New Internationalist

Queen Pokou

Issue 436

By Véronique Tadjo translated from the French by Amy Baram Reid

Ivorian author Véronique Tadjo grounds her novel Queen Pokou firmly in tradition, taking as her subject matter the legend of Queen Abraha Pokou, ancestral founder of the Baoule people in what is today’s Côte d’Ivoire.

As her people desperately flee their enemies, discarding their valuables as they attempt to cross a great river and reach safety, Pokou realizes that she must give up her own most precious possession, sacrificing her infant son for the common good. Her cry ‘Ba-ou-li: the child is dead!’ is adopted as the name of the people. Véronique Tadjo recounts this tale in a straightforward fashion and then revisits the central narrative in a series of overlapping and radically differing scenarios, thereby interrogating the nature of ‘truth’ and exploring the mutability of oral history and received wisdom.

Queen Pokou is a lyrical and deceptively simple tale, beneath whose shimmering surface lies much wisdom regarding love and loss and the ties that bind.

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