By 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
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
It was to be a laboratory for their civilizing project.
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.
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!’
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.
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
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.
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.
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…
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
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
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.
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!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
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.
KFW is a journalist, performance artist, and writer based in
Houston, TX. He is the author of Fragmented Melodies, a collection of
poems available on Michigan State University Press and Amazon.com