The Bulletin of Francophone Africa Vol. 12/13 pp 146-7 (text included by permission)
Cameroon Studies Vol. 1 (edited by Shirley Ardener), Vol II (edited by Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn), Berghahn Books, Oxford, 1996.
Cameroon Studies is a new series which reflects a growing interest in the study of that country both in Cameroon itself, in Europe and in America. The aim of the series is to bring to a wider audience of scholars the work of Cameroonists past and present which has either never been published before or was simply no longer available.
Cameroon is a fascinating country because of its astonishing ethnological and linguistic variety combined with a peculiarly involved colonial history, with Portuguese, Swedes, Germans, English and French vying with one another to extend their economic or political influence over the region. To this day, nearly forty years after independence, this extraordinary legacy of cultures and religions plays a major part in the political battles raging in Cameroon.
Each of the first two volumes is a collection of papers centring on an eminent scholar to whom it pays tribute.
Vol. I, Kingdom on Mount Cameroon, is a collection of papers written by the late social anthropologist Edwin Ardener, with the active help and support of his wife Shirley, who is a scholar in her own right. She has edited this volume and is also the author of an introduction in both Volume I and II. Edwin Ardener spent many years in Cameroon in the period leading from the 1950s to indepen-dence. Most of the papers in Volume I represent his work on the Bakweri, a small tribe living in and around Buea, which had been the capital of German Kamerun. The historical survey covers early history but becomes more detailed in its study of the conquest and occupation by the Germans, and the later establishment of the Cameroon Development Corporation by the British with its many social consequences on the Bakweri and neighbouring peoples, who found themselves having to make way for German plantations, and then being swamped by hordes of immigrants attracted by work at the C.D.C. until there were 'three times as many immigrants as natives; twice as many males as females' (p. 239).
The depth of Edwin Ardener's research is outstanding. He worked over a very long period of time and got to know the Bakwari people. He and his wife learned their language. Neither shirked the hardship of working in 'mud, rain and mists' (p. 232). They earned the Bakweri's goodwill and cooperation. The Bakweri, eager to understand what was happening to them, saw the value of this British couple's work and trusted them.
Edwin Ardener certainly deserved their trust, and took great pains to redress the bias of European historians by presenting the Bakweri's viewpoint whenever possible (e.g. p. 63). He also combatted anti-Bakweri prejudice first instilled by Governor Puttkamer among others (p. 68). He showed how beliefs could have unexpected repercussions in the form of economic initiatives (pp. 243-257), as witnessed by the Bakweri's belated but marked success as banana producers.
The last paper, never published before, touches on 'the Boundaries of Kamerun and Cameroon' (pp. 267-336). It traces the emergence of modern Cameroon from 1827 through to 1996.
Volume II, African Crossroads, is a tribute to the work of E.M. (Sally) Chilver, who has for many years promoted the breaking down of barriers between history and anthropology. In the same way as Sally Chilver's own studies, the ten papers from contributors from three continents presented here focus on the Grassfields during the period of German colonisation. The issue raised, from ethnicity and identity to the role of religion and political dress, find many echoes in the problems experienced by the Cameroonians of today. They also constitute a most valuable contribution to the current theoretical debates in anthropology.
University of Westminster
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