by Diane-Audrey NGAKO
To Thecla, my maternal grandmother (Mbombo).
Grandma, I would have liked to tell you what I’ve just been through, but you’re not here. So I’m going to write it all down. I met a person, a boy, he comes from the Grassfielfs region, you know the area of the high plateaux of the mboa (country) where the Bamilékés live in particular. You know, it’s also Dad’s region, but I didn’t know him until I was very late, when I was 23. I didn’t develop the same kind of attachment to it as I did to my Bassa culture, the one that you, my mum and my aunt Lisette passed on to me.
Mbombo, in another letter I will tell you about this boy, but today let me tell you about Batoufam. No, it’s not his village, it’s Bangoua, but it’s about 20 minutes away. It’s almost four years since I left France to come back to Cameroon. It took me more than three years to feel at home, and you can imagine that it wasn’t in Douala or Pouma, but in Batoufam (Tswêfap in the local language, NdA-Nda dialect).
Batoufam is a village in western Cameroon, in Bamiléké country. So that you situate yourself,
This village is located 291 km from Douala, 288 km from Yaounde and 25 km from Bafoussam. I also met His Majesty Nayang Toukam Inocent.
The Batoufam Kingdom is rich in history, witnessing the eclectic know-how of its people whose essential aspects have been preserved and are still visible since its foundation in the 18th century. Through the architecture of the labyrinthine palace and the speech of Paule Dassi, museologist and guide, we visualize the history and socio-political organization of Batoufam.
I spent several nights there. The chieftaincy has in its heart, 4 guest rooms, an opportunity to extend the moment, a restaurant overlooking the royal pond and their souvenir shop. I bought there mainly three things: the tasty honey from Oku, ceramic pieces from a village not far from Bamenda and our traditional instruments.
Mbombo, with time, I learned and understood that tradition is the set of acquisitions that successive generations have accumulated, in the fields of spirit and practical life. It is the sum of the wisdom held by a society at a given point in its existence. Moreover, in exchanging with His Majesty Nayang Toukam Inocent, I have also integrated that it is a means of communication between the dead and the living, as it represents the “word” of the ancestors. I know that you would have shared this opinion.
I took the opportunity to discover the west, and to make the program of the chieftaincy route.
It is a program born from the initiative of the Cameroonian diaspora in Nantes, federated around the APLC – Association Pays de La Loire-Cameroon – which, faced with the phenomenon of the clash of civilizations, tries to promote the protection and conservation of tangible and intangible heritage and especially to encourage a process of appropriation of identity values among Cameroonians. This is a bit like the movement in which I am mbombo, knowing who I am and the stories of my ancestors.
Moreover, I went to the Museum of Civilizations, which opened its doors in 2010, on the shores of the municipal lake of Dschang, a city located in the Menoua department. It offers about 500 objects and 1,500 illustrations in the form of permanent and temporary exhibitions. A beautiful way of rediscovering the plural and complex identity of Cameroonians: from the forest peoples, the seas to the Sudano-Sahelians.
We thus discover the techniques of construction of the shell huts, the dances of the virgin toupouries (northern Cameroon), the sacred forests, the purification rites of the Ngondo (traditional Sawa festival).
The rest of the time, I just sat around, chatting with people and enjoying a breath of fresh air. To those who will read this letter with you, I will tell them to come and discover Cameroon, our Africa in miniature, and to let themselves be carried away by the rhythms of the wind, the traditions and the smell of our food.
With all my affection…