Houseboy is a Cameroonian novel written by Ferdinand Oyono. The novel was first published in 1956 in French as Une Vie de Boy. Ten years later, it was translated into English as Houseboy by John Reed in 1966.
Houseboy by Ferdinand Oyono is a satirical and critical work that explores the themes of colonialism and the condescending treatment of Africans by the European colonialists in the French West Africa. The novel is written as the diary of Joseph Toundi, the protagonist of the novel, through whose lens the readers get a glimpse of the human mechanics of colonialism.
We have compiled memorable quotes from the classical novel which capture the thematic concerns of the lopsided relationship between French colonialists and their African subjects. These quotes reflect the evolution of Toundi’s character, the clash of cultures, and the impact of colonialism in the novel. They offer insight into human condition in the context of colonial Africa.
This existential question is asked by a Joseph Toundi in his death throes, at the beginning of the novel, after he has barely escaped to Spanish Guinea from the cruelty of the French colonialists.
This extract is a demonstration of the European superior concept of monogamy supplanting and overriding the African polygamy. It also gives a hint of the kind of labour the missionaries put the women, who they convince out of polygamy, to.
Working directly for the white man puts Toundi in a special place among his people. This is the thought of Toundi after the death of Father Gilbert warrants he become the houseboy of the new Commandant.
This is an apt description of the lopsided relationship between the Commandant and Toundi; the colonisers and the colonised.
Toundi subtly compares the maltreatment and abuse he endures from the late Father Gilbert and the Commandant respectively. This indicates the abuse African servants undergo in the hands of their white colonial masters. It doesn’t matter whether the white master is a reverend father or a colonial administrator. This maltreatment can be further taken as a microcosm of the interplay of colonialism and exploitation in Africa.
Ondoua is a drummer made to come from his village by the white agricultural engineer to announce work hours to African labourers. When asked the meaning of his wake-up song by Toundi, he gives the meaning as the foregoing, adding that he can always lie to any white man who asks for the meaning of the song.
More importantly, Ondoua’s song signifies the helplessness of Africans in the hands of Europeans and the matching hatred the natives have for the colonialists.
This statement is made by Akoma, one of the chiefs of Dangan, to Toundi as regards the whereabout of the Commandant. Akoma is the chief of the Sos. His reference to Toundi as the “son of a dog” highlights a general perception of the white men’s servants among the natives. We see a transfer of the man’s hatred from the Commandant to his houseboy.
This excerpt beggars the question: why come to a people whose colour you are so disgusted with?
Toundi describes the feeling that comes from shaking the hand of the newly arrived wife of the master, the Commandant.
This answers the question of who or what Africans were to the European colonialists, a question echoed all through Ferdinand Oyono’s Houseboy.
Here, the narrator lampoons the white colonialists, pitting their cruel actions against the biblical messages they preach.
The Commandant’s servants are discussing. They are baffled by the rather strange and ignominious of the white colonialists. Baklu philosophically draws a contrast between the African world and the European world. This is followed by a question by the cook (much similar to what the narrator jas asked elsewhere in the novel): ‘What are we to these whites?’
This is Toundi’s way of getting back at the Commandant for his intentional and premeditated cruelty.