African Modernities and Mobilities
434 Pages
English
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African Modernities and Mobilities

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Gain access to the library to view online
Learn more
434 Pages
English

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In this book Walter Gam Nkwi documents the complexities and nuances embedded in African modernities and mobilities which have been overlooked in historical discourses in Africa and Cameroon. Using an ethnographic historical approach and drawing on the intricacies of what it has meant to be and belong in Kom- an ethnic community in the Northwest Region of Cameroon - since 1800, he explores the discourses and practices of kfaang as central to any understanding of mobility and modernity in Kom, Cameroon and Africa at large. The book unveils the emic understanding of modernity through the history and ethnography of kfaang and its technologies and illustrates how these terminologies were conceived and perceived by the Kom people in their social and physical mobilities. It documents and analyzes the historical processes involved in bringing about and making kfaang a defining feature of everyday life in Kom and among Kom subjects.

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Published 11 May 2015
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EAN13 9789956762378
Language English
Document size 16 MB

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AFRICAN MODERNITIES ANDMOBILITIES FRICA ODERNITIES AND MOBILITIES An Historical Ethnography of Kom, Cameroon, C. 1800-2008
Walter Gam Nkwi
African Modernities and Mobilities: An Historical Ethnography of Kom, Cameroon, C. 1800-2008
Walter Gam Nkwi
Langaa Research & Publishing CIG Mankon, Bamenda
Publisher: LangaaRPCIG Langaa Research & Publishing Common Initiative Group P.O. Box 902 Mankon Bamenda North West Region Cameroon Langaagrp@gmail.comwww.langaa-rpcig.net Distributed in and outside N. America by African Books Collective orders@africanbookscollective.com www.africanbookscollective.com ISBN: 9956-762-72-5 ©Walter Gam Nkwi 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical or electronic, including photocopying and recording, or be stored in any information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher
DISCLAIMER All views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Langaa RPCIG.
Table of Contents Foreword by Jean-Pierre Warnier…………………..…………………v Preface………………………………………………………………….ix Acknowledgement……………………………………………………. xi 1. Introduction: Theory and Progress ofKfaang……………………..12. Background and Methodology……………………………………..25 3. Kom In Global Communication Ecology, c.1800-c.2008b………...53 4. Roads, Mobility andKfaang, C.1928-1998………………………….81 5. Motor Vehicle (Afue’mA Kfaang)………………………………….107 6. Church, Christianity andKfaangin Kom (Ndo Fiyini NiIwoFiyini Kfaang)………………………………………………………….131 7. School, Schooling and Literacy (ndogwali kfaang) 1928 to c.1980…………………………………………………………………...163 8. Letters and Letter Writers (Ghelii-DoGwa-Ali Kfaang)…………..189 9. Plantations, Coast (Itiini Kfaang),Bushfallersand Returned Migrants………………………………………………………………..205 10. Ex-Service Men, (Ghiili-I-Wong-I-Kfaang)1914-1946……………225 11. EliteWomen (Ghii’ki Kfaang): Women and Newness in Colonial and
Post-Colonial Kom, Cameroon Since c.1930s………………………...247 12. From Foot Messengers to Text Messengers c.1800-1998: Change and Continuity ofKfaangMen……………………………………………..269 13. Mobility and Encounters With Different Worlds………………...297 14. Conclusion: Kom Identity as Work In Progress………………….331 Bibliography…………………………………………………………... 345
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Foreword Jean-Pierre Warnier You, the dedicated reader, have you ever thought of Christian churches as technological tools? I guess not. Yet this is what Walter Nkwi suggests we should do. He is right. You might object that a church cannot be compared to a garage, a workshop of a factory. Are you sure? A factory turns out cars, or washing machines. Won’t you agree that churches turn out Christians? Can’t you see that they make use of tools of their own and implement given techniques: baptism, sacraments, doctrine, choirs, celebrations? What is a technique? It is an efficacious and traditional action on somebody or something. Churches and Christianity, as techniques, are traditional in the sense that the devotee has to apprentice him/herself to something that is transmitted (and altered in the process) and that has its own efficacy in shaping the believer’s behaviour, bodily conducts, knowledge, consumption habits, social networks. So, yes, Walter Nkwi is right: Christian churches are a technology of sorts. Let us say they produce and shape certain kinds of persons, of subjects, of Kom subjects. Walter Nkwi extends this approach to consumption goods, beer, bicycles, cars travelling, mobility, media of communication. Take consumer goods. Nkwi talks of soap, matches, salt, clothes brought from the coast to Kom by plantation workers – at least those who survived the ordeal - in the 1920s and 1930s. Most people will say that such goods only concern the ordinary logistics of daily life, that they do not shape different lifestyles, identities, subjectivities. Wrong! Says Walter Nkwi. The travelling sophisticate – man or woman - has gone to the coast and has marvelled at the sea retreating and coming back with the tide just as s/he has marvelled at everything that can be experienced in an urban setting. S/he will have been shaped, altered, changed in various ways that will be embodied in new behaviour and consumption patterns. These in turn, together with the consumer goods like cars, bicycles, shoes, boots, bottled beer, pens, paper will be put to the test in Kom and, by and by, give shape to a different, if contested, “Komness”. Although Nkwi does not make any reference to the philosopher Michel Foucault, I would say that his book is quite Foucauldian. Technology, information media, mobility and social hierarchies encapsulated in the notion ofkfaang are technologies of the subject. They are means that any subject – man or woman – can appropriate and domesticate or reject and by which s/he will govern itself, shape its identity, and, at the same time, be subjected to more external, social, forces. Withkfaang, one becomes a different kind of
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person. Benedicta – a prominent character in Nkwi’s book – is made of a different stuff than her mother and sisters. She is a different kind of person. But more than that, through her mobility, through being exposed to different walks of life, countries, ways of eating, travelling, acquiring knowledge, she herself has changed. She has become a different kind of person. She does not govern her own life the way she used to, twenty or thirty years before Walter Nkwi met her. Kfaang, says Walter Nkwi, is nothing new.Kfaangnot begin with the did Bamenda-Kom tarred road, nor with the dirt road. Neither didkfaang begin with the introduction of the coastal consumer goods in the 1920s.Kfaang did not begin with the import of guns, gunpowder and beads long before the reign of Fon Yuh. Walter Nkwi is a historian. He knows that two, three centuries in the past, Kom people were mobile. They experienced change, they were communicating and exchanging information and knowledge. They had their own techniques to do so. Let me add one more example to those given by the author that will push us even further back into the past, beyond the threshold of 1800 he takes as a benchmark in his book. Anytime as from 1600, Kom farmers, like the coastal and Grassfields people, began experiencing with new cultigens that came from America, especially groundnuts, tobacco, and certain kinds of beans. Later on, around the middle of the 19th century, they adopted maize. Around the turn of the 20th century they started cultivating even more American cultigens: manioc, tomato, potatoes. With each new crop came assorted bodies of knowledge on their cultivation, the way they could be used, interspersed or not with other plants, cooked, and smoked in the case of tobacco. So there waskfaangthe 17th century and even long before. This in implies that, if you want to analyse the way it works, you have to look way back into the past and get interested in history. Walter Nkwi’s book is about the history ofkfaang. His concern is to document and analyze this kind of historical process, and what it produces as regards being a Kom subject. How does it shape Kom subjects and their identity? His book does not only concern ideas that people have in their mind, but their practice, what they perform and do in everyday life. This is why he puts so much emphasis on photography. He makes an extensive and sophisticated use of them, digging into parish archives, private photo album, Mission records, to retrieve and enhance those precious nuggets of historical knowledge. This is an immensely original way of writing history, and it works wonders. He also uses written documents found in different kinds of archives, including private ones.
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Let me make a plea on his behalf. You, the interested reader, do keep your family archives preciously, including photographs, personal letters, private documents, with the utmost care and piety. Why should you keep them? They are basic ingredients in producing local historiography, something without which Walter Nkwi could not have written such a convincing book on Kom identity throughkfaang. Why should you read this book? Not every Kom person - not every Grassfielder - will read it unfortunately. Some will do. For them, Nkwi’s book will be a means to know who they are. They will discover the historical processes that produced their Komness. How can we govern ourselves and interact constructively with others if we do not know who we are, where we come from, how we came about to be shaped the way we are, what are the forces we and our forefathers met on our way and that we conjured, rejected or domesticated? Not that such an identity is anything smooth and consistent. It has its internal tensions, discontents and even conflicts. But those are part and parcel of what made Kom people what they are. Whoever has walked along the path drawn by Nkwi will be in a much better position to know about self and others, and about their potential for enlightened action. S/he will be in a better position to deal withkfaangin the future. It will keep going in ever and ever new ways. And, in the end, it should be made clear that his book is not only of concern exclusively to Kom people. Any Grassfielder, any Cameroonian, any human being interested in our global world would gain from pondering and meditating upon other people’s lives besides their own. Emeritus Professor Jean-Pierre Warnier Ethnologue, Centre d’études africaines, EHESS, Paris, France Jean-Pierre Warnier has conducted research in political and economic history in the Cameroon Grassfields since 1971. He has taught anthropology at the Universities of Ahmadu Bello, Jos, Yaoundé I, and lastly Paris-Descartes. Since the mid-1990s, he has developed the study of bodily and material cultures as technologies of kingship and power. His latest publications includeThe Pot-King. The Body and Technologies of Power. Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2007; andCameroon Grassfields Civilization.Bamenda: Langaa, 2012
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Preface Physical mobility of people from place to place as individuals or as groups is essentially horizontal, potentially limitless, and generally motivated by the desire and ambition to take advantage of new opportunities for self or group advancement. Between 1800 when the Kom people are assumed to have settled in their present site, 1928 when the St. Anthony Primary School was opened, 1998 when the road linking Kom and Bamenda was tarred and 2008 when Kom experienced the new ICT revolution, the number of people travelling out of Kom and back steadily increased. They started, first by trekking ever-longer distances out of Kom or away from home in pursuit of trade, education and employment opportunities especially but not exclusively in the plantations on the coast of Southern Cameroons. Ultimately, they would venture beyond Cameroon to Nigeria and on to Europe. This spatial mobility was greatly facilitated and accelerated by ‘modern’ transportation and communication technologies like the roads and vehicles. Such persons were usually among those whose horizons had been widened by other modern agencies of change like the schools and churches which are themselves considered as technologies in this study. In addition, they were the first people to become familiar with the ‘singing’ and ‘talking boxes’ namely gramophones and radios, as well as shoes, clothes and new cosmetics and in time would possess them, thus further distinguishing themselves as people of newness and the new way. They were also responsible for the introduction of new houses constructed with zinc and stone. Restless and ambitious, educated through schools like St. Anthony’s or by their daily encounters with the wider world, they did not only form new Kom communities when they were away from home but when they returned home from ‘abroad’ with their outlook changed they formed new social strata and hierarchies in Kom society that enjoyed enhanced prestige and social status. Indeed, they became purveyors of newness and change. This was their reward for having travelled, lived, worked and achieved away from Kom, thanks to the ‘new thing’ or ‘thing of newness’ or-Kfaang-- as it was called in the Kom language. The stories of Benedicta and Anyway who are amongst the informants, and countless other Kom people like them who included men and women, young and old - are at the heart of this study. It is an illuminating metaphor for this complex, multidimensional process and experience of social change and newness orkfaang. This book describes the cumulative impact of generation after generation on Kom of horizontal and vertical mobility and early twentieth century paths of communication technologies on Kom people and their society. It raises
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