This book was published 62 years ago, two years before the Nigerian Chinua Achebe published his ‘Things fall apart”. It is good to notice there was literary life in Africa, even West Africa before things fell apart. Ferdinand Oyono (1929 – 2010) was a diplomat and a politician frpom Cameroon. This book about the old man and his medal was not his first book. In the same year of publication of his book on the old man he had already published another book, titled Une vie de boy. His literary output has been small, his publications were written during his very early years. He studied law at a French university, obtained his doctorate and went into a diplomatic and political career. Many years after the publication of his books, the English-speaking world could read his books in a English translation.
The book about the old man is firmly set in a colonial context, with the French ruling the country. Meka and his wife Kelara live in a small village. Meka has been a exemplary citizen. He has donated a large tract of his land to the local Roman Catholic Mission. Two sons of him served in the French army during the second world war and both were killed. Now he gets the news that he will be rewarded by the colonial government on the national day of Quatorze Juillet. What follows is the way Meka reacts to this honour and the way his wife , the villagers, relatives far and wide react and all want to partake in one way or another in the honour that will be bestowed upon the old man. We encounter the frictions between the old and the new ways, tradition and progress, the role of the Roman Catholic Mission vis-a-vis the colonial government, the way protestants and Roman Catholics interact. And as a reader you wonder how long it will take before everything will fall apart.
On the festive day Meka receives his medal, but in many ways he is the odd man out, for on that day the white contingent of colonial and ecclesiastical powers flock together and have their own party and Meka outside the playing field.
During a stormy night gets lost in the white suburb of the town of the celebrations, he gets arrested and discovers he has lost his medal. He returns to his village the next day and he is just an old man. Much ado about nothing. He donated land and sons. He is left with nothing.
Oyono has sketched a fragment of village life during the colonial days in Cameroon. What is the benefit of this colonial life? The old man is left with nothing.
Ferdinand Oyono – Le vieux nègre et la médaille – 1956