IAN FOWLER and DAVID ZEITLYN (ed.): African crossroads: intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon. (Cameroon Studies, Vol.2.) xxvii, 213 pp. Providence, RI and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 1996. £30 (paper £11.95).
The Festschrift genre is notoriously difficult and often produces incoherent collections of essays, which is all the more reason to congratulate the editors, authors and not least the principal inspirer of the present volume. This is a tribute to Sally Chilver-a pioneer of historical and anthropological research in Cameroon-and at the same time an excellent collection of papers on a unified theme. Sally Chilver's long-standing importance for Cameroonian studies is reflected not just in the present volume but in two other collections of papers, published in Paideuma (vol. 41, 1995) and in a special issue of the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford (26/1, 1995) respectively.
The theme of the present book is, in the words of its subtitle, intersections between history and anthropology in Cameroon. This is reflected in different ways in the individual chapters of the book. Their authors-from Cameroon, Britain, France and the United States-are all historians or anthropologists, and all are interested in combining history and anthropology, in terms of both method and analysis. Methodologically, many of the contributors have followed the example of Sally Chilver in both carrying out field-work and working on the archives, and a recurrent concern is how oral and documentary material can shed light on each other. Some contributors (e.g. the two editors and Philip Burnham) comment on the classic question of whether oral traditions can be used as evidence for historical reconstruction, or are mainly ideological statements reflecting present interests. A general analytical question discussed in several chapters (e.g. by Fowler, Zeitlyn, Fardon and Austen) is the contemporary use of historical and anthropological research, in particular, in the definition of ethnic identities in Cameroon. Along the same lines Richard Fardon discusses the historical connections between professional anthropologists and local historians in West Africa.
The book opens with a brief and informative biography of Sally
Chilver by Shirley Ardener. This is followed by two chapters dealing with
history, anthropology and ethnic identity. In their joint chapter, Ian
Fowler and David Zeitlyn discuss the so-called Tikar problem in Cameroon;
this is, the claim of many communities in the Cameroonian Grassfields that
they originate from the Tikar. The authors reject this claim and see it as
a reflection of contemporary political and cultural interests. In an
intriguing contribution, Richard Fardon discusses the relationship between
person, ethnicity and identity, mainly using material from the Bali-Nyonga
chiefdom. Fardon is interested in the concepts associated with the
relationship between person, ethnicity and identity in both traditional and
modern West African societies. He stresses the historicity of identities
provides exciting material on the use of history in the transition to modernity as well as on the historical connections between the models of professional anthropologists and those of local Cameroonian historians.
The next three chapters provide fine and well-researched studies of Cameroonians and Europeans. Philip Burnham studies inter-ethnic politics and French policy in the Haute-Sangha region in the 1890s. By using the results of anthropological field-work, Burnham is able to point to important biases in the archival material and to reinterpret the historical relations between the French, Fulani and Gbaya. Ralph Austen studies the Duala and German colonization 1884-1914, and reconstructs the fate of two coastal political groups under colonial rule and the mythical images through which they have been remembered in Cameroon. Robert O'Neill studies the Moghamo and their relations with Bali-Nyonga and the Germans 1889-1908, and presents some interesting material on inter-ethnic politics and colonial labour recruitment.
Two contributions deal with warfare, violence and social structure. V. G. Fanso and B. Chem-Langhee examine Nso' military organization and warfare and provide a good analysis of the links between social and military structure. J.-P. Warnier has written an interesting study of the young unmarried male cadets in the Cameroonian Grassfields who from 1891 onwards rebelled against political hierarchy by organizing themselves in armed brigandage or by defecting to the Christian churches on the coast.
Two chapters deal with religion. J. L. Banadzem gives a historical account of Nso' traditional religion and is particularly interesting on the conceptual and ritual interaction between traditional Nso' religion and Catholicism. This is followed by a valuable study by C. Tardits of the religious history of the Bamum kingdom in the early twentieth century, and of the attempts of its king, Njoya, to create his own royal religion. In 1916 Njoya produced a remarkable document, written in a local script, in which he expounded his religious views, mainly inspired by Islam but adapted to Bamum society.
The last chapter of the book is an original analysis by Christraud M. Geary of 'political dress, in Bamum, that is, the German-style, locally created dress worn by indigenous troops in the Grassfields. Geary interprets the popularity of German-style military attire by linking it to the symbolic importance of dress in precolonial and colonial Bamum.
All in all, this is an excellent volume, well organized and with much interesting material and analysis, its most serious flaw being the lack of a map. It will be useful to students of Cameroonian history and ethnography and also to historians and anthropologists working on other parts of Africa. The publication of this book and the launching of the 'Cameroon Studies' series from Berghahn Books reflect a lively interdisciplinary research activity in and on Cameroon, and this must in itself be the most fitting tribute to the work of Sally Chilver.