Cameroon comeback

Reprinted from West Africa p 1489 16-22 September 1996 with the kind permission of the publishers.

Kingdom on Mount Cameroon, ed. Shirley Ardener (1996, £40.00); and African Crossroads, ed. Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn, (1996, hb. £30.00/pb. £11.95): Volumes I and II of Cameroon Studies(both published by Berghahn Books, Oxford)

At a time when historical series in African Studies seem to be out of fashion among many British publishers, yielding in favour to series on development or democratisation, it is a pleasure to be able to congratulate Berghahn Books, of Providence, Rhode Island and Oxford, on the launch of the inaugural volumes in their Cameroon Studies series. Both books are unambiguously historical in their emphasis, the one sub-titled “Studies in the History of the Cameroon Coast: 1500-1970” and the other focusing on the convergence of history and anthropology in Cameroon.
Cameroon’s rare international history among Africa’s new states (only Togo can also point to colonial rule by as many as three European powers) is at once an advantage and a drawback in the consequent literature. On the credit side is, obviously, the bonus of more than one source to recount the interaction of ruler and ruled: the differing experience, the two-way perceptions and the multiple legacy. On the debit side is the resultant compartmentalisation of the language in which these historical accounts were written, leaving many African scholars sharing with their European colleagues the problem of not being conversant with English and French and German - let alone the Portuguese, Dutch and Swedish of pre-colonial contact chronicles. Hence, the importance of the publishers’ signalled intention to extend the series to translations of early German explanation and missiologigal historical texts.
Both volumes now published carry a commemorative message. Indeed, African Crossroads is literally presented as a collection of essays in honour of Sally Chilver, the ‘Mama for Story’ and distinguished scholar to whom it is dedicated. At the same time, Kingdom on Mount Cameroon is very much a project in memory of the late Edwin Ardener - Oxford lecturer in social anthropology with 25 years of Cameroonian research and publication to his credit -with a bibliography of his African writings as well as a perceptive introduction by his widow and constant co-author, Shirley.
Kingdom of Mount Cameroon reproduces lengthy extracts from five of Edwin Ardener’s published works, along with several unpublished pieces. Among the latter, the most substantial (more than 100 pages) is his examination of five centuries of contact between the Bakweri and Europeans. This is enhanced by a number of photographs, among them the ill-fated Governor Puttkamer in dress uniform and the no less fortunate Resident Dominik on horseback. Readers will link the German element in this historical overview with the complementary Eye-Witnesses to the Annexation of Cameroon: 1883-1887 by Shirley Ardener (1968) and Sally Chilver’s Zintgraff’s Explorations in Bamenda (1961), both published in Buea. Edwin Ardener’s other unpublished essay assumes, a renewed topicality in the mid-1990s, for it is and extensive account of the Cameroon’s boundaries since 1827 and their political significance. Among the previously published pieces are those on Bakweri fertility and marriage, the Bakweri elephant dance, and on the plantations and people of the Victoria region, abridged from his chapters in Plantation and Village in the Cameroons (1960), sponsored by NISER, Ibadan.
The presentation and ordering of the last 50 pages is a bit of a hiccup. The contents page is prima facie straightforward and standard: Introduction, Chapters, Bibliography and Index. However, without any signposting, not only is it unexpectedly continued overlead, but the four appendices are abruptly listed after the index (p.373) on the preceding page, although they appear before it in the text (pp.345-372). Furthermore, the original bibliography (pp.337-343) now finds itself supplemented by further titles at p.365. However, this is just a momentary spasm of indigestion in the partaking of what is emphatically a Bakweri banquet and a timely tribute to Edwin Ardener’s continuing position of authority in Cameroon studies.
African Crossroads is a much shorter book, with a diversity of contributors and of aspects of Cameroonian history and anthropology. It opens with Shirley Ardener’s tribute to Sally Chilver, who, along with the late Phyllis Kaberry, is the doyenne of Cameroonian Studies in Britain. The spread and status of the authors bespeak the quality of the chapters, among them Philip Burnham and Richard Fardon from London, C. Tardits and J-P. Warnier from Paris, V.G. Fanso from Yaoundé and Ralph Austen from Chicago, besides the two editors Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn, from Oxford and Canterbury respectively. The essays deal with certain contemporary views of the state (political relations, military organisation) or with such issues as chieftancy, ethnicity, gender and religion, many of them combining historical and anthropological perspectives. The bibliography is extensive, although narrower than the more general one in Kingdom of Mount Cameroon; the illustrations are valuable, although once again, the publishers let the reader down, here by failing to indicate where the so-called “Figures” are located in the text. These photographs do, in fact, belong to one of the most original and attractive chapters in the whole volume, Christaud Geary’s analysis of political dress and German-style military attire in Bamum. Newcomers may wonder what relation her unedited “Elizabeth” Chilver is to the “Sally” to whom the book is dedicated. Regrettably, there is in this volume no map of Cameroon to guide us over these African Crossroads.
This is a fine tribute to Sally Chilver. Yet, unusually, African Crossroads is only one of three accolades, the others appearing in the Frobenius Institute’s Paideuma (1995) and in a forth-coming issue of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (JASO). Together they reflect not only the esteem amongst researchers on Cameroon, in which Sally Chilver is held as a scholar, a person and a friend, but also the reinvigorated state of Cameroonian Studies today.
Observant readers will not fail to notice the neat coincidence wherein Cameroon’s richly international past and present are reflected in this new series, written by Cameroonian, British and French scholars and brought to fruition by a publisher of German origin. Au revoir Études Camérounaises, welcome Cameroonian Studies.


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