Eléonore Yaméogo: Le Cimetière des elephants (The Cemetery of Elephants) from an/d’un interview/entretien by/par Michel Amarger
The English text below is drawn from the interview in French by Michel Amarger with Eléonore Yaméogo for Africine.org.
Eléonore Yaméogo meets with retired French missionaries living in retirement homes in France, in the regions of Bry-sur-Marne and Pau, after spending their active years in Africa. Father De Gaulle, the nephew of the French general-president, lived much of his life in her native village, Koudougou, and is now retired in Pau.
A endeavor initially framed as an encounter with the old priests who brought Christianity to her country—their memories, lived experiences, anecdotes —became a deeper project: a history of Africa, of colonisation, of independence—as key witnesses of Africa’s trajectories. Eléonore Yaméogo focuses on the missionaries of West Africa, specifically Burkina Faso and Mali. In addition, she draws references from the Burkinabé historian Magloire Somé, as well as from archival images and documents.
About Yaméogo’s relationship with the priests:
“When I am with them, for me, they are compatriots... I do not feel that I am speaking to French people, to white people. It's like I'm talking to a guy from my neighborhood. They know my country better than I do, and they speak my language, they know my region, the history of Burkina. I think Africa lives in them. In France, they are like strangers in their own country. They are there but their souls remain in Africa…It is as if they were waiting for this film. They are the last generation…It was important for them to talk, and for me it was important that they give their point of view on their role in the history of colonisation…”
Yaméogo, positioning herself as the filmmaker in relationship to her Christian faith:
In making this film, I was hoping to position myself in relationship to my faith today, where I am within this faith. But when I put my camera aside, I realised that I am even more lost than I was at the beginning. Having met these protagonists, these men who brought Christianity to my country, it troubled me more than anything else. So today, I do not know if I can say that I have faith. I am Christian, it is my religion, but I do not know. At the same time, when I wake up in the morning, I still catch myself making a sign of the cross. Even at the end of the shoot, I asked my mother to ask for a mass of thanksgiving at the church in Ouagadougou, to say thank you to the Lord for allowing this film. I hope that all the debates that the film brings will help me to situate myself.”
An African woman filmmaker doing a film about white male missionaries:
“There was a certain aspect, I would not say seduction, but a little bit in this sense. Being a woman in the presence of these missionaries, these priests who have been deprived of women throughout their lives, when today they find themselves with an imposing Black woman who arrives in their retirement home, I think that they enjoyed that. They said to me, "You bring us light." We spoke in African languages, they were all very happy. Some even forgot to follow their medical routine, they continued to talked with me and the nurse was obliged to come. They forgot that they were sick actually. My coming to their home was like a kind of therapy. It was good for them physically, morally. To be able to speak, to go back in their memories, it was a good experience.”
A personal approach…
“This story is about my meeting with this retirement home, my meeting with Father De Gaulle whom I met in Koudougou, who saw me grow up and who I later find in the twilight of his life. This story is personal and many Africans will find themselves within my approach of telling this story, because I know that many like me, today, ask themselves the same questions.”
Dans Le Cimetière des elephants, la réalisatrice du Burkina Faso, Eléonore Yaméogo, questionne le rôle des missionnaires catholiques en Afrique et leur rapport avec la colonisation. POUR LIRE L’INTEGRALITE: http://www.africine.org/index.php?menu=art&no=14553