By Mwalimu George Ngwane/AfricanColours.com
The French-speaking section of Cameroon then known as La Republique du Cameroun obtained her Independence on 1st January 1960 while the English speaking part hitherto known as Southern Cameroon achieved her Independence by reunifying with La Republique du Cameroun on 1st October 1961.
Activities have been hatched to celebrate the twin anniversaries of Independence and Reunification in Cameroon. This essay seeks to shine some light on some of the artistic benchmarks since Independence and Reunification as leverage to mentor young art professionals in Cameroon.
On 30th May 1967, the first President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, declared at the Higher Council of National Education, Yaounde that “our preoccupation continues to be on the one hand that of ensuring a just balance between knowledge of the cultural values of the national patrimony and the knowledge of the universal values, and between knowledge of the past and knowledge of the contemporary world”.
Manu Dibango CD cover | Image from most wanted-online.nl
Five years (1972) after this declaration ace-musician Manu Dibango opened Cameroon’s artistic door to the comptemporary world through his blockbuster song ‘Soul Makossa’. The song only went to buttress the existence, hitherto in hibernation, of unharnessed talents in the creative sector in Cameroon.
Immediately after Independence in 1960 and Reunification in 1961, live orchestras based on aggregate interest became the mainstay in West Cameroon music while individual musical expressions of Nelle Eyoum, Ebanda Manfred, Anne Marie Nzie, and Messi Martin from East Cameroon blasted melodies that held at bay the fraternal invasion of music from the neighbouring countries.
Eboa Lottin though mostly identified with indigenous gospel Makossa excelled in sculpture that his furniture fame made him a friend of most Heads of State in the Central Africa sub region. What is today known as Collywood (Cameroonian film industry) apparently draws its inspiration from the late 70s when the theatrical finesse of Victor Elame Musinga, Sankie Maimo and Guillaume Oyono Mbia attracted a full room in schools or Abbia, Capitol or Wouri cinemas.
The pioneering creativity of these playwrights continue to provide succour for young professionals whether in plays or on cinema giving birth to artists like Hansel Eyoh, Bole Butake, Bate Besong ,Victor Epie Ngome, John Nkengasong, Daniel Kamwa, Jean Dikongue Pipa and Alphonse Beni.
Paul Biya, the incumbent President of Cameroon, in his book ‘Communal Liberalism’ asserts that ‘culture is a school of responsibility which produces men (and women) who are ready to come to terms with themselves by assuming the values that they, in all consciousness, defined for themselves’.
The bounties of art/cultural awards have been a veritable harvest of the twin Golden Jubilee. Jean Dikongue Pipa won the Golden Stallion Award in film in the mid 70s at the Film Festival in Burkina Faso called FESPACO.
Jean Pierre Bekolo has now become a house-hold name in the world of celluloid cinema especially after his Silver Stallion award in FESPACO in 2007.
Josephine Ndayou’s film ‘Paris à tout prix’ has drawn considerable reviews making her one of the few, after Sita Bella, female film writers to have shot to instant international acclaim. Bassek ba Kobio continues to inspire faith and raise hope among young film lovers in Cameroon through his annual film festival in Yaounde called ‘Ecran Noir’.
The literature sector has had a mitigated harvest especially with the rise of creative resources against a backdrop of a withering home based publishing industry and the gradual transformation of bookshops into stationery stores and textbook warehouses.
Immediately after Independence and Reunification, NOOREMAC Press in Limbe and Editions Cle in Yaounde midwifed many creative writers that have today blossomed into stardom. Paradoxically, and this is true of most African countries, writers that have excelled have had their awards more from abroad than from home.
The cases of Ferdinand Leopold Oyono, Francis Bebey and Mongo Beti whose books were celebrated among Africa’s best 100 books of the 20th century during the Zimbabwe International Book Fair in 2002 come to mind.
Their books like those of Mbella Sonne Dipoko were published and made popular by the African Writers Series at a time when the reading culture in Cameroon was still intact less corrupted by a robot addiction to digital technology.
Even after long years of militant guerrilla writing in Cameroon, it needed the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) to recognise Bate Besong’s ingenuity as a playwright when the ANA award was conferred on him in 1992. Calixthe Beyala won the ‘Grand Prix du Roman de l’Academie Francaise’ in 1996.
Book by author Mongo Beti
A joint award of the Fonlon-Nichols prize was offered to the poet Rene Philombe and Mongo Beti in 1992 while Were Were Liking became the third Cameroonian to win the same award in 1993. Gaston Kelman, Patrice Nganang; Achille Mbembe, Francis Nyamnjoh and Daniel Ojong all resident out of the country continue to make a large impact in creative discourse and cultural criticism in the continent and beyond.
Cameroon’s publishing industry is being revamped with indigenous publishers like Buma Kor and Imprimerie Saint Paul but most especially by the Mankon-based and European retail outlet publishing house called Langaa Publishers.
Created less than five years ago Langaa has churned out more than eighty titles that showcase innovative writing skills of Anglophone Cameroon writers leading to the opening of channels for intergenre literary communication and the creation of EduArt awards by Cameroon literary critics Joyce Ashutangtang and Dibussi Tande.
Blogging, promoted by Jimbi Media apart from being citizen journalism par excellence has now become an e-literature site with most Anglophone Cameroon creative writers transformed to bloggers. Yet major Writers’ Awards still elude the creative Cameroonian writer after fifty years in spite of the upsurge of books in our shelves.
Were were Liking, a Cameroonian cultural manager, based in Ivory Coast won the Prince Claus Fund (PCF) award in 2000 for creating a special village for art education of young people.
Le Pirate | Samuel Fosso | Self portrait | Image from boingboing.net
Samuel Fosso, a photographer living in Central Africa Republic won the PCF award in 2001 in recognition of his camera and his originality in photography.
Doual’Art centre run by Marilyn Douala Bell and Didier Schaub is the only Cameroonian –based art house to have won the PCF award. It won the award in 2009 for its inspirational impact on the visual arts and on social and cultural development in Central Africa.
The brushes of Max Sako Lyonga, Kouam, Spee Nzante and Irene Epie paint immortal pictures in the hearts of young people abroad and adorn art galleries in Cameroon.
It is difficult to forget the only Cameroonian Journalist Irene Nzana Fouda to have won the CNN African Journalism award in 2006, the musician Wes Madico who took the West by storm when he won the ‘disque diamant’ in 1996 or Richard Bona whose inspirational and mellifluous voice attracts thousands of music lovers in the most famous music halls around the world.
No Cameroonian lady may have yet catwalked into ‘Faces of Africa’ award but beauty pageantry which was originated from the then West Cameroon still offers a lot of hope especially when the celebration of physical feminity will genuinely respond to the African value system of beauty and when it resonates in the potentials of a creative economy for the laureates.
The list is inexhaustive but what all these indicate is Cameroon’s prominent visibility in the creative landscape for the past fifty years and the resilience the artists has shown in the face of a tottering physical infrastructural deficiency and an absence of a systemic cultural policy that is artist-centred and home driven.
*George Ngwane is a Cameroonian writer and panAfricanist presently a Chevening Fellow (2010) at the University of York- UK (www.gngwane.com).
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