Hymn to the Stomach
Congolese novelist, poet, and dramatist, Sony Labou Tansi (1947–95) dramatises the effects of colonial history, the violence, vulgarity and spectacular excess of postcolonial rule, and the messy culinary collusion between ruler and ruled, oppressed and oppressor.
ANNOUNCER: His Majesty, Pené Matéla I, King of Zama, King according to the will of the sky and the earth, King according to the will of our ancestors, King according to the will of God! (All rise)
POINÇON (As most senior member of the court): Hail to the King!
ALL: Hail to the king!
POINÇON: Hail to the kingdom!
ALL: Hail to the kingdom!
POINÇON: Hail to Africa and her niece, Madagascar!
ALL: Hail to Africa and her Madagascar!
KING (After taking his place): We want to start over!
ALL: History from zero!
KING: Start over!
ALL: The world from zero!
KING: Start over! Start over!
ALL: Mankind from zero!
(King signs for the notary)
NOTARY: (Reading) Juano-Marie Escarinas Jean of God Trépassar Doshimento, the senior member of His Majesty’s court, the Spiritual Director of His Majesty’s objects, Minister of oil, in charge of His Majesty’s stomach and legs, Director of the White-Slush-Fund, High Commander of the hungry, Marquis of Poinçon, His Majesty’s council turns the floor over to you.
POINÇON: Majesty, gentlemen of the court, honorable council! As I take the floor, I vibrate with the same pride that vibrates through all of you. The Kingdom of Zama will no longer crawl: it will rise, it rises. (Applause) With the exception of the surrounding Republics—Republic, the word is too big—I’ll call them Republicettes (Applause)—every country in the world knows of our tender kingdom. Pride, gentlemen, great pride! (Applause) Everyone knows what the latest French drilling has done to us, oh! I won’t mention the numbers because they are mind-blowing. But know that we have more than twenty thousand years of oil beneath our feet (Applause) Because nowadays, what oil wants, the world will want (Applause); I have spoken.
KING (Enthusiastic): Poinçon, I make you Prince!
(Bows from Poinçon, applause. The king signs for the notary)
NOTARY: Marianetta Bienvenu of Sahibhar, Vice-Minister delegate to Tradition and Art, Director of His Majesty’s Lawns, in charge of His Majesty’s Stables, Co-Minister of Past Generations, in charge of His Majesty’s lips, head, and neck, Doctor Chalet, you have the floor.
KING: No! Du Chalet has been arrested for disobeying the king. (Signs)
NOTARY: Bianito Obramoussando, Co-Director of his Majesty’s Wardrobe, in charge of his Majesty’s Gray-Slush-Fund, Commander of the Fessets’ Order, Duke of Vouincy, speak!
VOUINCY: De Vouincy has nothing to say.
NOTARY: Prince of Fleuret!
FLEURET: Fleuret has nothing to say!
NOTARY: Cypriano Ramoussa, Minister of Schools, in charge of atomic energy as soon as it will be available, Knight of the Damned, Prince of Foiret, I give you the floor.
FOIRET: Majesty, gentlemen of the Council, I am a protestor and like all protestors I will get straight to the point. Recall, yes gentlemen, recall when we replaced the Republic with the Kingdom, we said: we will be a new man; we will think with a new mind, we will see with new eyes. And we called this “Our Cause.” Tell me, gentlemen, tell me, Majesty: what is left of “Our Cause” in this forest of buzzing titles?
KING: Be quiet, Foiret!
FOIRET: Where is our cause in this jungle of curtseys?
KING: Foiret, I demote you: instead of being Prince, you will only be a Count.
FOIRET: Honor, Majesty, honor! The completion of man! The man who has learned the use of lungs!
KING: Foiret, you are no more than a Viscount!
FOIRET: Let me tell you, Majesty: Count, Sub-Count, Sur-Count or simply Almost-Count of Foiret, I will be a failed one, nonetheless.
KING (Rises): Protest! Protest! (Shouting) Protest, protest before the king is the most serious offense that one can commit in this country! (He screams) On your knees, Foiret, on your knees!
FOIRET: No, Majesty! A corpse cannot get onto its knees. (He leaves)
KING: My friends! My children! My dear subjects! This is a moment in our history when more than ever we need each other. My brothers, we will not be torn. Let us focus.
NOTARY: The king has the floor.
KING: Now, gentlemen, let’s talk about this rebel stomach. You know that a kingdom’s future lies in the entrails of the king. Offspring. (He points to his stomach) This beast does not want to give me any offspring. So much care! So much capital! So much love! So much understanding, oh God, that we have sunk into this near-ocean! But this stupid meat doesn’t want to obey.
POINÇON: Majesty! We will not be conquered by your stomach!
KING: Do you hear it? It is jumping; it is coming; it is pointing; it is shouting; it is going to bring me down.
ANNOUNCER: The new medical delegation has just arrived directly from Canada.
KING: Ah! The work of the council is adjourned, gentlemen; my guard, take me away. (He hums)
(In the blue room, four doctors, two nurses. All perform bows and salutes)
KING: Welcome to this forest of pleasure where unfortunately (points to his stomach) this rebel meat is going to make flesh stains.
CHIEF OF THE MISSION: We hope to cure you, Majesty.
KING: I shall give you my Kingdom in return.
CHIEF OF THE MISSION: Canadian medicine is the most advanced in the world, your Majesty.
KING: Oh doctor! Everyone has been here: French, Italians, Russian, Chinese, English, Belgians. Oh, this list bores me to death. They come, they always cut something. I wonder if there is still a piece of real intestine in there. If you can see with your learned eye, everything has become rubber, or old paper.
CHIEF: Lie down here, Majesty, so I can sound you.
(The king stretches out; the four doctors listen to his stomach)
KING: Do you hear it, Doctor?
CHIEF: Yes, Majesty.
KING: What is it saying?
CHIEF: It’s growling.
KING: That is its job! I’m going to disappear, disappear with such a beautiful face! With so much talent, with the face of this infernal girl tacked onto a corner of my heart. (Pause) Princess, love me as I love you.
CHIEF: We will cure you, Majesty.
KING: Oh! They all talked like you. No one did what they said; I’m going to disappear. (Pause) Anyway, I’ve already disappeared; all that’s left is to disappear for real!
CHIEF: Tomorrow, we’ll bring you the first test results. Now, we’ll take a little blood. (Thick drops around his belly button) (Pause) Some of your urine.
KING: Wait! (He goes and comes back with a bottle) Here, Doctor!
CHIEF: A bit of your uhhhh!!!
KING: Wait! (He goes and returns with a cup) Here.
CHIEF: A bit of your sweat. (Same game) A bit of your saliva!
KING: Wait! (He starts to leave, then stops). No (Pause), no (Pause), no, you, I recognize you. Well, I recognize all of you. You and you, and you. Even the nurses. You are the same ones that have been coming for a year.
CHIEF: Majesty. . .yyyyy!
KING: Silence! (Pause) You are fooling me! You’re all going to pay! Guards! (They advance) Arrest these demons! Tear them up like old rags for me; kill them slowly for me. Give their meat to my female leopards and then hang the corpses for me!
MASTER OF CEREMONIES:Ladies and Gentlemen! The day has arrived when His Majesty, Pené Matéla, our king, will marry the total babe, Princess Hénault, the girl with big hair. (Applause) Before the wedding ceremony, His Majesty will show off her innumerable qualities. (Applause) You all know, we all know that His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the greatest singer of our time. (The king sings: applause) His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the best dancer in the kingdom (The king dances: applause) His Majesty, Pene Matéla, is the greatest poet of our time!
KING: Wait, wait, what happened to that poem I wrote yesterday evening thinking of the beautiful princess? (He empties his pockets) Oh, here it is! (Reads) Princess, let us see if the kiss on the branch of our bodies is not the morning, flowering like a rose over the branches in the royal garden. Let us see Princess, let us see. (Applause) Admit it! This here is a very good poem! (Applause)
M.C.: His Majesty is the wisest person of our century.
KING: Oh yes, yes, I am only bothered by my stomach. Tortured by this stupid meat, but otherwise I’m a wise man.
M.C.: His Majesty is the greatest eater of our time.
KING: Bring those dishes at the end of the ceremony. I’m going to marry while my stomach is empty. (The princess arrives) Here she is! (He throws himself on his knees before her) Sun! Sleep! Tender flesh that wanders in my flesh! Girl, child, unnameable beauty, even on this feast day, suffering still puts the night into your eyes?
LÉHAULT: Die then, filth, die from me and my smell! (She stabs him several times) Die! (The guards want to stop her but the king stops them)
KING: Don’t forbid her anything! Let her be! My body is an extension of hers! (He falls) No, you have not killed me! And I have not stopped loving you! Ha, my sweet! Why have you killed the World? Why have you killed the earth? No! I have not stopped loving you. (He dies)
[Curtain, the end.]
Excerpted from (Worth) Ten Thousand Words, Par IV: International Graphic Novels (Words Without Borders, 2010)
Translated by Kristin Prévallet and Raymond G. Hounfodji