By Kangsen Feka Wakai
Androgynous beauty of the tropical grass-fields: You emit subtle whiffs of wet eucalyptus leaves that titillate the palates of sweet-toothed charlatans. You are the defaced cradle of betrayed ancestors and abandoned tomb of disinherited monarchs.
Your strength and valor has transformed you from the quaint colony of a jittery Kaiser to a Grande fort of resistance.
Your undulating bosom bears the vestiges of primordial dramas that now assume the forms of hills and the personalities of lakes.
Your outstretched hands have morphed into altars through which we quench the thirst of our departed. The ancestors must be drunk from too much libation. Time has always been and remains a restless and unpredictable ally in your quest to make sense of who and what you are.
You exhibit a calm that is both majestic and sinister. Distance can etch an ineffaceable dent on the chord that binds too lovers. And in its unintended fury can efface familiar faces from the canvas of memory. Who can ever boast of forgetting those unnamed pathways that run like stretch marks on your reddish brown skin? You are the object of Kotto Bass’s ode — he serenades the heavens with your tales woven in song.
What kind of song will be befitting for one that straddles between the absolutism of patriarchy and matriarchal sensibilities? Could it be a ballad, a conservative dose of sentimentality immersed in a simple melody; accessible and sweet yet engaging enough to catch the ear of a peddler doing his rounds on Commercial Avenue? Would one be compelled to call on Ngumba to change the dance from njang to a waltz?
Could it be a protest song? One of those chant-down-Babylon rants that would shatter the walls surrounding the mansions of hustlers disguised as messiahs. No!
Abakwa: nucleus of my being, rusted-roofed chateau of my dreams, bearer of my first footprint, storied hub for hotheads, Tikariland; these days of folly will come to pass.
You were the threading ground on which misguided political novices fertilized the grounds for tyranny to flourish. Your vengeance would be cold and timely. Your honor would be restored when the crust breaks from your eyes. Time will honor its word. Your unforgiving biro will scribble their heinous legacies with the boldest prints on the indelible pages of history.
My romance with you began during childhood. It seemed as if the creator’s divine touch carved this vast space to suit your colorful and restless personality. The sight of a waterfall-gushing hill overlooking a sprawling valley of well-manicured bungalows bordered by slums was fascinating to an impressionable mind.
Douala…moto don flop
If you no run
Motor go flop
Went the chorus to the riotous song—a funky medley of car honks and soukous blaring speakers. Only you could sing that kind of song. Only you!
Langston Hughes, anointed versifier of post-depression Black American plight must have been referring to someone in your liking when he lamented of dreams deferred.
You are a dream deferred. You are a phoenix still waiting its meteoric rise. You’ve been left for dead. Your genius suppressed and left to rot, for your growth has been deferred to an unmarked date in a calendar that isn’t yours.
History can be a prankster. You were an enslaver’s treasure-trove. Your birth may have been premature and your features engineered by Bismark’s errand boys, but you were still able to sculpt an identity from the granular sediments of dynamited igneous rocks.
Then a deceptive wind of change blew your way and your music was put on pause. Freedom needs no manifesto, but there you were, arms opened in embrace to hug a familiar friend with an unfamiliar name. When your messiah is born, will you recognize its face?
The voice of freedom and democracy—revered trophies of an apathetic bourgeoisie, echoed their alluring sounds through out your domain. From the pot-holed filled slums of Sisia Quarters to the quasi-security of gated bungalows in Foncha Street.
I saw you march through the thatched stalls of Ntarikon Motorpark. You shared a pot of kati-kati with the Takumbeng. They say you make the tastiest koki. Feed the children! For if only they knew the power they possessed…if only they knew. The man on the ‘33’ Export poster would lose his smile.
You marched through Metta Quarters, blinded by courage and guided by justice; you made a left on T-junction. The music changed its mood as you approached those idle fools in berets and boots looking as if they’d just been released from the zoo.
And you began dancing. You danced like only you can dance. You danced more than you ever danced for Lapiro de Mbanga.
Your person, a bundle of mystique hemmed in a frame of steel. I saw you sniff tear gas. It cured your catarrh. I saw you chong and kefa to the sounds of grenades and bullets. Six bullets through your heart and you still didn’t die. Instead you danced. I saw you tear through the smoke and dance like you knew no tomorrow. You danced to their marching boots. Their hearts blackened with sooth. When they kicked, you leapt. When they whipped, you crept. When they yelled, you jeered. When they shot, you fought. When they stole, you burnt. Bamenda chop fire!
Abakwa: you incarnate the most sublime of songs. Your lyrics have not yet drowned in the manmade lake of palm-wine, your backyard. You have been reduced to singing under your breath like a pious nun. Your rising sun will soon unmask the violators of your trust. They’ll wish they hadn’t changed the tune of your song.
Kotto Bass: Cameroonian bassist.
Ngumba: Governing body of Tikari society that enthrones monarchs.
Njang: Dance done by Ngumba to cleanse community of evil spirits.
Soukous: Popular musical genre of Congolese origin.
Kati-Kati: Chopped roasted chicken bits sautéed in palm oil and served with fufu-corn.
Takumbeng: Elderly female society charged with maintaining order in matrilineal Takari societies.
Koki: Tasty Cameroonian dish.
Lapiro De Mbanga: Protest singer whose music confronted Cameroonian autocracy.
Chong: Elderly men’s dance.
Kefa: Elderly women’s dance.