Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
French and Francophone World Studies
Anny Dominique Curtius
My thesis examines the figure of the griot in five films of the Senegalese writer and film director, Ousmane Sembène, widely considered to be the "Father of African Cinema." I reevaluate the figure of the griot in Sembène‟s works from the vital place played by history. I focus on the use of the griot by Sembène to rewrite sub-Saharan African history. I compare Sembène‟s representation of history with the modern historical criteria laid out by Paul Ricoeur, Michel de Certeau and Pierre Nora. The central claim of my dissertation is that the griot should be contextualized as a historical figure that interprets memory and influences the perception of the past rather than as a mere literary and cinematic device. Current scholarship on Sembène privileges the Western interpretation of the griot, that is, the narrative aspect-the storyteller-over the more nuanced position the griot traditionally holds in West African societies.
In an oral traditional culture, the griot holds a place of honor and power because of his role as a chronicler, storyteller, educator, advisor, spokesperson, historian, genealogist and guardian of traditions, history and culture. The griot knew the history of the kingdom, its foundation and the various ethnicities and communities which constituted it, as well as the history of each group. As the living receptacle of history, he had the ability to shape and influence the memories of his community, and its perception of the past. The historical aspect of the griot figure provides an unparalleled opportunity to free Sembène works from classical themes such as Marxism, Panafricanism and the father of African cinemas as well as to contribute to the debate between history and memory from a West African perspective. In order to analyze the representation of history through the figure of the griot in Sembene‟s films, I have chosen to study five films of Sembène: Black Girl (1966), Emitai (1971), Ceddo (1977), Guelwaar (1992), and Camp de Thiaroye (1987) which depict distinct periods (pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial) in West African history.
Copyright 2010 Moussa Balla Fall
Fall, Moussa Balla. "West African colonial and postcolonial history through the figures of the griot in Ousmane Sembene's films." PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2010.