First published in French in 1973 and later translated
into English in 1976, Xala is the story of El Hadji Kader
Beye, a Muslim business man living in Dakar, Senegal, and the misfortune he suffers after his third marriage. The novel follows several weeks in El Hadji's life and his "rapid decline from affluence to total humiliation and ruin."

After the wedding ceremony, El Hadji is unable to
consummate his marriage to N'Gone. He believes himself
to have been cursed with xala (pronounced "hala") a condition which leaves him impotent.

El Hadji agonizes over this dilemma and sees numerous marabouts (healers) suggested by his trusted friends and colleagues. None are able to help him and El Hadji continues to obsesses over his sexual loss, ignoring his business and financial affairs,
which he discovers are failing miserably. His colleagues pounce on his misfortune and vote him out of their business group.

The next morning, a beggar comes to El Hadji's door. He's
the same beggar who has haunted El Hadji's office building for several years. The beggar is accompanied by other diseased beggars who pillage the villa. The beggar reveals to El Hadji that it was he who cursed him with the xala because El Hadji had ruined his life years before. The only cure to the curse is for all the beggars to spit twice upon El Hadji while he stands naked. Desperate, El Hadji agrees. As El Hadji endures this abuse, the police, expecting a riot, surround the house with loaded guns.

About the Author

Ousmane Sembène is the author of several novels and short stories, including Tribal Scars as well as several screenplays. Sembène is a noted independent film director. He attended school only briefly before taking work as a fisherman and trying his hand at other manual labor jobs. While working as a stevedore, he wrote his first novel, Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker), opening his future in the arts. He is known not only for his literature, but also his films, both having gained him international acknowledgement.



Like in Things Fall Apart and Agatha Moudio's Son, Xala represents a culture changed by Europeans. The novel centers around El Hadji Abdou Kader Beye, a successful businessman in Dakar, Senegal. He believes himself untouchable, refusing the superstitions of his culture until the curse of the xala is placed upon him. El Hadji has assimilated into a successful westernized businessman -- power hungry, and seeking to restore his power he has lost under the curse.

Class Divisions

El Hadji, as a successful and wealthy man, has separated himself from many others in his community. Because of his wealth and power, he has chosen to alienate those in lower socioeconomic classes than himself. He has turned his back on the poor men of his community. Unlike the strong Efuru who does not allow class differences to effect her, this stress between socioeconomic classes creates the hole into which El Hadji allows himself to fall. His alienation of the lower classes is similar to those of characters in Indian novels such as The Painter of Signs, The Man-eater of Malgudi, and God of Small Things


"The curse of the xala that has inflicted impotence on El Hadji…takes on a symbolic connotation as the impotence that afflicts the emerging Senegalese bourgeoisies becomes apparent. El Hadji represents, experiences, and eventually articulates the impotence of his class" (Gugler 147).

El Hadji's business group, as he recognizes himself, is corrupt. He knows that it works as a social system in which he and his business partners profit from the poor, but El Hadji also realizes that there is a Colonial empire profiting off of his group. "The colonist is stronger, more powerful…hidden inside us" (Sembčne 93). He recognizes that to succeed he must assimilate to the Colonial power using "the Englishman's self-control, the American's flair, and the Frenchman's politeness" (Sembčne 85). El Hadji is stifled as in his business as much as he is by his xala. The only cure is from the beggar who placed the xala on him.

The novel then becomes a story of independence, of uprising and revolution by those who are oppressed against their oppressors.

Sembčne does not leave his novel to tie itself so easily at the end. The battle against the colonist is not yet won. The beggar and the other oppressed are surrounded by the police, who "outside…raised their weapons into the firing position" (Sembčne 114).



This site contains not only information on Ousmane Sembčne, but on other African and African American writers as well. By searching the site, several articles concerning Sembčne are available, including biographical information.

** ZA@Play Movies

This article discusses Sembčne's filmmaking as well as his film studies he conducted in Russia.


A short biographical summary on Sembčne Ousman.

*** Postimperial and Postcolonial Literature in English

This site contains an essay by Phoebe Koch on "Symbolic Impotence: Role Reversal in Sembčne Ousman's Xala."


Xala is a fast moving work by Sembène which is certain to keep the attention of readers. The controversial nature of the work, circling a man's impotance will keep students attention. The work also provides a vast arena in which to discuss the novel's themes and motives.

Discussion topics may include:

  • Rama and her friends' "No French" Rule.
  • The significance of El Hadji's xala.
  • Satire in the novel.
  • The final scene of the novel.

Honours Teaching Curriculum

This site, maintained by the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg Department of African Literature, provides discriptions and reading lists for several of the classes provided by their honors curriculum.



Gugler, Josef. "Ousmane Sembčne's Xala: The Novel, the Film, and Their Audiences." Research in African Literatures 29 (Summer 1998): 147-158.

Sembène, Ousmane. Xala. Westport: Lawrence Hill and Company, 1976.

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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