Quotes from Ousmane Sembène’s God’s Bits of Wood


Below are some bookmark-worthy quotes from Sembène’s God’s Bits of Wood.

It is true that we have our trade, but it does not bring us what it should. We are being robbed. Our wages are so low that there is no longer any difference between ourselves and animals. Years ago the men of Thiès went out on strike, and that was only settled by deaths, by deaths on our side. And now it begins again. At this very moment meetings like this one are taking place from Koulikoro to Dakar. Men have come to this same platform before me, and other men will follow. Are you ready to call a strike—yes or no? Before you do, you must think.

Mamadou Keita


Real misfortune is not just a matter of being hungry and thirsty; it is a matter of knowing that there are people who want you to be hungry and thirsty— and that is the way it is with us.


When you know that the life and spirit of others depend on your life and spirit, you have no right to be afraid – even when you are terribly afraid.

When the smoke from the trains no longer drifted above the savanna, they realized that an age had ended… when all of Africa was just a garden of food. Now the machine ruled over their lands… They began to understand that the machine was making them a whole new breed of men. It did not belong to them; it was they who belonged to it.

The kind of man we were is dead, and our only hope for a new life lies in the machine…


For a moment, the passage of the locomotive would calm the torment in their hearts, because their fellowship with the machine was deep and strong; stronger than the barriers which separated them for their employers, stronger even than the obstacle which until now had been insurmountable— the color of their skin.

Grandfather, I know now what it is that washes the water. It is the spirit. The water is clear and pure, but the spirit is purer still.


It is not our part in life to resist the will of heaven. I know that life is often hard, but that should not cause us to turn our backs on God. He has assigned a rank, a place, and a certain role to every man, and it is blasphemous to think of changing His design.

The Imam

He could still see the corpses strewn around the square, lying in the grotesque, obscene positions in which they had fallen. . . And now the men who were the sons of those corpses were on strike again. They were bullied, they were beaten, they were starved and even killed, but they would not give in.

Three million francs is a lot of money for a Negro lathe operator… but even three million francs won’t make me white. I would rather have the ten minutes break for tea and remain a Negro. “


In the stations I observe the people, but once the engine is on its way, I forget everything else. My role then is nothing except to guide that machine to the spot where it is supposed to go. I don’t even know any longer whether it is my heart that is beating to the rhythm of the engine, or the engine to the rhythm of my heart. And for me, that is the way it has to be with this strike— we must all take on a sense of identity with it…


You will probably never be worth as much as Penda. And I know what she was worth… There are a great many ways of prostituting, you know. There are those who do it because they are forced to— Alioune, Deune, Idrissa and myself all prostitute our work and our abilities to men who have no respect for us. And then there are others who sell themselves morally— the ones like Mabigué and Gaye and Beaugosse. And what about you?


If a man like that is killed, there is always another to take his place. That is not the important thing. But to act so that no man dares to strike you because he knows you speak the truth, to act so that you can no longer be arrested because you are asking for the right to live, to act so that all of this will end, both here and elsewhere; that is what should be in your thoughts. That is what you must explain to others, so that you will never again be forced to bow down before anyone, but also so that no one shall be forced to bow down before you. It was to tell you this that I asked you to come, because hatred must not dwell with you.

Mamadou Keita

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