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Literature / Xala

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1973 novel by Senegalese author Ousmane Sembène and 1975 Film of the Book which satirises the corrupt elites of post-colonial Africa by means of a superficially simple comedy about businessman El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, who marries for the third time only to find that he has become impotent. Believing that he has been cursed with a "xala" (pronounced "hala"), he becomes obsessed with finding a cure for his ailment, failing to notice that his modest commercial empire is falling to pieces.


This work contains the following tropes:

  • Added Alliterative Appeal: Adja Awa Astou
  • Arranged Marriage: At the beginning, between El Hadji and N'Goné.
  • Bilingual Dialogue: A few characters frequently switch between French and Wolof, and in particular, Rama refuses to speak French, leading to these exchanges whenever she interacts with someone in an official capacity, or with her Francophile father.
  • Bratty Teenage Son: Mactar. His sister Mariem is a Bratty Half-Pint.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Rama does so several times, including her first scene, when on the day of her father's third wedding, she is firm in her opposition, and even says to his face, "Every polygamous man is a liar."
  • Female Misogynist: Yay Bineta
  • Go-Getter Girl: Rama, the politically active feminist university student who represents the future for modern Senegalese women, in contrast to her disempowered and marginalised female relatives. She frequently serves as Sembène's mouthpiece.
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  • Grande Dame: Adja Awa Astou is of the "mature Proper Lady" sub-type, but this bearing has not served her well - as the first and eldest wife of a polygamist, she is often neglected, but she resolves to suffer in silence, with dignity.
  • Gratuitous French: Invoked. A certain amount of conflict in the story stems from the ubiquity of French as the official language of Senegal (hence the language of education, commerce, and the upper classes), in contrast to the national language of Wolof. Rama, for example, consistently refuses to speak French, while her father is reluctant to express himself in Wolof.
  • Heel Realization: El Hadji, once he is expelled from the Chamber of Commerce.
  • Henpecked Husband: El Hadji again, when he interacts with his second wife, Oumi.
  • Hurricane of Euphemisms: Reading the original novel is a great way to acquire a repertoire of French double entendres.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight
  • Marital Rape License: El Hadji attempts several times to consummate his marriage, and never seems too concerned about the fact that N'Goné, his 19-year-old bride, is at best extremely nervous, and likely unwilling. The trope is also invoked when Yay Bineta tells her niece to "Be obedient and submissive" on her wedding night.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. When El Hadji's xala is finally removed, N'Goné's period still prevents him from consummating his marriage.
  • Nouveau Riche: Most of the main characters are upper middle-class city dwellers.
  • Sassy Black Woman: Oumi, albeit more so in the film adaptation.
  • Spiteful Spit: Taken Up to Eleven in the climax.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist
  • Won the War, Lost the Peace: The central theme of the novel is the utter failure of inept and corrupt post-colonial African governments to improve the lot of ordinary people, despite the success of the independence movements.