Book Reviews

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

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Daniel Mengara’s Mema is ostensibly the tale of a boy’s bond with his mother, from whom he is taken by family members after the passing of his father and two sisters. It is also the tale of the colonial experience of being removed from one’s mother, home, and community; being raised as a person of inferior rank and receiving an education in a foreign environment; adjusting and thriving; returning home; and, in this instance, being sent away once more.

(In other colonial stories, the hero returns only to find that he is unable to reintegrate and that his education does not assist but rather alienates him.) The analogy of the colonial experience is flattened into the literal experience of a young child plunged into the incomprehensible world, adjured to remember his mother and origins, because this narrator is actually sent away once more by his mother to learn the ways of the white man.

Though understated, this is more dramatic because he must be kept apart from his society in order to be protected from evil spirits. Compared to town or city life, Mengara depicts country life more skillfully and in more richness, which may mirror the feelings linked with each.

This novel tells the story of a woman named Mema who struggles to raise her children alone after her husband dies. Mema is a strong and independent woman, but she is also vulnerable to prejudice and discrimination. The novel explores themes such as the power of women, the importance of family and the role of religion in society. Mema was born in a small village in Gabon. He was a stubborn and rebellious child, and he was often at odds with his father. When Mema was 18 years old, she married a man named Ndoumbe. Ndoumbe was a kind and loving man, but he was also sickly. Several years after their marriage, Ndoumbe passed away.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

After Ndoumbe’s death, Mema was left to raise their four children alone. She works hard to provide for her children, but she is often rejected by society because of her status as a widow. Mema also had to deal with prejudice from her husband’s family, which blamed her for Ndoumbe’s death. Despite facing many difficulties, Mema remains strong and steadfast. She raised her children well, and she managed to build a new life for herself. Mema is a strong and inspirational woman, and she is an example for all women who strive to make their dreams come true.

The narrator of Mema begins by recalling: “My mother was a powerful woman. She comes to mind. I can recall everything. I recall her words, her tale, her life, her suffering, and both her joys and sorrows. Everything seems to have happened yesterday in my memory. This establishes right away the significant influence a mother has on a child throughout his or her entire life. Mema is a first-person, contemplative book.

It centers on a young boy reflecting about his youth and his community, as well as any potential changes. But the book is much than just a young boy’s memories and views. Through this reflections and recollections, Elang Sima – the narrator, tells of how his mother whom he referred to only as Mema remained strong – physically and emotionally in all her decisions, refusing to succumb to traditional roles and societal pressures.

Mema is renowned for being resilient, brave, and strong. She tends to assume all the macho roles in her home, caring nothing for what people might think of her. In place of her husband, she attended all medzo and spoke fluently in traditional dialect, interspersing her innuendo speeches with proverbs and adages. She received equal amounts of love and contempt due to these qualities. She was a witch, in the opinion of the latter group, her detractors.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

It baffled me how a lady could practically beat her husband. Then, when her husband becomes dangerously ill, she decides to send him to the one spot left unexplored the Mimbiri camp after exhausting all of her options and taking him to every place she knows. She received physical and diplomatic advice not to send her spouse to the mimbiri camp because they are wicked. Mema takes her husband to this location knowing full well that he would never return. She pays little attention to the constant calls and uses a machete to kill everybody who is in her path. Both of Mema’s daughters passed away a day after her husband did.

She was called a witch and treated with silent malice as a result of the confluence of circumstances because no one was brave enough to confront her. The remaining chapters of the novel describe how Mema made the decision to safeguard this particular narrator, Elang Sima, by ensuring that he receives the “white man’s education” in order for him to one day become important, much like Osuga Zame, the oldest son and child of Mema’s husband’s sister, who was fighting Mema for custody of her uncle’s children.

The narrator frequently repeats key points to emphasize his point and gives the impression that he is assuring himself that what he has remembered her mother accurate. Furthermore, despite the book short size (122), the repetition had no impact. These pages include a wealth of information as we learn about the structure of the village court and how language is crucial in these settings. The conventional method of marital contracting was also highlighted by the narrator. The reader can therefore conclude that changes are occurring within the community in light of this context. The story’s opening is a little misleading and deviates from the primary plot.

Daniel Mengara first gave the narrator the opportunity to introduce his village and its inhabitants. Considering that the Fulassi are “white people, just like the Dzaman and the Nguess,” they fought for them. Dzaman would be the German people, Nguess would be the English people, and Fulassi would be the French people, if one is familiar with the local tongue. We learn how the Ngabone won their freedom following the major war in a few short paragraphs. However, Mengara created a narrative tapestry that serves as an illustration of how he described how his people by writing in this style, a number of seemingly unrelated stories within the larger story.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Themes in Daniel Mengara’s Mema

1. War of the sexes in Daniel Mengara’s Mema

The conflict between the sexes or genders depiction over the course of the year is not just about the author’s viewpoint; rather, it is a very evident reflection of the society he or she belongs to at a particular period. Literature serves as a window into societal customs and practices, particularly those that privilege one gender over the other. It should be clear from the onset that the subsequent discussion is centred mainly on the gendered representations of the female protagonist, Mema (Ntsame Minlame) and her husband, Pepa (Sima Okang).

But, the discussion briefly touches on other gendered characters (named or nameless) as they relate to Mema or Pepa. Mema, the female protagonist in the fiction is described as strong, spiritual, powerful, manly, independent and aggressive. She is intelligent, stubborn, enduring, arrogant, undiplomatic and indiscreet. She is also imposing, convincing and open-minded. The first lines in the opening of the novel read thus:

“I remember. I remember Mema. Mother. My mother. My mother was a strong woman”  “Mema’s strength is increasingly enforced through time: “It is the nature of things that years should take their toll. But the years did not vanquish Mema, because Mema was strong, a strong woman indeed” (1, 4).

This depiction denotes an absolutely unfailing strength, the kind of strength that transcends idealized time. Mema’s strength actually instills a fear that pervades her hut and even the whole village (Otongwaku). She is feared by everybody, including her husband. When Mema is angry, her strong voice echoes and this frightens both males and females: “She [Mema] had the kind of strong voice that could be heard from one village corner to the other.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

When that voice started to talk, it sounded very frightful to both males and females” (6) Besides, Mema’s strength is buttressed by her deep roots in spirituality: (my mother), that mother of mine was herself a strong believer in things that should not be profaned, in things that should go unquestioned because they were truths that were self-evident and manifest in our surroundings.

She was very deeply rooted in the belief that things always happened for a reason, and that there would always be truths beyond the perception and grasp of humans (32). It is obvious in the quote above that Mema believes in God, a supernatural power and spiritual things that transcend the grasp of human beings. Her role as a strong believer denotes that she is not a carnal person. In fact, she is represented as an embodiment of moral and spiritual values. This role confers a certain power and intelligence on her.

Because of this, she obviously becomes fearless, bold and intelligent. Mema also had a large mouth and when I say she had a big mouth, I truly mean it. Not physically speaking. However, in terms of what she said and how she expressed it. Mema always had this secret belief that she was the smartest person in the planet. It was difficult to prevail in a discussion with her. She always sought to persuade others that she was correct. However, she was never quickly persuaded (4).

In contrast to Mema, Pepa is portrayed in the book as weak/impotent, carnal, helpless, womanly, dependent, and peaceful. He supports peace as well. When the narrator is still a very little child, Pepa passes away from an unidentified illness. As a result, the narrator’s recollection of his presence is hazy. The narrator only knows what his mother and other people have told him about Pepa; they have said that he was a very quiet and peaceful man who lacked any genuine authority in our home.

Her detractors claimed that my mother had a strong hand and a loud mouth and controlled everything in the hut. I was informed that Pepa’s own home had transformed him into a simple woman. He had devolved into a wasteland, a tom-tom without sound. A lion with shattered legs that was unable to spring and pounce. He was perceived as being so intimidated and perplexed by the authority that his wife exercised both inside and outside of the hut that he was never able to raise his voice above hers (32). Think on Pepa’s involvement in the excerpt above. This line makes it clear that Pepa is a subdued man who lacks the traditional ideas of masculinity. The way Pepa is acting here is not at all normal.

His wife, Mema, manages to control him: “My mother had turned my father into a mere empty calabash using witchcraft” (33). Mema controls her husband’s will and manhood by using the mysterious power known as witchcraft to undo her husband’s maleness. Mema actually conceals this social custom from the general public. She takes advantage of every chance to show that she is in charge without wasting any time. For instance, it is believed that only men attend the medzo (meeting or gathering) in the village where important matters pertaining to village life are discussed, yet Mema frequently goes with her husband to such gatherings where she takes every opportunity to speak out loud. She also goes to the village’s mud-walled chapel.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

She will impose her presence on everyone there, including the local catechist. When the catechist’s sermons are tedious and insufficiently accurate, Mema will take the pulpit, take over, and deliver a sermon persuasively utilizing real-world examples from her people’s everyday lives (34). This leads us to conclude that Mema is a perfect representation of the culture, history, lore, traditions, mores, and customs of her people. She has a habit of taking notes about everything that happens around her, and she has little trouble passing on her wisdom and experience to her offspring.

For instance, Mema in the book tells her son Elang Sima about her experiences during the Second World War (1939–1945): “My mother used to tell me that white people are really strange people.” She believed they were insane. They might decide to start a war when they suddenly awaken one day […]. This is how the Dzaman and the Fulassi, who ruled over our country, first engaged in a protracted conflict (2). The fact that Mema uses terms like “Fulassi” for “French” and “Dzaman” for “German” in the excerpt above suggests that she is not properly educated. She is, nevertheless, undeniably incredibly brilliant.

The paragraph above also demonstrates Mema’s mono-parental status; she raises and educates her children by herself, assuming the roles of both a mother and a father. Mema negotiates a transgendered identity for herself in this way. She also provides a loving home for her ailing spouse. Mema does not desert her spouse when he contracts a rare ailment. Since my father spent the majority of his later years moving from one Nguegan to another, she truly stands by his side to take care of him and equally shares in his lot.

The sufferings of my mother began when she started to spend most of her time taking her husband to various medicine men and women of our area. She had elected to try all sorts of medicines. But neither the witchdoctors nor their medicines cured my father (37)

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

It is evident from the text above that no treatment in the country of Otongwaku has been able to heal Pepa’s peculiar illness. This prompts Mema to bravely resolve to accompany him to the village of Okom, where a terrifying witchcraft known as Mimbiri is practiced. Her husband’s family immediately opposes this proposal and sends Mema a delegation to convince her not to bring their son to Okom out of pure dread of the Mimbiri witchcraft.

They also point out the white priest’s caution that “the Mimbiri is an evil medicine, and that because it is evil medicine, he will exclude from his church all the people who go and seek a cure from Mimbiri doctors” (38) as they attempt to communicate to Mema the harmful nature of Mimbiri rites. Nevertheless, the narrator observes that “My mother did not yield” (37). Mema obviously disregards advice from others and travels with her husband to the mimbiri camp. Mema’s action, it must be said, oozes love. Despite the fact that Mema terrified her partner or spouse, she adores him: “She [Mema] loved him [Pepa] greatly… The only reason she had fought with him was to ensure that their relationship was one of love rather than formality” (62)

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Akoure Okang, Mema’s sister-in-law, marches with a force of thirty women to fight Mema after learning that her younger brother, Sima Okang, has been taken to Okom. All the women are dispersed by Mema using her machete (47–48). After this episode, nobody dared to forbid Mema from seeing the mimbiri physician for treatment. Sima Okang, Pepa, is to be prepared and sent by the mimbiri doctor “to the world of the dead to ask for a cure” (49). The doctor gives Sima Okang a warning not to ever eat anything handed to him by the deceased.

But he disregards this advice. The food that his deceased mother offers him is accepted, and he consumes it. His life is ended by this action. This portrayal makes it abundantly evident that Pepa is carnal, shallow, and greedy. Mema’s two daughters become unwell and pass away the next day in a mysterious manner while she is still grieving over her husband’s passing and preparing to return the body to the village for burial. Mema now has three dead bodies hanging around her neck. What a horrible fate awaits her! Mema attributes her fate to her husband’s family. Her husband’s family also holds her responsible for the passing of their son and grandchildren. Mema becomes broken, emotionless, and weak in the face of all these accusations.

Vanquished by the circumstances of her life, my mother did not have much more word to say. She felt in a mute silence and never opened her mouth again. The pain had reached the boiling point in her heart and it felt as though her head was going to be shattered into thousands of small pieces. Life itself had become meaningless. She was ready to die. She wanted to rejoin her husband and daughters in the invisible world of the dead. She was sure she would feel no pain in the world of the ancestors. She no longer had the strength to fight.

Mema’s shift from the masculine to feminine can be accounted for by her psychological state at that moment. Mema remains in this context for a limited time (a period of one year or so after the deaths of her husband and daughters). She is woken up from her stupor when her husband’s people come to claim the two remaining children (boys: Owono Sima & Elang Sima). She quickly puts on her masculinity and shows them her machete.

They all flee in panic. That’s how she is able to keep her children with her for some time. On the request of Zula Mebiang, the first child (or son) of Akoure Okang, the one who by tradition has the right and responsibility to look after Mema and her children, a medzo (meeting) is held to decide on the burning issue on ground, the issue is to take the two boys away from Mema. During the meeting, Mema exudes all-female attributes: she is very calm, not frightening at all. She agrees to let Elang Sima (the younger of her two sons) go to Beyok (the big city) with Zula Mebiang.

Mema’s shift from the masculine to feminine can be accounted for by her psychological state at that moment. Mema remains in this context for a limited time (a period of one year or so after the deaths of her husband and daughters). She is woken up from her stupor when her husband’s people come to claim the two remaining children (boys: Owono Sima & Elang Sima).

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

She quickly puts on her masculinity and shows them her machete. They all flee in panic. That’s how she is able to keep her children with her for some time. On the request of Zula Mebiang, the first child (or son) of Akoure Okang, the one who by tradition has the right and responsibility to look after Mema and her children, a medzo (meeting) is held to decide on the burning issue on ground, the issue is to take the two boys away from Mema. During the meeting, Mema exudes all-female attributes: she is very calm, not frightening at all. She agrees to let Elang Sima (the younger of her two sons) go to Beyok (the big city) with Zula Mebiang.

For the first time in a long time, my mother did not speak during a palaver. For the first time, she did not argue with her in-laws. For the first time in a long time, others decide her destiny and the destiny of her children. For the first time in a long time, she did not show anyone her machete. She had simply agreed to let me go to the big city (92)

The reason why the medzo decides that one of Mema’s sons should go to the big city is to keep him far away from the reach of the beyem (witches or wizards) who want to exterminate Mema’s seeds. But, Mema has a hidden agenda; she wants her son to go to the big city and get education. As the homodiegetic narrator emphasizes, she knows that: “With schooling would come power, and with power total protection for her and my elder brother (121)”.

It follows from this to assert that Mema is open-minded; she is open to modernism, and she wants her son to be her emissary in the city. She recalls this a countless number of time to him: “I want you to be my Osuga Zame” (84), Osuga Zame meaning “the protecting force, the shelter” (121). The old English adage that says that we meet to part and part to meet (62) actually holds true here. Both the parting and meeting of the mother and her son are charged with mixed emotions: joy and sorrow.

Five years of parting have brought much change in the lives of both personae. While Elang Sima goes through Beyok to get the white man’s knowledge in school, his mother remarries with a man from another village called Allen. They finally relocate to Allen due to the animosity of Mema’s deceased husband’s family members towards the man, who is also a clansman. When Mema first visits her returning son in Eboman (the village where Akoure Okang gets married), she actually expects Zula Mebiang to see that she is missing her son, but he fails to do so. So, two weeks later, Mema calls for a medzo in Eboman.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

The medzo is meant to put things right. She has come to claim back her son. When she meets Zula’s resistance with much insult and disrespect, this is her reaction that ends the meeting: my mother sprang from her bamboo seat like a famished she-lion. She slapped Zula in the face, causing him to step backward and tumble against his seat. He landed squarely on his buttocks, causing panic among the people who were sitting behind him. “I have had enough!” my mother shouted fiercely. I tell you this right now.

I have had enough. I will not take the disrespect of this man anymore. Ah Zula. Are you forgetting who you are talking to? Are you forgetting that I once cleaned shit from your buttocks? Who gave you the right to talk to me with such disrespect? Did anyone say to you that working in Beyok in the white man’s world gave you the right to come here and insult me? Today, I will show you all that I am Ntsame Minlame. Upon this, my mother turned towards me and called: “Elang!” “Mema”, I responded, trembling.

“Get up and let’s go!” she commanded. I hesitated, not knowing what to do. I was afraid. I looked at her, then looked at my aunt Akoure. Then I remembered that I had to start crying and roll on the floor. My mother was not deceived. She briskly seized my arm, pulling me from the floor towards her. Zula had finally been helped up. He and his mother advanced, intending to pull me away from my mother. “Song!” [“Cemetery!”] Shouted my mother in a chilling voice that froze Zula and his mother on the spot. In her hand had miraculously appeared a machete. The crowd that had gathered inside and outside the kitchen house dispersed in panic (118-119)

The qualitative textual analysis of the gendered representations of men and women in Mema reveals characters with subverted gender roles, attributes or traits. In other words, the gendered identities of these personae do not conform to the patriarchal status quo. While women (Ntsame Minlame or Mema, Akoure Okang, etc.) are depicted in roles, attributes or traits stereotypically meant for men, men are delineated in roles, attributes or traits traditionally destined for women (Sima Okang or Pepa, the village catechist, etc.).

In addition, most (not to say all) of these characters are represented as transgendering. This is to say, these gendered characters swing pendulously from the masculine to feminine. It follows from these findings to note that gendered identities as portrayed in Mema are intricate, and that in most cases the portraiture of both sexes counters the expectations of African culture.

The question that follows suit is: “what implications do the gendered representations of men and women in Mema have for gender in contemporary African society?” The first implication is the creation of a multiple or pluralistic outlet of gendered life in society. That men and women are portrayed in subverted roles, attributes or traits simply serves to disarticulate traditional perceptions and received notions of masculinity and femininity in society. The second implication is women empowerment. It is true that the concept “gender” serves to designate the two sexes: male and female. But the image of one of the two sexes, the female sex precisely, has been debased, demeaned and degraded over time in history.

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

2. The Strength and Resilience of Women: Mema is a strong and independent woman who refuses to conform to traditional gender roles. She is a single mother who raises her children on her own, and she works hard to provide for them. She is also a fierce advocate for her children, and she will do whatever it takes to protect them. When she finally succeeds in having four children, her husband dies in a witchdoctor’s haven, followed by her daughters.

Her in-laws accuse her of being a wicked witch who sacrificed her husband and children to the dark forces. In spite of this Mema’s strength and courage cause her to fight for her sons and her family’s rights. In this story of a practical African society her actions owe nothing to Western feminism and the theme of struggle against colonialism is left behind in favour of a struggle between new and old values. The author demonstrates that a story relating the impact of psychological and social forces on Africans can also focus mainly on conflicts within African society.

3. The Clash between Traditional and Modern Values: Mema lives in a society that is undergoing rapid change. Traditional values are being challenged by new ideas and beliefs, and Mema finds herself caught in the middle. She is a product of her traditional culture, but she is also open to new ideas. This conflict between traditional and modern values is a major theme in the novel. Mema shows a certain inclination for a social world governed by the ideals of matriarchy, this implies de facto that it is mainly concerned with the deconstruction or disarticulation of the ideals of patriarchy.

4. The Importance of Family: Family is the most important thing in Mema’s life. She is fiercely devoted to her children, and she will do anything for them. She also has a strong relationship with her extended family, including her in-laws. Family is a source of strength and support for Mema, and it helps her to overcome the challenges she faces.

5. The Power of Love: Love is a powerful force in Mema’s life. She loves her children deeply, and she is also loved by her husband and her in-laws. Love gives Mema the strength to persevere through difficult times. Mema is also a story about loss, grief, and hope. Mema experiences many hardships in her life, including the death of her husband and children. However, she never gives up hope, and she continues to fight for her family and her future.

Literary Devices in Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Literary devices are narrative techniques that convey information and add texture to a piece of writing. Explore the definition of literary examples and see examples including allusion, diction, epigraph, euphemism, foreshadowing, imagery, metaphor, personification, point-of-view, and structure. Below are some of the literary devices in Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Simile It is a figure of speech with the comparison between things or objects using words like: “as” or “like.

Example:  “Today I will prove to you all that I am as brave as an elephant”. This “mama” makes the statement during her interaction with Ntsame. While Ntsame responded thus; Today, I will show you all that I am Ntsame Minlame. Upon this, my mother turned towards me and called: “Elang!” “Mema”, I responded, trembling. “(24)

Another example is “She is “like” a kind of person who often records everything that goes around her and she does not find it difficult to bequeath her knowledge and experience to her children” (56)

Complete Summary and Analysis of Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Repetition: Repetition is a literary device that involves using the same word or phrase over and over again in a piece of writing or speech. Writers of all kinds use repetition, but it is particularly popular in oration and spoken word, where a listener’s attention might be more limited. The author employs the use of repetition when he keeps on mentioning the nam “mama” as it could be seen thus; “Mema turns down people’s pieces of advice and takes her husband to the mimbiri camp. It must be noted here that Mema’s act exudes love.

Though Mema terrifies her man (or husband), she in fact loves him: “She [Mema] loved him [Pepa] enormously… Her fights with him had just been her own capricious way of making sure the relationship was one of love, not of formality” (62). “Mema, Pepa, Mema’s husband, in the novel, is depicted as weak/impotent, carnal, powerless, womanly, dependent and calm”. From the beginning of the novel to the end, the narrator keeps on mentioning “mama” and “Pepa” which is mentioned about 80 times in the novel.

Metaphor: Metaphor is a comparison between two things that are otherwise unrelated. With metaphor, the qualities of one thing are figuratively carried over to another.

Example:  Unlike Mema, Pepa, Mema’s husband, in the novel, is depicted as weak/impotent, carnal, powerless, womanly, dependent and calm. He is also a pacifist. Pepa dies of an unspecified disease when the narrator is still very young.

Code Mixing: Code-mixing is the mixing of two or more languages or language varieties in speech. Some scholars use the terms “code-mixing” and “code-switching

Example: It should be noted that Mema is not formally educated as indicated by her use of expressions like “Fulassi” for “French”, “Dzaman” for “German” in the passage above. But she is very unquestionably intelligent.

Language and Style in Daniel Mengara’s Mema

Daniel Mengara has written novels that have given prominence to women characters and theme centering on the plight of women and the exploits of the womenfolk in general. He emerges as one of the most accomplished writer of this age. He had established himself in the fore font of the third generation modern novelists. His language and from have few parallels in African literature. In writing Mema, he use first person narrative style which is the use of the first person “I” and “We” this makes the work unique.

The use of flashback was mostly employed by the author and this makes the work to be full of suspense and Uniqueness. Example: “The fact that they fought for the Fulassi people who ‘are white people, just like the Dzaman and the Nguess’” (43). This is a flashback used by the author to tell the past history of the village of the narrator. The use of symbols as „blood‟, meaning, „union‟, „unity‟, „lineage‟, etc., and context-specific lexical terms as „our forefathers‟, meaning „our ancestors‟, „our predecessors‟, „our two villages‟, „our wife‟. 

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