Le Turban et la capote: Satire and Diversity in Mayotte

Quick-witted and cheeky, Le Turban et la capote[1](published by L’Harmattan BD in 2013),set in the French overseas department of Mayotte, introduces francophone readers to a cast of energetic and short-tempered characters already well known to spectators and readers in the Indian Ocean. This bande dessinée, written by Mahoran Nassur Attoumani and illustrated by Madagascan Luke Razaka, is an updated version of an existing bande dessinée published in Mayotte by Coco-Création in 2000, which was, in fact, an adaptation of Nassur’s successful play of the same title originally written in 1996.[2]

Celebrated and acclaimed author Nassur Attoumani’s first play, La Fille du polygame,[3] premiered in 1989 and was the first play published from the Comoros Islands in the Indian Ocean. His second play, Le Turban et la capote, of which this bande dessinée is an adaptation, premiered soon after in 1996 and was quickly published in Reunion by Grand Océan. As with La Fille du polygame, La Turban et la capote demonstrates Attoumani’s deft Molière-esque satire that entertains spectators and readers while also engaging them in a critique of contemporary society. The correlation with Molière is especially pronounced in La Turban et la capote for the main character, Mabawa Ya Nadzi, an Islamic judge who embodies the title as he hides condoms in his turban, echoes Molière’s Tartuffe in many ways.

Le Turban et la capote’s origin as a play can be felt as the narrative unfolds as a series of scenes with the various characters entering and exiting, often with comedic timing. Also, directly following the title page is a visual replica of the front cover with the addition of the characters’ names and a short description of their role and / or relationship to another character, effectively serving as a cast list and hinting at the potential conflicts between the characters based on their placement in the lineup. For example, the top three figures are the main characters with Mabawa Ya Nadzi strategically placed between the quarreling couple and the bottom three figures are important supporting characters. Moreover, as the central figure, Mabawa Ya Nadzi is placed in the most privileged position while the doctor, ostensibly his foil as a spokesperson for and representative of Western medicine, science, and modernity, is placed directly below him for they are in opposition.

Taking place in contemporary Mamoudzou, Le Turban et la capote provides readers a glimpse into the socially and culturally diverse everyday life of the capital of the French department of Mayotte. Through the interactions of the six characters— Dr. Hachafati, an imported doctor, and Bata-Bata, his no-nonsense secretary; Maborcheti and Pessoiri, a quarreling couple; and Mabawa Ya Nadzi, an Islamic judge and ostensibly honorably religious man and Djanabati, his secretary—the narrative addresses the familiar juxtaposition of tradition versus modernity, focusing on the unique case of Mayotte and the specific themes of Mayotte’s departmentalization, the emancipation of women, birth control and the prevention of AIDS, polygamy, and the lack of any form of structured social program to accompany Mayotte’s political shift.

The title, itself, Le Turban et la capote, points to the simultaneity of different value systems through metonymy with the turban signifying both Islamic culture and traditional African cultures and the condom signifying Westernization and, more specifically, sexual liberation and the emancipation of women. While the juxtaposition of a turban and a condom is meant to create a spark to hook the audience (of the play) and readers (of the bande dessinée), the ‘et’ [and] between the two gives them equal weight, thus sidestepping the primacy or validity of one over the other. Indeed, the narrative foregrounds the assumption that the traditions and value systems associated with these two images are at odds when, in fact, they are often not at odds and do not have to be. Through satire and comedy, Attoumani reveals how this tension between perceived difference and reality manifests in everyday life.

In the afterward of Le Turban et la capote, editor and director of the L’Harmattan’s bande dessinée collection, Christophe Cassiau-Haurie explains that Madagascan cartoonist Ndrematoa (Tana Blues) was first considered to supply the artwork for the updated edition of the bande dessinée. Directly following Cassiau-Haurie’s afterward are the first ten pages in black and white (the last two of which are sketched by not inked) of the bande dessinée as drawn by Ndrematoa. Given Ndrematoa’s extravagantly detailed and expressive drawings, the incompletion of such a massive project is not surprising. However, Madagascan cartoonist Luke Razaka who illustrated the original edition of the bande dessinée, reworked his original images on the computer and added colors (whereas the original was in black and white) and, while Razaka’s drawings are nowhere near as realistic and detailed-oriented as Ndrematoa’s, his cartoonish style, very much in the vein of famed Belgian cartoonist André Franquin’s Gaston Lagaffe, has the double advantage of, on the one hand, capturing the urgency and energy of Attoumani’s characters and, on the other hand, appealing to a global, French-speaking audience already familiar with the visual and verbal comedic conventions of Franquin’s style. For example, characters’ expressions are exaggerated and, to emphasize their anger, they become completely red and even their clothes change the same color red as their complexion. Moreover, Razaka’s use of physical comedy, onomatopoeia, and action lines goes a long way in bringing the humor of Attoumani’s play to life on the page. Ultimately, Razaka’s balance between a swift cartoonish style and a playfulness of characters’ expressions complements Attoumani’s quick-paced and lively satirical writing style.

Opening scene

Another added bonus of this updated version is the overall impact color has on the text and the reader’s experience of Mayotte. Situated in the Indian Ocean in the crux between Madagascar to the east and the Mozambican coastline to the west, Mayotte, not-surprisingly, is a place where cultural hybridity constitutes the fabric of everyday life. Visually, Luke Razaka’s use of color subtly emphasizes this. For example, during the taxi ride at the beginning of the text, Razaka populates the urban coastal setting with people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds, but it is mainly through the people’s clothes that the color scheme provides the most visible marker of cultural hybridity: blue jeans and bright t-shirts for more modern outfits contrast with bright colored traditional African fabrics worn by many of the female characters and with the white traditional men’s outfits.

According to Cassiau-Haurie, the goal of this updated and colored version of the 2000 bande dessinée was to give new life to Attoumani’s insightful satire that excels in exposing the social and cultural complexity of life in Mayotte leading up to and during the long (and still ongoing) process of departmentalization.

Mayotte, a small archipelago of the Comoros Islands, became part of the French empire in 1841 and while the rest of the Comoros Islands gained independence from France in 1975, the population of Mayotte, in 1976, voted almost unanimously to forgo independence in favor of keeping its ties to France. In the spring of 2009, the Mahoran people voted, almost unanimously once again, to become an official part of France, thus shifting political status from an overseas community to an overseas department, a long-term process destined to have deep social, cultural, and political affects. Included in the departmentalization of Mayotte would be the gradual phasing out of traditional Islamic law and the establishment of French civil code and republican institutions such as French schools and courts.

It is in the midst of this transition that Attoumani sets Le Turban et la capote, deftly presenting readers with a comical portrait of the diversity of the Mahoran population while also wittingly bringing to bare on important social issues and satirizing personally-motivated hypocrites who take advantage of the vulnerability of such a transitional time.

The timeliness of this updated version of Attoumani’s adept play-turned-bandedessinée and its portrayal of the complex social reality in Mayotte is even more pressing when we consider that, as of 1 January 2014, Mayotte officially became one of the most far-reaching regions of the European Union. Indeed, the issues of cultural hybridity and overlapping value systems—in particular the civil codes associated with French republicanism and traditional Islamic codes of conduct—at the heart of Attoumani’s text are representative of broader discussions of identity in the contemporary global context.


[1] The Turban and the Condom

[2] L’Harmattan also offers a DVD of a 2011 performance of the play directed by Sophie Fueyo. You can watch the trailer for it here.

[3] The Polygamist’s Daughter