The Poisonwood Bible

The Poisonwood Bible

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“Bangala” Symbol Icon

The English-speaking characters in Poisonwood learn a number of Congolese words, such as “bangala.” But “bangala” can mean two different, even opposite things: pronounced one way, it means “good,” but pronounced slightly differently, it means “poisonwood.” Thus, when Nathan Price preaches to the Congolese, he inadvertently makes them think that Jesus is a dangerous person. In this way, “bangala” is a symbol for the cultural barriers between all people, and of how easily even well-intentioned imperialism and “missionary work” can be twisted into cruelty.

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“Bangala” Symbol Timeline in The Poisonwood Bible

The timeline below shows where the symbol “Bangala” appears in The Poisonwood Bible. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Book 3, Chapter 40
Freedom, Growth, and Coming-of-age Theme Icon
Religion and Faith Theme Icon
Women and Sexism Theme Icon
Race, Racism, and Culture Theme Icon
Imperialism Theme Icon
...tries to work Congolese phrases into his sermons. One Sunday, he says, “Tata Jesus is bangala,” but he pronounces “bangala” in such a way that it means “poisonwood.” Meanwhile, Ruth May... (full context)