Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn (eds.) African crossroads. Intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon
Berghahn Books, Providence and Oxford 1996, XXVII + 213 S., ISBN 1-57181-926-6), £10,95
Cameroon is often referred to as Africa in microcosm". Over the last four decades it has attracted a considerable number of scholars from all over the world. Elisabeth (Sally Chilver's pioneering work has marked several generations of research in the anthropology and the history of Cameroon. The celebration of her life and work has led to three publications reflecting the state of Cameroon studies.
The volume at hand is accompanied by a set of papers forming a major section of the 1995 issue of Paideuma and a sample of articles published in a 1996 issue of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford. Unlike many other "Festschrifts" African crossroads is relatively homogenous. All authors explicitly refer to central aspects of Chilver's work. Moreover the articles supplement each other through their concept and theoretical orientation in analysis that combine historical and anthropological perspectives. Chilver has exemplified this approach in a number of pathbreaking papers, many of them co-authored with the late Phyllis Kaberry.
Geographically Chilver's work concentrates on the so-called Grassfields in North Western Cameroon. Only two papers in this volume don't focus on this or neighbouring areas: The essay by Philip Burnham presents a reanalysis of the historiography of the earlier relationships between the Gbaya and the European explorers and traders on the eve of formal colonisation. He underlines the need to confront contemporary European colonial documents with data concerning oral tradition, archaeological evidence and historical linguistics. Unfortunately, the well-written article by Burnham criticises, in an overly pedantic manner, old work of the French historian Catherine Coquery-Vidrovitch in order to make this argument - a good example of academic shadow-boxing! Ralph Austen analyses the complex relationships between the Germans and the Duala. At a more general level his case study demonstrates convincingly both the ambiguities and banalities of colonial history, and how these underlying contradictions connect with ongoing confrontations between Africa and Europe.
I will briefly summarize only some of the other articles. Richard Fardon's paper ("The Person, Ethnicity, and the Problem of 'Identity' in West Africa") treats the chiefdom of Bali-Nyonga. Fardon takes it as an example to reflect about the incommensurability between anthropological and local models, the numerous historical links between them. He is particularly struck by the way in which professional anthropologists and local historians, both accepting bounded identities as a norm, found different problems. Verkijika Fanso and Bongfen Chem-Langhêê present an account of Nso' Military organisation and Warfare in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, based on a variety of archival and oral sources. They link the characteristics of the very effective and innovative military organisation in Nso' to its reputation in the nineteenth century as a strong military force. Jean-Pierre Warnier examines a fairly unknown phenomenon in the history of the Grassfields: a multiple revolt of Africans against European colonialists as well as young Africans against their elders in the early years of German colonial rule. The elders monopolised the Grassfields' political systems whereby the young males were powerless. In his recent book on Bamiléké entrepreneurship Warnier analyses these conflicting constellations in the so-called Bamiléké chiefdoms during the period of independence from 1956 to 1970. In her very interesting contribution Christraud Geary finally tackles the subject of military and political dress in the court of Bamum paramount Njoya during the German period. She uses early colonial photography as well as Bamum ethnography to explore the shifting relationship between dress and identity in a period of intense change.
This coherent and well-researched volume is a welcome addition to the fast-growing literature on Cameroon and underlines the high quality of Cameroon studies. Thus it is appropriate for paying tribute to Sally Chilver.