Posted in Writings/Literature

The African Child by Camara Laye

My father’s copy

The African child is an autobiographical story by the Guinean author Camara Laye. It details his life as a child in the Malinke tribe, his transition to manhood and furthering his education. The African Child portrays the African culture in its true form, without trying to exalt or diminish it. It is a book most Africans can relate with, like the sacred position of the black snake in his family is like the python which is found today in some parts of Igboland. He wrote the African Child while unhappy and lonely in a strange and new culture which he found in France. Getting the book to read was no small feat. I “borrowed” it from my father’s library and returned it but he found out I took it. My father loves his books, especially the classics. The book was originally written in French in 1954 but was translated by the English poet James Kirkup and published by Fontana books.

Camara Laye was born in Kouroussa, Guinea in 1924. His father was a blacksmith with lots of apprentices. When he wanted to forge gold for mostly his female customers, a go-between to sing his praises. In his homeland, women were given fundamental independence and respected, his mother, in particular, had authoritative attitudes. His mother has somewhat magical powers which came from her being a Sayon (child born after twins). She inherited her father’s totem (a crocodile) which allowed her to draw water from the Niger with impunity. He spent time with his mother’s family at Tindican, especially in December.

He started school early, starting with a Moslem school before going to a French school. His school was mostly fun except extra lessons on Sundays and avoiding the “big boys” or bribing them. His first crush was a girl in school Fanta He joined a group of uncircumcised boys between twelve to fourteen, to be initiated into manhood and meet Konden Diara. At the end of the initiation, they become circumcised and become men.

He left Kouroussa for Conakry when he was fifteen to pursue a course of technical studies at Ecole Georges-Poiret which is now known as the Technical College, he was escorted to the park by many people and praise singers including Fanta. He stayed with his father’s brother Mamadou. Mamadou had two wives Awa and N’Gady and they took him as their son. He had a crush on Marie, a biracial girl who visited him a lot. As with Fanta, he never voiced his feelings to her. He always went to Kouroussa for his long break, there he became closer with Check Omar a former classmate of his who died while he was spending his holiday at Kouroussa.

He was given a scholarship to study engineering in Argenteuil, France, his mother was reluctant about him going so far away. His travelling was however arranged and he was escorted when leaving Kouroussa for Conakry, by his father (who cried), his siblings. He was escorted to the airport by his uncles and Marie. Marie, however, escorted him to Dakar where she was to continue her studies. His plane was to land at Orly, before taking a train to Paris and finally Argenteuil.

I don’t if the book will be easy to find in most bookshops but it can be ordered online.


I'm OnyinyeOlufunmi, a visual artist, writer and psychologist from Lagos, Nigeria.

6 thoughts on “The African Child by Camara Laye

  1. Unfortunately, the pair eventually divorced, few years shy of his death. A sad love story. Read more about them by clicking on my name on Marie's profile.


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