Salimata from the capital on rare occasions.

In addition to these key men, the Doumbouya "palace" also contributes to Fama's happiness in Horodougou. In this space, Fama is back in power. By making this symbolic place of the Doumbouya princes an actancial operator of relations, the narrator points out that in this place, Fama can savor moments of glory, pleasure and inner peace: "[...] at the threshold of the Doumbouya palace, [...] the griot debuted like fig birds. Greeters came and went. (110) ". Seeing himself now in his princely "clothes", the last legitimate descendant of the Doumbouya of Horodougou forgot his distress, which had arisen in the aftermath of the "sun of independence", to indulge in the intoxication of power. However, due to external contingencies and the realization that he would never be able to regain this power, because of the illegitimate new holders of power, he decided and accepted to die in Horodougou, his native land. 

III-Fama's death in her original Horodougou, the happy end to an eventful life

After Fama's return to the capital, he was arrested following an alleged plot. Some time later, he was pardoned by the President of the Republic. Immediately after his release, he decided to return to Horodougou. But this time, to die there, in accordance with the will of the man who had made death his sole companion from his cell: "it had become his only companion (185)", and even in his dreams. So, "[he and death] knew each other, they loved each other (185)". Because of this mutual esteem alone, Fama refuses to let her intervene anywhere, anyhow: "It's in Horodougou that it's good to live and die (188)".

Here, contrary to the conception of happiness generally perceived as a lasting state of joy and/or pleasure, Kourouma sees it as the end of a tormented life, that of freedom from bastardy. Better still, Fama regrets the many years spent "uselessly" in the capital: "He regretted all the years spent in the bastardies of the capital (188)".

Now, with his death foretold, he apprehends happiness, his own in particular, as both an imminent state and an act of liberation from the domination of the sons of slaves:

  Fama? You're going to Togobala, Togobala du Horodougou. Ah! these are the days you've been hoping for! Bastardy swept away, chieftaincy returned, Horodougou belongs to you, your prince's retinue follows you, carries you off, don't you see? Your retinue is golden.

 So silver. But watch out! What is it? Fama, don't you see the warriors surrounding you? Fama, with the suppleness and dignity, with the counted steps of a Horodougou prince, went to the front (188). 

For Fama, death is a phenomenon that allows him to rediscover the happiness associated with his status as a prince. Already, sensing that death was very close, he began to dream of honor, glory and power: "Fama on a white steed galloping, trotting, hopping and caracoling. He is fulfilled, he is superb (195)". Fama exulted, swooned with joy, [...] And intoxicated with joy, Fama burst out laughing, mad laughing; he laughed so hard that he woke up (171)".

The fact is, in this world dominated by bastardy, selfishness and boredom, Fama can no longer be happy. The world no longer belongs to him, the sacredness of things having disappeared. The only thing left for him is death, a death he wants to achieve quickly, in order to be reunited with his Doumbouya ancestors who, long before him, enjoyed the delights of power in Horodougou for generations.


Starting from the premise that a vast inter-state space called the "Horodougou" once existed, Ahmadou Kourouma creates a fictional universe of the same name in Les Soleils des indépendances, to which he attributes particularly endearing traits. For Kourouma's main protagonist, this Horodougou of the textual imagination, through the character's memories and evocations of his Doumbouya ancestors' moments of glory and epic battles, becomes a place of fulfillment, even happiness, in contrast to the capital, where the Malinké prince is but a shadow of his former self. As soon as he's released from prison, it's not by chance that Fama chooses to die there, as if to prove in many ways that this locative landmark, in its semantic, syntactic and symbolic representation, contributed greatly to the happy life he was entitled to until the advent of independence, with its attendant disappointments and misfortunes. 

Works quoted

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Cazeneuve, Jean. Happiness and civilization. Paris: Gallimard, 1966.

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            How to cite this article:

MLA: Diakaridia, Koné. "Le mandingue originel dans Les soleils des independances d'Ahmadou Kourouma, un espace de bonheur." Uirtus 1.1 (August 2021): 344-355.

§ Université Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast, [email protected]

[1 ] In the story, the macro-space "Horodougou" has 60 occurrences, compared with less than 15 for the "capital".

[2] For historians, the Horodougou is an inter-state area extending "from Sierra-Léone to Côte d'Ivoire", Cf. Christophe G. Wondji, 1977, "L'Aspect historique", Essai sur Les Soleils des indépendances, Abidjan, NEA, p. 21-22.

[3] It's important to note that the Mandingo region remains an important one for Kourouma. As a native of this region himself, he often uses it as a frame of reference for the actions of his characters. For proof of this, we need only recall Les Soleils des indépendances (Montreal: 1968, Paris: Seuil, 1970), Monnè, outrages et défis (Paris: Seuil, 1990) and Allah n'est pas obligé (Paris: Seuil, 2000), in which, through Horodougou, Soba and Worosso respectively, the various narrators plunge the reader squarely into the Mandingo universe. 

[4 ] Robert Mauzi's seminal work L'Idée du bonheur dans la littérature et la pensée française au XVIIIème siècle (Paris: Armand Colin, 1967) is also worth a mention.

[5] It's important to remember that the African novel was born during the colonial era. Caught in the crossfire, African novelists had other, far more important concerns. Rather than painting the joys of the individual, they sought, on the contrary, to vehemently denounce the colonial fact with a view to liberating their people.