Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn, Editors.
African Crossroads: Intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon.
Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996 Pp. xxvii, 213 pp., bibliography, index.
African Crossroads: Intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon is the second volume published by Berghahn in their Cameroon Studies series. It is one of three collections of papers edited by Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn commemorating the contribution E.M. Chilver has made to the study of Cameroon, the other two being special issues of Paideuma (Vol. 41) and JASO (Vol. XVI No. 1). Readers of JASO will therefore already be familiar with biographical and bibliographical aspects of Sally Chilver's career as a Cameroonist, so we pass here directly to the contributions others have made in her honour in this volume.
After Shirley Ardener's Forward and the Preface and Introduction, both by Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn, there are nine contributed papers. These focus on aspects of the political and culture history and anthropology of the geographical region of Cameroon (i.e. the Grassfields, in western Cameroon) or the historical era (the early 20th century German colonial period) to which Chilver devoted most of her attention. With respect to content, they can be loosely divided into three themes: German contact, ethnicity and identity, and religion.
The theme of ethnic identity and its development is taken up first by Fowler and Zeitlyn, in their Introductory essay 'The Grassfields and the Tikar' which presents the 'Tikar Problem' as an illustration of the complex issue of the emergence of ethnicity. The Tikar problem is identified here as how the Tikar connection with the Grassfields came about 3 i.e. the fact that several Grassfields groups claim a Tikar origin, despite their language and culture being only remotely related to those of the Tikar. But, as is clear from Zeitlyn's contribution to the JASO collection (an epitome of Mohammadou's work on Tikar origins), the Tikar question goes well beyond the Grassfields claims. In fact, the Tikar identity is appears to be relatively recent, their being an amalgam of different groups originating in the region to the north and east of the Grassfields. And the issue is further complicated by the fact that more recently a number Tikar subgroups have merged with the Kwanja, as the latter moved into what was formerly Tikar territory, and now see themselves to some extent as Kwanja. The 'Tikar problem', then, is indeed a still a topic of many unresolved issues, one whose investigation will shed considerable light on questions of merging and emerging ethnicities, as well as answering questions of a historical nature. It illustrates well the fluid nature of ethnicity in Africa 3 certainly this part of Africa 3 and the various discussions of the Tikar and their identity found in these tributes to Chilver serve as excellent case studies of this more general question.
The question of ethnicity and identity is further explored in Richard Fardon's contribution 'The person, ethnicity and the problem of identity in West Africa', a chapter which examines the Bali-Nyonga, who are geographically Grassfields but ethnically of Chamba 3 or at least a more Northern, Adamawa region 3 origin. Part of Fardon's purpose is to explore how and why they came to be identified as Chamba.
Four papers find common theme in treating the German colonial period: Ralph Austen's 'Mythic transformation and historical continuity: the Duala of Cameroon and German colonialism' (Chapter Three); Robert O'Neil's 'Imperialisms at the century's end: Moghamo relations with Bali-Nyonga and Germany' (Chapter Four); Jean-Pierre Warnier's 'Rebellion, defection and the position of the male cadets' (Chapter 6); and Christaud Geary's contribution, 'Political dress: German-style military attire and colonial politics in Bamum' (Chapter Nine).
These four 'German' chapters are of course not isolated thematically from the rest of the book. O'Neil's, for example, complements well Fardon's look at the Bali-Nyonga, while Fardon himself makes reference to the status of the Bali-Nyonga as agents for German interests.
Verkijika Fanso and Bongfen Chem-Langhêê's
chapter, 'Nso' military organization and warfare in the nineteenth and twentieth
centuries', gives a good sense of the militaristic aspect of Grassfields history.
This is a theme also treated by O'Neil, but here not so much with respect to the
German campaigns discussed by O'Neil, as in the period prior to this, providing insight
into how the military strength of the Nso' evolved and operated.
Philip Burnham's 'Political relations on the eastern marches of Adamawa in the late nineteenth century', as its title indicates, fits neither the temporal nor the spatial aspects mentioned above, but in a sense is all the more interesting for this, as it helps form a frame for the other papers.
Two other contributions, both dealing with religion, round out the collection. These two papers - Joseph Bandzem on 'Catholicism and Nso' traditional beliefs' and Claude Tardits' 'Pursue to attain: a royal religion' - like other contributions to the book, both rely on documentary evidence from the period. Both also have a focus on individuals and their experiences, though Tardits' primary focus is on Njoya, the paramount ruler of the Bamoun, and his dominant influence in attempting to create a particularly Bamoun form of Islam. Side-by-side, the two papers make interesting comparative reading, for while the Nso' leaned towards Christianity, the religion of the incoming colonizers, Njoya favoured a form of Islam which, despite its ultimate foreign-ness and colonizing status, was seen as African.
In short, for those who are new or relatively new to Cameroon studies, this collection presents a gateway to an enticing world. For Cameroonists, the papers offered here will contribute to debate and discussion no doubt already familiar, but not settled. Many of the contributions presented here are more theoretical in nature than those included in the other two commemorative volumes, and as such this book may appeal more to the involved social anthropologist than to the 'academic tourist'. Nonetheless, there is much here for those less theoretically inclined, and the volume should interest a wide range of readers.