“I had good reasons for leaving religion. “ Bitter memories still shake Sami Tchak, a 61-year-old sociologist and writer, who has lived in France for thirty-five years with his second wife and two daughters. In his Tem village in Togo, his imam uncle had a nimble boost when, as a kid, he wrote the verses of the Koran imperfectly.
Was this imam credible when he said that at the Last Judgment, only the Arabic language, the language of God, would remain? Shouldn’t God speak all languages? What troubles and dull rebellion in the heart of the young Sami. “The idea of transcendence is a mystery that goes beyond us and does not require submitting to religion and its attempt at domination”, he pleads.
“My father used to beat his wives; although physically diminished – he was lame – he had six. “ Tormented, the teenager hears say that “Philosophy leads to atheism and frees from the chains of religion”. He will make this his common thread: license in philosophy at Lomé, doctorate in sociology at the Sorbonne, before what he describes as “ collapse of thought ” in intellectual France still rustling echoes of Raymond Aron and Jean-Paul Sartre. He continued sociological work – prostitution in Cuba, female sexuality in Africa, etc. – before giving it up in 2001 to turn to fiction.
“My religion is literature”, he advances, full of gratitude for his spiritual father, the Senegalese writer Cheikh Hamidou Kane, and full of admiration for his “son” in writing, the Senegalese Mohamed Mbougar Sarr, winner of the 2021 Goncourt prize with The most secret memory of men.
Sami Tchak was awarded the Black African Literary Grand Prize in 2004 for The Mask Festival (1). But it was at the age of 28 that he published his first novel in Togo, Unfaithful wife. He denounces the social and religious order which legitimizes injustice and the power of men in his native Togo. This story of a rebellious wife in a polygamous household causes a family earthquake. “For my parents who could not read, for my little brothers, I had denied the sacred basis of our identity. Today, my sisters agree, because their freedoms are radically attacked by the increasingly rigorous Islam which is rife in Togo. ” The book was put on the school curriculum this year, but for the wrong reasons, he said, noting that “The Muslim minority is currently violently repressed in the country”.
So that his father does not lose face, until his death in 2003, Samy Tchak “pretends” and goes to the mosque when he is in the country. Since then, he, the eldest of a huge family of 21 children, has replaced him from Paris. “For any question concerning the family, for any conflict, any financial or health problem, even his old widows consult me. “
to this missing man, wise in his own way, Sami Tchak delivers a beautiful tribute in So spoke my father (2). “You listen to me, and you try. You listen to me and you sift my words. There will be just crumbs left, so the essential “, he told her, believing that the few words that have meaning are as old as Man. It is these “crumbs” engraved in his memory, these lessons of humanity listened to for years in the father’s forge, that Sami Tchak relates. In French, as with all his writings.
“Everything I have read, I have read it in French, French is my compass in the world”, even if he is “A language of domination”. “How to situate itself in the western verticality, the racialist thought which allowed Europe to reconfigure the world in the name of its superiority? “ he asks himself. The most eminent ethnologists who were to merge – or attempt to do so – in African societies, were subtle and formidable artisans of this domination.
It is this trial in finesse that Sami Tchak sets up through the peregrinations of the ethnologist Maurice Boyer in The continent of everything and almost nothing which has just been published (3). “ You came here with the healthy intention of observing us, of understanding us, Maurice ”, said the imam of the Tem village of Tèdi to him. “But in truth, you are continuing the great Western work: to think about others, to make sense of them and to put them in the situation of fish caught in a net. “
A former student, the Malian Safiatou Kouyaté gives the fatal blow: “The West has become a pool in which all of humanity dabbles. Nobody gets by without being wet (…) The truth is there, painful: we are all affected by the West, incurably. “