Kangsen Feka Wakai
When my mother’s father, Big Papa, was born, the area now known as Cameroon was under German occupation and administration. It was called Kamerun.
Having hosted the colonial buffet of 1884 in Berlin, Germany, like other European powers of that day had carved and designated the region where my forbearers resided as theirs to own and possess.
It was to be a laboratory for their civilizing project.
My grandfather’s generation would become pioneers—the first specimens in the German colonial experiment in that part of Africa. The Germans had come as conquerors, explorers and missioners. A significant number of them had come to stay because as soon as some of them disembarked from their boats, they immediately began dotting the landscape with Bavarian edifices from the old country.
Their brick bungalows stand till this day as a testimonial of the Germanizing of my people’s land. It was only interrupted after Germany got itself involved in the Great War of that century.
It lost woefully.
A defeat, which is said to have fueled a young Adolf’s fury that would later manifest itself into one of the bloodiest scourges of the twentieth century— an objectionable chapter in the German myth. A myth my grandfather, Big Papa, was always too eager to narrate.
‘Ha! Those Jamans…Mbombo, I tell you…they strong o!’ he’d say.
Big Papa had seen a lot. The wrinkled folds that encircle his eyes seemed to carry the forgotten chapters of our history. It was in his stare—searching and penetrating. Those eyes had been witness to many a drastic change. He had seen the land changed, their ways were changing and as a people, they were changing. It was a time when ‘Native’ men could be hunted down like antelopes and forcefully enlisted to fight in wars in far away lands; wars against people they didn’t know or had no palava with. It was an era when men could be herded to labor camps and plantations never to see loved ones again. It was the era of bridges, rails and roads.
Big Papa saw it all.
They were told it was the dawn of a new day: hills were being dynamited and flattened. Forests were being cleared for roads just as cultures were being subverted to usher in what was supposed to be modernity and development. The European seemed to have completely penetrated the people’s souls and mapped their way through ruggedness of the heartland. Their footprints were all over Big Papa’s memory; their legacy had even lodged itself in his legend—it became a regular topic of conversation in our long walks around Nsam-Efoulan, Yaounde. Big Papa was a walking volume of stories.
‘Mbombo…I tell you…those Jamans!’
Even when he tried to restrain himself, the sheer affection in his voice during the narrative would betray his true sentiments. I think Big Papa respected the Jamans. I am almost certain he did.
He also lived to see the French and English come and go. Apart from the language, which has remained a source of consternation amongst us, they took what they could take and left us nothing. In fact, Big Papa never had anything to say of them, good or bad. He probably didn’t think much of them. But then, maybe he did but didn’t think it was worth his while.
When my father was born in 1935, it had been almost two decades since Germany lost the Great War and, as chastisement for its aggression was obliged by the treaty of Versailles to cede its overseas properties, including Kamerun, to the League of Nations under the auspices of England and France.
The Frenchifying and Anglicizing of my people had begun.
But then, my father’s birthplace was not your typical colony. It wasn’t a prized possession, anyways not like the English or French would have wanted, but a war reward nonetheless. It was no Kenya with a vast and fertile rift valley or mineral-rich Congo for that matter, but it was a colony nonetheless, to own and possess, exploit and administer, convert and civilize, use and abuse.
German departure meant that Big Papa’s Kamerun had now become my father’s Southern Cameroons, a British protectorate with its administrative seat in Eastern Nigeria, which was administered from London.
My mother’s maternal grandmother is from Bafia. Bafia is located on the other side of the River Mungo. She had been born in what was then German Kamerun. So, German departure meant the Kamerun of her childhood was now the French Cameroons, a French protectorate with its administrative seat in Yaounde, which was administered from Paris.
My father had hardly enrolled in school when an ambitious and embittered Adolf, sporting a Charlie Chaplin moustache, emerged from the shadows and started his own war—another Great War, which according to him was to cleanse the fatherland, reclaim Jaman honor, and of course "Jaman" real estate, lost during the first Great War. In so doing he plunged Europe, self-anointed auteur of human destiny, into a violent orgy that would alter the history of humankind forever.
In a way, the conquerors turning on each other would for a few years ease colonial noose on the African’s throat.
My mother was born in the dawn of that war. She was born in perhaps England’s least enviable plot in its vast Imperial holdings. It was the backwoods of the empire, too much dust during the dry season and too much poto-poto in the rainy season. Southern Cameroons did not produce enough palm oil at the time to salivate British interest in its upkeep. Southern Cameroonswas an after thought. It was the invalid stepchild in her Majesty’s dominion.
In colonial eyes, my mother and father’s birthplace was no more than a bargaining chip in the manipulative chess-like-game that is imperial geo-politics. It became a cushion against French incursion and influence into England’s prized possession in the region, Nigeria. The white elephant! Nigeria, that cow that never runs out of milk…
The northern region of what was my parents’ Southern Cameroons, and what used to be part of Big Papa’s Kamerun elected to join Nigeria. They are now Nigerians.
The southern region where both of my parents hail from decided to join what used to be my maternal great-grandmother’s Kamerun, which had become Cameroun, the French colony.
The Federal Republic of Cameroon or Cameroun (depending on which side of the bridge you claim) was born. To say the least, my parents became half-Cameroonians, one leg in, and one leg out.
At this point, the historical narrative assumes a very colonial, African, comical, and tragic turn.
First of all, there are different versions about Cameroon’s independence and eventual union between the two Cameroons. The official version has been discredited and sullied with accusations of inaccuracies, so the answer to how La Repubique du Cameroun became what it is today usually depends on a few congenial factors; who you ask, when you ask them, why you ask them, how you ask them, your tone, your origin, when they were born, what mood you find them in, if they are sober or drunk, hungry or fed, where they were born, where they attended school, if they went to school at all, if they are sick or well, broke or comfortable, their political affiliation, mental condition and social standing.
Then there was more political bruhahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I was born in 1978 and Big Papa’s Kamerun, my mother’s maternal grandmother’s Cameroun, my father’s Southern Cameroons had become The United Republic of Cameroun.
Today it is La Republique du Cameroun with its Cameroonians, Camerounaises, Southern Cameroonians, Northerners, Bamilekes, Francophones, Anglophones, Betis, Sawas, Ambazonians, Graffis, etc etc etc.