Thursday, September 2, 2010

A review of Bassa Antiquity in Contemporary Limbe written by Emmanuel Konde published by Pyramid House in Albany Georgia in 2010.



This is a 142 page book, written in sophisticated syllogism, analogies, anecdotes, and a reproduction of Camnet (Cameroonian forum) debates verbatim literatim. This book made its name before it was even read up to a point where a cabal petitioned the author’s school (where he teaches) urging them to stop its publication because it will promote ethnic cleansing. Now, after reading the book, I think it was pure rashness, for the bite of the book did not merit the bark of the people. Konde says “the question of land and ancestry are the subtexts of Bassa Antiquity in Contemporary Limbe” (P 11).

If you have not bought a copy, you may just realize you are missing out on what matters most in Cameroon history. This book will play a great role with the implementation of the autochthones law of ceding power to the original and majority settlers. He craftily lays claim to the Bassas as the original settlers of Victoria by establishing a proficient timeline, historical and anthropological syllogism and carefully dismantling the contentions of other pretenders staking their claims as original settlers of Victoria. Whoever reads this book and from which ever stand point he/she reads the book, he/she will find it beneficial. Some of the people who almost ate Prof Konde raw should actually be happy because without him citing them in this book, no one will ever, ever mention them in any book. This book converted useless discourses into useful historical narratives.

Bassa Antiquity in Contemporary Limbe (BACL) does not only give an authorial but also a political voice to Bassa ba Limbe; thus,  filling the void of historiography of Limbe. The historicity of the settlement of Victoria now Limbe, bears some polemical and political consequences because whoever is the original settler, automatically gains the governing rights. Perhaps that is why the Bakweri people are afraid of the book and did not want its publication, or perhaps they just don’t believe the man Konde can write an unbiased account to establish the rightful heirs of Limbe.

BACL starts by establishing the Bassas as the first inhabitants of Limbe even in his acknowledgement (p1). According to him, the absence of a written history of the Bassas has relegated them to second tier immigrants though they were the first to settle the place. At some point, he bases his claims on oral history from individuals like Papa Albert Bibum, Papa Jonas Kota Bissala, Papa Gabriel Maier, Mama Pauline Ngo Bassanguen (popularly known as “Mama Nyango”)- (p. 2). Oral history has been the same medium his contenders have used to lay claims to the land. To cement his theory in the opening paragraph of chapter three, he says “Bassa and Duala oral sources maintain that the Bassa were the first settlers of Wouri Estuari” (P. 41). The question is: which of the oral histories should we believe?

Konde says that by ascertaining himself as a “Victoria Boy”, it links him directly to Victoria (now Limbe):

And provides readers the necessary basis from which to judge the veracity of my enterprise and the spirit in which Bassa Antiquity in Contemporary Limbe is crafted (P. 9).

According to Konde, it is difficult to speak of ancestral lands because Victoria has been greatly affected by European civilization. Perhaps we should ask this question. Who did those missionaries dishing out land to African kings meet in these places when they arrived? Perhaps that is why “in Limbe there are two graveyards: one for “indigenes”, the other for “strangers” (P 19).

In BACL, Prof Konde traces three waves of Bassa migration to Victoria. The first wave is the pocket that came before the Whiteman visited the land: those Bassas who were locally referred to as creoles. These ones “originated from the banks of Nile River near Meroe, the Southern capital of ancient kingdom of Kush” (P. 33). The second wave was directly connected to the plantation economy established there by the Germans who confiscated land between 1884 and 1916 (P. 22). “The third wave of Bassa migrants were uproots of the UPC struggle in French Cameroon in the 1950s” (P. 22).

Those who are really contesting for the rights of first settlers are the Bassas, Bakweris and Dualas. Konde claims that the Bassas were the first because their settlement has been acknowledged by scholars like Eugene Wonju, Edwin Ardener, and Robert Cornevin (P. 29). He also states that even “the Duala’s themselves have acknowledged that they encountered the Bassa upon arriving at the Wouri Estuary” (P. 29). During this time sprouted splinter groups like Bakweri and Oroko who coexisted with the Bassas.

Konde actually acknowledges that the homeland of the Bassa is Sanaga Maritime (P. 30). The author makes a wonderful analogy with the Duala settlement in Douala region and the Bassas in pre-Victoria Limbe (P 30). Konde emphasizes later:

While we know that the Duala encountered the Bassa at the Wouri Estuary, and both groups have proffered what happened there thereafter. No similar narratives exists of Bassa encounter of the Bakweri in pre-Victoria Limbe at the time when the former group filtered into the area and effectively occupied desolate, uninhabited sections of what would become Victoria and now Limbe (P. 38).

He buttresses his analogy by showing that before the coming of the colonialists, the Bantu-speaking Africans migrated freely and settled freely. The artificial divisions were brought by colonialists who did not have the rights to possess and distribute land.

Prof Konde goes further to prove that the Bassas were the first settlers of Limbe by citing manuscripts of Pastor Samuel Massing and Monsignor Thomas Mongo that support his assertion (P. 34).

The author gives plausible reasons why rather than the Bassa, the Duala live in the coast. He alleges that traditional anecdotes stated that the Duala were very filthy people who excreted “into small pots that they carried around” (P. 35).

Though the Bakweri occupy more than 100 villages, they were not the first settlers. One thing to be noted is the fact that most African societies did not practice written history. The history about when the Portuguese first established contact with the coastal people is right, but it raises a question. Who did they meet when they came there? To Konde, it was not the Duala or Bakweri but the Bassas. According to the author, the Basas were merely forced to move out of the area by the construction of Victoria-Buea Road (P. 49).

The rest of the book deals with Camnet reactions, rebuttals and commentaries. The list ranges from Konde, Makaka, Mbua, Martha Kebbi, Ndoko, Fobedzong, Somdah, Tom Keng, Mukefor, Jesusman, Asongayi Walters, Samira, Microwave, Wamba, Awah, Ms Joe, Ni Manjong, Dibussi, Ekosso, Mbella, Christmass Ebini, Akintola Manga Che, Samira and Ewusi. However, despite the many participants at the debate, none was able to rebut substantially the facts of Konde. Perhaps he knows how to sell his lie better, or perhaps he is the truth speaker.

However, the government should not encourage settler polity, for it regresses the society to the intertribal war era because it will encourage nepotism and tribalism which are like our cankerworm and palmerworm. There are third generation Bassas, Bakweris, Banyangs and Orokos who consider Limbe as their original home because their second and first generation ancestors all settled here. Therefore, there should be some opened democracy for all autochthones and indigenes of Limbe to run and whoever wins, rules. In this age and time, people should be encouraged to live together no matter their language, color, tribe or origin. Let us make this world a small village and a better place for everyone to live happily.

Until then, it is a book every Cameroonian and those who cherish oral history should read.

Prince & PA Hamilton Ayuk
“Bonyfish beware because the same net that caught the jawless fish, caught the cartilaginous fish” (Hamilton Ayuk).
Beware earthly paradise seekers because there is a serpent in every paradise"(Hamilton Ayuk).
Idle people write, idler people read, and idlest people read and whine that idle people are taking their time (Hamilton Ayuk).

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