Not-So-Traditional Oral Tradition

In class we talked about how Dog Days creates vignettes of everyday life in Yaounde and how much of the story is told in the “language of the streets.” Unlike in Memory of Love where most main characters are doctors, professors, and nurses, Dog Days brings storytelling back down to the level of the most ordinary people: a bartender, a cigarette vendor, a mother working a fritter stand. Most interestingly, the way in which Dog Days is told is most reflective of traditional oral storytelling in Africa.

Just like Chinua Achebe in Things Fall Apart, Patrice Nganang presents us with a narrative of everyday life that holds an almost omnipotent perspective. And while Achebe described the ins and outs of the village of Umuofia from an unknown distant perspective, Nganang keeps an eye on the whole of Yaounde in the form of our main character, the roaming dog Mboudjak. In this way, the experiences of everyone within the area is able to be told from the high observer standpoint that is so common in traditional African folktales.

Even further, Dog Days’ inclusion of occult stories only reminds us more of Africa’s oral folktales. Just as people told tales through word of mouth, Mboudjak hears the strange rumors surrounding the Yaounde from the mouths of Yaounde residents themselves, relating them back to us, the readers. The stories are strange, ranging from rumors of chautiers that sell human meat to the existence of sorcerers that can steal a man’s genitals just by shaking his hand. In the context of Dog Days, one can see these rumors are created from distress, addressing the social problems in Cameroon, just as oral folktales addressed the social problems in everyday life. As these rumors fly, Mboudjak sees how the dark grip of poverty on the country is forcing people to attack those who succeed, such as the successful restauranteur or the men who shake hands. In a powerless situation, Nganang shows how the oppressed (even a dog) can find power in story.

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Posted on October 30, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I like your comparison of Dog Days to Things Fall Apart. The more I think of it the more I see parallels in the storytelling techniques. Achebe uses a third-person narrator to tell the story which allows him to jump from location to location in the village without any explanation. Nganang does the same thing except Mboudjak is actually in the story. But because he is a dog the scenes are observed as if the narrator is in the third person.

  2. It’s interesting that you use your attention to details to compare this novel with the previous ones. This is by far, for me, the most enjoyable novel I’ve read for this class. Telling a story through the perspective of a dog is not easy, especially when we look at the title ‘Dog Days,’ who even wonders that the story line is about crisis? However, just like you say, the setting of the story in the daily lives of people in Madagascar makes the crisis more makes sense and understandable. To that extent, your explanation regarding rumors in the neighborhood is also interesting. Although culture is not the center of the story line, the authors of Dog Days and Things Fall Apart seem to give the readers some kind of understanding that political issues can’t be separated from culture. To that extent, an African novel does not always have to be revolving around cultural issues. Incorporating and underlining few African cultural aspects within a particular larger political issue does work to attract the readers’ attentions.

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