The Ambiguous Path to Sacred Personhood: Revisiting Samba Diallo’s Initiatic Journey in Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure

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Monika Brodnicka


Ambiguous Adventure, one of the most iconic novels in Senegalese history, recounts the plight of a traditional African society in the face of an encroaching western modernity, with its main character, Samba Diallo, as the face of this momentous struggle. The captivating story inspired numerous critiques that address the text from sociological, religious, and philosophical perspectives. Not surprisingly, most of the interpretations are based on the textual connection to Islam, the religion embraced and practiced by the Diallobé community in the novel, and deal with universal topics such as death, identity, colonialism, initiation, tradition, and modernity. Building on the work done before me on Samba’s own search for identity within the Muslim context, I look to pre-Islamic Fulani traditions articulated by Amadou Hampaté Bâ, which better illuminate the process of initiation that leads the human being to transform into a self-realized person. I argue, based on this Fulani metaphysical context, that from the very beginning, Samba Diallo’s journey is initiatic in itself, in the traditional Fulani conception of the term, one that is connected to the sacred dimension. In this sense, the Fulani indigenous traditions anticipate Samba’s journey toward a sacred identity, highlight a clear roadmap to that very process, and, contrary to many critics, lead the initiate to success.

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Brodnicka, M. (2020). The Ambiguous Path to Sacred Personhood: Revisiting Samba Diallo’s Initiatic Journey in Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s Ambiguous Adventure. Journal of World Philosophies, 5(2), 13–27. Retrieved from
Author Biography

Monika Brodnicka, School for International Training

Monika Brodnicka is currently an Academic Director at the School for International Training (SIT Study Abroad) in Dakar, Senegal. She previously taught in the African American and African Studies Department at The Ohio State University and in the Philosophy Department at Regis University. Her research and publications focus on African spirituality and Sufi thought and practice in Francophone West Africa. She has recently published “Speech that Takes on Body and Shape: The World as Manifestation of Spirit in West African Religions” and “Iterations of the Divine: The Pursuit of Sacred Personhood in West African Spirituality.” Her current book project, entitled Amadou Hampâté Bâ and the Living Tradition: Mystical Perception as Methodology in West African Religions, addresses the role of the metaphysical dimension in the Fulani, Bamana, and Dagara religious practices. Brodnicka has studied and researched in several West African countries.