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The Jungo, Abdel Aziz Baraka Sakin (2015)

A translation by Karen Ferreira-Meyers of Gangoueus' article on the novel The Jungo by Sudanese writer Baraka Sakin

A translation by Karen Ferreira-Meyers of Gangoueus' article on the novel The Jungo by Sudanese writer Baraka Sakin

The Jango, Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin
Editions Zulma, 2020
Translated from Arabic by Xavier Luffin

I have a strong affection for Sudanese author AbdelAziz Baraka Sakin. There are a only a few authors like him for whom I practically run to the bookshop to get hold of their new releases. Writing this column six months after the release of his latest novel shows you how painful 2020 has been for me as a reader. I really struggle to read novels.

However, Baraka Sakin has probably reconciled me with this genre. He is undoubtably very talented. In Les Jango, the Sudanese writer once again takes us to the margins of Sudanese society. The context is less brutal than that of his previous novel on the war in Darfur which was translated into French (Le messie du Darfour, Zulma, 2016). Nevertheless, there is violence. And there is love. At the start of the novel, Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin introduces a group of characters, without us knowing what links them. First, there is Wad Amouna (which literally means “son of Amouna), a young boy who spent time with his mother in Gadaref prison. He grew up there. In this unique world, he tries to survive, protecting himself as best he can from ferocious predators. In an equally unique manner, Sakin tells the story of Amouna and other women; he immerses us in these trajectories where the endings are not necessarily the ones we imagine. No blood crimes necessarily, but also honour-related issues. This is the first margin that Sakin allows us to explore: the Gadaref prison. The narrator is the son of a prison guard. This is the basis of his relationship with Wad Amouna, the son of a female prisoner. We follow this friendship throughout the novel.

Second Margin: The Jungo

The second space that Baraka Sakin allows us to visit through the long introduction of his characters is Addaï’s house. In a European context, this would be a brothel. Over there, the house is rather open. The Jango do not hide when they party. The narrator regularly visits this place. He has ties there. Addaï, Alam Gishi, Safia… Mokhtar Ali… The Jango frequent these places. But who are they? The most accurate term to describe a Jangojarray might be a tenant farmer. But we need to take a closer look at the status of the Jango and the contractual aspects of their activity. To put it simply, they are seasonal agricultural workers. They are characters in their own right. The Jango are hard-working and productive. They have a perfect command of their knowledge of the land. But they do not own the land. We will return to this aspect of the novel later. While the Jango love to work, they also know how to party. And party hard until they run out of food. It is from this vantage point that the narrator speaks.

Structure and language

This text has a complex structure. The chapters are not necessarily long; in the first part they are centred on character descriptions. The text works like a jigsaw puzzle. So at first you do not understand what is going on. The text jumps from one thing to another. But then the reader ends up with an overview that makes it easier to read, as the events, the characters’ backgrounds and developments become clearer. The writer anchors the atmosphere of Al-Hilla in the reader’s mind. Another element that challenges the reader and requires an effort on his or her part is the use of Sudanese expressions. I will not say they are Arabic, because I am not sure that all these expressions come from Arabic only. The reader will surely remember certain terms like faloul (bandit) or marissa (the type of beer the Jango love drinking). This language imposed on the reader helps to build his or her imagination. Finally, it is important to understand that this is a novel that takes place over a long period of time, so the reader sees the characters grow and evolve, each with interesting or unfortunate stories to tell.

Discourse of Jack Tawila, secondary character: When a preacher wants to standardise behaviour in prisons:

« He also spoke of the suffering that awaited the miscreant, a category that included communists, Shiites, Christians, Jews, animists, Americans, those who fuck their wives and their wives’ sisters, paedophiles, homosexuals – passive and active -, magicians, those who turn away from prayer, Wahhabis, pigs, zaqqoum, those who eat pork and zaqqoum, those who murder, and finally those who monopolise the inheritance of orphans ». Les Jango, Ed. Zulma. Ch. Les événements de la veille (The events of the previous night). p. 10

On love in literature

The greatest strength of this novel is the love that Baraka Sakin devotes to his characters. I do not know how he does it. But having met him, I can say that Baraka Sakin is empathetic and warm. This approach was already evident in his novel Le Messie du Darfour. His treatment of queer characters excludes any form of judgement and conjures up disconcerting forms of narration, as in the example of the incredible discovery of an intersex person. In this case, the retelling of the intimate encounter borrows from storytelling before turning into gossip. Prostitution, which is at the heart of the novel, is approached from the angle of gentleness and the possibility of an elsewhere. I was moved by the treatment of certain characters, for example, the foreign woman, Alam Gishi, from Ethiopia. The novel also deals with the movement of people, migrants if that term has any meaning in East Africa, between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan… Love, too, is omnipresent, in the bond between the Jango. You might think of them as « babacool », the Sudanese version of hippies. Sensitive to the misery of his people, Abdelaziz Baraka Sakin is a committed writer of revolt against social injustice. I am thus not surprised that his texts are censored in his country.

What the narrator has to say about Alam Gishi

« She said that Wad Amouna was the only man in the house, the women’s right-hand man. As she was giving me a detailed report on the situation, she told me all the secrets of the place. She must have been in her late thirties and looked experienced in all areas. Like all beautiful and mysterious women, her face concealed joys and sorrows, and sometimes revealed them all at the same time ». Les Jango, Ed. Zulma. Ch. Une femme nommée  Alam Gishi (A woman named Alam Gishi). p. 10

Original article of Gangoueus


Karen Ferreira-Meyers


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