“I beg your majesty to allow me to confess to him the desire I feel to signal my zeal, and the honor that you would do me to serve in his troops by offering him proof of complete devotion. » This is the convoluted formula learned by heart by Prince Aniaba of Assinie in view of his audience, in 1691, with the King of France.
The scene takes place at the Palace of Versailles and the young African who speaks is only 19 years old. An aristocrat, originally from the Ehotilé islands grouping together several peoples of the future Côte d’Ivoire, he was sent to France by his adoptive father, King Niamkey of Essouma in order to “Greet the king and admire the magnificence of his kingdom”.
Indeed, initially wary of Europeans trading with Africa – because “Isn’t it said that they devour their fellow men, which is why they procure slaves and take them to their country, from which these poor young people never return” -, King Niamkey allowed himself to be convinced of the good faith of the French when Louis XIV made him return some compatriots who had been captured by a pirate.
“This kindness of our great monarch has produced such good effects on the mind of the King of Assinie and all his people that he now looks to the French as the protectors of his kingdom”, reports on this subject the missionary Brother Gonsalvez.
A whole different world
This is how Prince Aniaba was sent to France to discover the country, study its language, its religion and meet its monarch. Born in 1672, Aniaba learned swordsmanship, fishing, musical traditions, history, the significance of his people’s festivals and customs – including “the generation party”, this ceremony which turns a child into an adult, which lasts several months and “renews the pact with the ancestors. » He also has knowledge in botany and science, he understands the myths and spirituality of his people.
In France, he will have to adapt to a completely different world and also convert to Catholicism. But he allowed himself to be convinced that as the “boss” of his religion, “Jesus serves as an intermediary between God and men. Like the bosson, it calls to distinguish between good and evil. Like the bosson, he delegates his presence to the Komians (priests or nuns) to act in his name”.
His French adventure will be both trying and happy. Once blessed by his family and accompanied by his childhood friend Anouman, Aniaba embarked in 1687 on the Saint Louisa three-deck ship that is impressive, but whose full holds let out a terrible human stench…
How did the young prince manage to meet the King of France four years later? Why does he want to serve him by entering the elite military corps of musketeers if possible? And how can his personal itinerary take place at a time when France and Europe practice the human trafficking of the slave trade?
A story rich in images
It is this hair-raising journey told by Serge Bilé’s new book, Aniaba, the musketeer of Notre-Dame de Paris. Since his first works, in the mid-2000s, the Ivorian journalist has endeavored to document the history of relations between Africa and the rest of the world by highlighting, depending on the subject, unusual life trajectories or unexpected situations. The essayist was thus able to evoke the black presence in the Nazi camps, the fate of the only black passenger in the titanicthat in Japan of the samurai of African origin Yasuké or even the triumphal tours on the continent of French stars “ye-ye” of the 1960s.
Just as original as his previous works, Aniaba, the musketeer of Notre-Dame de Paris takes us back in time to the 17th centurye century through a story rich in images, narrated like a film where the characters are staged with great detail and tasty anecdotes. However, the author’s idea is not to “fictionalise” totally this time, but on the contrary to build a text from real information. The journalist is indeed based on the work of historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, ethnobotanists, as well as on what was reported by the religious and travelers of the time.
It is from these bibliographical references, the list of which is gathered at the end of the book, that he weaves his reconstruction, inviting readers – young audiences as well as adults – to follow him in a story cut up into short chapters that escape the usual classifications. Besides the fact that they resize in their own way the common idea of a history of Africa limited to the ante and postcolonial dichotomy, the adventures of Aniaba are significant of a relationship established in the 17e century by the (future) Ivorians with France.
“The Africa World”
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Relationships which, thanks to the musketeer Louis-Jean Aniaba d’Assinie, have endured beyond time. Two months after the fire of Notre-Dame, in 2019, did not the monarch Amon N’Douffou V make a donation for the reconstruction of the cathedral, explaining his gesture by the “strong bond” who unites his kingdom with Paris?
Aniaba, the musketeer of Notre-Dame de Paris, by Serge Bilé, Kofiba Editions (Abidjan), 20 euros.