A Social-Historical Study
of Social Change
among the Bangwa of Cameroon
Occasional Paper No. 52, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh 1994
This study, which is based upon my eleven years experience of living among the Bangwa and my research into their history, examines the process of change which has taken place in Bangwa society during the past one hundred years. The study claims that the social changes which affected the life of the Bangwa chiefdoms before, during and after the colonial period were the result of new developments or opportunities in the social, political or economic system of relations.
While change was a feature of the pre-colonial society, it was normally internally induced and was moderated and controlled by the political and hierarchical structure within each chiefdom. What characterises the social changes which occurred from the colonial period onwards was that they were often externally induced. These precipitants of social change undermined the authority of traditional institutions since they increasingly influenced or controlled the social, political and economic spheres of Bangwa society. Furthermore, in its pursuit of new social, political and economic opportunities, Bangwa society not only became increasingly subject to external agencies but also adopted new patterns of settlement, activity, values and social awareness. The study concludes that the social changes which have taken place in Bangwa society are part of the process of incorporation into both the developing urban culture and the national economic and political structures of Cameroon.
|Maps of Africa, Cameroon and the Bangwa Area|
|Chapter 1 Introduction|
|Chapter 2 Bangwa Society and Culture|
Description of the Bangwa area, its people and their origins - Social Organisation, Culture and Economy - The Village and the Compound - Chiefs and the Social Structure - The Night Society and the Gong Society - The Family - The Economy - Change in the Traditional Society
|Chapter 3 The Major Social Changes in Bangwa|
c. 1889 to 1898 The Pre-colonial Period
1899 to 1916 The German Colonial Period
1916 to 1961 The British Colonial Period
The British Administration - The Plantations -
Christianity - Education - Migration to Muyuka
1961 to 1993 The Post-independence Period
The Catholic Mission Fontem and the Focolare Movement -
Government Administration - The Secondary Schools -
The Elite and the Development Associations -
The Economic Crisis
|Chapter 4 Supportive Evidence - Survey Results|
|Chapter 5 The Future and AIDS|
|Chapter 6 Conclusions|
|References and Bibliography|
|Appendix I Copy of the Questionnaire|
|Appendix II Some Survey Results|
|Appendix III Rainfall in Lebang in the Bangwa Area|
Map of Cameroon
Map of Bangwa Area
(The original page numbers have been preserved for anyone wishing to reference this work)
While I was living and working as a Catholic priest in the Bangwa area in south west Cameroon between 1982 and 1993 I was constantly struck by the fact that in my pastoral work I had not simply to adapt myself to a society and culture different to my own but, like everyone else there, I had to deal with the increasing amount of outside influences, new attitudes and ways of behaving that sometimes seemed difficult to understand. Even in the short time that I was there Bangwa society changed dramatically. What follows, therefore, is as much a personal search and reflection as it is an academic presentation.
The principal sources that I have used in the study of social change in Bangwa have been my own experience and the history of the Bangwa people which I have researched for nine years and which hopefully will soon be published. Two anthropologists, Elizabeth Dunstan and Robert Brain, did research among the Bangwa during the 1960’s. Dunstan, whose stay was shortened by illness, was primarily concerned with the Bangwa language, Ngwe, but her account of Bangwa relations with the Germans was useful since it corrects the bias inherent in both German colonial records and in the testimony of my own elderly informant. Brain, on the other hand, has written extensively on Bangwa society and culture, with books on funerary sculpture, kinship and marriage and a number of articles in anthropological journals. He has also written a novel based on the experience of the first European to penetrate the Bangwa hills, an agent of one of the German trading companies.
Brain’s work will remain the classic portrayal of Bangwa society and culture before outside influences began to have a significant effect. However, the danger inherent in reading the work of many anthropologists, and Brain’s portrayal of Bangwa society and culture can be taken as an example of this, is that one could mistakenly presume that societies and cultures of the past were static entities. This, I think, is due to the fact that many anthropologists working in Africa during the 1960’s and before, particularly those of the British anthropological tradition, tended to focus on the ‘pristine’, ‘pre-modern’ aspects of the societies they studied and largely ignored the effects of colonialism and western influences going on around them. It can be argued that that approach is valid from a scientific point of view and that part of the task of anthropologists may be to ‘rescue’ former world views, but culture is always time-specific and anthropology must be conscious of its historical obligations. Anthropos and historia, man and inquiry, may have developed into separate disciplines of study but only when they work in concert can they begin to authentically present a given society. Brain, to be fair, does give an indication in the conclusions to some of his writings that he was aware of the significant externally-induced changes which were beginning to take place in the Bangwa society of the mid-1960’s. This paper, therefore, is an attempt to briefly expand the picture of Bangwa society beyond that presented by Brain through reference to the events which have taken place there during the past one hundred years.
Chapter two is a presentation of Bangwa society and culture as it was before the social change of the 1950’s onwards began to radically alter its character. I am indebted to Brain here but I have used his work specifically to confirm my assertion that economic motives played and still play a fundamental role in Bangwa social relations, both among the Bangwa themselves
and between the Bangwa and the ‘outside’ world. In recent decades there has been considerable debate among some sociologists and anthropologists about the role of economics in the process of social change. Some, especially those of a Marxist persuasion, would claim it is paramount while others would say that economics is simply a consequence of particular patterns of social relations (see Bloch 1975 & 1985; Firth 1975; Gudeman 1986; Gregory & Altman 1989). I have no wish to contribute to the economist’s version of the chicken and the egg debate but my own position would be to say economic considerations were often the main driving force as far as social change among the Bangwa is concerned. That the Bangwa were, and still are, heavily motivated by economic factors is, I believe, due to the nature of their environment and their struggle to survive in it.
One question which arises is whether Bangwa society could be classed as ‘closed’, i.e. that it did not have significant relations with any other groups beyond its boundaries. Precise descriptions of a society such as Bangwa can easily founder on the complexity and paradoxical nature of human relations. In some areas of life the Bangwa society of the past was extremely closed. This perhaps was due to the difficulty of the terrain. Many Bangwa lived much of their lives in and around their village and an individual’s social relations usually only consisted of his or her involvement with the members of the extended family and the political hierarchy of the village or quarter. At the same time, though, the Bangwa were also extensively involved in trading with
their neighbours, particularly the Bamileke and the Bayang. Those trading links were part of a chain linking the coastal region with the grasslands. However, each link in the chain remained intact with contact often only being conducted at the border markets. While relations with the Bamileke were often cordial due to historical and family association, contact with the Bayang was often strained and characterised by mutual hostility. Trading was also normally in the hands of the chiefs and wealthy nobles, particularly the slave trade which formed the backbone of the 19th century Bangwa economy. The ‘openness’ of Bangwa society, therefore, did exist but has to be qualified because of the manner in which it was conducted. Where I use the term ‘closed’ in this paper I am using it not in an absolute sense but more to emphasise the almost self-contained, self-sufficient character of Bangwa society and Bangwa villages.
Like the role of economics in social change, the term ‘change’ and the nature of change was the focus of a great deal of debate during the 1960’s and 70’s. My own understanding would be that the social changes which have occurred in Bangwa did not take place in fits and starts. Rather, it was a gradual process and, more to the point, was constant throughout Bangwa history. It is for this reason that I have included comments about change in the pre-colonial society and to further underline the non-’static’ nature of Bangwa society.
Chapter three concentrates on the major social changes that have taken place in Bangwa since the arrival of the Germans. Although the social changes which took place in Bangwa society before and after the period of German colonial rule are different in proportion and character, three broad distinctions can be drawn between the different elements that precipitated change. Before the German troops arrived in 1899 the Bangwa chiefdoms were, as I have suggested above, closed in on themselves in many respects. Those social changes that did occur during this period were usually internally induced. The group with which the Bangwa had the greatest social contact,
the Bamileke to the east, was a society and culture of which Bangwa itself was a product. Therefore, even Bamileke influences would be identical in character to the factors which normally precipitated change in Bangwa society. The period from British colonial rule to Independence saw social changes that were external in origin but which did not violate the integrity of Bangwa to the extent that authority, institutions and beliefs were radically altered. The third group of precipitants were those which have made themselves felt since Independence. These are external in origin and the changes they have induced have been at a fundamental level of Bangwa society and culture. The permanent presence of the Catholic Church, the Focolare Movement and, later, government administration, are examples of external influences impacting at a local level. Consequently, they must loom large in any discussion of social change during the post-independence period.
The limited space available has constrained me to simplify the organisation of social and historical data. Although my presentation of events suggests at first glance that one particular source of change dominates the process of social evolution in a specific period of Bangwa social history, I do not wish to infer that it was to the exclusion of other sources of change. For example, external influences such as the government’s mass education programme may have had a major impact on Bangwa
1 The Focolare Movement was founded in 1943 by Chiara Lubich in Trent, northern Italy. It is an ecumenical lay movement of spiritual renewal with the aim of bringing unity between different Christian churches and faiths. It has also widened its objectives to bring a spirit of unity and dialogue between all peoples who seek the good of humanity regardless of whether they have a belief in a deity or not. Its activities in the Bangwa area, therefore, stem from its conviction that the spirit of the gospel and unity are brought into the structures of society through dialogue and social action. These activities include a hospital, building and carpentry workshops, road construction and a secondary school. See Robertson 1976.
society but changes arising within Bangwa society such as land disputes can also dominate the scene at times. External and internal sources of change are themselves in a continual process of interacting with one another. What characterises the process of change historically, the change within change itself, is that the forum has widened as external and internal forces impinge upon one another’s sources of origin. National elections are a matter of concern to the mountain-dwelling Bangwa and the problem of the Bangwa road is a matter of national concern militarily. The aim of this paper is to show the historical development of this process whereby the Bangwa area becomes more and more part of the wider national reality of Cameroon.
Chapter four consists of some findings from a survey I carried out among Bangwa students about various aspects of their lives and attitudes. The results are not meant to be central to the paper, or the climax of my arguments, but rather, an empirical confirmation of the extent to which ‘traditional’ Bangwa beliefs and practices seem to be declining because of the growing influence of urban culture. In chapter five I look briefly at the question of the AIDS epidemic and how it might possibly affect the Bangwa area in the future.
What has taken place in Bangwa is not unique. A number of the changes, particularly those in the post-colonial period, which have happened in Bangwa are fairly typical of the experience of many rural societies in Cameroon. This can be borne out if one compares this paper with Peter Geschiere’s work among the Maka of south-eastern Cameroon (Geschiere 1982). While the Bangwa and the Maka societies were very different one hundred years ago, it is striking that Geschiere and I arrive at similar conclusions about the state of these communities as they are today. It would appear that the awesome power of
colonial and national government to incorporate such differing societies into a larger whole has, at the same time, stripped them of much of their uniqueness, of the vitality of their diversity. One hopes that the change will prove to have been worth it.
BANGWA SOCIETY AND CULTURE
Description of the Bangwa Area,
its people and their origins
In the beginning, so the story goes, God was making his final touches to the creation of the world when he arrived tired and weary at Nsoko, a Bangwa village just over the river separating the Bayang and Bangwa countries. Since by this time it was getting dark, he asked the people for a lamp so that he might see what he was doing. Somewhat wary of a stranger in the night who wanted to borrow their possessions, they refused. God’s tired labours in the darkness, spiced perhaps with a hint of revenge, resulted in a landscape that looks hastily made, magnificently uneven and difficult to inhabit.
That story is hardly complimentary to the people of Nsoko who are normally very cordial and hospitable but it does give some idea about the topography of the Bangwa area and the nature of the people who live there. The Bangwa area can be described as a long rectangle running from the Bamileke savannah, the ‘grasslands’, in the east down to the forests of the low lying Mamfe Basin in the west. Towards the grasslands the mountains rise to 8,000 feet, part of the chain which runs from the Adamawa Plateau down to the coastal region. Mount Cameroon on the coast at Buea, the provincial capital of the south west province, and Fernando Po out in the Bight of Biafra are the only remaining active volcanoes of the range and the last vestiges of the early torment of the continent’s birth. As one descends down the steep escarpment from the grasslands to the Bayang forest, oil palm groves give way to dense rain
forest a mere 500 feet above sea level. There is, therefore, a varied climate and fauna, all within a mere 600 square miles.
There are nine chiefdoms within the Bangwa area and each chief recounts the same myth of a founding ancestor having come from the grasslands with nine retainers to settle in the forest to hunt the prolific game (Brain 1971:8, cf. de Latour 1991:147). Only Fontem, chief of the most populated kingdom, claims that his ancestors were not immigrants. That assertion, however, originates more from local politics and in his need to proclaim independence from his Bamileke neighbour. The ‘emigrating hunter’ myth would seem to be borne out in the nature of traditional kinship and commercial links. Each chiefdom tended, less so in recent times, to maintain ties with the Bamileke chiefdom directly to the east rather than with the Bangwa chiefdom to either the north or the south of it. In fact, there was often a certain hostility between the neighbouring Bangwa chiefdoms which still persists to this day. The rituals of inheriting power and property, the cult of venerating ancestors through their skulls, the character of the secret societies, dances, religious beliefs and, above all, the closeness of language further attest to the close cultural similarities of the Bangwa and the Bamileke living on the grasslands around Dschang (de Latour 1991:16-17). Generally speaking, the Bangwa are a sub-group of the Bamileke but they have absorbed
2 Brain (1971) does not support Fontem’s claim but tends towards the idea that his ancestors were Bayang. Dunstan (1965) records the apparent (perhaps even wilful) confusion created by Fontem in his interview with her about his origins. My own research suggests that Bamileke immigrants from the grasslands intermarried with the Bayang and the Beketshe, an extinct group perhaps distantly related to the pygmies who were the original inhabitants of Fontem’s area, but both of these groups were quickly absorbed by the more dominant Bamileke immigrants. Fontem’s claim to being independent of the powerful Bamileke chiefs, therefore, is correct to some degree but culturally his roots are Bamileke.
and adapted a few elements of the Ekoi culture of south eastern Nigeria through contact with the forest Bayang.
Given the separateness of each of the nine Bangwa chiefdoms mentioned earlier, it is doubtful if the Bangwa ever thought of themselves as ‘we, the Bangwa’. The name ‘Bangwa’ derives from the stem Ngwe, a corruption of the word meaning ‘up’ and is used to refer to both the country and the language. ‘Bangwa’ is correctly written MbaNgwe, literally meaning the Up People. Today the people write the term as Nweh. The name first made its appearance with the Germans, the first Europeans to visit the area. They had come up from the Bayang area to trade (Conrau, 1899). The grouping together of the people of the area by the British colonial administration in 1921 as a unit of local government (Cadman, 1922) was prompted by a recognition of the ‘grasslands’ nature of their culture as opposed to the Ekoi/forest culture of their neighbours, the Bayang to the west, the Mbo to the south and the Mundani to the north. With the division of the German colony of Kamerun into the French and British Cameroons under the Trust Mandate of the League of Nations after the First World War, ‘Bangwa’ effectively became a Bamileke enclave under British jurisdiction and was isolated by the Bamboutos mountain range which now formed the international border. During the 1960 United Nations referendum asking the people of the southern part of the British Cameroons whether they wanted to become part of the newly independent states of Nigeria or (French) Cameroun, the Bangwa were active in campaigning for a reunification with
3 This exchange was mutual to some extent and some elements of Bamileke culture are evident among the Upper Bayang who share a border with the Bangwa. See Ruel 1969. The exchange was probably intensified with British colonial rule which administered both groups together under the one district and which put an end to the sporadic but persistent warfare between the Bayang and the Bangwa.
the latter since their traditional ties and sympathies lay more with the Bamileke. After reunification the Bangwa area was established as a sub-prefecture of local government but all major decisions, particularly about finance and development, were taken in Mamfe, the seat of the divisional (prefecture) headquarters, and the ‘capital’ of the Bayang country, the ancient enemies of the Bangwa. Nothing did more to mould the sense of a ‘Bangwa’ identity than the injustice meted out by the Bayang who pursued a policy of calculated neglect towards the busier, more enterprising people of the Bangwa area. In 1992 the area was elevated to a full prefecture with the headquarters located at Menji in the Fon of Fontem’s chiefdom. Since then the old divisions between many of the Bangwa chiefdoms have resurfaced with a vengeance in a cauldron of local politics and vying interests. Ironically, it would seem, ‘progress’ in Bangwa has produced a return to traditional enmities.
SOCIAL ORGANISATION, CULTURE AND ECONOMY
One might be tempted to think that the people who live in the dark, misty valleys of the Bangwa area lead simple, uncomplicated lives. The isolated compounds that dot the steep hills would seem to confirm this impression and yet nothing could be further from the truth. An intricate web of forest paths, kinship ties and intrigue have always connected all the Bangwa homesteads.
The Village and the Compound
The Bangwa do not live in villages in the conventional sense of that word but in compounds several hundred yards apart. The topography dictates this to a great extent but the Bangwa are famous for jealously guarding their personal independence. Villages are understood more in territorial terms with a chief,
sub-chief or noble being the landowner and having jurisdiction over all those who live within its confines. The larger compounds are arranged in the form of a fenced stockade with the meeting house dominating (see Fig.1) a flat area which has been laboriously levelled by hand (Brain 1971:10). Traditionally this building would be up to forty feet high in the form of a cube on a shallow foundation of stones surmounted by a conical thatched roof. The walls would be made of tree trunks and ant-resistant fern poles, sometimes incorporating elaborate carvings or painted designs, and covered in clay. The upper portion sometimes housed valuables such as royal paraphernalia and the skulls of the compound head’s ancestors. This large structure would always face the hillside from which the main path would descend. In keeping with the very hierarchical nature of Bangwa society there were precise regulations about how many doors and windows this building could have and where they were positioned according to a man’s rank. Similarly the etiquette regarding seating arrangements inside reflected the elaborate hierarchy of social position. Although these meeting houses were an essential feature of a chief or noble’s compound, wealthy commoners would also have them. The area in front of the meeting house was used as an open dancing place. This practice is still retained today. The traditionally built meeting houses have all disappeared, the last one having burned down in 1987. However, they have been replaced by similar structures made of concrete and zinc.
The compound head’s personal quarters were usually hidden behind the meeting house in an area surrounded by a fence of tall fern poles. It was here that he kept his heirlooms and ancestors’ skulls and received his close associates. Where the compound belonged to a chief, this area would be even more secluded and this added further to his power and authority,
wrapping it in the mysterious and mystical. This part of the compound was not to be entered casually - it was the seat and source of the chiefdom’s power and life. That secrecy and spiritual power were most potently located in the sacred forest, the Lefem, a small copse near a chief’s compound. Only the chief, his nobles and retainers could enter it. Women and commoners were debarred on pain of death.
Fig. 1 Chief’s Compound
On both sides of the compound and set at ninety degrees to the main building would be the wives’ “kitchens”. Here they would live with their children. These would be low, simple dwellings which would also incorporate a social pecking order with the first wife’s kitchen being first in line on the compound head’s right (man hand side) as he faces out. If there were a large number of wives (polygamy is a traditional norm) more kitchens would be built facing the main building thus creating a square. In most cases the square would be closed by a solid fence
with a gateway which can be closed at night. Entering these compounds one is very conscious of material wealth and social order, as if encountering a self-sufficient society in miniature (Cf. Conrau, 1899; Cadman, 1921 and Brain, 1971, 1972). Although the houses today no longer use traditional materials and building methods the compound layout has been maintained. Even in the townships the pattern is still followed, albeit on a reduced scale. These large compounds of a chief, sub-chief or noble are the focal point of the social life of the surrounding compounds, the owners of which are often ‘sons’ of the chief or noble, i.e. related through the paternal line.
Chiefs and the Social Structure
The nine Bangwa chiefdoms do not simply have one chief. Each of the chiefdoms has a paramount chief. The practice during the past ten years has been for each of them to adopt the grasslands title of Fon in order to stress their importance not only within the Bangwa area but also to the Cameroon government. Previously only the chief of Lebang was known by this title in Bangwa. Within each chiefdom there are lesser chiefs, designated as sub-chiefs (efwante). The most distinguished of these are descendants of formerly independent chiefs who were conquered or who submitted (sometimes under colonial pressure) to the paramount chief. The same pattern is duplicated within each sub-chiefdom. The sub-chief is a ‘chief’, with his palace and sometimes his own market and he also has his own ‘chiefs’ who are nobles (Nkem). There are also quarter heads and family heads who, although some may not be nobles, do have considerable standing within the social and political structure (cf. de Latour 1991: ch.10). Titles, with the rights and obligations associated with them, could be granted by the Fon or a chief to one of their subjects because of friendship,
favours rendered or simply financial inducement on the part of a wealthy commoner.
A chiefdom was ruled by the Fon through contact with his sub-chiefs, individually or in a council at his palace (Brain 1971:13). All chiefs wielded considerable power and were feared and respected by their subjects. The Fon, for example, could not be touched by anyone or be looked upon when addressed by a commoner. Chiefs were not considered divine but they were considered to have sacred attributes and had to perform important annual rites for the well-being and fertility of the land and people. One of their major functions was to settle disputes which in Bangwa were, and still are, considerable in number and complexity. They also judged cases involving theft, adultery and witchcraft but only the Fon had the power to execute witches by hanging.
One other figure of great social importance in the social organisation of Bangwa society was the retainer. In the past these were always slaves and servants who had come to be trusted by the Fon or chief. In fact, a powerful chief normally tended to trust his retainers more than his counsellors and royal sons. They were effectively the real governors of the country, a form of administrative class. There have been examples, though, where the power of some of the Great Retainers came to rival that of the chief who, for his own security, forcibly ousted them from office by poisoning them, accusing them of witchcraft or selling them into slavery. Often they were married to the titled sisters of the chief and it was common that after their master’s death the most important would be granted titles, usually as nobles.
The Night Society and the Gong Society
There are many ‘societies’ in Bangwa. These are a number of groups associating individuals of common status, interest or function such as the mothers and fathers of twins, age-mates, warriors, women, recreational dance groups. These all meet and take part in any important occasion, often presenting their own dances. However, the two most important societies in the social organisation of Bangwa are the Night Society (Troh) and the Gong Society (Lefem).
The Night Society was the feared arm of the law, the fearful weapon of the chiefs in carrying out punishment for serious crimes. The senior members of the Great Night, its inner sanctum, were the Nine retainers (the original retainer companions of the chief in the myth of origin - see page 1, par. 3). The Nine, today, are powerful lords, sub-chiefs and nobles, who are the descendants of princesses who were married to retainers. Their most important function was to rule and protect the palace during the often turbulent interregnum after the death of their chief. It was to them that the chief revealed the name of his successor and it was they who presented the new ruler to the people (See Brain, 1971:65-83). They are often known as the ‘kingmakers’ of Bangwa. When appearing in public they are disguised in sackcloth and leaves and their presence invokes a profound, fearful silence particularly when their leader, the Lord of the Night (Troh Ndi), makes his entrance. The Night Society accompanies the chief and other important members of the royal family on witchcraft excursions during which they transform themselves into flying animals and feast on (imaginary) human flesh (cf. de Latour 1991: 166-170).
While the Night Society is concerned with the terrifying use of power, the Gong Society is somewhat more relaxed.
The Gong Society known as Lefem, the same name as the sacred forest where they meet, is reserved for sub-chiefs and nobles. They meet to offer sacrifices to the ancestors, feast, play their gongs (iron bells) to bless the people and country and discuss matters of state. While it is not as secretive as the Night Society, non-members are not permitted entry into the forest when discussions are taking place, although men can enter to play the gongs if their father is dead. It is in the meetings that the carved figures of the royal ancestors are brought to light, the belief being that the statues render the ancestor present. The Gong Society ultimately is where decisions and policy about the village life are reached in agreement between the living and the dead (Brain 1971:84). It is a presentation of the good side of chiefly power and the corporate nature of Bangwa social organisation.
The Bangwa trace relationships through both parents, although most property and titles are inherited patrilineally by a patrigroup head who as the heir becomes the custodian of his father’s skull. However, there are no wide patrilineal groupings, no clans or lineages with a common name and marriage taboos. Half brothers, for example, own no property in common (cf. Brain, 1972:95). Female links are stressed in
4 Bangwa carving is famous in its own right and the object of Brain and Pollock’s fascinating study (1971). Many of these statues were taken by the Germans in the early part of the 20th century. One, “The Bangwa Princess” was bought by an American museum from a German collection for one million dollars in 1989.
5 The Bangwa are not a ‘patrilineal’ people. Patrilineal ties do not give rise to corporate lineages in the accepted anthropological sense. Therefore, the use of the term ‘patrigroups’ here represents the shallow grouping of kin clustered around a line of patrilineal skulls which are inherited vertically from father to son, never collaterally, by brothers and cousins. (See Brain, 1972:92-104)
the kinship system and the most important family relationships are those of a person’s own kindred in which the solidarity of the ‘children of one womb’ and their children is opposed to the weak half-sibling relationship within the polygamous family.
There are no initiation ceremonies within Bangwa culture. Children are named and grow to adulthood without any formal rites. Marriages were arranged before a girl had reached puberty, sometimes even soon after her birth, and were legalised with the payment of the bridewealth which was often high. Polygamy rates were always high which was due to the late marriage age for men: a commoner could not afford to marry until he was in his thirties. A man’s widows were inherited by his successor although some would be handed out to unmarried sons or brothers.
As in many societies where polygamy was practised, one of its main functions among the Bangwa was to act as a sign of the material, social and spiritual power of the husband. As well as acquiring wives when they were young, many were slaves imported from the grasslands. In fact, this practice was so common that everyone in Bangwa today claims descent from a slave wife (Brain, 1971:19). If the Bangwa culture is so closely akin to that of the Bamileke then it is due primarily to these slave girls who continually refreshed and strengthened that cultural contact. Girls were also frequently given as signs of friendship or alliance by their fathers to important figures as a means of gaining or granting favours. However, a paramount chief, such as Fontem, could take any girl within his chiefdom. Polygamy was also a means of obtaining not only children but also of enlarging one’s population and having the economic advantage of possessing a larger workforce to work on one’s farms and palm oil groves. The practice of polygamy became
all the more necessary after the colonial authorities put an end to the slave trade since previously the bulk of a man’s workforce would have been male slaves from the grasslands (Brain, 1972:15).
The peculiarities of the physical environment have often been a determining influence in Bangwa society and culture and this has extended into the economic sphere as well. Within all of the Bangwa chiefdoms there has always existed a dual division between the upper and lower regions. These correspond to two distinct ecological environments and means that the Bangwa are able to produce a variety of crops. This gives them an economic advantage when it comes to trading with their neighbours on the grasslands and down in the forests.
There was a division of labour between the sexes which has seen little change with modern times. Women carry out most of the heavy labour of clearing forest areas, subsistence farming and portering goods to the markets. They would sometimes be helped in these tasks by their children. On the upper areas they farm maize, beans and groundnuts while on the lower farms they produce cocoyams, the staple food, and cassava. Land is a ‘free good’ which the chief distributes among the women annually. Crop rotation has been long established due to the poverty of the soil, particularly in the upper region. Men, on the other hand, disdain an excess of hard physical labour which was seen as part of a woman’s remit. This perhaps is due to the fact that wives originally were slaves who had been bought and paid for in order, among other things, to carry out farming labour. Men cultivated plantain and raised livestock such as goats and pigs which were tended by the younger children or
left to roam free, much to the despair of the women whose farms they plundered. However, it was in harvesting kola nuts, palm wine and, above all, palm nuts for oil that men obtained their greatest source of income. Every chief, noble or wealthy commoner had his own area of palm groves in the forest. Slaves and servants would be sent there to supervise oil production. This oil was the main export to the grasslands (cf. Brain 1971: 21).
The flourishing Bangwa economy has always depended primarily on trade. Because of its location, Bangwa lay at the heart of a trading pattern linking the Bayang forest markets, the Bangwa markets and the grassland markets. Much of the internal trade was in the hands of women who carried smoked fish and meat bought from the Bayang and cocoyams and oil from their own Bangwa farms to the grassland markets. They returned with raffia palm wine, salt, groundnuts and maize. The external trade was conducted by the men, principally by the chiefs and wealthy nobles, who would attend the grassland and Bayang markets with their wives, slaves and servants, acting as middle-men in the commerce of slaves, guns, European articles and prestige articles made locally. The slave trade, however, was the mainstay of the nineteenth century Bangwa economy. Slaves would be bought from grassland markets in the east, some of whom would be kept as wives or labourers, but the majority would be sold to the Bayang for onward transport to the coastal region.
For the scattered compound dwellers the numerous markets in the Bangwa area served as an important meeting point where not only goods were exchanged but also news, gossip, marriage proposals, bridewealth payments and summonses to court. It was the forum for public announcements and general
entertainment. The market was a display of Bangwa society in all its shades and subtleties, a visible expression of all the interweaving strands that made up a complex pattern of social relations.
Change in the Traditional Society
While social relations were hierarchical and stratified, they were characterised by a general courtesy between the sexes and ranks, between the rich and poor, and even the humblest could express his or her opinion and be listened to. However, as I said in the introduction, while in some respects Bangwa communities could be ‘closed’, it would be wrong to draw from all this that a Bangwa chiefdom is or ever was a typical ‘small-scale’ society. Although the population may be small, sometimes only a few hundred, the community was involved in complex political and economic relations both inside the chiefdom and far afield. In political and social terms Bangwa has always been a changing society; chiefdoms rise, fall and fragment; individuals gain power and lose it (cf. Brain, 1972:71). Two factors were responsible for this continual flux.
The first arises from the fact that, contrary to the practice in some small-scale societies, the two processes of inheritance and succession are separate. The succession to the status of a patrigroup head does not imply inheritance of his whole estate. This system of partible inheritance means that a patrigroup head has several heirs; there is, however, only one successor to his title and his patriline skulls. On a man’s death, property is shared among kinsmen and non-kinsmen through oral bequests. Persons who are heirs but not kin include a man’s chief, and if he is a retainer, his master. The successor usually takes the bulk of the property, but important and sometimes sizable shares
go to a man’s other sons, sons’ sons, matrikin and his patrigroup head in death duties. The dead man’s status affects the distributions as well, since there are different rules for heads of patrigroups, married men, childless men, chiefs, commoners and retainers (Brain, 1972:98). One consequence of this system was that a new chief might start off his reign less wealthy than his father, his power reduced, the position of his chiefdom less secure. Another consequence was that this system was, and still is, liable to create enormous divisions and litigation among those who feel they have some claim on a dead man’s estate. A father’s allies could quickly turn into enemies. There are numerous examples, particularly if the successor was a minor, of ambitious sub-chiefs, nobles and retainers conspiring to see the downfall of the new chief and the rising of one of their own number either as the new chief or as the most important chief in the area.
The second factor contributing to the continual change experienced in traditional Bangwa society is the fact that it is not ‘lineage-based’ (see footnote 5 and Brain 1972:45-91). Bangwa social life is not carried on in the all-embracing idiom of kinship, with personal loyalties and resources pooled in discrete unilineal descent groups. Kinship here is an individual business, with a person in the centre of a ramifying network of ties linking him with matrilineal and patrilineal kin, affines, creditor-lords, political superiors, associations, societies and so on. The most noteworthy fact about Bangwa kinship is the lack of bonded groups. A Bangwa claims no clan or lineage membership, and no corporate group takes responsibility for any of his actions. Kinship is an aid to the business of making a living: trading, inheriting, acquiring a title, farming, ruling, and marrying. The Bangwa kinship system is as complex as the business of Bangwa living. This engenders a high degree of
competition among the members of society and through political skill, guile and astute alliances an individual can advance his own position socially and financially.
These two factors, the separation of property inheritance and title succession and the fact that kinship is not lineage-based but a highly individual business, were responsible for the changes that occurred in Bangwa society before the arrival of the Germans. These changes involved a shifting of power from one individual to another, the fragmentation of one group into several, the collectivisation of groups into single units such as a chiefdom through force or alliance. However, although the sense of the identity of the group could be highly fluid with individuals allying themselves to focal points of power such as a chief, the destructive or disorganisational capacity of change was contained, controlled and neutralised because it occurred within what was essentially a closed system of political relations. Contact with the grasslands was limited by distance and difficulty of terrain. The other neighbouring groups, the Bayang, Mbo and Mundani, were of a completely different culture and were regarded as hostile at the best of times. Therefore, the effects of the sometimes random rise and fall of powerful individuals or groups were ultimately controlled by the Fon and his council of sub-chiefs and nobles. However, notwithstanding the power and authority of the Fon and his sub-chiefs, government in the Bangwa chiefdoms was informal, probably due to the distinct territorial distribution of family compounds. In other words, each family head had a fair degree of independence. There was a finely balanced dynamic of power relations in operation which somehow or other managed to maintain a degree of social equilibrium. The inhabitants of each of the various Bangwa chiefdoms may have always demonstrated a strong sense of solidarity in the face of external
pressure and threat but they have often bemoaned their tendency to be easily divided among themselves on internal matters.
All this makes for a society which is extremely vibrant and characterised by a substantial freedom of opportunity to enhance one’s position and role: what Lucy Mair describes as room for manoeuvre (Mair, 1969:123) which has always been present in all societies and which lies at the heart of all social change and history. The Bangwa may be well known in Cameroon as having a reputation for being highly individualistic, stubborn and dedicated to exploiting any opportunity for their own success but that is only one side of the coin. They are also a strong, reliable people who are afraid of nothing and who will quickly and readily establish relationships which are direct, honest and enduring. Change, and indeed the desire for it, has always been a part of Bangwa society and the Bangwa character. It is, therefore, not a recent phenomenon but there is a distinction between the change which occurred in pre-colonial times from that which occurred during the colonial and post-colonial period. In former times what precipitated change arose almost exclusively from within Bangwa society and was subject to a controlling mechanism for coping with it. The colonial and post-colonial periods saw the erosion of Bangwa isolation and the arrival of external causes of change over which the traditional society was less and less able to exert control.
THE MAJOR SOCIAL CHANGES
IN BANGWA SOCIETY AND CULTURE
1889 TO 1993
c.1889 to 1898 THE PRE-COLONIAL PERIOD
Fontem Asonganyi is perhaps the most interesting of all the paramount chiefs to have ruled in the Bangwa area. He is the dominant figure in the history of Bangwa during the past 100 years and for that reason he will sometimes appear in what follows.
After having fought off a rival claimant, Asonganyi succeeded his father, Fontem Atshemabo, about the year 1889 while still only in his teens. He developed his position as a middleman in the trade economy between the grasslands and the forest area to its full potential and quickly became very wealthy. Through alliances, guile and plain old violence Asonganyi absorbed many of the previously independent local chiefs into his chiefdom, Lebang, making it the largest in all of Bangwa, modelling it and himself much more closely on the lines of the Bamileke kingdoms and their powerful rulers, the Fons. He made extensive use of the traditional societies, particularly Troh and Lefem, as a means of creating greater social and political control over his chiefdom and introduced many others which had previously never been seen, borrowing from not just grassland culture but also forest cultures as well. Between 1896 and 1900 he also led wars against the neighbouring Bayang and Mbo to extend his territory into the forests in order to acquire more
palm groves. In the face of such an adversary the Bayang and Mbo quickly acceded to his demands for greater trade agreements. Although he could be totally ruthless, he was a man of great personal charm, foresight, and intellect. By the time he was only thirty he had established himself as the most powerful and wealthy of the Western Bamileke chiefs with an influence that travelled far beyond the boundaries of his own kingdom. Asonganyi’s 60 year reign is still regarded as the golden age of Lebang.
In 1884 the Germans established a port colony at Douala and almost immediately annexed the whole country, naming it Kamerun. This annexation was recognised in the treaties reached at the Berlin Conference in 1885 (Ardener et al., 1960:27). However, it was not until February 1898 that they first made contact with the Bangwa area. Gustav Conrau, an agent for a trading company which had begun plantations on the coast, came in search of workers. He was highly impressed by the young Asonganyi, by the wealth and organisation of his palace and the extent of his trading network. The two became friends, ritually sealing their bond in blood, and Conrau departed with 88 workers for the plantations, mostly slaves whom Asonganyi had loaned him. When he returned later that year without the workers, most of whom had probably died as a result of malaria and fever, he was imprisoned by Asonganyi who demanded either the men’s return or compensation. Conrau made an unsuccessful escape attempt which ended in his death, most probably from suicide (Dunstan 1965:405).
6 cf. Max Weber’s ideas about charismatic leaders who emerge in society and bring about significant developments of culture - see Etzioni 1964:5.
Late in 1899 the German colonial authorities dispatched a punitive force under General Pavel to the hinterland to quell an ever growing ‘native’ resistance to their rule (Eyongateh & Brain 1974:72-75). Part of that force attacked Lebang, Asonganyi’s chiefdom, killing about 80 Bangwa warriors and destroying his palace. A second force was sent the following year, 1900, to apprehend Asonganyi but he evaded it and escaped into hiding where he was to remain for the next eleven years carrying out a sporadic guerrilla war until his eventual capture in 1911. From then until the defeat of German forces by the British and French in 1916 he was exiled to Garoua in the north of Kamerun. During that period the Germans established a garrison at the site of the former palace, naming it Fontemdorf, and installing Ajongakoh, one of Asonganyi’s sons, as a puppet ruler (Dunstan 1965:410).
Of all the major social changes experienced in the Bangwa area the German colonial period was perhaps the most sudden and violent. The population was conscripted into forced labour both on the plantations and in the building of a road which linked the grasslands and the lower forest area, following the traditional trade route. Many Bangwa died in these ventures. One major change which the Germans wrought on the political system of Bangwa was to define the borders between the various chiefdoms together with those of neighbouring tribes, thereby putting an end to the intermittent warfare which had characterised the area for decades. In fixing the territorial boundaries the Germans also fixed the position of each of the chiefs, relative to one another, confirming the hierarchical system but robbing it of its former fluidity and ability to change
through competition. The repercussions of that act of German tidiness still afflict local politics to this day.
Perhaps the most significant change so violently inflicted on Bangwa society and culture during the German occupation was a psychological one. A people used to freedom of opportunity within a closed world suddenly found themselves subject to the power of the wider world beyond their once secure borders. The co-ordinates of power had shifted. Not only were the chiefdoms and their hierarchies destined to remain unchanged ever after but the Bangwa would never be their own masters again, capable of dealing with change in their own fashion. With German colonial rule the chiefs began their subservience to an outside authority, German, British and Cameroonian, whose agents they would now become, collecting taxes and keeping order, and manipulated for the sake of a ‘national’ whole. Gone was the invincibility clearly demonstrated in the wars against the Bayang and the Mbo. Gone, too, were many of the royal ancestor statues which formed a link with the past and which were an essential feature of the Lefem. These the Germans looted and today they now stare glumly from their pedestals in the alien Lefems of European and American museums. Resentment against German rule found expression
7 The Germans created the system of nine paramount chiefdoms which the British continued. Several other chiefs claimed that they had been independent before German rule. One, Fonjenewa, has been involved in a court case which has lasted since 1922 making repeated efforts to be recognised as a paramount chief in his own right. That case has resulted in great enmity between the people of Njenawung and Nwemataw occasionally erupting into violence, house burning and a long list of criminal proceedings and further court cases. Neither the British colonial authorities nor the Cameroon government have been able to find a solution.
Another case involved the Germans’ supplanting the then paramount with one of his sub-chiefs. Again this case rumbled on in courts for years. The matter even resulted in the descendant of the aggrieved chief being murdered in 1988 for persisting with his claim.
in the name Ajongakoh, the German’s replacement for Asonganyi. He died in exile, alone and in poverty, his name a curse and a byword for betrayal (Dunstan 1965:413).
The British Administration
Under the 1919 Trust Mandate of the League of Nations the former German colony of Kamerun was to be administered by the British and French governments. The boundary taken between the two parts of the country was the Bamboutos mountains. This meant that four-fifths of the country, therefore, came under French jurisdiction and the other fifth was administered as part of the British colony of Nigeria (Eyongateh 1974:95-103). In political terms, this effectively separated the Bangwa from their natural allies the Bamileke. However, for the upper chiefdoms of M’mockmbie and M’mogndi, which were closer physically, culturally, economically and socially to the Bamileke chiefdoms than the other Bangwa chiefdoms, the international frontier had little significance. They were often excluded from local political affairs both because of distance and by the fact that the British tended to deal directly with Asonganyi in all matters concerning the Bangwa. Asonganyi’s position, therefore, was considerably enhanced because of the British colonial administration’s policy of Indirect Rule (See Lugard, 1922).
8 During the past ten years the chiefdoms of M’mockmbie and M’mogndi insist on being referred to as the Mok Fondoms. This signal is the result not only of their sense of being more closely associated with the Bamileke but also of their resentment at being excluded for so long from the political affairs of ‘Bangwa’ that they no longer wish to be included within that grouping.
As part of the process of determining how to govern the Cameroons the British administration carried out a number of surveys throughout the region. One such survey was conducted in the ‘Bangwa’ area in 1921 by the district officer of Mamfe, Mr. H. Cadman, and its findings made known in “The Bangwa Assessment Report” (Cadman, 1922). The report concentrated on population figures, Bangwa culture and the system of traditional authority. It recommended the maintenance of the territorial boundaries and the position of each chief in the local hierarchy within each paramount chiefdom established by the Germans. From their experience in other parts of West Africa they saw it as advantageous that in an area where there were a number of paramount chiefs one should be elevated as primus inter paris. Asonganyi was chosen to fill the role, firstly because his chiefdom was the most populous and secondly because he appeared to be the most able and friendly to the British. This caused a great deal of friction among the Bangwa chiefs but Asonganyi was diplomatic enough to deal with the situation. In reality his task was to oversee law and order through the customary court of which he was president and to supervise the collection of taxes.
The doctrine of Indirect Rule made use of the structure of traditional authority such as the one existing in Bangwa with a few adaptations. By and large the British had little interest in
9 The actual population figures of the report can generally be put in doubt. In April 1983 I interviewed one of Cadman’s clerks and translator, Mbe Stanislaus Nkeng, who informed me that when the district officer’s party was nearing a village the local chief would order half of the population to go and hide in the bush and to take anything which would give a semblance of wealth. The impression to be portrayed was to be one of a small population which lived in abject poverty. The reason for this was the local population’s belief that the district officer was interested solely in making a tax assessment. Upon his departure from the village the able-bodied and the village’s valuables would return to their rightful but unrecorded places.
the British Cameroons. Even the plantations were sold back to their original German owners after the First World War. Traditional rulers, such as Asonganyi, were allowed to function very much as before but with the moral, financial and military backing of the British. A civil service bureaucracy with Europeans in top control was established throughout the British Cameroons with an army and police force, again controlled by British officers, present to keep the peace. The nearest centre of British administration to the Bangwa area was Mamfe, five days trek away. Since one of the prime objectives of the Indirect Rule policy was to enable an efficiency of administration in the interest of organising local populations for such ends as supplying labour for European homes, mines and plantations (Drake 1965:519), the Bangwa area figured little in this scheme because of its remoteness from centres of British exploitation. As far as the Bangwa and other areas like it were concerned, British colonial rule was not a time of harsh subjugation or exploitation as the experience under the Germans was. Rather, it was viewed both then and still today as a beneficial imposition of order.
Despite the apparent lack of contact between the British and the Bangwa, colonial rule did affect and change the nature of Bangwa society in four main ways. The first was that it created a stability between the different chiefdoms and between the Bangwa and their neighbours, the Bayang, Mundani and Mbo. This security extended throughout the British Cameroons and Nigeria allowing free movement. This opening to the wider world for the Bangwa area also marked the beginning of the entrance of outside influences on its society. Some of these would be welcomed, others resisted. Most significantly, during the period of British colonial rule, the traditional Bangwa authorities began to experience a weakening of their power in
terms of how society should function, what should be its priorities and how the members of their own chiefdoms could act without reference to their authority.
The second effect of British rule was a consequence of this greater security and freedom, namely, an increase in economic opportunities. The 1930’s and 40’s saw the emergence of traders who would develop trade links between the Bangwa area and distant markets on the coast or in Nigeria by travelling to these places themselves. Although this did not greatly affect the traditional trading system between the grasslands and the forest it did limit it to dealing only in food crops. European goods such as cloth, tools, etc. were brought directly from the port of entry. The profits involved were considerably increased. These traders were also the bearers of other goods; new crops, such as coffee and cocoa; and new ideas, such as, that education was a key to economic success. The new economic opportunities also included the possibility of work on the plantations and permanent migration to the coastal region. The reality of ‘life on the coast’ was one of the most important factors in social change in the Bangwa area and will be dealt with shortly.
As was mentioned above, the opening of the Bangwa area to the wider world opened the way for outside influences upon the society. A third consequence of the British colonial period was the arrival of Christianity and education. Despite the British policy of non-interference in the culture of ‘native’ peoples, except when some aspects outraged the moral sentiments of
those ‘back home’ (cf. Drake 1965:518-520), the colonial officers did permit Christian missionaries to enter and proselytise in the Bangwa area. The impact of the Christian missionaries, particularly the Roman Catholics, on the Bangwa would be far-reaching, particularly in the field of education.
The fourth way in which the British colonial administration affected the nature of Bangwa society concerned the whole idea of “tradition”.
The 1870’s, 1880’s and 1890’s were the time of a great flowering of European invented tradition - ecclesiastical, educational, military, republican, monarchical. It was also the time of the European rush into Africa. There were many complex connections between the two processes.
....This meant that they [the Europeans in Africa] had to define themselves as natural and undisputed masters of vast numbers of Africans. They drew upon European invented traditions both to define and to justify their roles, and also to provide models of subservience ..... models of ‘modern’ behaviour.
- Terence Ranger, The Invention of Tradition, p. 211 (1984)
The British authorities’ use of ‘tradition’ as a means of ritualising its power and affirming the colonial hierarchy which governed had two curious effects on Bangwa society and culture. The first was the notion that ‘tradition’ was a social good since it maintained stability by reference to an unchanging set of social doctrines and rituals which had come down tried and tested from the past. It was, therefore, implicit that any change and divergence from ‘tradition’ was wrong since it
10 For example, in the Bangwa area the British outlawed the system of operating on corpses as part of the process of divining whether death was the result of witchcraft (See Directive to the Heads of Customary Courts: Illegal Mutilation of Corpses, 27th. September 1931, E. Arnett, Resident, Cameroons (Buea Archives, Cameroon)
undermined the social order. Furthermore, given that their own respect for ‘tradition’ disposed the British colonial officers to look with favour upon what they took to be traditional in Africa (Ranger, 1984:212), an idea which also influenced the whole implementation of Indirect Rule, it is not surprising that traditional rulers felt very much as ease with these beliefs. Although chiefs were wont to make reference to ‘tradition’ when it suited their purposes in the past, the fact that the colonial authority set so much store on ‘tradition’ and enshrined it in ‘Native Law and Custom’ gave them a doctrine which had never before been so clearly formulated. ‘Tradition’, Native Law and Custom, would be the battle cry of chiefs such as Asonganyi when faced with the ‘modern’ changes which eroded their power and position.
For the younger generation of Bangwa, particularly those who had travelled to the coast, British ‘tradition’ represented an awesome power which found expression in words like ‘modern’, ‘civilised’ and ‘developed’. British ‘tradition’ and European technology represented an alternative, wider culture to which they aspired for it provided the opportunity of greater freedom and greater material wealth. It is ironic that ‘traditions’ which originated partly in the need to affirm and maintain a strict social class system in Victorian Britain should provoke a class struggle in African cultures such as Bangwa. British ‘tradition’, therefore, was interpreted by the ruling chiefly class as a validation of their system of rule; for the younger, dispossessed Bangwa it represented not just a new, alternative culture but also a rejection of the old, closed world of Bangwa as well.
The first plantations on the fertile slopes of Mount Cameroon had been set up by German companies in 1885 within a year of the establishment of the German Protectorate (Ardener, 1961:83). After the First World War the German owners were allowed to ‘buy’ them back. After the Second World War the colonial administration set up the Cameroon Development Corporation to run the plantations as one entity under the management of British personnel.
In some ways the plantations were a country set apart from the rest of Cameroon. The common language was pidgin English, the economy based on cash and the population mostly immigrant workers melded together with their own distinctive culture. However, no one tribe, it has been noted, was able to dominate the plantation labour force or the immigrant body as a whole (Ardener, 1961:89). Sociologically it was like many centres of industry which sprang up in the British colonies which required massive amounts of manpower, largely immigrants, involved in the processing of a single commodity. There are, for example, numerous parallels between the Cameroon plantations and the mining operations on the Copperbelt in Zambia. The boom years of the plantations were just prior to the Second World War and in the decade after it. As many as 25,000 men were employed in 1938 and this would rise to 32,000 by 1953, the all-time peak (Ardener et al., 1960:3-5).
The highest number of Bangwa workers recorded as being employed on the plantations was in 1938 when they numbered some 925 (Ardener et al., 1960:203). Since the majority of plantation workers during this period were often young men between the ages of 18-25, this represented a sizable proportion of the young male population of the Bangwa area. While the
adventure of working in far away fields perhaps seemed preferable to toiling on the ungenerous Bangwa hills, the main motive for seeking work on the coast was obviously financial. It was easy to get work and the income earned was a quick way to amass money for bridewealth. If they were to stay at home most young men could only expect to marry when they were in their thirties. Many of those who went were from the poorer families or sons who did not expect to succeed their fathers. However, statistics show that the majority of young men, 80% of whom were employed as unskilled workers, would only remain on the plantations for an average of 6 years (Ardener et al., 1960:47). Work was hard and conditions difficult especially for the men from the cooler highlands such as Bangwa.
Several factors changed the mentality and outlook of the Bangwa on the plantations. One of these was the fact that they came into contact with workers from other tribes. It is interesting to note that in their survey carried out among the workers of the plantations, Ardener, Ardener and Warmington (1960) found that 82.5% preferred to live in mixed-tribal camps and work in mixed-tribal squads (p.101). Although they did maintain close association with their own countrymen they felt that they learned more about life and the world through being with men of other tribes. They also said that there were less disputes, less competition, jealously and witchcraft when camps and squads were mixed (p.101-104). This feeling was particularly true of men from the highly hierarchical tribes of the grasslands such as the Banso, the Bali, the Bamenda and the Bamileke of which the Bangwa were a sub-group. The plantation experience for these men, therefore, was less restrictive socially, more egalitarian despite the difficult conditions.
Two other factors were responsible for the change in the young Bangwa men’s mentality and outlook towards the world and society: Christianity and the opportunity to gain some education. Christian missionaries had been active in the plantations almost from the very start in the late 19th century and many of the workers were converted there, later taking the new faith and ideas back to their own countries. In the period just prior to World War II the plantation companies, as part of their plans to develop a more skilled workforce, began to provide basic education for workers who wanted it.
The outbreak of the Second World War saw a scaling down of operations on the Cameroon plantations and many young Bangwa men were forced to return home. The large influx of men back to the Bangwa area had numerous social consequences, including a conflict of ideas and attitudes with the older generation.
The Bayang will not complain (as the neighbouring Bangwa do) that young men having the opportunity of leaving home and gaining money for themselves no longer respect the authority of senior men within the home society. (Ardener et al., 1960:244)
Given the independent nature of the Bangwa the above is not entirely surprising. However, many returned to the coast either to seek employment again in the plantations or to use their earnings to establish themselves in the new towns growing up in the coastal area. They would form the beginning of the large Bangwa community which is present in towns like Kumba, Mutengene and Muyuka.
11 Bayang society is much more egalitarian, like many of the forest cultures of Cameroon, and is not so hierarchical in its social system as the Bangwa and grasslands groups (See Ruel 1969).
While working in the mixed tribal environment of the plantations meant entering into a new ‘society’ for the young Bangwa men it also meant becoming involved in the world of the ‘white man’. The social hierarchy and economy of the plantations created by the European owners and managers was primarily for financial ends. In essence it followed a European pattern, particularly in terms of organisation and technology, reflecting the European industrial society from which it came and which it served. The efficiency of operations and their sheer size had never been seen before in Cameroon. The ordinary plantation worker may have occupied a lowly place in the scheme of things but he would have no doubt about the power structure, what the best paid jobs were and what constituted ‘success’ in this new society. The ultimate in power and success was epitomised by the European. European culture and values not only dominated the plantations but they were aspired to by those who lived and worked there.
For many of the plantation workers the spiritual sphere of the white man’s world was represented by the missionaries. The spiritual, the ‘religious’, permeated all aspects of their own culture and society and was integral to its identity and way of functioning. Given this background Christianity was probably viewed by workers as an essential component of the white man’s power, his society and his success (Curtin et al. 1978:526). This was perhaps particularly the case with a colonial authority which had its roots in English society where there was a strong tradition of the complimentary relationship between the Church and State. Having become involved in the white man’s economics it was an almost logical step to become involved in his religion as well. ‘Freed’ from the social setting of the Bangwa world and the Bangwa world view the Bangwa workers were
also, to some extent, ‘freed’ from its spiritual order. On the one hand, their beliefs, particularly those regarding witchcraft, did not vanish overnight but these beliefs were no longer subject to the complete control of the Bangwa society from which they sprang and which had given the beliefs a social coherence. Many of the Bangwa men who worked on the plantations during the 1940’s and 1950’s did become Christians. However, to say that they did so because of a quasi-mechanical social process of ‘fitting-in’ would be an over simplification and suggest that they had almost no will in the matter. While the European facade of Christianity, its ‘newness’ and the role of the group were certainly factors in bringing about the conversion of workers to the Christian faith, religious conversion is a complex, indefinite process: continually awaiting moments of affirmation, doubt or rejection, continually expressing as much about the mystery of human nature as it does about the deity. For all its faults, Christianity did represent values which were more universal and wider than European culture.
Generally speaking, before the Second World War, the Christian missionaries in Cameroon were particularly anxious to distance themselves from the colonial authorities. This was partly due to the missionaries’ desire to carry out their work independently of colonial authority. Since both were following different agendas it is not surprising that there were occasions when their different interests and ideas resulted in a conflict
12 For an interesting discussion on the whole question of conversion, particularly in the African context, see the discussion between Horton and Peel, see Horton 1971, 1975 and Horton & Peel 1976. 13 Cf. Confidential Memorandum from D.O. Mamfe - A.E. Tweed to Resident, Buea, 25th September 1928: Complaint against Fr. Ham (Dutch).
between them. This was especially the case where the missionaries were not of the same nationality as the colonial officers. However, there were a number of interesting parallels between the power structures of the plantations, the colonial administration and the various Christian churches proselytising the peoples of Cameroon. For example, all of them were organisations which had their headquarters in Europe and which operated in situ with a European management and African workers. In the case of the churches, the European bishops, priests and pastors carried out a policy of evangelisation which had been determined in Europe (Basel or Rome) through African catechists who, like the plantation labour force or the lower echelons of the colonial bureaucracy, had no say in the policy affecting them.
The missionaries were as much a product of European culture as were the plantation managers and colonial officers. Consciously or unconsciously, they shared in the prevailing late 19th century and early 20th century European attitude regarding peoples who did not have European technology, science and literature: African peoples were simple, pagan and primitive (cf. Curtin et al. 1978:523-527 & Anderson 1970:9). Given this mentality, European Christianity made little attempt to accommodate itself to African culture. Two other factors were also responsible for this. Firstly, the position of Europeans as controllers of the evangelisation process would hardly help in eradicating the prejudice of European superiority when dealing
14 The London Baptist mission which had been established at Victoria (now Limbe) in 1840 was something of a thorn in the flesh of the German colonial government. The Baptists spoke out very forcibly against the general harshness and cruelty of German rule exemplified in their seizure of land from the native peoples and their policy of forced labour. The Baptists were forced to leave Kamerun in 1886. Their missions were taken over by the (Swiss) Basel Mission. (cf. Bowie 1986:48 & Eyongateh 1974:76)
with Africans. Secondly, the doctrinal struggle between the Christian churches in Europe, particularly between the Protestant and Roman Catholic churches, had produced an unbending attitude regarding religious truth and practice. In these circumstances where there was virtually no dialogue between people of different churches, despite their sharing so much in common culturally, there was little chance that they would be open to the religious beliefs and practices of African peoples who were apparently so dissimilar to themselves religiously and culturally. In some ways the charge that the Christian churches’ missionary work in Africa was a form of spiritual colonialism is not entirely without foundation. The fact that the rise of missionary activity in Africa coincided with the rise of European colonialism could also be seen as a case for arguing that the former was the spiritual arm of the latter.
When Africans were baptised as Christians they were also obliged to make a formal rejection of all things ‘traditional’. The Christian churches’ intolerance to most aspects of traditional beliefs and practices was to cause an enormous gulf between African Christians and their ‘pagan’ relatives and countrymen. What transpired in the Bangwa area was to bear this out.
Christianity was first brought to the Bangwa area by young men who returned home after having been baptised as Christians while they worked on the coast with German officials or in the plantations. These young men would try to convince their people and chiefs of the benefits of the new religion. A request would then be made to the Christian churches to send catechists who would also act as teachers. These catechists were, however, often poorly schooled themselves and not well trained. In the early 1900’s the Swiss Basel Mission established itself in some
of the villages in the upper chiefdom of M’mogndi. These bordered the Bamenda plateau to the north where Basel missionaries had been active since 1896 (Bowie 1986). At the beginning of the 1920’s the Roman Catholic priests at nearby Dschang sent one catechist to each of the main villages in Lebang, Lewoh, Essoh-Attah and Ndungatet after receiving requests from the local paramount chiefs.
Matters were not long in coming to a head when the catechists began their work in the Bangwa area. Those who were Christians or catechumens were forbidden by the Church, through the catechist, to be members of the traditional secret societies, to take part in traditional ceremonies such as witch-divining, to be involved in polygamy or to be married without first conducting the Christian ceremony. Conversions were few and the Christians soon found themselves not only socially isolated but involved in conflicts with relatives and chiefs. At times these conflicts ended in physical violence.
One attempt to resolve the situation resulted in Christians leaving their own compounds and residing together on the land which the chief had given when the ‘mission’ was begun. This was often as much for the Christians’ own protection as it was for maintaining their sense of identity. The consequence, though, was that it now created a ‘society’ within society (cf. Achebe 1958:105). In the mission Christians now lived with their own sub-culture, laws and government. Although the question of beliefs and participation in traditional rituals remained the cause of serious division between Christians and others, the whole area of authority was much more contentious. Christians obeyed the catechist rather than the local chief or their family head. Where a chief was sympathetic to the Christian faith compromises could be reached by delineating the areas of the
catechist’s ‘jurisdiction’. However, some catechists (usually those who were non-Bangwa) who were over-ambitious for power or over-zealous in the defence of Christianity were at constant loggerheads with the local chief.
Asonganyi, the Fon of Fontem, had never wanted Christianity in his chiefdom and grudgingly accepted its arrival only because it was one of his most trusted sub-chiefs who had set up a mission in 1922. He was aware that Christian beliefs and practices were at odds with traditional ones and that if allowed to flourish Christianity would ultimately undermine his authority and position. Asonganyi resolved the question of difficulties between the mission and himself rather speedily and without discussion. In 1924 he dispatched his police, the Troh, to burn down the mission and expel the catechist and Christians from Lebang. A similar approach was taken by the chief of Ndungatet. The situation in Essoh-Attah was less tense because the chief and the catechist were related. The Chief of Lewoh, Folewoh Agendia Fotabong, was the most open of all Bangwa chiefs to Christianity and not only defused the tension over beliefs and practices between Christians and non-Christians but actively participated in the life of the mission. However, his bitter disagreement with a catechist, Stanislaus Nkeng, about authority in ‘secular’ matters finally ended with the catechist and five Christians being imprisoned, after the case was referred to the British district officer in Mamfe.
Generally, the British colonial administration tended to support local chiefs in any dispute between themselves and the
15 See Rex versus Nkeng, Mamfe Court, November 1929, Buea Archives, Cameroon.
Christian leaders such as catechists, priests and pastors. The British policy of indirect rule perhaps lay behind this stance since the undermining of traditional authority by Christian leaders would threaten the stability upon which the colonial system in Cameroon was based. The most extreme clashes between the Christian churches on the one hand and the traditional leaders and colonial authorities on the other usually involved the Roman Catholics. This is hardly surprising when one considers the fact that of all the churches it was the most hierarchical and the one for which matters of authority, decision and obedience were the most important. Indeed, during the 1920’s and 30’s, reports from colonial officers in Cameroon were often peppered with the complaint that the Roman Catholics tended to interfere more in traditional affairs than their Protestant counterparts. In 1931 the British expelled the two priests responsible for the Bangwa area from Cameroon and closed a number of the Catholic missions there. Strangely, the chief of Lewoh maintained the mission in his chiefdom and continued to encourage its existence despite his disagreements with the imprisoned catechist.
Before 1940 Christianity had never made much headway in the Bangwa area. The small number of Christians lived in pockets around their mission, visited perhaps two or three times a year by a priest. For the vast majority of Bangwa they were a source of conflict with nothing to offer. That would all begin to change in 1940.
16 Throughout the 1920’s and 30’s there was a heated correspondence between the local Roman Catholic Bishop, Mgr. P. Rogan, and the colonial authorities who felt that the unfair bias in favour of the chiefs produced a large number of injustices. See: Colonial Records, Buea Archives and Roman Catholic Diocesan Archives, Buea between 1926 and 1936.
17 See Kumba Provincial Court, Cases Nos. 40-44, 1931, Buea Archives.
Of all the elements which brought about change in Bangwa society, education had the greatest and most far-reaching effect. The two schools which had been run by the Catholic Mission in Bangwa before 1940 did not provide any real education beyond the teaching of Christian doctrine. These schools received children who were usually judged to be troublesome by their parents and the school was seen as a means of punishing them and keeping them under control.
1940 was a significant year in the history of education in Cameroon and the Bangwa area. Three factors were responsible for the sudden growth and acceptance of education: the colonial government’s policy of introducing an English speaking education system; the Catholic Church’s adoption of primary schools as a means of evangelisation (cf. Oliver 1965:272-281); and the mass return of men from the plantations which had been closed because of the war.
Conscious of the difficulty of trying to administer its colonies with such a small number of staff and aware that one solution was to educate indigenous men to fill the lower bureaucratic positions, the British colonial administration began to introduce a system of basic education throughout many of its colonies. This policy followed the recommendations of the Phelps-Stokes Commission (1922 & 1924) which had toured British colonies in Africa to look into the question of education for African peoples. Very little had been done in Cameroon in this respect because the British tended to treat the country as a backwater of Nigeria, the number of staff was always minimal and communications difficult. Very often the colonial officers did not have the time to supervise the few schools which did exist. However, the late 1930’s had seen an improvement in relations
between the colonial administration and the Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon and Nigeria (Ayandele 1966:303). An agreement was reached that the colonial authorities would provide grants-in-aid to the missionaries who would then open schools and administer them under the supervision of a colonial education officer. All teaching was to be conducted in the English language.
The Roman Catholic missionaries were eager to cooperate in the venture. Utilising schools as a means of evangelisation had proved enormously successful in other parts of Africa, particularly in Iboland, Nigeria under the direction of Bishop Shanahan the pioneer of this method (cf. Ayandele 1966:265,291, Forristal 1990). Although the Catholic Mission in Cameroon had a widespread network throughout the region, its principal difficulty in advancing education had been one of finance. The alliance with the colonial authorities now provided a unique opportunity.
Rumour and myth have always had an important role to play in history and social change. Since the 1930’s the ‘coast’ has always had a particular significance in the minds of the people living in the ‘interior’ areas of Cameroon such as Bangwa. In geographical terms the ‘coast’ meant the plantations, towns like Buea, Tiko, Douala and even places as far inland as Kumba. However, the ‘coast’ also represented economic opportunity, a better life full of bright lights, excitement and the wonder of the ‘new’. The reality was, and still is, something entirely different, as a visit to many West African towns will demonstrate. The young Bangwa men who returned from the
18 See correspondence between Mgr. P. Rogan, Bishop of Buea, and Sir Donald Cameron, Resident, Cameroon, from 1938 to 1939 (Roman Catholic Diocesan Archives, Buea)
plantations in 1940 no doubt appeared back home like exotic explorers, full of comparisons between life in the Bangwa hills and that of the ‘coast’. Although it is difficult to gauge the full impact of the tales they would have related on the minds of those who had stayed at home, some idea of this is clear in the response to the Catholic Mission opening primary schools throughout the Bangwa area. The ‘coast’ represented not just further economic opportunity but also a new economic order, a new world and a new power structure. These were epitomised in the white man; in his knowledge, his technology and his values. The returned plantation workers brought with them another world to which the Bangwa could compare themselves. For a people for whom economics was a key element in measuring life, status and roles, the ‘coast’ perhaps appeared as an indictment on their society. It was perhaps during this period in the early 1940’s that the words ‘backward’, ‘civilisation’ and ‘development’ began to assume the enormous importance they later occupied in the Bangwa vocabulary. In the minds of many Bangwa, the ‘coast’, the society brought by the white men, was seen as developed and civilised while their own rural areas were backward and undeveloped.
19 By way of illustrating the point: In an interview in 1987 with Chief Fobellah, one of the oldest Bangwa chiefs and a former policemen during the time of the British, I asked him what he thought British colonial rule had brought to the Bangwa people. He answered simply with one word: “Civilisation”. When I pointed out that the Bangwa already had their own ‘civilisation’ before the British arrived, he said, “White man fashion na correct one, e fine bad. Black man savy dasso for chop he brother. Before white man come we been be like beef for bush. We been be for inside dark, for inside wo-wo.” The poetry and power of pidgin English is untranslatable but what he was saying was roughly this: The white man‘s way of doing things is excellent. It is the best way. Black men only wish to exploit one another. Prior to the white man’s arrival we were like animals lost in the forest. We lived in a state of darkness, chaos and uncertainty.
To enter the new economy and new society it was necessary to acquire the knowledge and skills of the ruling group, the white men on the coast. When it was known that the Catholic missionaries were willing to open schools with a curriculum similar to that in British primary schools, many villages throughout the Bangwa area approached them. The request usually took the form of asking for a mission/church to be opened - and, by the way, could you open a school as well? The priests were not unaware of the real intentions of the Bangwa. In the spirit of trade by barter permeating all aspects of Bangwa life, they agreed to the villages’ request: it allowed them a foothold in the area to carry out their own real intention, namely, to convert the Bangwa to Christianity. The schools, therefore, neatly fitted the aspirations of both the Bangwa and the missionaries.
Between 1940 and 1960 the Catholic Mission opened 20 schools throughout the Bangwa area. Although pupils were not obliged to become Christians, most of them did. For the majority of school children, becoming a Christian was almost synonymous with being educated, with being ‘developed’. As the number of Christians consequently rose, Christianity’s effect on Bangwa society, particularly on its traditional beliefs and practices, increased correspondingly. The old prejudices Christianity had towards these beliefs and practices were still present but what had changed now was that any potential conflict between the Mission and the traditional society had to take account of the presence of the school in the village. With the arrival of the schools Christians were no longer so isolated or treated with hostility. The schools were seen as a positive benefit to children and also brought a sense of prestige, of ‘development’. They also brought teachers with new ideas and salaries to spend in the market. Young men could be taken on
and receive their initial training to be teachers. In this atmosphere traditional society was willing to cooperate with the mission but it also involved a compromise about its beliefs and practices as well. Children were taught daily that traditional beliefs were false and amounted to no more than ‘undeveloped’ superstition. With the years these children would grow to look on ‘tradition’ no longer as something vital to their lives but as something akin to folklore: colourful dances and jujus brought out on big days solely for entertainment.
The effect of the Catholic schools on Bangwa society was similar to the effect produced by Christianity when it had first arrived, namely, that Christians were almost a society within society. In the case of the children it was not quite so dramatic but there was a different mentality between children and their parents. Children existed in a world half-way between the old traditional society and a Christian ‘modern’ one, believing aspects of both and curiously able to be at peace with a spiritual and cultural schizophrenia. Although the Catholic missionaries had begun to respect the political structure of Bangwa society because of their association with the colonial authorities and because of the fact that without the support of the chiefs they could not open the schools or keep them going, they did undermine the strength of traditional spiritual beliefs. What is strange is that in the post-1940 period so little attempt was made to defend these on the part of traditional society.
The motive for allowing the schools to start was essentially economic. It would appear that for the Bangwa economic considerations had more importance than preserving spiritual traditions such as sacrificing and praying to the skulls of the
20 A pidgin word applied generically to fearsome masks used in dances and meant to terrorise onlookers.
ancestors. Some chiefs did not favour schools because the ideas taught in them would be at variance with tradition. For example, in the area around Asonganyi’s palace there was no Christian mission or Catholic school. Only later, after considerable pressure from his own people, did he allow the opening of a Native Authority school, administered directly by the colonial authorities, which did not have any religious education on its timetable.
The Catholic schools had two other effects upon Bangwa society which only time was to reveal. The first was that those who proved themselves capable of succeeding academically usually left the area after completing school to either further their studies on the coast or to use the education they had acquired to gain employment. The Bangwa area, therefore, lost its brightest and most talented people and while they still maintained contact with the area only returned infrequently. The second effect of the schools was that those who did succeed academically would gain positions which would later make them wealthy. In subsequent years they would become the ‘elite’ who would rival and overtake the local chiefs in terms of political power, at both a local and national level.
Migration to Muyuka
Much was made at the beginning of chapter 2 about the extreme nature of the topography of the Bangwa area with its steep hills and narrow valleys. With an average rainfall of almost 4 metres per year soil erosion is a major problem. Women clear large areas of ‘bush’ by slashing and burning in order to grow food crops such as cocoyams, cassava and groundnuts. Because of a system of crop rotation, land is left to lie fallow
21 See Appendix III - Average annual rainfall
after three years. Land cultivation has intensified since the early 1980’s for two reasons. The first is due to the natural increase in population. The second is because women sell their produce in the markets in order to have money to pay for the education of their children, particularly those in secondary schools. The combination of intensive farming on steep hillsides and the high precipitation have resulted in a dramatic deterioration in the fertility of large swathes of Bangwa land.
This problem first began to appear in the 1950’s in those villages which lie between an altitude of 700 and 1,000 metres where the rainfall was highest. The most affected areas were chiefdoms which were territorially small and which had the steepest terrain. The most notable examples of a decline in land fertility were the chiefdoms of Letia and Fonge, both in the village of Lebang.
One solution adopted by people of Letia and Fonge was to migrate to the Muyuka area, the flat, fertile plain north of Mount Cameroon and south of Kumba. The indigenous population of this area was small and many Bangwa acquired land by approaching the local chief who was glad to increase the population of his village. Depending on the chief, land was given freely or was bought with money gained from working on the plantations. The entire village of Letia, chief and all, moved to the Muyuka area during the 1950’s. Many from all over Bangwa followed them and formed what is today a sizable Bangwa colony.
Although they are proud of their Bangwa identity and have tried to retain many of the old traditions, they have also been quick to adopt new ways. The distinction between the sexes is less marked among the Muyuka Bangwa than those at ‘home’.
For example, men work beside their wives in farming food crops, something unheard of in the Bangwa area. Apart from the case of Letia, those who migrated were not chiefs or title holders. For that reason the Muyuka Bangwa society does not have the same sense of social hierarchy which prevails in the Bangwa homeland. Status is usually determined purely by financial wealth. Within most of the large number of Muyuka Bangwa communities there are leaders who have been elected principally to settle disputes. These are normally senior men who are respected but their tenure of office depends on the will of their community.
Strong links have always been maintained between the Bangwa in Muyuka and those back home through marriages, visiting one another and children spending periods of time with relatives. The more egalitarian atmosphere of the Muyuka Bangwa society was one of the factors which changed the general Bangwa attitude towards the strict power structure of chiefs and nobles. As the years passed, the chiefs and nobles were less held in awe and if a man felt he was unjustly treated by his chief he could migrate to the Muyuka area like so many others before him.
The French Cameroons achieved independence from France in 1960 and became the Republic of Cameroun. The fate of the British Cameroons, however, had to wait until 1961 when the people were asked in a United Nations plebiscite whether they wished to be part of Nigeria or Cameroun (Eyongateh 1974:157-158). While the northern part of the British Cameroons decided to be part of Nigeria, the southern part, in
which Bangwa was located, voted for reunification with Cameroun as part of a federal republic made up of two states, one francophone and the other anglophone. The anglophone state, which was now known as West Cameroon, had its own prime minister and parliament. It retained much of the British system of law and administration including a House of Chiefs which acted as a consultative body similar in some respects to the British House of Lords. However, the president of the larger and more powerful East Cameroun, Ahmadou Ahidjo, was uneasy at being part of a country with two systems of government, two languages, two systems of law, etc. and through political cunning and pressure brought about the abolition of the anglophone parliament in 1971. The country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon (Eyongateh 1974:175-181) and one of the two stars disappeared from the flag, undoubtedly the anglophone one.
The current president, Paul Biya, renamed the country the Republic of Cameroun in 1987 and began replacing the English speaking civil service in the anglophone provinces with French speaking prefets and chefs du post as part of a very open policy of trying to francophone-ise the anglophones. The people of the two English speaking provinces, particularly in the North West, have bitterly resented these attempts at integration. While the nationwide discontent with President Biya’s administration and the calls for greater democratisation are phenomena which have become typical of many sub-Saharan African states during the past few years, the prominence of anglophone Cameroonians at the forefront of the opposition movement is interesting. Having had a taste of substantial local self-government during the time of the Federal Republic, where there was greater account taken of local traditions, anglophones are perhaps more politically conscious and consequently more
politically active than other Cameroonians. The fact that the North West (anglophone) province, particularly the town of Bamenda, and the western parts of the Bamileke region have been the scene of the most violent conflict between the government and the opposition movement also points to another element in the political equation. These areas, the high savannah, share a similar culture which was dominated by a highly developed political structure of Fons, chiefs and nobles. In some ways the political battlefield of modern Cameroon can be seen as being divided between the grassland people with their complex ‘traditional’ political structure and the forest peoples of Biya’s south east where socio-political structures were much more limited and less developed. Although the Fons and chiefs were powerful, the survival of their political systems dictated that they had a greater respect for the moral obligations of exercising power. One consequence of this was ordinary people of grasslands cultures, including the Bangwa, had higher expectations of the modern government and its leaders than those in other parts of Cameroon. One wonders if this mentality is partly responsible for the close association which would develop between the Bangwa and the Catholic Church in the post-colonial period. Having a sense of being abandoned by government, did the Bangwa see in the Catholic Church an alternative to government not just in terms of material development but also in their own relationship with the structures of the wider world?
The Bangwa expected that independence would bring them developments such as roads, hospitals and secondary schools. However, after independence the new government ignored Bangwa in much the same way as the British had done. The limited finances of the new state were largely allocated for the growing urban and semi-urban centres on the coast. The
reunification with French speaking Cameroun also brought an added difficulty for the Bangwa economy. All during the British colonial period the Bangwa had developed extensive trading links with Nigeria. With independence and reunification this trade route was effectively closed. Bangwa traders now found themselves very much on the periphery of a new trading system centred on the south and east. One way to open up the area to the wealthy Bamileke grasslands to the east was to build a road. After appeals had been made to Mgr. Julius Peeters, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Buea, a Mill Hill priest, Fr. Jan Brummelhuis, was sent to construct a road from Dschang in the east down to the Fon’s palace in Lebang. This road was completed in late 1965.
In 1964 a Bangwa delegation approached Mgr. Peeters again, this time to ask for a hospital. The reason they made this request was because of the high rates of infant mortality and sleeping sickness in the Bangwa area. The results of a demographic survey of the population of West Cameroon (Paris 1966:102) indicated that over 23% of infants in the Mamfe Division (which included the Bangwa area) as a whole, died within their first year. The Bangwa claim the figure was much higher in their own area and I was told that during an influenza epidemic in 1956 infant mortality reached 93%. The areas between 500 and 800 metres, which were the most populated, are also a
22 Fr. Jan Brummelhuis is something of a living legend throughout Cameroon. During the 1960’s and 70’s he built a number of roads to remote areas. He is better known by the various nicknames the people gave him: “Father John-de-roads” and “Father John Caterpillar”.
23 The Bangwa contributed £3,000 and the French Army in Dschang provided the bulldozer and transport. The French Army were eager to be involved in building a road into the area because they believed that Bamileke guerrillas were operating from bases in the Bangwa area (See Vine 1964:58-59). This was completely untrue but Fr. John says he did not feel the need to dampen their enthusiasm for action by informing them of the real situation.
perfect breeding ground for the tsetse fly which carries sleeping sickness. The Fontem area had the second highest rate of the disease in Africa. Mgr. Peeters conveyed this request to the Focolare Movement, an international organisation whose headquarters are near Rome (see footnote 1).
The Catholic Mission and the Focolare Movement
During the Second Vatican Council (1963-65) there was a radical review within the Catholic Church about its attitudes towards other cultures and other beliefs. The former tendency of denigrating African cultures in particular was called into question and recognised as being, in fact, contrary to the Christian principles of charity and openness towards others. The Holy Spirit, it was realised, also moved and worked outwith the corridors of the Vatican. Much of the Church’s statements at the Council were based upon the experience of groups such as the Focolare Movement which had sought a more open-minded dialogue with peoples of other cultures, faiths and convictions. This was partly why Mgr. Peeters had invited the Focolare Movement to work in the Bangwa area.
The Movement accepted Mgr. Peeters’ invitation and in February 1966 a doctor and two builders were sent to set up a health post and begin work on a hospital. Other doctors and staff arrived after a few months and the hospital was opened in January 1967. The Focolare Movement also opened a secondary school, a mill to process palm oil and carpentry and building
24 This opening of the Roman Catholic Church to the world around it took place during the Second Vatican Council (1963-65). See Ad Gentes Divinitus (7 Dec. 1965), the decree on missionary activity, 1-45 (Flannery 1975:813-856) and Gaudium et Spes (7 Dec. 1965), the pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, 53-62 (Flannery 1975:958-968) on the relationship between faith and culture.
workshops which employed and trained local men and women. The Focolare community grew to about 40 men and women with the arrival of other members from all parts of Africa and the world. In cooperation with the Bangwa, they bulldozed a number of roads to different parts of the Bangwa area during the 1980’s and 90’s. In 1972 the area covered by seven of the Bangwa villages was designated as a Catholic parish, known as Catholic Mission Fontem, to be served by priests who were members of the Focolare Movement (cf. Bowie 1986:142-157).
The presence of the Movement/Mission has undoubtedly made a contribution to the social development of the Bangwa, for example, infant morality rates have dramatically decreased and cases of sleeping sickness are now uncommon. It is perhaps impossible to assess the full effect of the Movement on Bangwa society. The Bangwa themselves often say that without the presence of the Movement/Mission their area would still be underdeveloped. Visiting government officials such as the Governor of the South West Province also repeat this frequently in their speeches. However, what they focus on are tangible achievements in areas like health, education and roads.
25 The relationship between the Movement and the Mission perhaps needs some explaining. The Mission is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Buea. It is a normal parish like any other in the Diocese. While the majority of its members are Roman Catholic, the Movement would see itself as operating within the structures of the Catholic Church but, equally important, also outwith those structures. In this respect it is probably freer to engage in dialogue with others. Those who perhaps have no wish to be part of the Catholic Church would hopefully feel more at ease with some involvement with the Movement. The link between the Catholic Mission and the Movement in Bangwa is maintained by the Movement’s directors with the Bishop of Buea and also through the priests who, while obviously part of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church, are also members of the Movement as well. Although the relationship between the Mission and the Movement is very close in Bangwa, the distinction between the two is also clear.
26 One of the doctors at the hospital, Dr. Nicasio Triolo, pioneered the treatment of the third and, until then, incurable cycle of the disease with great success.
The Movement, however, would see its presence in Bangwa not simply in terms of promoting health or education or roads. Its primary aim is to promote the well-being of the individual and society at all levels of human existence, i.e. materially, socially and spiritually. The Movement would sum up its objectives as promoting unity within societies and among different societies through its own collective experience of unity (Lubich 1981 & cf. Robertson 1978).
It is very difficult, probably impossible in the immediate term, to quantify the degree of ‘unity’ within a society or demonstrate clearly the [if support Focolare Movement’s contribution to that end. One way the Movement tries to measure its own success is in terms of the Bangwa people’s association with the Catholic Mission of which the Movement is an integral part. The Movement’s definition of ‘association’ differs somewhat from the traditional missionary notion of association which was reckoned in terms of sacramental participation, i.e. how many people are baptised, receive Communion, etc. Anyone with whom the Mission/Movement has good relations is seen as associated with it. The boundaries of the group, therefore, are extremely wide. The shift here is from the more legal, statistical and sacramental viewpoint of association to one based on personal relationship. One of the main aims of the Movement has been to try and redefine the ‘Mission’ and Christianity as non-exclusive: not only is everyone welcome but the community at large, regardless of whether they are baptised or not, is responsible in some way for the Mission. The starting point of the Movement’s
27 An example of this is the main church in the Bangwa area at Menji. Every village and quarter contributed in cash, materials or labour. The object was that the church would be a building representing the faith of all the Bangwa and that it is belongs to everyone. The design, carvings and liturgy incorporate much of Bangwa traditions. This pattern has been repeated throughout the area. Village churches are built by the whole community. The most recent example is the new, large church in Lewoh which has been financed entirely by contributions from the whole Lewoh community. These churches symbolise not just the unity of the people of a particular area but also their faith in God, regardless of doctrinal differences.
missiology is that God’s relationship is not simply with individuals but primarily with the group. It is within the group that an individual finds fulfilment in his or her relationship with God. Consequently anything new that Christianity has to offer a people such as the Bangwa must be observable in the way the members of the Movement relate to one another and to those outside the Movement. It is, in other words, an attempt to evangelise not so much with words and sermons but by experience and example.
Initially the members of the Movement who lived and worked in the Bangwa area were seen very much as a group apart. Their integration into Bangwa society has been a long and gradual process. At times the relationship between the Bangwa and the Movement has been characterised by close cooperation, at other times by a sharp separation (Bowie 1986: 142-241). Since the late 1980’s the Movement and the wider Catholic Mission have been accepted as an integral and necessary part of society by most Bangwa. The reasons for this are twofold. A considerable number of Bangwa now see themselves as part
28 In her doctoral thesis (Oxford 1986), the anthropologist, Fiona Bowie, makes some penetrating and accurate remarks about the strained relations between the Bangwa and the Movement. I do not wish to engage in discussion with her here since it would be both complex and lengthy and this paper is not the appropriate place to do so. The only comments I feel should be made are as follows. While her study is comprehensive, her analysis of the relationship between the Bangwa and the Movement suffers from the historical circumstances under which she carried out her research. Her 18 months stay in Bangwa (1980-81) unfortunately coincided with a moment when Bangwa/Movement relations were at their worst ever. What provoked the difficulties was a land dispute. Taken in their historical context, many of her comments are valid, but times have moved on considerably since then and the Bangwa/Movement relationship has improved significantly.
of the Movement and Mission without being formally Christian. The second reason is the Movement and Mission’s association with the Bangwa in their relations with the ‘outside’ world, particularly with the government agencies.
Changes in attitude are more difficult to measure. On a visit to Fontem in 1967, the foundress of the Movement, Chiara Lubich, said that for one culture to absorb new social and spiritual values, such as those proposed by Christianity, requires several generations. One would assume, therefore, that as the Movement continues to be involved in the affairs of Bangwa and attempts to integrate itself into more into Bangwa society, its ideas and values will also make themselves more evident in time.
If the 1950’s saw the power of chiefs being challenged and weakened, then the arrival of the Cameroon government’s local administrators in Bangwa was the beginning of the end. In 1965 the Bangwa and Mundani areas became a district of Mamfe Division with a resident district officer based in Azi near the Fon of Fontem’s palace in Lebang. Several years later the district offices were transferred to Menji about 7 kilometres away. The decision was a pragmatic one because there was more free land for further expansion. There was also the fact that the growing township which had arisen around the Mission hospital and church seemed as though it would in time become the main centre of population. The decision to move away from the seat of traditional power to set up a whole new compound of government buildings, however, could also be taken as a symbol of the shift of power from the Fons and chiefs to the government officials. The people of Azi have never quite forgiven the government for the move because when the D.O.’s Land Rover
left, with it went the power and with it went also something of their glory.
In the new Cameroon, Paramount Chiefs, the Fons, were now civil servants who were paid a retainer, expected to be faithful to the party and to keep their sub-chiefs in line. By the 1970’s, however, they were excluded from the political life of their areas and only expected at most to perform a ceremonial function. Their political disinheritance was as swift as it was complete. This exclusion was dressed with contempt when D.O.’s of francophone origin were appointed to the area during the mid-1980’s (cf. de Latour 1991:198-202). Where the British had upheld and supported the traditional system of chiefs, the French had either abolished them or substituted them with people who would obey French rule unswervingly. This was a result of the highly centralised character of the French colonial system which was fearful of and intolerant to any independent governing on the periphery. The curious feature of many francophone officials is that while they often display an obsessive hatred for the French colonial system of the past, many of them are faithful replicas of French colonial officers, complete with an unbridled disdain for ‘traditional’ authority.
The main function of chiefs during the past 25 years has been to settle minor disputes. However, their authority was somewhat undermined by the fact that whoever lost a case could take the matter to D.O. Now even minor disputes are more often dealt with by the gendarmes and police.
The people’s opinion of many traditional leaders perhaps reached its lowest point during the October 1992 presidential elections. Throughout the 18 months prior to the election, popular discontent with President Paul Biya and his government
sparked off campaigns of civil disobedience which called for free multiparty elections. Throughout the Bangwa area there was massive support for the main opposition presidential candidate, John Fru Ndi, who is a Ghandi-like figure from the anglophone Bamenda region. Pressure was brought to bear upon the powerful anglophone and Bamileke Fons by President Biya to actively campaign on his behalf. Fearful of their positions and their salaries, many acceded, among them the Fon of Fontem, the grandson of Asonganyi. The Fon’s action was interpreted by many Bangwa as a betrayal of his own people in favour of Biya whom they considered to be the cause of the economic crisis and hardship affecting them. The sense of betrayal increased when Biya declared himself the winner of the election after international observers proved clearly that Fru Ndi had actually won/.
In the post-independence period the relationship between Government and people in Cameroon has followed a pattern typical of that found in many of the sub-Saharan African states during the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Bureaucracy burgeoned and with it the misuse of power (See Bangura 1991 & Sandbrook 1989:ch.2). For the Bangwa the alienation between themselves and the Cameroon government was based on the fact that government had ignored their appeals for development. When the economic crisis began to develop in the mid-1980’s, bribery and corruption, which up until then had not been a major feature of Bangwa life, quickly permeated every aspect of the ordinary people’s relationship with government organisations, be it to receive treatment from a doctor or nurse, to have a favourable
29 He is, incidentally, associated with the Focolare Movement.
30 See Le Messager and The Cameroon Times, November 1992 to January 1993.
31 Although the Fon of Fontem was publicly insulted, the reaction among the Bamileke was more extreme. Several of the Bamileke Fons had their palaces burned down by irate subjects (See Cameroon Tribune, 7th November 1992).
judgement in a land dispute from the D.O., gendarmes or police, and so on. However, weighed in the economic balance, the presence of even a small number of civil servants, policemen and gendarmes was seen as more positive than negative. Since most of them were not natives of the area this meant that they had to rent houses and spend their money in the markets and beer parlours. They also complained to their superiors in Yaounde about the roads needing repairs. In many ways the civil servants were extremely useful in informing the government of the extreme difficulties of living in the Bangwa area. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the Bangwa were eager to have more of them despite the drawback of having to bribe them now and then.
In August 1992 the Bangwa and Mundani area was raised to be a full division, a prefecture. That the elevation came after many years of appealing to Yaounde was due mostly to massive bribery by the Bangwa and the fact that President Biya believed it would improve his standing in Bangwa eyes at the forthcoming presidential elections two months later. Full prefectural status meant more offices, more buildings and more civil servants. However, with the country’s economy in deep recession there simply was not the finance to build offices and appoint a large new corps of government workers. It would appear that the benefits of a full prefecture are still some way away. Nonetheless, when the economy improves and the new prefecture is equipped with all its necessary offices and personnel, then it is expected that the small village of Menji will expand and become a large commercial town.
The Secondary Schools
Although the presence of government administration in the Bangwa area has brought some small economic improvement, it has supplanted the traditional system of rule. The major change it has wrought has been in opening two secondary schools for the Bangwa and Mundani areas both of which are situated in Menji. A small school offering two-year courses in building, carpentry and domestic science was opened in 1978. The enrolment has never risen above 150 principally because the courses offered are of little appeal to many parents and children. In 1981 the government opened a secondary school, GSS Fontem, where courses focused on academic topics leading to O-levels and A-levels, similar in many respects to an English grammar school.
While women produced food crops almost all men who had land of their own grew coffee and cocoa. Between 1975 and 1989 Bangwa farmers reaped modest profits by selling their produce through a local cooperative. Although this period was marked by a general prosperity, with compounds being improved and new houses being built, a considerable amount of money was used to finance the secondary education of children. This was particularly the case when GSS Fontem was opened. Education was seen as a long term investment which would show returns when the children became lawyers, doctors and civil servants. Reference was made to the small number of Bangwa who had gone to the Mission boarding schools during the 1950’s and 60’s. Many of these men and women now held good jobs and positions of importance. To many parents it appeared that anyone who had had a secondary education would end up with a good salary which could then support the other members of the family.
The 1980’s saw the expansion of the Menji area because of the large influx of students, male and female, who had come from all parts of the Bangwa and Mundani areas. The number of students rose to 1,600, the majority of whom had to live in rented accommodation. They also had to provide their own books and school materials bought from local traders. Those from neighbouring villages could return home at weekends for food but those from further afield had to buy their food in the market. In many respects the Menji township was an artificial environment, alien to the traditional Bangwa settlement pattern; a society and economy devoted primarily to one product: education. In some ways it bore striking similarities to the plantation experience of thirty years before. The changes that the secondary schools effected on Bangwa society were equally dramatic.
Many of the students were unprepared intellectually, culturally and socially for the form of secondary education provided and for the experience of living away from home. The education provided in the primary schools was only elementary and only the brightest were capable of making the transition to the academic standards expected in secondary school. The courses offered were carbon copies of those in England during the 1950’s. For children who had been raised in the isolated compounds of the Bangwa hills where there had been no tradition of the academic form of education: the study of Shakespeare, Jane Austin, the Napoleonic Wars and European geography bore no relation to their own experience. The difficulty of having to budget their finances and live without adult supervision also brought with it new challenges for which they were ill-prepared. Failure rates in exams were high. Petty crime increased and pregnancy among female students became
extremely common. Parents complained that many students looked on themselves as a breed apart, proud and no longer willing to take advice or be controlled. Where in the past adolescence was extremely brief, it had now become an extended and unguided experience which resulted in a sub-culture which both astonished and shocked the older generation.
Those students who failed exams repeatedly, were caught committing theft or became involved in pregnancy were expelled. Having invested so much, parents felt obliged to continue to sponsor their education at another secondary school outside of the Bangwa area, often in the coastal towns such as Kumba, Buea or Limbe. The students who failed simply because they were intellectually incapable were doubly victims. Parents did not seem to understand that an apparently normal child might not have the intellectual wherewithal and concluded that their son or daughter was lazy and ungrateful. It is not surprising that these students would feel guilty and ashamed. Those students who were successful all left the area either to pursue their studies further or to find employment.
For some parents the investment in education paid off when their children gained qualifications which led to employment and salaries but for many it was a fruitless venture. The economic crisis saw many of their hopes in education further dashed. Many girls were compelled to take up prostitution to sponsor their education. Even those students who went on to university and gained degrees now find themselves unemployed with no prospects for the foreseeable future.
32 During the seven years, 1982-89 that I taught ‘moral education’ in all the secondary schools and acted as chaplain to the youth of the area, I estimated that only 10 to 15% managed to stay the course and gain four or more O-levels. Pregnancy among female students was probably about 15 to 20%.
The unrealism of the government’s education policy was largely to blame for the enormous problems created by the government secondary schools in Menji (cf. MINEDUC 1990:27,32). The emphasis upon academic rather than technical education took little account of the lack of an educational culture among the Bangwa peasants and of the needs of Cameroon, still largely a preindustrial society. For Bangwa society the secondary school experience provoked an estrangement between the older and younger generations often because expectations were impossibly high on both sides. In the desire to better the future of their family and children, parents put their strict traditional moral caution to the side and were often literally left holding the baby. Greater educational possibilities did widen intellectual horizons and open Bangwa society to the larger world but in terms of social stability there was a significant price to pay.
The decline of many traditional social and moral values and controls, however, was not due purely to the government secondary school. That experience was only a concentrated form of the general transformation taking place in Bangwa society since the early 1980’s. The arrival of civil servants, teachers, traders and students who had grown up in urban centres such as Bamenda, Kumba and Limbe brought urban Cameroon ‘culture’ to Menji and from it to the whole Bangwa area as well. The presence of so many ‘outsiders’ and the need for many Bangwa students to reach their schools in other parts of Cameroon created more transport links with urban centres such as Dschang and Kumba. The greater possibility and ease of movement, therefore, has created a much more mobile population which has learned new ways and new values different to those of the past.
The Elite and the Development Associations
Although the elite have been growing in number during the past few decades they are still a relatively small band who are almost exclusively male (See Lloyd 1975:ch.5;). The most powerful of the Bangwa elite are those who were among the first to receive secondary education. With independence they were among the many young men who stepped in to fill the gaps left by the British colonial officers. Today they are doctors, lawyers, businessmen, politicians and senior civil servants.
The elite, to their credit, have not forgotten their origins or their responsibilities towards the Bangwa area despite the fact that most of them live outside the area in the major cities and towns of Cameroon. Many of them formed development associations in their particular villages. The aim of these groups, as the name suggests, has been to bring social developments to their places of birth. These associations have achieved a great deal in some of the villages, most notably in Lebang and Lewoh. Projects are launched and finance acquired through various means: either directly from the local population, with the elite contributing generous sums, or from Government or aid organisations with whom the elite have contact. There is a remarkable similarity between the development associations and the Gong (Lefem) Society. Matters affecting the community are discussed, decisions are taken and carried out. What is particularly interesting is the political structure within the associations. The elite are in charge while the traditional rulers are made ‘honorary chairmen’. The development associations, in many ways, represent a concentration of all the major social changes which have taken place in Bangwa over the past 40 years. The elite gained an education, migrated to the ‘coast’, entered the new economy and the new social order, became wealthy and now control important aspects of Bangwa life.
They are the new ‘chiefs’ for they have the economic muscle to participate in and direct national and local affairs. Although many of them have salaries or incomes which would only be considered average for men in similar areas of employment in western countries, the fact that they are so few means that they are important and powerful when compared to the rural Bangwa. However, it has to be added that in some areas the rural Bangwa are beginning to feel a certain degree of resentment towards the elite. The complaint is that the elite are becoming too dominant in the life of the village and that because they live outwith the area they have lost touch to some extent with the real problems and issues affecting the rural people (cf. Geschiere 1982: 313-335).
One interesting fact about the elite is that a substantial number of them began their careers as trainee teachers with the Catholic Mission and for that reason they have a high regard for the Catholic Church. There are many instances in recent years when they have donated large sums of money towards Mission projects such as the building of new churches. In some ways it can be said that if the Focolare Movement has been widely accepted in Bangwa society not simply for the social development it has brought but also for its more spiritual aims, then it is due in part to the elite.
If government is estranged from the people, a phenomenon which is not helped by the fact that many civil servants such as the Divisional officer stay in the Bangwa area for only short periods of time, then the elite to some extent are the real ruling class (cf. Geschiere 1982: 280-300). They are often the cause of large gatherings of people to celebrate Bangwa culture and society and they are also the means by which the Bangwa relate to the wider Cameroonian reality. They reflect perfectly what
was said earlier: one of the factors which contributed to social change in traditional Bangwa society was that it was not ‘lineage based’ (see p. 12f.). The elite, therefore, are a testimony to the fact that while many things may have changed in Bangwa, the competitive spirit has remained.
The Economic Crisis
The economic crisis, which began in the mid-1980’s and which has already been referred to several times, was caused by several factors (See Ngandjeu 1988). Within several years of Biya’s accession to the presidency in 1983 the civil service doubled in size. Biya was motivated by political considerations: he felt he had to buttress his position by finding jobs for the many unemployed university and secondary school graduates from his home area of southern Cameroon (see West Africa 13-19 June 1989: 1890-2). World prices for all of Cameroon’s main products fell sharply: oil, cotton, palm oil, rubber, coffee and cocoa. The burden that civil service salaries placed on the economy soon required massive loans from international banks. In an atmosphere of growing economic panic, high officials began embezzling enormous sums of government money and, like most wealthy Cameroonians, banked their assets in European capitals. The 1993 devaluation of the CFA franc by 100% and the 50% cut in civil servants salaries in the same year provoked a drastic reduction in standards of living, particularly in the towns and cities.
The fall in the price of the coffee particularly affected the Bangwa farmers. Those Bangwa who are civil servants can no longer afford to help their families as they once did. This, together with the fact that people can no longer afford to be as mobile as they were before, has seen a weakening of the links between Bangwa living in the towns and those at ‘home’. Fewer
children are sent to secondary school. Failure in exams is no longer followed by students seeking admission in schools further afield, rather, more and more they are required to forget their academic dreams and take up the hoe and machete.
Women have been less subject to the vagaries of world commodity prices. The 1980’s witnessed a marked increase in food crop farming by the Bangwa women. Where before they farmed mainly to have enough food for their family with a little extra to sell in the market, food production is now geared specifically for commercial profit. Food crops are either sold in the markets to government workers or to lorries which come from the towns and cities of Cameroon. The money they acquire has mainly gone towards educating their children and buying clothes. The economic crisis in an indirect way has put Bangwa women in a superior financial position relative to men and perhaps also serves as an indicator of where the true wealth and future of the Cameroonian economy lies. Of late I have heard increasingly numerous reports of husbands having to ask their wives for money before going to the pleasures of the market day. One awaits with interest what social changes the dependency of men on their wives will bring about.
With the cut in salaries, many civil servants who previously had an affluent lifestyle now find themselves in serious hardship. There is less evidence of the flamboyant generosity which, in better times, accompanied the appearance of wealth and importance. The phenomenon of a growing distinction between those professionals who earn salaries and those who are peasants or manual workers seems to have been either nullified or put on hold for the foreseeable future. It would seem that poverty is after all a great leveller.
In May 1993 I carried out a survey of 500 Bangwa secondary school pupils into various aspects of their life, their relationship with ‘tradition’ and their religious beliefs and practice. While the objective for carrying out the survey was to gain data for a future study relating to the Catholic Church’s implementation of inculturation of Christianity in Bangwa, some of the results are relevant to the themes discussed here. For that reason, I make no attempt to present an exhaustive treatment of the survey or the results. These will be written up and appear elsewhere. What I present is only supportive evidence of aspects of what I have previously said.
Since I was interested in differences in attitudes, four groups of students were chosen. The sample, all of whom were of Bangwa parentage, was separated according whether they had grown up inside the Bangwa area or outside it. These two groups were further divided according to whether their fathers, or the adults they grew up with, were either salaried and employed in a profession or were peasants and manual workers with or without a trade. Although the distinction here could be taken as a middle/working class one, I hesitate to use such definite terms since they traditionally connote social divisions which are less clear in the Bangwa society than they are in others. The distinction between those employed in a profession and those who are peasants or manual workers can be see as being rooted in two factors: a difference in economic circumstances and a difference in educational background. As
a consequence of their wealth, greater economic security and education, those who are employed in professional occupations, for example, have usually been more exposed to external influences while in school and later in the office. Frequently, they will also have travelled or lived for some time outwith the Bangwa area. The difference in experience, attitudes and values of the professional/peasant and manual worker groups will have influenced the way they brought up the students that I questioned. Other distinctions can be drawn from the answers in the survey based on, for example, gender, village of origin and which type of school they attended. The survey was carried out in classrooms by myself. Of the 500 responses given, 200 answer sheets were discarded because they were partly filled out incorrectly. A copy of the questionnaire is to be found in Appendix I.
One of the most obvious changes which has taken place during the past one hundred years is the number of wives men have. Polygyny, as was mentioned in chapter 2, was once the norm and aim of most males. If we look at the figures showing the extent of monogamy and polygyny among fathers and grandfathers, i.e. only one generation apart, we can see that the proportion of monogamists to polygynists has almost been reversed (see appendix II, figs. II.1 and II.2). The rate of monogamy has practically doubled from 32% to 60.5%. One qualifying factor, though, is that grandfathers have had more time to acquire wives than their sons. However, I do believe the trend away from polygyny will continue. The main cause for the reduction in polygyny levels has been economic: bridewealth amounts have increased, women are less in favour of it and large numbers of children who require educating becoming a burden. Western ideas have also had some part to play in the reduction of polygyny. Professional men, who would
be more likely to have the necessary wealth to acquire wives, are 20% more likely to be monogamists compared to peasant men and male manual workers (see figs. II.3 and II.4). The greatest difference in polygyny/monogamy levels was between professional men who lived outside of the Bangwa area, mostly in an urban environment, and those peasant farmers and manual workers living within the Bangwa area (see figs. II.5 and II.6). Roughly three quarters of the former were monogamists while only half of the latter had chosen monogamy. The difficulty of having sufficient accommodation in the towns for several wives and their children is perhaps one of the factors responsible for this difference. However, the fact that some professional men in urban Cameroon may have one wife in their own home but a mistress and her children elsewhere may point to the fact that the parameters of ‘marriage’ have widened to include relationships which are not formally recognised. In view of this it might be more appropriate to say that apparent monogamy is on the increase. Quantifying the number of monogamist men having mistresses is difficult, because many men prefer that it does not become common knowledge. This in itself points to the possibility that the move away from polygyny to monogamy has not been as sudden as some would believe. The change in marriage patterns is, rather, a slow process which is perhaps being influenced by changes in public attitudes and changes in how men and women now relate to one another.
33 These results almost correspond exactly to a survey carried out in Cameroon in 1975 where adults were questioned about their opinion on polygyny and monogamy. What is interesting in comparing the results of Illy’s survey with those of my own is that opinions about polygyny and monogamy during the mid-1970’s seem to have, at least superficially, been translated into practice in the 1990’s. See Illy 1975.
A similar change in the practice of ‘traditional’ beliefs can be noted between those who come from a professional/educated background and those from a peasant/less educated background. Involvement in traditional rites such as sacrifice and venerating the skulls of ancestors were an essential feature of Bangwa life in the past (cf. de Latour 1991:39-43). Young people, it must be noted, were not excluded from these rites. However, the survey shows that participation in these now appears to be infrequent overall (see figs. II.7 - II.10). Even most of those who had seen one of their ancestors’ skulls or had taken part in a traditional sacrifice stated that they had only done so once or twice. Part of the reason may also be the fact that exhuming the skulls of dead relatives (usually after 18 months) is rarely practised nowadays in Bangwa. With the absence of skulls, the practice of performing traditional sacrifices by pouring libations of oil on them would also decrease. Again the survey points to a difference in participation between the children of professional and peasant/manual worker parents. There is, however, virtually no difference between the students in terms of their involvement with the Ngambe man, the ‘witchdoctor’ (see figs. II.11 and II.12). Consulting the Ngambe man is more common among parents, perhaps because they are older, have more experience, have more worries and their links with traditional beliefs are stronger than those of their children (see figs. II.13 and II.14). The arrival of the hospital played a significant role in reducing the amount of appeals to the Ngambe man to divine the cause of illness. Doctors not only explained the causes of the disease - perhaps due to hygiene, diet, etc. - but also controlled the patient’s and relatives’ trauma. This does not mean, however, that belief in
33 These results almost correspond exactly to a survey carried out in Cameroon in 1975 where adults were questioned about their opinion on polygyny and monogamy. What is interesting in comparing the results of Illy’s survey with those of my own is that opinions about polygyny and monogamy during the mid-1970’s seem to have, at least superficially, been translated into practice in the 1990’s. See Illy 1975.
witchcraft has ceased because of western medicine; speculation about who is responsible for misfortune still continues. In cases of misfortune, the doctor or priest fulfils part of the role of the Ngambe by providing assurance of protection, help and hope.
In the survey the students were asked to assess themselves as to what extent they were proficient in the Ngwe (Bangwa) language and how knowledgeable they were of Bangwa traditions (see figs. II.15 - II.20). The object of asking students to assess themselves in these areas was more to see how they viewed themselves as Bangwa; to correlate their answers to which part of Bangwa they came from; and to understand if there was a relationship between Bangwaness and the intrusion of urban culture. There are too many complex issues involved here to discuss, but the following results may indicate something of the effect of social change on the Bangwa students’ view of themselves.
The invasion of Pidgin English into the rural areas of anglophone and parts of francophone Cameroon is a recent phenomenon linked to increased transport during the 1980’s. In the Bangwa area Pidgin is spoken most frequently by students, regardless of whether all those conversing know Ngwe. As schoolchildren in south London work with English in the classroom but use slang in the playground, so too, the Bangwa students use Pidgin in most of their everyday conversation. It is a halfway house, so to speak, between the world of ‘high’ English in the classroom and books and the West ‘African’ modes of expression. Since Pidgin is the lingua franca of the towns, it is not surprising that almost 50% of students brought up outside the Bangwa area regarded themselves as not being very proficient in Ngwe (see fig. II.15). As was expected, the sharpest contrast is between children of
professional fathers who were brought up outside of Bangwa and those from inside the area whose fathers are peasants (see II.17 and II.18). The latter group have been less exposed to outside influences and still return most weekends to the isolated compounds where Ngwe is used constantly.
The survey, like every survey, had its limitations as do the results which still require more extensive analysis. Nevertheless, the above results broadly confirm some of the statements that I have made throughout this chapter about the effect of education, alternative economic relations, migration to the coastal region and other external influences such as urbanisation.
THE FUTURE AND AIDS
It is difficult to make predictions about what will happen in any society in the future, let alone Bangwa. Hopefully, the economic crisis will end and the relative prosperity which characterised the early 1980’s will be seen again. Menji perhaps will develop into a large town and other centres of population may also appear in different parts of Bangwa. Traditional authority will perhaps continue to fade as urbanisation overtakes rural culture (Sklar 1988:97) The old traditions may diminish into folklore and be replaced by new ones which will be more urban and more national. All these presume there will still be a population in the future in the area. They also presume that no great disaster will affect the Bangwa people.
The one precipitant of social change that is affecting sub-Saharan Africa particularly and has so far not been mentioned is AIDS. In early 1991 no cases of the disease had ever been reported in the Mission hospital in Lebang. In the space of one week one person, obviously in the terminal stage, was admitted for medical treatment and ten others tested positive for HIV. Since 1991 the number of people dying of AIDS has slowly increased. The first to die were Bangwa people who had lived in the coastal towns where the disease is more widespread. The cases which appeared in 1992 began to include Bangwa people who lived in the area but who frequently travelled to the large towns. Recent cases of those dying of AIDS have begun to include people who lived and worked in the Bangwa area and who did not travel to urban areas very often. The
numbers of resident Bangwa testing positive for HIV has substantially increased over the past two years.
One wonders if the scenes in villages in Uganda, Zambia and Kenya will soon be part of Bangwa society as well: grandmothers looking after twenty and thirty children whose parents have died of AIDS. Part of my work with secondary school students and later on as manager of the Catholic primary schools was to tour the schools and villages to inform people about the danger of AIDS. Although many were initially frightened and disturbed, I do not believe that my endeavours made any difference. Students that I have taught about HIV and AIDS have died of the disease. There seems an almost terrible inevitability that AIDS will devastate the Bangwa population if no cure for it can be found. All the social changes that I have outlined so far will seem of little consequence compared to what AIDS is capable of bringing about in Bangwa.
I shall end my examination of modern Bangwa with what I fear must appear a rather apocalyptic conclusion. Having witnessed the effects of AIDS on the rural population in certain parts of Zambia, I returned to Bangwa and soon found myself once again in a compound where I had been a few months previously. I was there for the same reason as before: to bury another son, the third, who had died of AIDS. A few days later I wrote this poem about the effects of AIDS on village life in rural Africa.
The voice that cried in the wilderness
has ceased its wailing and lamenting.
The one who pleaded pleads no more
but sits in silence at the funerals.
come to light,
not just the greed or the poverty,
or the lust or the anger at life,
of the soul
belies our deeper crime
and our deeper need:
to simply be consoled.
The wind is blowing in the eucalyptus trees,
blowing as it blew before our fathers came,
a restless rustling against the silent sky,
an image of our souls and eternity,
but the consoling call and answer
that passed from womb to womb,
the secret echo of our forbears’ power
has been silenced now by our barren death,
by we who have betrayed them.
The wind and the earth,
the wind and the earth,
the soil is blown from our father’s land
and we are the dust now borne away
by the winds of change in Africa,
over Africa we turn,
in silent clouds,
in full moon myths
and in long forgotten histories
Strangers who will pass this way
who we were
and where we went,
at the silence,
at the tallness of our unfelled trees
and seeking consolation
in out of the wind
in our abandoned homes
they will stir the ashes,
the cold ashes,
in our mother’s silent kitchens.
From what has been said, it is obvious that the social changes which have taken place in the Bangwa area during the past one hundred years are the result of a complex interaction of various internal and external factors. While the new developments or opportunities which arose in the fields of social relations, politics or economics challenged the existing social order and provoked a variety of reactions, the question of how and to what degree these produced social change depended upon the Bangwa society’s ability or inability to control their influence or activity. One important issue was where these new developments or opportunities originated from. Generally speaking, it would appear from the events I have outlined in Bangwa history that those innovations which had their source within Bangwa society had less capacity to create social disorganisation than those which arrived suddenly and unexpectedly from outside. This was because those innovations which were internally induced were often a response to the context within which they had been created. There is nothing new about the ‘new’ and all societies contain mechanisms for dealing with its appearance. Indeed, one might argue that this is the origin of social hierarchy and social power in every society, Bangwa society included. A stable society is one which has the means of controlling the new through effectively integrating or rejecting it.
The overturning of the social order, on the other hand, occurs more frequently when the ‘new’ has its origins outwith the society. The erosion of the Bangwa social hierarchy and the power that resided in it seems to have been in direct proportion
to the potential of the new developments and opportunities to bring about social disorganisation. In the case of Bangwa during the post-independence period this resulted in two distinct trends. The first was a fragmentation of the society, unified artificially during the colonial period, into the older social and political units of the villages. This trend was also accompanied by a rise in animosity and rivalry between them particularly when they vied with one another for social developments such as hospitals, government offices, etc. However, in terms of social order, a vacuum has been created by the loss of power on the part of the chiefs and by the Government’s inability to be effective at a local level. Bangwa society has coped with this internally through the organisation of development associations ruled by the village elites. The fact that the elites spend most of their time outwith the area points to the second trend which has resulted from social disorganisation, namely, the absorption of Bangwa society into the larger society of Cameroon. The elites, in fact, can be regarded as a bridge between the two societies. This trend of being absorbed into a larger society began with British colonial rule when the new developments or opportunities which owed their origin outwith the Bangwa area began to make themselves felt. The process continued into the post-independence period but has been temporarily halted because of the economic crisis.
In all of the cases of an external precipitant of social change we had, in fact, a single innovation present in two different social contexts. The policy of Indirect Rule, the plantations, the coastal economy and government administration, for example, arose outwith the Bangwa area in response to the specific economic and political needs and circumstances of colonial and national governments which sought to extend social, economic and political control over the whole country.
Within the context of Bangwa society, however, the imposition of a new political order or the availability of new economic opportunities not only undermined the social order but required a reorientation of the social structures towards the external authority which created and controlled the new order in the first place. The only alternative to the whole process was revolt on the part of the Bangwa. While this did take place under Asonganyi during the period of German colonial rule, during the post-colonial period rebellion was no longer possible given that the only local form of government, the chiefs, were no longer capable of coordinating any concerted resistance. Any attempt at resistance on the part of chiefs, such as Asonganyi’s hostility towards the Christian missionaries, ultimately foundered on the common Bangwa people’s reaction to many of these external influences. Many of the new economic opportunities which arose from the 1940’s onwards resulted in the decline of the chiefs’ economic monopoly. It also gave the ordinary Bangwa greater freedom to further their own personal independence, something which we have seen was integral to the highly competitive Bangwa social system. It is not surprising that that eagerness to venture beyond the boundaries of the traditional economic system soon extended beyond the intellectual and spiritual ones as well. The changes which have occurred in Bangwa, therefore, are not simply the result of external influences or agents producing an almost automatic, predetermined effect. They widened the ordinary individual’s room for manoeuvre as well as created new possibilities. Ultimately, then, it was the ordinary Bangwa who brought about social change by accepting the opportunities presented by external influences. To summarise it in almost Marxist terms, the process of social change in Bangwa was effected through the marriage of external influences and the class struggle inherent within the Bangwa social system.
Another issue which has been examined is how the new development or opportunity is introduced into the society in which it then precipitates social change. The arrival of colonial agents, visiting missionaries or government workers are examples of how innovation was introduced through a complete stranger to the society. On the other hand, the men returning from the plantations is an example of how change is introduced through the network of social relations between one society and another. The settlement of outside agents within Bangwa society has shown how an innovation consolidates its presence within the society and perpetuates its influence, particularly if the traditional structures of social power have been weakened or even overthrown. While both the colonial authorities and the early Christian missionaries purposely sought to undermine or manipulate the traditional social order to their own advantage, the case of the Focolare Movement is an interesting exception. Its attitude of cooperation in social and material ventures has enabled it to become progressively more integrated into Bangwa society. However, the enormous changes which have taken place within Bangwa society present that organisation with considerable challenges in terms of its more spiritual aims of promoting unity and Christian values. Since traditional codes of morality and religious belief appear to hold less and less sway as urban culture comes to dominate ordinary life, the increasing acceptance of the Movement as a spiritual force by more and more Bangwa people perhaps indicates that it is perhaps becoming a source of alternative moral and ethical values. This trend, along with the emergence of the village development associations, would seem to suggest that Bangwa society is in the early stages of trying to reconstruct a new social order both in terms of its relationship with itself and with the wider Cameroonian society. The reason that this process in Bangwa is perhaps acutely internal in character at
the moment is because of the inability of the government to both create a substantial national consciousness and to be effective at a local level. However, although what is taking place in Bangwa is typical of communities throughout Cameroon, it is not a denial of Bangwa’s integration into the modern nation-state. What we are seeing in Bangwa and other communities is, in fact, the initial stirrings leading to the creation of the nation-state itself. Post-independent governments throughout sub-Saharan Africa have largely been ineffective because of the false assumption that they are truly national. Nations are not simply created by colonial dictates or by presidential orders. They can only come into existence when separate communities also willingly unite themselves economically, politically and socially. That is an action of the people.
The social changes which have transformed Bangwa may have destroyed the old order, the old security and the old boundaries but the Bangwa people’s proven ability to struggle against all the odds, be it difficult terrain, disease or changing times, will surely enable them to continue to assert their unique identity and qualities. That strength, hopefully, will also ensure that they will prosper in and contribute to the wider society of Cameroon.
REFERENCES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY
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|Le Messager, Douala.|
You are asked to be completely truthful and honest in the answers that you give. You should not put your name so that you are more free to answer truthfully. False answers will create terrible problems but honest answers will make the questionnaire successful.
When there is a question with a multiple choice of answers please tick your choice or put a number.
1 I am: a) Male ______ b) Female ______
2 I am a student in Form __________
3 Where were you born? ______________________
4 How old are you? ______________________
5 What tribe do you belong to? _________________
6a) What tribe does your father belong to? ____________________
b) What tribe does your mother belong to? ___________________
7 Where did you grow up? _______________________________
8 Which Primary School(s) did you attend?__________________
9a) Where did your father grow up? _________________________
b) Where did your mother grow up? ________________________
10 In whose compound did you grow up? (tick which one)
a) Actual parents __ b) Aunt or Uncle’s __
c) Grandparents __ d) Older brother or sister’s __
e) Someone else’s compound __
11 What was the occupation of the head of the compound
where you grew up? __________________________________
12 What is your father’s occupation? ________________________
13 What is your mother’s occupation? _______________________
Only answer this section if you grew up in the area of your tribe, e.g. if you are a Bangwa and grew up in Azi .
If you grew up outside your tribal area then answer Section C
1 How often did you visit the “coast” or big towns like Kumba, Douala, etc. while:
a) You were in Primary School: (tick your answer)
i) Never ___ ii) Once ___ iii) Twice ___ iv) Every year ___
b) You were in Secondary School: (tick your answer)
i) Never ___ ii) Once ___ iii) Twice ___ iv) Every year ___
2a) Have you ever taken part in a traditional sacrifice? Yes ____ No_____
b) If “yes”, how often? _____________________
3 Have you ever seen the skull of one of your ancestors? Yes ___ No ___
4 Have you ever consulted an Ngambe Man? Yes ___ No ___
5 Do your parents consult an Ngambe Man sometimes? Yes ___ No ___
6 How well do you know the tradition of your tribe?
a) Very well ___ b) A bit ___ c) Very little ___ d) Nothing ___
7 How well do you speak your tribe’s language?
a) Very well ___ b) A bit ___ c) Very little ___ d) Nothing ___
Only answer this section if you grew outside the area of your tribe, e.g. if you are a Bangwa but grew up in Muyuka or Limbe.
1 How often did you visit the area of your tribe, your native village, while:
a) You were in Primary School: (tick your answer)
i) Never _ ii) Once _ iii) Twice _ iv) Every year _ v) Often _
b) You were in Secondary School: (tick your answer)
i) Never _ ii) Once _ iii) Twice _ iv) Every year _ v) Often _
2 Where do your parents live? ____________________________
3 Where do your father’s parents live? ____________________
4 Where do your mother’s parents live? ___________________
5 How often did you visit your father’s parents while in Primary School?
a) Never ____ b) Once ____ c) Twice ____ d) Often ____
e) Every year ____ f) Were dead ___
6 How often did you visit your mother’s parents while in Primary School?
a) Never ____ b) Once ____ c) Twice ____ d) Often ____
e) Every year ____ f) Were dead ___
7 Now that you are in Secondary School, do you visit your grandparents during the holidays? No ____ Yes ____
- how often? _____
8a) Have you ever taken part in a traditional sacrifice? Yes ____ No____
b) If “yes”, how often? _____________________
9 Have you ever seen the skull of one of your ancestors? Yes ___ No ____
10 Have you ever consulted an Ngambe Man? Yes ___ No ___
11 Do your parents consult an Ngambe Man sometimes? Yes ___ No ___
12 How well do you speak your tribe’s language?
a) Very well ___ b) A bit ___ c) Very little ___ d) Nothing ___
13 How well do you know the tradition of your tribe?
a) Very well ___ b) A bit ___ c) Very little ___ d) Nothing ___
14 Do you speak the vernacular language which is not that of your own tribe? Yes __ No __
Everyone should answer the following sections
1 Are your parents married:
a) No __ b) Traditionally __ c) In Church __ d) Divorced ___
2 How many wives does your father have? _________________
3 How many wives has your father had in his life? ___________
4 How many wives did your father’s father have? ____________
5 How many wives did your mother’s father have? ___________
6 How many children does your father have? _______________
7 How many children has your mother given birth to? ________
8 How many children did your father’s father have? __________
9 How many children did your mother’s father have? _________
10 What is the age of the oldest child of your father? ___________
11 What is the age of the youngest child of your father? ________
1 Are you a Christian? Yes ____ No ____
2 Are you baptised? Yes ____ No ____
3 If you are baptised are you:
a) Catholic ____ b) Presbyterian ____ c) Other ____
4 Is your father baptised? Yes ____ No ____
5 Is your mother baptised? Yes ____ No ____
6 How often does your father go to Church?
a) Always ___ b) Often ___ c) Not often ___ d) Never ___
7 How often does your mother go to Church?
a) Always ___ b) Often ___ c) Not often ___ d) Never ___
8 How often do you go to Church?
a) Always ___ b) Often ___ c) Not often ___ d) Never ___
9 Who of the following are or were baptised: (Tick) Your:
a) Father’s father ____ b) Father’s mother ____
c) Mother’s father ____ d) Mother’s mother ____
Thank you for answering the above questions
Rainfall in Lebang
Total rainfall for 1982: 4,156mm
Total rainfall for 1992: 3,579mm
Total average rainfall for 1982-1992: 3,421mm