Review of African Crossroads and Kingdom on Mount Cameroon

THE HISTORIAN Vol LX, No. 4, Summer 1998 pp 842-3.

The Historian is a publication of Phi Alpha Theta, the History National 
Honor Society

African Crossroads: Intersections between History and Anthropology in Cameroon; Cameroon Studies, Volume 2. Edited by Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn. (Providence and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996, Pp. xviii, 213. $29.95.)

Kingdom on Mount Cameroon: Studies in the History of the Cameroon Coast, 1500-1970; Cameroon Studies, Volume 1. By Edwin Ardener. Edited and with an Introduction by Shirley Ardener. (Providence and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996. Pp. xix, 380. $49.95.)

In fact, both of these volumes stand at the methodological crossroads between history and anthropology in that they strive to unravel the sometimes-obscure chronology and context of the Cameroonian past using the tools and approaches of both of those disciplines. The first volume of the series constitutes a partial collection of the efforts of a scholar whose work mainly appeared in the 1950s and 1960s "when Cameroon Studies were in their relative infancy" (xviii). The second, dedicated to another ground-breaking researcher in the field, E. M. Chilver, is a diverse assembly of papers by more recent researchers who build on earlier work on the Bamenda Grassfields of Cameroon.

In the lead essay of Kingdom on Mount Cameroon, Edwin Ardener addresses the "Documentary and Linguistic Evidence for the Rise of the Trading Polities between Rio del Rey and Cameroons, 1500-1650." Ardener grapples with the reliability of both early European accounts and local traditions with an eye to he reconstruction of an untainted representation of the sites, circumstances, and African political contexts of the period. The volume also includes the monograph-length study, "Kingdom on Mount Cameroon: the Bakweri and the Europeans," which traces the history of a small African kingdom under the leadership of Kuv'a Likenye. Due to its political and military resistance to German advances, this kingdom was despised by European officials, missionaries, and Christianized Cameroonians alike. Ardener reconciles written and oral histories and sheds light on both Bakweri and colonial history in the process. In "The Plantations and The People of Victoria Division", the third selection of his work, Ardener invokes

his skills as an ethnographic historian in drawing the connections between land policy and its socio-economic consequences. "Bakweri Fertility and Marriage" examines the results of the introduction of foreign populations for an indigenous people during the colonial era. In the fifth essay, "Witchcraft, Economics and the Continuity of Belief," Ardener ties adaptations in persistent witchcraft beliefs and practices to changes in Bakweri morale, economic circumstance, and their supernatural situation. He begins with the establishment of plantations under German colonialism, taking his analysis into the 1960s. While an engaging piece, the purpose of including the sixth short report on "The Bakweri Elephant Dance" in this volume is obscure to this reader. But the last chapter, "The Boundaries of Cameroon and Cameroon," in which Ardene discusses the historical complexities surrounding the movement to reunify Cameroon in the post-colonial era, provides valuable insight into the thoughts of an active scholar of the period.

In African Crossroads: Intersections between History and Anthropology in Cameroon, Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn lead off with a discussion of the scholarly controversies surrounding the economic and linguistic diversity of the Grassfields area. An emphasis is placed on the "Tikar Problem", wherein the many dynasties claiming descent from the Tikar have neither linguistic nor cultural commonalities among them. The editors suggest that the Tikar introduced a "model" for a tribe, which Grassfields, chiefdoms emulated by claiming origin from them. Richard Fardon, in the first essay, "The Person, Ethnicity and the Problem of Identity in West Africa," confirms the view that the identity of the Chamba seems to be a product of the retrojection of the tribe's collective memory into a comprehensive historical narrative in which they could not have participated.

Philip Burnham's "Political Relationships on the Eastern Marches of Adamawa in the Late Nineteenth Century": A Problem in Interpretation" follows. Burnham points out that the relative abundance of archival sources from the proto-colonial period offers both opportunities to render a relatively full history of peoples in the region in question while laying interpretive traps for researchers. He argues for use of the widest range of interpretive tools drawn from oral tradition, archaeology, historical linguistics, and the application of varied organizational models to the writing of African history despite the methodological disputes that might arise.

In the third essay, Ralph Austen approaches "Mythic Transformation and Historical Continuity: The Duala of Cameroon and German Colonialism, 1884-1914" through an examination of two major Duala rulers, King Bell and King Akwa, both of whom gave up autonomy in favor of the settlement of endless segmentary conflicts. He explains the rise of Bell over Akwa and their respective falls in terms of the mythification of personalities, the aspects of German-Duala relations, and the broader historical developments in which these relations played themselves out.

In the fourth essay, Robert O'Neil examines Moghamo relationships with Bali-Nyongo and Germany from 1889 to 1908. Integrating oral traditions and written records, he reconstructs the events and conditions that led to the rise of Bali-Nyongo Fon Galega through cooperation with the Germans in the subjugation of the Moghamo. He also credits the call for plantation labor that Fon Galega fulfilled with the Bali-Nyongo ascendancy.

The fifth essay, by Verkijika G. Fanso and Bongfen Chem-Langhee, elaborates Nso' military recognization in the nineteenth century from the state level to the village level, a process that rendered the Fon a supreme commander who left the organization and conduct of war to two officers and their assistants at the village level. This removed the king from direct involvement in defense, leaving him to bolster his soldiers with celebrations and decorations.

Ethnologist Jean-Pierre Warnier, in essay six, urges the examination of the defection of young male cadets from the military both in colonial times and during the independence period (1956 to 1970) by means of a broader methodology, which combines historical and anthropological documents and approaches.


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