Chapter One to Chapter Six Summary of “The African Child”

In the opening incident of The African Child, a young Camara Laye encounters a snake for the first time as a playful little boy.


Chapter One Summary

In the opening incident of The African Child, a young Camara Laye encounters a snake for the first time as a playful little boy. His attention becomes fixed on the snake as it creeps around his father’s hut. Fearlessly, he playfully thrusts a reed into the snake’s mouth, unaware of the danger. Just before the snake could harm him, Damany, his father’s apprentice, raises an alarm and helps save Camara. This incident highlights Camara’s narrow escape from a deadly snake bite, setting the stage for a later encounter.

Years later, around the age of twelve, Camara encounters a mysterious little black snake. Living near a snake-infested railway track, he often comes across snakes while admiring the gleaming rails. Having learned to avoid snakes since his childhood incident, Laye runs to warn his mother as usual when he finds the little black snake. However, his mother forbids him from harming it, claiming it to be his father’s guiding spirit.

Dumbfounded, Camara watches the snake elegantly make its way towards the workshop, disappearing through a small hole. Confused and seeking answers, he approaches his father, considering it a matter to be discussed with men.


After questioning his father indirectly, he finally asks about the mysterious snake. His father hesitates at first but eventually reveals that the snake is the guiding spirit of their race and the secret behind his success. He advises Camara to behave properly inorder to inherit the snake’s power but expresses concern that they spend little time together.

The encounter with the little black snake gives Camara a concrete experience of the supernatural, reinforcing his faith and superstitions. For the first time, he learns the secret behind his father’s success as a blacksmith and his father’s ability to foresee future events. Their conversation includes a prediction that Camara’s education will eventually lead him away from home, a revelation likely gained through the snake. As a result, Camara’s later departures from home in pursuit of education do not come as a complete surprise to his father.

Read: Chapter Seven to Chapter Twelve Summary of Camara Laye’s “The African Child”

Chapter Two Summary

Chapter Two of Camara Laye’s The African Child focuses on the author’s fascination with his father’s role as both a blacksmith and goldsmith.

Most of his father’s customers are women. Each woman client requires the assistance of a praise singer or intermediary, who skillfully serenades Laye’s father to gain his attention amidst his work. Flattery is their persuasive tool.

The author goes on to describe the processes involved. The gold-smelting process commences with the customer’s gold grains placed in a designated clay pot, covered with powdered charcoal and a hefty charcoal lump.

Apprentices operate the sheep-skin bellows, stoking the forge for an hour until the fire ignites into a spirited entity. Only the younger apprentice handles the bellows, while the elders occasionally engage in the intricate tasks. Work with copper or aluminum halts to prevent mingling with the precious gold. Silence prevails, disrupted solely by the bellows’ panting and the faint hissing of gold. Laye’s father seems to silently utter incantations, as indicated by his quivering lips. The gold becomes as fluid as water and this signifies favour from guiding spirits.

Communication resumes as Laye’s father calls for a hollowed-out brick generously greased with Galam butter. The molten gold flows into it like liquid fire, accompanied by audible incantations to unseen forces.

The true artistry of the goldsmith unfolds once the gold cools in the brick. Before embarking on this stage, Laye’s father never forgets to stroke a little snake concealed under the sheepskin, perhaps gathering strength for the most delicate part. This serpent is always present.

Laye’s father meticulously inserts tiny gold grains into a spiral pyramid, culminating with the largest grain at the apex. The woman for whom the trinket is crafted returns, leaping with excitement at the sight.

Slowly, Laye’s father shapes the trinket, eventually solders the top grain and proudly presents the finished work.

The intermediary intones the “douga,” a potent chant reserved for celebrated men. Laye’s father, symbolizing his profession with a hammer in his right hand and holding a ram’s horn filled with magic substances in his left, dances in jubilation. Workers, apprentices, friends, and customers congratulate him in succession, extending compliments to the intermediary. Traditional civility is observed as Laye’s father offers kola nuts.

This chapter is significant in that it points out how gold-smelting and trinket-making process emerges as a pivotal childhood memory for the author. His father’s goldsmithing profession no doubt has a firm hold on his perception of the world. The presence of a small black snake throughout goldsmithing rituals underscores the supernatural aspect of this craft. These processes explain where the author’s belief in the supernatural stems from.

ReadPlot Summary of Camara Laye’s “The African Child”

Chapter Three Summary

Chapter Three of Camara Laye’s The African Child recounts the author’s visits to Tindican. It narrates the Laye’s journey from Kouroussa to Tindican with his young uncle, his reception at Tindican, and his typical day in Tindican.

The trek to Tindican symbolizes the transition from city to village life, marked by physical and natural changes. Laye’s maternal grandmother and uncles reside in Tindican. Laye’s youngest uncle fetches him for the trek which lasts four hours due to their leisurely pace. Along the way, they engage in entertaining activities such as startling animals and birds, resting under shady trees, and sharing farm news and exciting fables.

Upon reaching Tindican, Laye’s grandmother welcomes them at the village’s outskirts, and Laye joyfully rushes to her. She lifts him, embraces him, and checks if he’s well-fed, after which they proceed to the village. Village women enthusiastically greet Laye, treating him with great affection. Laye undergoes a warm bath with black soap at a designated wash-place, making him gleam and feel refreshed.

He joins his playmates in chasing away birds from the crops, a duty that feels more like a pleasure. Laye’s city attire garners the admiration of the village peers. But he envies the freedom of movement allowed by his rural friends’ loin-cloths. Laye’s clothes often get dirty and torn, but his grandmother mends and cleans them without complaint.

Uncle Lansana returns from work in the fields, and the evening meal is a grand celebration with abundant food, including meat, rice, chicken, and offerings from excited neighbors. Laye’s friends eagerly help with eating but can hardly finish the feast. After the meal, children gather around the fire for discussions and storytelling. Occasionally, the rare sound of a tom-tom adds a special touch to the evening in Tindican. This is how Laye’s eventful first day goes in Tindican.

His visits to Tindican provide Laye with a valuable glimpse into rural life within his country. Laye often enjoys abundant and hearty meals during these visits. Even if he arrives at Tindican appearing frail, he invariably leaves ten days later “as plump as a partridge and bursting with health.”

These trips also afford Laye the opportunity to bask in the care and affection of his maternal grandmother and uncles. They go out of their way to ensure that he feels entirely at home during his stays. Laye cherishes these moments, and eagerly anticipates each visit.

Chapter Four Summary

Chapter Four of Camara Laye’s The African Child unfolds the vibrant scene of rice-harvesting in Tindican. In Laye’s country, December marks the dry season and rice harvesting. This occasion coincides with his visits to Tindican.

On the designated day, each family’s head rises at dawn to cut the first swath in their fields, accompanied by the sound of a tom-tom, signifying the harvest’s commencement. Reapers then set out, marching to the tom-tom’s rhythm. Energetic young men playfully toss their glittering sickles into the air, catching them as they fall and dancing to the beat. Laye’s grandmother’s counsels them to maintain a safe distance.

When they reach the first harvest-field, the men line up at the edge, their torsos bare to the loins, sickles at the ready. Someone like Uncle Lansana calls everyone to work, and the reaping begins. Sickles rise and fall with remarkable speed and precision.

Each sheaf is meticulously prepared, with stalks stripped of leaves, trimmed to an even length, and neatly piled. This careful process prevents the ears from losing their precious grains. Laye often assists with this step, while the tying of sheaves remains the job of the men. He is also permitted to help stack the tied sheaves in the central pile.

As the day progresses and the heat intensifies, Laye’s uncle, like many others, takes a refreshing break with the cool water he brought. His uncle’s sickle moves so swiftly that he often outpaces the other harvesters.

At midday, the harvesters have their break as women bearing hot plates of couscous leave their huts and gather in a single file at the field. Work stops for a two-hour respite and nourishment. The afternoon session begins at two o’clock and concludes by five o’clock, culminating in the complete harvest of the vast field.

The harvesters then return to the village in a spirited procession, singing the Song of the Rice at the top of their voices, led by the tireless tom-tom player.

The rice-harvesting festival vividly portrays the richness and vitality of rural life and culture in Guinea. This celebration serves as a valuable source of insight for the author into the intricacies of traditional life in rural Guinea. It starkly contrasts with the urban life represented by Kouroussa.

ReadCharacterisation in Camara Laye’s “The African Child”

Chapter Five Summary

Chapter Five of Camara Laye’s The African Child shows the strict observance of table manners in Laye’s household, with particular emphasis on his mother’s role in enforcing these rules. The rules themselves are outlined below:

  1. Guests older than oneself must not be looked at directly.
  2. Talking during meals is strictly prohibited; complete focus on the food is expected.
  3. Maintaining cleanliness is a paramount requirement during mealtime.
  4. Children are not permitted to help themselves to the meat in the center of the dish. They can only take from the portion directly in front of them. Laye’s father would provide more if a child appeared to need it, but any other behaviour would be disapproved of and swiftly corrected.
  5. After finishing the meal, children are expected to express gratitude. They say, “Thank you, Father,” then bow to their mother and say, “The meal was good, Mother.” Apprentices follow suit, thanking the master, and the parents reciprocate with their thanks.

Laye notes that while his father would have been offended to witness any breach of these rules, it was his mother, with her quick temper, who was prompt in reprimanding any transgressions. His father’s attention was often focused on his work, and he entrusted the enforcement of these customs to his wife.

The chapter provides clear evidence of the rigorous domestic discipline that governs the upbringing of the author and his siblings. These rules apply equally to the children and the apprentices in the household. The strict adherence to table manners depicted in this chapter represents an essential aspect of African tradition. It showcases the cultural significance placed on proper conduct during meals and further emphasizes the importance of etiquette and respect within the family unit.

ReadThemes in Camara Laye’s “The African Child”

Chapter Six Summary

Chapter Six of Camara Laye’s The African Child narrates Laye’s school life experiences in Kouroussa. It offers insight into the hardships endured by the students and the punishments administered by teachers. He describes these as “the black side of our school life.”

Laye reveals the various forms of punishment inflicted upon students at school. Second-year pupils are tasked with sweeping the vast schoolyard, often strewn with guava tree leaves. Third and fourth-year students are assigned to work in the kitchen garden. However, the most challenging punishments are reserved for fifth and sixth-year students, who must tend to the school’s herd of unruly cattle. These cows, intentionally chosen for their difficult nature, require attentive care and feeding.

The author also intimates his readers on the mistreatment suffered by younger students at the hands of their older peers. These older students subject the younger ones to various forms of torment to bolster their own sense of superiority and importance. They often exploit younger children to perform arduous tasks, such as cleaning the schoolyard after the guava trees have shed their leaves. In some instances, bribery in the form of food or money becomes a means for younger pupils to mitigate the abuse.

In spite of the abuse they endure from the older students, younger students typically refrain from reporting these incidents to their parents. However, Laye recounts two instances of parental intervention. The first involves Kouyate Karamoko, who bravely reports his maltreatment by an older boy. In response, Kouyate’s father subjects the offender to a severe whipping. The second instance centers on Laye himself, as he threatens to withdraw from school due to the relentless bullying. Laye’s father takes matters into his own hands, and confronts the bully and subsequently the headmaster. An altercation between Laye’s father and the headmaster ensues, leading to the headmaster’s resignation following a petition by parents. Consequently, the era of bullying by older students comes to an end.

This chapter provides an account of the challenges faced by Laye and his fellow students, highlighting the abuse they endure and the eventual resolution of the bullying issue through parental intervention and the headmaster’s resignation.

The encounter between Laye’s father and the headmaster sheds light on Laye’s father’s character. Contrary to prior perceptions of him as gentle and timid, this incident reveals his ability to confront aggression. His impressive wrestling skills leave a lasting impression on the headmaster and emphasize Laye’s father’s toughness. This is mirrored in Kouyate’s father too, who proves to be equally resilient.

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