Sunday Times

The Equa­to­rial Guinean novel that de­fied the cen­sor’s order to shut up

- Tiah Beaute­ment @ms_­ti­ah­marie Entertainment · Society · Arts · Feminism · Social Movements · Africa · Spain · Equatorial Guinea · Guinea

Call­ing a novel brave has be­come a cliché; but La Bas­tarda truly is a work of courage. It’s writ­ten by Tri­fo­nia Me­libea Obono, the first Equa­to­rial Guinean woman writer to be trans­lated into English. Yet Africa’s only Span­ish­s­peak­ing coun­try banned the book. “This novel was a scan­dal in my coun­try,” Obono says, via her book’s trans­la­tor, Lawrence Schimel. “It was for­bid­den to dis­cuss its ho­mo­sex­ual con­tent in the me­dia. It had a great suc­cess in Spain and reached Equa­to­rial Guinea on the re­bound. Its suc­cess was such that even though I have writ­ten four nov­els, no­body for­gets La Bas­tarda. It’s the book of re­bel­lion, they say.”

The story fol­lows teenager Okomo. De­fy­ing her ma­ter­nal grand­mother, Okomo at­tempts to locate her bi­o­log­i­cal father, not con­sid­ered her dad in Fang tra­di­tion. Dur­ing her search, she meets her gay un­cle, who has been cast out of the com­mu­nity. Through friends and ac­quain­tances, Okomo finds her­self ques­tion­ing tra­di­tions in vil­lage so­ci­ety and Fang cul­ture. This leads her to rev­e­la­tions about her own sex­u­al­ity, taboo in her so­ci­ety. In one of the story’s most heart-wrench­ing mo­ments, Okomo dis­cov­ers that while her cul­ture has a word for gay men, there isn’t one for women. The teen laments: “If you don’t have a name, you’re in­vis­i­ble, and if you’re in­vis­i­ble, you can’t claim any rights.”

Obono ex­plains: “In Okomo’s tra­di­tion, women are not peo­ple but just prop­erty of men. A woman’s sex­u­al­ity is in the ser­vice of her eth­nic­ity, of re­pro­duc­tion. Okomo, who rep­re­sents wom­an­hood, vindicates the right to be vis­i­ble, to be an ac­tivist, and to en­joy a fun­da­men­tal right: sex­u­al­ity.”

The story came at huge per­sonal cost to the writer. “I al­ready lived openly,” Obono says. “But a book like La Bas­tarda in a closed so­ci­ety pulls you out of the closet on an in­sti­tu­tional level. Rel­a­tives and friends called my mother to tell them her daugh­ter dis­obeyed tra­di­tion and her place as a woman in­side it, writ­ing this filth.”

She con­tin­ues, “I feel alone as a woman who writes about a marginalis­ed group. I feel alone for not be­ing het­eronor­ma­tive. I feel alone be­cause I have light­ish skin and don’t fit into the racial cat­e­gories of my coun­try: black, white, mu­latta. I feel alone for not light­en­ing my skin. I feel alone for not putting on make-up or wear­ing high heels. I feel alone for not be­long­ing to the mas­cu­line gen­der nor the fe­male: I’m a mix of both.

“The mo­ment comes when you de­cide to be your­self, with­out com­plexes or cat­e­gories. And you’re happy. I have friend­ships that don’t aban­don me, books, writ­ing — by lov­ing them so much I keep my­self sane.”

 ??  ?? Tri­fo­nia Me­libea Obono
Tri­fo­nia Me­libea Obono
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