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Beside Lake Tele


Marcellin berates 'the white man'
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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'It all makes just as much sense as your white man's superstitions. What about the fetish you all wear around your neck, your little crosses? What about those beads you all finger in your pockets and mumble spells over, eh? And what about your unspeakable rites? What about your cannibal symbols? Tell me, do you or do you not eat and drink the body and blood of the big white chief of your tribe once every seven days? Just as if it's a proper and reasonable thing to do. Oh no, you've no right to laugh at us, at old Bobe, at Africans, no right at all.' 'I apologise. And anyway, I've told you, I'm not a Christian. I don't believe it. I don't wear a crucifix and I've never said a rosary in my life.' 'Said a rosary', mimicked Marcellin with a yap of laughter himself. 'You have your little words to disguise it all, don't you? For us you say it's a fetish or a juju or a gris-gris, but for you, oh yes, it's very dignified, it's quite different. It's a rosary, is it? It's a crucifix. So that's alright, is it? That makes everything okay.' 'I've told you, I don't believe it.' 'Believe it or not, my friend, it's in your head. I've been thinking about it. I've been thinking about it ever since that night with Doku. You tell me it's normal, you call it a part of your culture, and you think you're perfectly reasonable. You think you're a people of reason and science, that the daylight belongs to the white man and the night to the African? And I agree, you make motorcars and outboards and aeroplanes, and we don't. But what about your three gods in one, your big holy ghost that can go anywhere, your thousands of spirits with wings and with light shining straight out of their heads? What about your evil animal with feet like a goat and a long tail that divides into two at the end? Tell me, why sneer at the African? How is all that superior to Bolo? What's scientific about that? And what about your other god, who became a man and let himself be stuck on a piece of wood and speared so that he could save you all? What could it possibly mean? Where's the sense in it?' 'There is no sense in it. It's a matter of faith.' 'Faith means saying goodbye to reason and science. That's what faith is. When you get faith, you throw the switches, you blow a gasket, you deliberately go soft in the head. It's more comfortable that way.' Marcellin ignored me. 'No wonder we were frightened of the white man when he came here with his guns and killed us, and talked about eating his god all day long. No wonder we thought you were cannibals. And there's another thing: your god who never had a woman. Look, no one could be blacker than me.' He shone the torch on his arm. 'I'm the blackest African I know, and I have the strongest need for sex of anyone I know. It's genetic, it's in the skin. I think about it all the time. All the time. If I don't have a woman every night I get ill. I'm ill now. You should pay me double for making me risk my life for you in these forests with these people, and then you should pay me double again for making me walk all day and then sleep in a tent, all alone without a woman at night. And for months on end. You white men. We don't know how you breed. You have a god born without any sex. And then he never had a woman. And what about the god's mother, in those fetish statues you have everywhere, a woman who'd never had a man, with that idiot smile on her face and a baby in her arms. If that's not just plain silly, if that's not stupid, I don't know what is.'

A fierce drumming began suddenly, fully-fledged, from the far end of the village. Marcellin was silent, then: 'Love your neighbour as yourself', he said, his torch waving wildly off the path and into the cactus hedges to either side of us. 'Love your neighbour as yourself, what hypocrites you are.' His voice rose to its highest pitch, a falsetto shriek of indignation, a real temper. The dog turned and bolted. 'Love your neighbour, and you come here with guns and break up our families and sell us into slavery, husbands and wives and little children, it made no odds to you. You white men burned all the Jews just in a year or two, a mere six million. You say that was a great crime and so it was, but what about us? What about our Holocaust? From the Congo alone, you sold 13 million of us into slavery. What about that? It went on for centuries. For centuries, no man knew if he'd live to see his children grow up, to see his sons learn to hunt, to make new gardens with his son. Tell me, will you, what had we done to deserve it? You white men say sorcery's a great evil, and so it may be, but tell me sometime, what kind of god lets you torture us like that?'

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Congo, Congo Journey

Duration: 5 minutes, 11 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009