Saturday, September 11, 2010

Zintgraff's Explorations in Bamenda, Adamawa and the Benue Lands 1889-1892 By E.M. Chilver

A book review

The authoress, Mrs. E.M. Chilver at 96 is a very methodical researcher and a scholar extraordinaire. She is an incomparable authority in the BC and Cameroon history. She has presented a valuable document that will stand the test of time and I will not hesitate to recommend to interested readers.

I read the manuscripts of this book donkey years ago. (A similar account by Mrs Chilver was OSCAR ZIMMERMANNN’S DURCH BUSCH UND STEPPE 1892-1902. As the one under consideration, it was a traductum from German into French by a friend of Sally as her friends like to call her, called Beatrice Griffiths. Mrs Griffiths was a British career diplomat who had worked on consular affairs at Bonn, then the political capital of West Germany and as a school mistress in England. This is another work that could also be published if polished). Zintgraff’s Explorations in Bamenda… edited by another Oxford don, Mr. E. W. Ardener in a different format first surfaced in 1966. It was meant for private circulation. I was a toddler and could not read. However, I got to peruse this work later on in life while researching for my doctorate of philosophy degree at LSE. The authoress, Mrs. E.M. Chilver was still the Chair of Lady Margaret's Hall, Oxford University. As a close friend and confidant, I had the opportunity to ask her for clarifications on certain pertinent questions raised in this book. Whatever, the work immensely contributed to my research on the mapping of the Cameroon by the Germans, particularly Zintgraff and his eight pioneering followers’ slice of place names accounts that I have since then expanded and published as ORIGINS OF AFRICAN PLACE NAMES (2009), Bianco Publishing , Ottawa. I was amazed at the detailed explanations of Sally and Dr. Eugen Zintgraff's observations as how the Grassfielders lived in their natural environment, their concept of tribal boundaries which were akin to those of European nation states we know today; the paying of tributes as travelers traversed each others abutting borders and wars they fought with the support of their friendly tribe, the Bali.

Besides, the book has several revelations as Chilver’s earlier publication on the Grassfields; CAMEROON’S TYCOON (2001) by Verghahn Book, Oxford which to me is a gem of a kiss-and-tell captivating narrative with more illustrations than the work under consideration. However, I was appalled beyond words reading Zintgraff's recording of slavery and slave trade that was still extant in the Grassfields, BC and the inhuman treatment of slaves. (Although slavery and slave trade were still going on in the hinterland of Western Africa, it was abolished by the British Government in the British spheres of influence as far back as 1834). As paraphrased by the authoress, Zintgraff’s report vividly portrayed the abandonment of some slaves to be eaten by vultures who were so emaciated from lack of food, diseases or fatigue owing to long trek en route to the coast for transshipment most probably clandestinely to the New World.

Zintgraff's amity with the supreme King of the Bali people, Fon Garega I is highlighted. His welcome by the King gave him a base and psychological courage from where he and his entourage carried out their explorations of the surrounding areas and his famous march to the River Benue ports of Ibi and Jebu (in the present day Nigeria) before his eventual return to Bali where he had built for himself a European styled bungalow using local materials. King Garega who was megalomaniac saw his friendship with the Germans as an open door to make himself leader of the Grassfields as in this except:

“Garega had the intention of making himself leader of all the Grassfield people. This certainly would be difficult if he were to rely solely on the guns and spears of his 5,000 Bali warriors. He has indeed, already made a name for himself as a successful warrior and is feared. The Bali had entered the land as conquerors and had continued to expand after their settlement. Then a white man, the first of a race about whose power and wealth many rumors had reached the areas, had come to him. Garega had not killed and robbed him but had sought to win his friendship, admittedly in his own interests and possibly over-estimating his power to help. But Garega also saw beyond this, and had found in the European outlook something worthy of respect. ‘War and force,’ Garega used to say, ‘make people fear and empties the land, but land without people is like a burnt-out-fire. Consequently Garega is aiming to become the chief arbitrator of disputes between the neighboring tribes. This he sees as the best means of uniting the Grassfields under Bali leadership….”

I will state that this work is like a review of Zintgraff’s report Sally has carefully cited as a Memorandum to the Colonial Bureau of the German Foreign Office of his path-finding peregrinations in the Grassfields. His report as those of his contemporaries was his way to entice the German Colonial Government to intensify their colonization of this region of Western Africa. Irrespective of this, what the locals viewed as invasion by Europeans was dangerous. Most tribes saw Europeans as belligerent aliens and engaged them in wars. Consequently, Dr. Eugene Zintgraff lost six of his cronies in battles with the neighboring tribes (Fut, Mankon, Fang, Bungo, etcetera).

With the prevalence of wars, it was no doubt that Dr Zintgraff’s immediate apprehension was security of Europeans. On this, he concluded that this could be achieved by the establishment of a base at Baliburg (Bali)that would primarily protect European traders, missionaries and other types of incomers from Kaiser Germany, secure caravan routes, establish justice among the locals and to unify all the Grassfields tribes under the sovereign that has welcomed him, Garega of Bali.  The last proposition interested the King whose predecessors had fought their way with their people all the way from the present day Northern Nigeria to settle in the Grassfields, BC. There was still that burning desire to expand the kingdom of Bali through internecine inter-tribal wars.

When the Germans eventually finished their wars of subjugation with the tribes of this region they were to carve out and christened the Kamerun (The Cameroons) Bali language, know as Mugaka was chosen as the lingua franca for the Grassfielders of Kamerun. Duala language, erroneously called by some ethnographers dialect was chosen as that of the forest dwellers, Foresters. We can only conjecture the outcome of this as all German plans in their colonies were shattered by the outbreak of the First World War.

Although this was the official plan of the Germans to inculcate these two languages into congeries of tribes that formed their new colony of Kamerun (The Cameroons), the German officials and business persons realized that Pidgin English was the best lingua franca. To start with, it was widely spoken as it had its spread in the region from the days of slavery and slave trade in Western Africa. It was not until circa 1912 that the German Colonial Government saw the need to start teaching German in earnest in their Colony. They had been alarmed at the spread of English that was privately taught by European missionaries and business persons of English extraction principally in the littoral regions at the expense of German. Their naivety or racist attitude made colonial Germans to believe that Africans were inept or not intelligent enough to learn a sophisticated Teutonic language as German and that it was too precious to be taught to Africans whom many had looked down upon. The German Sacred Heart Missionaries, S.C.J. and the German Pollotin Missionaries who had had no shred of doubt that Africans could not master European languages (Europhone) had started teaching German to African students at Kumbo, Duala and elsewhere at Schools they had founded. Some German officials were even impressed while touring the Grassfields that Fr. Johnnes Emonts’, S.C.J. students could not only read and write in German but could address them in that language fluently.(See the forthcoming work: To the Grassfields and Highlands of Inner Cameroon by John Emonts, SCJ, edited by Dr. Viban Ngo, ISBN 2-940352-00-3)

The book is full of goodies that Africanists, scholars of Cameroon, ethnographers, anthropologists or social historians will treasure. More of pristine Africans could have been recorded by Dr. Zintgraff but for the fact that there were sometimes misinterpretation of situations, lack of in-depth knowledge of Africans [irrespective of his previous experience in the Congo]then who were not sure of what the Europeans were up to and would not divulge all about themselves or their neighbors, lack of proper communication, as they relied on the interpretation of a belligerent tribe who falsified data for their interest and not of the German explorer, etc.. The authoress, who is a very methodical researcher, scholar extraordinaire and an authority in the BC and Cameroon history, has presented us with a valuable document that I will not hesitate to suggest to interested readers.
Dr. Viban Viban Ngo.
Ottawa, Canada.

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Zintgraff's Explorations in Bamenda, Adamawa and the Benue Lands 1889-1892

E.M. Chilver

The following pages, initially prepared for limited circulation in 1961, contain brief extracts and summaries of those parts of Eugen Zintgraff’s book Nord-Kamerun (1895), of most interest concerning the colonial Bamenda and Wum Division. Zintgraff’s book, the first by a European about the Grassfields, has not been translated and is hard to get second-hand.

In using these notes the following points should be borne in mind: Zintgraff’s knowledge of Bali (Mungaka) and Hausa was very slight, and his discussions of character, motives and political institutions are consequently superficial and open to criticisms. He had no means of checking what he was told, or thought he was told. He had no previous knowledge of any similar culture and no training in ethnographical method. He was, however, a good observer, and his descriptions of tools, dress, weapons and the like, can be regarded as fairly reliable. Finally, it must be remembered that Zintgraff wrote the book to justify his own actions and to support that small but influential section of public opinion in Germany which favoured rapid imperial expansion. A full account of the actions and motives of Zintgraff’s opponents in the Kamerun Government and in the Colonial Bureau of the German Foreign Office has not been written: we only have one side of the story. But there are some suggestive points made in Rudin’s Germans in the Cameroons and others referred to in these notes.

What is perhaps most striking about Zintgraff’s account is the fact that the people of the Western Grassfields were not so isolated from one another or their neighbours as might be thought. A network of trade-friendships covered the country and big men exchanged gifts over long distances. These links must be set beside the insecurity due to raids and slave-catching, and are well worth investigation.

ISBN 9789956616718 | 92 pages | 203 x 127 mm | B/W Illustrations | 2010 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback


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About the Author

E.M. Chilver

E.M. Chilver was one of the first historians and ethnographers of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon. Her work remains an invaluable guide to the region.

Ps. BC in this text stands for British Cameroons

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About the Author: Viban Viban NGO, a Canadian You may contact him for further information by writing to him on Email URL