A shared memory

Credits: Isaac Iboi

It is a bit complex to induce memory without resolving the physical attractions of the stigma, the psychological and the historical repercussions on the society.

During our field work, we had two opposite paths. The German memory remains. It is on memory plaques. It is still in the daily life of the populations. We could then ask questions about the awareness of memory and our relationship to history.

The incomprehensible testimonies, the relationship to our humanity. In the coastal Cameroon that we followed and which stretches by railways of the capital city of Cameroon-Yaounde to the German economic city of Nkongsamba,
since the departure of the Germans in 1916, a real dilemma has been tormenting the conscience.

Where is the truth of the German presence in the life of the populations? Over four generations now, the population is still haunted by German remains with a mixed feeling. But research finds in this perception, a cleverly constructed traumatic legacy.

What should be done with it? Should we embark on the path of forgetting, or even negation? Even if we notice that the other European powers – in particular France and Great Britain – who after the departure of Germany from Cameroon, went back into business with Cameroon, they set up a system of Germanophobia that is; a system to erase the German memory, the tangible and intangible remains are still very present in the minds and in historical significant places.

We are far from a short relative amnesiactic current period, but well anchored in the country. We must therefore see in our work, a method which consists in exhuming a physical memory and exposing the intangible memory which is still lived within the victimised populations.

People we met in the research work, the production lines are clear. We cannot get rid of the historical literature of the German passage in Cameroon!

Our approach firmly rooted in the anthropology of history is a
beautiful adventure circumscribed between the city of Douala and its northern part towards the West; Douala-Nkongsamba is about 140 km long.

We must therefore see in this artistic production work, transmutation of artistic ideas and debate on cultural identities in order to see the real memory found within the victimised populations of the German passage in their countries. We must also mention that the Germans come in, during the debate process over the control of the area known as “Cameroon” today.

The Portuguese had already instituted slave trade. Other Europeans exploitation or should we, on the contrary, fully assume this heritage and transmute it into an aesthetic principle of creation in order to preserve cultural memories and identities?

A long-awaited challenge Germany is one of the European countries that covets Cameroon after its historical discovery by the Portuguese. At that time, Cameroon was a conglomerate of communities. While the Coastal Chiefs installed a system of trade and exchange controlled by instituting some sort of customs on local products and even those intended for export, there was a sort of enrichment and form of resistance from the local populations towards local foreigners; in this case the Europeans.

France and Great Britain are at the heart of the various tribulations thanks to a policy cleverly led by characters such as John Merriks.

The settlement of the Germans in Cameroon is therefore due to several motivations. The main one would thus be the economic mission with the exploitation of the colonies. This purely economic issue complicates all the historical literature around the Germano- Douala Treaty of 1884; seen in history as the starting point of the relationship with Germany.

Highlighted facts such as the deaths of Rudolph Duala Manga-Bell, King Bell and other resistance fighters, sufficiently show the muted reasons for these barely masked assassinations.

The city of Douala bears the eponymous name today in memory of its King, hero of German barbarism. The name Duala evokes for this people of the Coast, Pain in homage to this King assassinated onAugust 14, 1914 in Douala.

Many parents today remember this scene. Most of them nicknamed theirs painfully born offspring “Douala”.  The artist musician from Bonatonè, a district in the heart of Douala bears the surname of Douala Alexandre but for its scene, it is “Pain”.

The installation of German planters

By the end of the 19th century, with the landing of the Germans, it began the profound transformation of the traditional Cameroonian economy. The arrival of the German planters whose reference is to Hamburg was prepared by this ’legal’ ’trade.

Douala was the epicenter of business around the mid-19th century. The chiefs of the Coast had already been in the great trade with the Europeans for several centuries. Things really began to fall into place in 1868 with the Woermann mission on the Cameroonian coast in search of red oil.

The installation is done on the two points of Mt Cameroon, the two banks of the river. See the Map of the plantation situation in Mt Cameroon. Palm groves in farms in the locality of Nkappa in the small town of Loum, they set up an agronomy station. It is she who studies the types of soil and suitable crops for each area. In the same plan, our map faithfully shows that the towns of Loum and that of the western part, that is to say on the other side of Mt Cameroon, are volcanic and rich.

The populations recognize the quasi mimetic succession of the administrations which followed at the same time the English and the French later. Moreover, some vestiges of buildings or improved housing, sometimes improved or adapted to the weather, are still visible in the locality.

The cultivation of rubber trees in the village of Nkende (Nkapa)

In implementation work, the so-called North railway line will be created from the city of Douala to the city of Nkongsamba as a stopping point. It is a route of around 140 km that will enlivened the economy of the plantations. The trade was promoted by the construction of roads and in 1911 of the railways. The first plantations are explored in the small town of Nkapa about 40 km north of Douala. People are expropriated or “forced” to give large swathes of their land. In this small cosmopolitan corner with its very heterogeneous population, the young François Dooh, our guide on his motorcycle taxi, does not take off.

Crossing the vast fields of rubber trees and palm groves
(remember that the cultivation of rubber here is imposed by Germany), he thinks about his grandparents from the village of Nkende, now forced to be contented with a few portions just to build and cultivate most of the annual harvest. Thousands of hectares have been expropriated from the populations. The entire villages have been swallowed up in this plantation economy.

Nkende, Nkapa, Souza…villages, suddenly saw a surge of populations from elsewhere, with whom they did not always have any cultural or linguistic links, but mingled with them for forced labor.

An open command

The northern railway built between the city of Douala and Nkongsamba in 1911 is in the program of the so-called northern railway line (Chemin de fer du Nord). It’s vocation is to cross the coast and the region from the West to the North.

Moreover, the military command was located in the
town of Baré. The security of the place was ensured by the post of Baré which ensured the coordination of the administration. This city fell into the hands of the French under the command of Leclerc.

In 1923, the administration and command were transferred to the town of Nkongsamba, which became a major center of trade. Health infrastructure, communication , the great work of the Germans with the construction of the northern railway in the Moungo is an opportunity both because this part of the country, in addition to its natural resources, its volcanic earth is a vast open plain. The railway project should extend from Douala, Nkongsamba to Banyo in the north. The layout of the infrastructures also follows this thought of strategic occupation of the territory.

Bareko’s command post in the north of the town of Nkongsamba. Today, in its expansion of command had jurisdiction over the entire western region bordering the Bamoun Kingdom. The small village of Barehock near Nkongsamba, was a kind of small administrative center with a post office, housing and a health center (Barehock leper colony) for the sick. This is where the sick were transported before going to Douala.

German Ford follows up

This command post relay of the German administration after the city of Douala. We can see the different bridges which allowed the small village of Barehock to the ‘metropolis Baré on the Otseng river at a place called Ngol Mbeng –Ebouh.  It was by this route that the staff passed from the places known as Elazin to reach Baré. Opposite a bridge found in the bush and which continues to ensure the link between the two villages.

The Ford of Baré

The dignity and complexity of peoples’ identities .The plantation economy is a real social disaster for the populations located along the so-called northern railway line from the Dualabahn to Nkongsamba, which has become the economic pole, in the 19th century what will later be the Moungo department is a forest area between the coast and the plateau of western Cameroon crossed by a network of tracks where the products of milking circulate. This network is oriented towards Yabassi Douala and the town of Bimbia which are all points of contact with European ships.

The local populations torn apart along these communication, routes, each group finding itself in phase with neighboring groups upstream. At that time, the Mungo already appears as an important axis of penetration, parallel to other axes of the same orientation: The track from Calabar to Mamfé which, through the valley of the Crossriver, ends in the western plateaus, at the chiefdom Bali; on the tracks from the towns of Yabassi-Nkondjok which reaches the southern part of the Bamileke plateau and the Bamoun country.

The project comes up against a steep slope and stops at Nkongsamba without continuing. But the corpus of the colonial regime which interests our work, the great internal migrations. Today they are part of this tangible heritage which marks the remains of Germany. The great dislocation of this entity is the bringing together of the communities with forceps for the interest of capitalism dragged by the economy of the plantations.

The status and fate of the populations of Moungo were the subject of controversy as soon as the German planters arrived. The major projects have generated a strong mobilization of human resources. This approach has profoundly modified the “social ecosystem” of this zone of major works.

Several populations with an identity origin, complementary linguistic opposites, share a space at the firceps to do so, the German administrators undertook to go and take populations throughout Cameroon for forced labor in the plantations.

On the current ridge of the national road N5, from the first villages of Moungoland, there is a strong migration of populations from West Cameroon, united in different groups, defending their interests which are found on these soils.

Today there are about four generations in these territories. According to historians, these populations handpicked and carried on forced labor, the first migrations go back to the end of the 19th century, after the slave trade, with the support of local chiefs, another human trade took place short.

Germany has come and stepped up. The village Nkapa has welcomed the populations since the middle of the 19th Century. Colonial administrators structured the deployment of migrants; this depending on the type of culture and community approaches. The sociological map of populations of Moungo indicate a strong heterogeneity because of the works. Populations which should leave after this period, have become actors of development in this locality.

During our deployment in the field, and according to study documents at the national archives, and a few study institutes (ORSTORM, National Archives, etc.)

On one hand, the exhortation to regain one’s dignity, chanted by the Martinican psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon. On the other, the promise of freedom and authenticity, engraved in the minds of an entire population by the Jamaican artist Edna Manley.

The magic of the encounter.

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