Review: The Abandoned Baobab by Ken Bugul
Title: The Abandoned Baobab: The Autobiography of a Senegalese Woman
Author: Bugul, Ken
Length: 159 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography
Publisher / Year: Lawrence Hill Books / 1984
Source: Better World Books
Why I Read It: It was listed somewhere as a recommended book and I purchased it for that reason, forget where it was listed though.
Date Read: 21/02/12
In this autobiography Bugul talks about growing up in Senegal, about moving to Belgium for school, and about her time in Belgium. Through these experiences we see the effects of colonialism in tearing families apart – in Bugul’s case through her alienation with her family as the only girl sent to school. We see also the culture of Europe and Belgium and how she was exoticized and befriended in certain circles solely for the color of her skin. Through the story Bugul tells truthfully of her descent into drugs and prostitution, and of the myriad forms of racism she encountered.
Ken Bugul is a pen name adopted by Marietou M’Baye to tell this story as the publisher feared the book would generate much backlash. Given the honesty and truthfulness of Bugul through the book in discussing drugs, sex, and prostitution, and the fact that the book was published in 1984, I would say this was a smart decision. The book explains that the name is “a Wolof name meaning “the person no one wants”, which is in effect what Bugul struggles with throughout her childhood and early years in Belgium, a feeling of being unwanted and of not fitting in anywhere.
In the introduction Nikki Giovanni talks about the different experiences lived by African Americans who threw off the chains of slavery and of Africans living through colonialism and the ways that certain actions and life events are interpreted differently and have varying meanings, and yet the ways that the stories are still interconnected. The “choice” in the lives of the African woman means that the results of any action will have different emotional consequences than the lack of choices faced by a slave woman in America.
This was a very interesting read that highlighted the negative effects of foreign culture and how colonialism and missionary school systems effectively drew children away from families and communities, leaving them feeling isolated. It also highlights the extent to which people will go to try to find themselves and fit in through life. Bugul’s story should be praised for its honesty and read by all who are interested in history, in Senegal, in life as a woman.