Images of Jesus in Postcolonial African Literature: Baho! and Tram 83

Though Roland Rugero’s Baho! and Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83 are both set in postcolonial African nations—Burundi and The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) respectively—their narratives focus on extremely different topics. Tram 83 is centered on political corruption, the effects of postcolonialism, and the detriments brought about by capitalism, whereas Baho! gives more attention to African philosophy (where Africans fit into the universe) and the power of language. Despite these differences, as they are stories set in areas right next to each other, they share a few similarities as well, a significant one being their usage of the image of Jesus Christ, the central figure in Christianity, a religion brought to African nations as a result of colonialism. Yet again, however, between the two novels, this symbol is utilized in different ways that better fit their respective narratives.

In Baho!, Jesus is used as a symbol of martyrdom and innocence. Nyamuragi, a mute man accused of rape as a result of a misunderstanding, is tried for his alleged crime and brutally beaten on his way to the execution site. He tries to say, “ego” (yes), admitting to a crime that he is not guilty of and mentioned in the text as taking “upon himself the responsibility for all of humanity’s faults”, all of which mirrors Jesus Christ’s treatment at his own trial and his act of sacrifice to save humanity from sin (Rugero 30). Rugero goes on later to describe sheep, an animal that Jesus is likened to (John 1:29), as Nyamuragi’s brothers and associates them with sacredness and peace (Rugero 17, 54). These connections are made to really drive the idea that Nyamuragi is more than an innocent man. He isn’t just not guilty of this crime—he is a victim in the society in which he lives, and is unjustly reviled. Comparison to Jesus, someone that many readers are familiar with, is also used in order to better foster sympathy for Nyamuragi as well.

Tram 83 looks at Jesus through a different lens; instead of a symbol of innocence, Jesus is more of an agent of change. The final chapter of the novel is titled “The Three Kings”, who in the Bible, are three men ordered by King Herod of Judea to find baby Jesus, succeed, and ultimately run away from Herod as they find out his plans to kill the infant, as Jesus is prophesied to become a king, threatening his rule. In this analogy, the Three Kings are the main characters of the book: Lucien, Malingeau, and Requiem, who run away from the dissident General (Herod), after having published a book about the titular tram and distributed nude photos of the General to the public.

The identity of Jesus in this analogy, however, is unclear. It could be the photos of the General, a smaller naked king, nakedness being commonly associated with babies, or it could be the novel’s three kings, who ultimately bring about this change and exist in a trinity, similar to that of the Bible’s Godhead (Father, Spirit, Son). Both ultimately lead to the closure of the Tram and the mines, which served as huge sources of corruption within the novel’s society. Either way, the symbolism shows the reader that great change can be brought about by the actions of ordinary people, connecting the image of a god to simple objects and individuals. We cannot wait for those in power (those who benefit from oppressive systems) to reshape harmful structures—it is up to us.

Overall, the mere inclusion of references to Christianity in both novels illustrate lingering effects of colonialism, as it was those who colonized these countries that brought this religion to them. Since then, authors such as Mujila and Rugero have taken something associated with colonial rule and have used it to connect to their readers and establish resonant themes such as innocence and change. It is used as a tool of criticism towards those who have adapted this religion, one that is supposedly based on love, but is practiced by those whose actions contradict it.

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Pictures Cited

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