When Black Men's Teeth Speak Out - Yambo Ouologuem

When Black Men's Teeth Speak Out - Photographic Portrait of Yambo Ouologuem
Photographic Portrait of Yambo Ouologuem

The poem When Black Men’s Teeth Speak Out by Yambo Ouologuem is included in the poetry anthology entitled The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry, edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier – a collection which was released by Penguin publishing house, in 1984.

Yambo Ouologuem (August 22, 1940 – October 14, 2017), a member of Dogon ethnic group, from Mali of West Africa, has been one of the most important writers of the 20th century. During his stay in France, he wrote only three books and these in the French language:

  • The amazing novel Le Devoir de Violence (English title: Bound to Violence, 1968)
  • The charming provocative Lettre à la France Nègre (1969)
  • And the pornographic masterpiece Les Mille et Une Bibles du Sexe (1969)

He received the Prix Renaudot for his book Le Devoir de Violence, becoming the first black writer to win this French prize.

In this fiction book, which covers a period from the 13th century to the end of Colonialism, Yambo Ouologuem in turn deconstructs African Emperors, Islamic Monarchs, European Colonists, and the widespread ideology of his time, the Négritude.

In relation to his poetic work, this remains scattered, as there has not been a consolidated version of all his poems to date.

Yambo Ouologuem left France in the mid-1970s and returned to his hometown.

He did not write anything again – reminiscent of Rembo here – and lived until his death as a faithful Muslim.

A Muslim whose own Islam had nothing to do with the Islamic regime of those barbarians, who banned the music in Mali, smashed the tombs of saints in Timbuktu, and destroyed the homonym Manuscripts.

Yambo Ouologuem - When Black Men's Teeth Speak Out

People think I’m a cannibal
But you know how people talk

People see that I have red gums
But then who has white ones
Hurrah for tomatoes

People say that there aren’t as many tourists coming nowadays
But you know we aren’t in America
And nobody has much cash

People think it’s all my fault and that they’re afraid of my teeth
But look my teeth are white not red
I’ve never eaten anybody

People are pretty nasty and they ‘say I gobble up tourists
Boiled alive
Or maybe grilled
So I said which is it grilled or boiled
Then they shut up and took an uneasy look at my gums
Hurrah for tomatoes

Everyone knows that they grow things in a farming community
Hurrah for vegetables
Everyone says that no farmer can live off his vegetables
And that I’m a pretty husky guy for someone so under-developed
A no good lowlife who lives on tourists
Down with my teeth

So all of a sudden I was surrounded
Tied up
Thrown to the ground at the feet of justice

Cannibal or not a cannibal
Yes or no
Ha ha you think you’re pretty clever
Playing high and mighty

Well we’ll see about that I’ll settle your hash
You’re sentenced to death poor thing
What are your last words

I yelled hurrah for tomatoes

People are no good and women are a pretty inquisitive bunch
There happened to be one on the curious crowd
Who yapped with a voice like a leper’s rattle
And the gurgle of a leaky pot
Open his stomach
I’m sure that daddy is still inside

With no knives around
Which is understandable for vegetarians of the Western world
Somebody grabbed a Gillette blad
And very patiently

They opened my belly

And there they found a tomato field in bloom
Washed by streams flowing with palm-tree wine
Hurrah for tomatoes

Translation: Moore G. & Beier U.

Poem from the collection The Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry (2007)

Christopher Wise Interview Regarding Yambo Ouologuem

Ouologuem's decision to return to Mali and wash his hands of writing in French … an incalculable loss to world literature.
Christopher Wise
Cultural Theorist & Literary Critic
When Black Men's Teeth Speak Out - Photographic Portrait of Yambo Ouologuem
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Christopher Wise’s interview was given at the studio of the Africa No 1 Radio in Paris on February 27, 2019, on the occasion of his essay ‘A la recherche de Yambo Ouologuem‘.

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