IAN FOWLER and DAVID ZEITLYN (eds), African Crossroads: intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon . Cameroon Studies 2, Oxford and Providence RI: Berghahn, 1996, 213 pp., £30.00, ISBN 1 57181 859 6 hard covers, £11.95, ISBN 1 57181 9266 paperback.

Although this book’s editors do not present it as a Festschriftto Elizabeth Chilver, in several positive senses it is. Not only is the work dedicated to the seminal Grassfields scholar and co-founder of the Cameroon Grassfields Working Group (GWG), it emerges from a GWG meeting in Oxford at which the editors ‘took the opportunity to conspire’, as they put it, to produce a set of essays in recognition of her lifelong dedication to Grassfield studies. Furthermore, this volume celebrates Chilver’s influence on Grassfield studies by emphasising the combination of historical and anthropological approaches to Grassfield studies characteristic of her own work.
The book is composed of nine essays which focus on the late pre-colonial and early colonial period under the Germans in Cameroon. Fowler and Zeitlyn usefully prefigure these essays with an introduction which re-examines the ‘Tikar problem’ regarding the perplexing claims to Tikar origin among the leaders of many of the Grassfield kingdoms. Fowler and Zeitlyn place the problem in the context of kingship in the Grassfields, arguing convincingly that claims to foreign origin among the elite of the region must be seen in terms of struggles for authority which move dynastic models not only backwards in time (the model common in western Europe) but also outward in space. Claims to authority are thus paradoxically embedded in myths of foreign origin in the Grassfields, myths which contribute to territorialisation and hierarchical stratifications within the kingdoms.
This fundamental theme regarding Grassfield models of power is echoed in various ways by four of the essays which follow. In a detailed historical analysis Austen presents the mythical aspects of the Duala middleman relationship with the German administrations, emphasising the manner in which violent oppression and frequent confrontation have been reinvented by the Duala over the course of the century and are now presented as a ‘golden age’ to be contrasted with the French rule which followed. Similarly to myths of Tikar origin in the Grassfields, Austen shows how Duala identity has come to be inseparable from the mythologies which cluster around the Duala-German relationship. Just as Tikar (and even ‘Anglo-Saxon’) origin has become intrinsic to identity in the Grassfields, Germany has been incorporated within Duala identity. In another historically rich essay, this time focusing on the Moghamo of the western Grassfields. O’Niel similarly depicts the ways in which the Germans were portrayed according to local models of the wild and the inhuman upon their arrival in the Grassfields in 1889. The political alignment of the first Germans to reach the area with Bali-Nyonga was to affect Moghamo villages catastrophically. O’Niel describes how, by means of this new partnership, the latter kingdom gained the weapons, the training and the permission to raid the Moghamo at will for slaves and ‘labour recruits’ for the German plantations on the coast. Again, as with the Duala, the deep ad lasting impact which the Germans were to have on the area was represented and negotiated in terms of local political models of royal might, animality and the foreign-a model shared by the Bali-Nyonga and the Moghamo alike.
It was this very model of power and hierarchy which-thanks to the arrival of the Germans-was called into question by the rebellions of the male cadets described by Warnier. In an essay which draws upon his 1993 work L’Esprit de l’enterprise au Cameroun . Warnier adds a piece to the puzzle of Grassfield politics which had been sorely wanting; a description of resistance and rebellion to kingship and hierarchy to add to the neo-functionalist analyses which had preceded it and which systematically ignored everything which seemed inimical to the system as idealised by palace informants in colonial reports. In an equally important essay which brings out the aesthetic dimension of politics in the Grassfields, Geary describes the astonishing appropriation of German-style military costumes by the Bali-Nyonga and Bamum courts at the turn of the century. She reveals how the struggle for power inherent in the relations between the early German administration and its chosen middlemen in the region was physically negotiated by means of the appropriation of the uniforms of colonial officers or local reinventions of them. Geary convincingly contextualises the collection of these exotic costumes within Grassfields systems of accumulation and redistribution of objects of material culture from foreign kingdoms. She also highlights the way in which the gifts of military regalia the Germans made to the Bamum eventually threatened to backfire on them as the Bamum, having literally incorporated this new source of external power, gained influence in the region.
The remaining five essays leave issues regarding political cosmology aside and concentrate squarely on historical and religious issues. Fardon opens the volume with a discussion of Bali identity in the Grassfields, tracing the origins of the Bali from Chamba-Leko speakers in present-day Nigeria and examining the ways in which that identity is now under renegotiation to suit the demands of ‘modernity’. Fanso and Chem-Langhêê contribute a short piece on Nso’ warfare at the turn of the century. Burnham contributes an essay on the agonistic relation between the Gbaya and the more powerful Fulbe of the Haute Sangha region of Cameroon. He reveals that the French, under the hopelessly ill-advised Brazza, raided the Gbaya in an attempt to ingratiate themselves with the Fulbe ‘nobility’ by subduing their ‘pagan’ enemies. Burnham reveals that a static historical model of the region was favoured by the French administration, since it lent credence to their presumption of Fulbe supremacy. Finally, Banadzem and Tardits both contribute work on religion in the Grassfields. Banadzem writes on Nso’ traditional beliefs and the introduction and partial success of the ‘world religions’ to the kingdom. Tardits offers a detailed analysis of a religion of salvation elaborated under the prolific King (later Sultan) Njoya, an original doctrine influenced by syncretised elements from both the Islamic and the Christian traditions with which he became familiar during the course of his reign.
Though in many ways a highly specialist collection of essays, this volume nevertheless cannot be contained within the boundaries of ‘area studies’. In its serious attention to historical detail, its questioning of received wisdom regarding African political models and their relation to globalisation and the emerging nation state, this work provides yet more evidence of the vigorous state of Grassfield studies today-a vigour fostered in no small way by Elizabeth Chilver.
University of East Anglia