The Death of Asobo-Ntsi
282 Pages
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The Death of Asobo-Ntsi


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Learn more
282 Pages


This novel re-visions history through narrative fiction: the history of his people that has long been silenced and distorted as a colonial strategy, the history of an African community at the crossroads. Asobo-Ntsi, the stubborn yet proud Fon of Nyen, is faced with some challenges amongst which are: his seven- and nine-man council that is not happy with his dictatorship and tax laws, a disgruntled quarter that attempts to secede, and also, the encroaching colonialist, Nwuoupang, with his church and administration. How Asobo-Ntsi handles these challenges is expressed powerfully and movingly with great narrative artistry that absorbs the reader and keeps him/her enthralled to the end.



Published by
Published 17 May 2011
Reads 2
EAN13 9789956716111
Language English
Document size 3 MB

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The Death of The DeathofAsobo-Ntsi Asobo-Ntsi
Mbuh Tennu Mbuh
The Death of Asobo-Ntsi Mbuh Tennu Mbuh
Langaa Research & Publishing CIG Mankon, Bamenda
Publisher: LangaaRPCIGLangaaResearch & Publishing Common Initiative Group P.O. Box 902 Mankon Bamenda North West Region Cameroon Distributed in and outside N. America by African Books Collective
ISBN: 9956-579-34-3 © Mbuh Tennu Mbuh 2011
DISCLAIMER All views expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Langaa RPCIG.
Preface his novel is reworked from a play manuscript, thanks to the Tadvice from Professor Mark W. Delancey when, about a decade ago, we were sipping coffee at lunchtime at a regular spot in Columbia, SC. After serving as a Fulbright Scholar-in-Residence at Trident Technical College, Charleston, SC., I had requested for an extension which permitted me to move to Allen University, Columbia, SC., in the Fall where I especially wanted to experience academic life in a predominantly minority institution. At Trident Tech I taught a course on Minority Literatures, in which I included Chinua Achebe’sThings Fall Apartas a ‘minority’ text as far as global ideological positioning was concerned. In the meantime, I was introduced to (among others) the landmarks of America’s shameful past, after which I realised the dignity of my own past that needed to be celebrated. There was a remarkable parallel, which I pointed out to my students, between Achebe’s vision and that of the African American artist, in their attempt to rework the past against the Western canon. When I arrived Allen University, I benefited from a strain of institutionalised ‘ignorance’ in some of the students that had been fed by a scripted Tarzan politics of the ‘primitive’. As such, while a colleague at Trident Tech was surprised to learn that we have a Supreme Court and Judges in Cameroon (she thought it was a unique American institution!), my students at Allen wanted to know if in Africa I encountered lions, tigers, and monkeys along the village paths (they too could not imagine an urban Africa with Western props). Even in the year 2000 when presidential candidates were shouting each other deaf in favour of school reforms, time seemed to have stood still in the pedagogy of the American child as far as the evolution of the African race from a primitive slate was concerned. For, in South Carolina where the first Blacks from Africa were supposed to have landed, the Blackman’s historical image, as far as I gathered, was still frozen as Precambrian fossils to ‘civilised’ minds. Sweet Boone Home is, happily, a tourist paradise today that disguises even the slave cabins that are still in place, especially when it was selected by Mel Gibson as the site for the bloody reconstruction of a national manhood. Then the stone Memorial at Sullivan’s Island serves a therapeutic purpose within a Dream imagination. And the African village where I saw pigs and chickens all over the yard
seemed an attempt to recreate the past beyond Disneyland fantasies. America might have hurt my dispersed ancestry, but she also had the courage to acknowledge the evil of that extensive moment so that we can understand the poet who sings of ‘a Rock, a River, a Tree’ as a collective bridge to making amends with a past from which we all emerge with boughs of ‘the dream and the hope’ as individual or collective storylines of the slave narrative. This was the revivalist disposition in which I returned from the US, convinced that Time is a cheat if only we allow it to prey on our construction of the relative moment; and then found myself redrafting the play manuscript, which had been titled ‘The Successor’, into a more elaborate prose. In comparison, a degree of immorality attends the United Kingdom’s colonial past, especially in Cameroon, where a pail of Pilate’s water seems to have vindicated the colonial master’s indifference to the aftermath of decolonisation. What we have today is an area with a well formatted past that hardly implicates the ‘master’ as per his own accounts. The scars of colonial administration are very evident today in almost every context, and most conflicts are a spill-over. More particularly, within the context of this novel, the violation of indigenous cultures is still to be recognised as such and rehabilitated. But it does not suffice to resort to the blame game since it always takes two to tango in the restoration business. I am almost obsessed with a cultural re-evaluation that privileges the home front, and consequently relies on local indicators. *** Before the coffee-sipping discussion over my manuscript, a couple more years back, and during a meeting between students and the traditional core of my village, I gave a talk on the suspicious partnership between traditional mores and Christian dogmatism. I had just begun a protracted postgraduate program at the then University of Yaoundé, and was then experiencing the initial waves of spiritual reassessment. At the end of my presentation in which I highlighted the similarities between Christian liturgy and traditional ritual wherein the one simply preys on the energies of the other in order to sustain its hegemonic politics (note the disparity in the casing of ‘tradition’ and ‘Christian’ above), I suggested that the Fon of the village should stop attending church services on Sundays, since continuous attendance would clash with his traditional duties. Of iv
course, this did not go down well with some of the elders who were communicants of (in the case of my village) a retarding Protestantism, and some of them were heard advising against such talks in future. The new form of slavery which the Church enacts today in Africa is, unfortunately, willed by the meekly slave! Interestingly, the connivance between European missionaries and colonial administrators (especially the British) had refashioned traditional authority in what is now the North West Region of Cameroon not by discriminating between Caesar and God but by ensnaring the potency of traditional leadership into a crippled appendage to ‘higher’ authority. Traditional institutions collapsed in a strategy that replaced the limited ‘world’ of the native with universal essences which, to say the least, confused and abrogated native cosmology. The previous eight-day week, thirteen-moon lunar calendar for example was substituted by the Gregorian version; but no one confessed to the duplicity between Caesar and the Pope personified by Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus whether as head of the Roman Empire or of the Holy See, the same personality exploited for different purposes at a given moment. Asobo-Ntsi personifies the way this spiritual transformation was moving across the globe and staged on a ‘civilised’ ticket to salvation, only that the converted leaders were condemned to serve the dictates of the Emperor-turned-Pope, Constantine and his successors. After altering the genre of this work, I finally realised the more discursive ease with which I could explore atavistic experience; an advantage which would certainly have been limited by stage constraints, even as this latter form brings with it an unparalleled sense of immediacy. But I also struggled with the form of the emerging novel, reluctant to engage with an obvious narrativity which the historicised plot imposed on me. The blending of voices was the ultimate compromise within which the past and the present, however we frame them as palpable entities, visit and revisit each other in an interrogatory and exploratory manner. We are therefore in a space of imaginative rehabilitation here, a necessary confluence against the cosiness of a globalising fanfare that determines semantics and its temporality. The seductive strands of what is today aggregated as globalisation make sheep and parrots of those of us from the Western periphery, working under and through a conscious determinism whose arrogance is as suspicious as its immanence is unapologetic and frightening. But it is so only because we have v
cultivated a catch-up habit that simply denounces our past and offers us a metamorphosed sequencing of ‘civilised’ ideologies without an organic base. No doubt then that African religious ritual, one can argue, is a subject only suitable for orature and anthropology, whose classroom insights explore a reductive intellectualism without the ‘recognised’ transcendental quality of the Western variants. In this state, it seems to me that we are proud to be mental slaves, and so wriggle and hop to the rhythm of Bob Marley’s ‘awakening’ song without realising the GUILTY verdict that the Rastafarian prophet declares against our weakened consciousness. The mitigating plea as to why this should be so is simply ludicrous in my view especially because we are witnesses to the consciously self-serving contradictions that characterise the Western lens and its discourse through time and space.  Thankfully, I am only continuing what is currently topical at this intersecting moment in Africa’s debatable growth. The distortion of African culture in particular has been a subject of deconstructive energies in recent years, in an enabling attempt to reassemble an eroded past. For me, the demise of Asobo-Ntsi, which can be analogous to that of a European benevolent despot during the earlier century, is typical of the misreading of cultural meaning that characterised colonial administration. A ritual by which the community enabled its quintessential being could very easily and therefore conveniently be demonised in order to enhance colonial ascendancy, and foist all other cultural variants onto its authority. Understandably then, thengvouré ritual could only be transcribed for the interest of the West as ‘sasswood poison’, a misinterpretation that benefitted from an ancestry of ‘black’/‘white’ hierarchising of the falsifying pedagogy. This is part of what we confront today, and as Anglophone Cameroon literature emerges into its own without contest, it is only proper too that we begin to reassert a roots consciousness. Inevitably, this can no longer be as unique as traditionalists will hope for, given the globalising breeze that is formatting cultural awareness. The individual artist definitely determines the manner in which to address this issue, from which the threat of globalisation can be contained and defined in local and idiosyncratic terms. As may be evident here and elsewhere, my way of tackling this is to tell a story by destroying its certainty. Not in a negative sense, though, but by taxing the reader’s expectations of the same. Language itself becomes a difficulty to be recognised, vi
confronted, and surmounted. In other words, language becomes part of the art in need of deciphering rather than a trough to understanding. This distinction is important because, otherwise, what’s there after grasping the basics of the story? In most cases, the story is ‘surface’ meaning beyond which we envisage a more complex and challenging space, that of amorphous insights rooted in the complexities of a linguisticdenarrativity. By eclipsing the significance of the story (without despising it) we also check our previous reliance on its narrative frame, one that exhausts itself in the end by ‘informing’ us. We need to go beyond the informative in order to ensure the retrieval of lost cultural data without surrendering too readily to the temptations of the globalising momentum.  Ironically, however, and as I have already suggested above, Africans in particular are today assisting in the near terminal blotting of the past not only through a slavish reliance on articulating a Received Pronunciation mannerism that makes Joyce Cary’s Mister Johnson to be a kindergarten character; but also in accepting the religious certainties that framed and still frame a callous brotherliness. D. H. Lawrence had shocked Western expectations of his ‘savage pilgrimage’ rehab by reconfiguring an Aztec elixir inThe Plumed Serpent, and we can understand the antagonism that attends his novel. On the other hand, and without any indication of having been inspired by the vision of the English literary outcast, the Cameroonian Kenjo Jumbam problematises the ideological marriage between the West and its assumed margin by twinning Christian and Nso traditional practices inThe White Man of Godosmotic. These as two novels, distanced in many aspects, are however partners in the renewed interest in the ‘primitivism’ which Western researchers and explorers had intellectualised as a plausible strategy. Ironically, both educated and uneducated Africans are still surrendering a lot of the continent’s cultural vigour to the avowal of just how successfully the West has twisted meaning to its own protective ‘rights’. Partly inspired by Lawrence’s iconoclasm, I take exception to the way spiritual meaning (as just one example) is today fathomed through a Western yardstick, with Africans as the lead singers! It is sad to hear Africans attest to the backwardness of their cultural heritage, stigmatising it as partly a flirtation wit idols. Doomed to use alien languages even as customised mediums, we shift position and favour based on Western nomenclatures. The consequent sentencing of our religious views as ‘pagan’ or ‘fetish’, together with our vii
linguistic and cultural worldview as ‘savage’ or ‘primitive’, has begotten an embarrassing reliance on the Western perspective that denies the beauty and integrity of our own values. Africanists have produced astounding evidence to this effect, whose only weakness seems to be the lack of financial and political force with which such evidence can rival and challenge the grafted mentality. We have abandoned our ancestral shrines in favour of the constructed version whose history is bloodier than anything we can imagine before contact with European civilisation. The church of love and forgiveness has become the one arena for gladiatorial feuds, while its leaders and faithful mouth monotonous abstractions as the righteous way to affirming their respective positions. It is apparent too, today, that some Africans are exploiting the double standards of Christianity to conceal untoward instincts and consequently assume holier than thou poses. Whatever the case, the bellicose nature of relationships between Christian denominations is one clear reason why their teachings should be viewed as schematic and therefore with considerable suspicion.  From such resistance, it is clear that there is a cultural gap in Africa’s march into the twenty-first century. While I do not intend to address the nature of this split here, it is important to highlight just one of its consequences, namely, the transformation of the African intellectual in particular into a confused cultural Mullato who has surrendered his past into mere intellectual data. Unable to resist the white man’s initial onslaught that has been duly recorded in creative, critical, and discursive works, we have again been unable to visualize development ever since the initial contact with the West beyond a catch-up momentum. The cultural base of Christianity, for instance, which had been hijacked by Rome’s rehearsed strategy to globalise its frontiers, is today being Africanised in the name of inculturation. Even as Egyptologists threaten the future of Christianity today by unearthing ‘unorthodox’ data, Africans are still overwhelmed by the illusion of the alien faith and cling to it with a passion that is confounding. So they abandon their shrines and even destroy them in some cases, and construct huge, intimidating churches as an alternative that imposes itself as the only way to God. And this is grossly unfortunate. The acculturative varieties of inculturation bespeak of the same fate-as-faith, where Africans in particular are condemned to fantasise over the prospects of Christian fear as they do over transitions in cultural matter. In other words, the viii
intimidatory pedagogy and theology which colonial education and European missionaries introduced in Africa has today been inherited by neoliberal benefactors in a way that condemns the continent to the receiving end of burnt-out initiatives. Until we realise this displacement, and accept the fact that there was nothing wrong with our pre-‘civilisation’ transcendental values, and that paganism is a defining strategy of the West meant to install fear in every non-European/Western household, we shall always struggle with alien definitions of our cosmos and consequently remain collateral partners in a world that is defined by two terms: relativity and greed.  It is part of my concern over this confusion that this novel tackles the past as a mirror to the present. Even here, in this mediation, there is a problem: how far back for instance, can I claw into the past and how effectively can I apply it to contemporary need? For, I am part of that past whose face I conjecture and embrace as evidence of my dissolvable presence. So yes, we can adapt in the healthy hope of moving forward, and do so by ‘editing’ our cultural outlook whenever necessary. But to move forward by forsaking our past and referring to it only as a formality in remedial existence, is to doom posterity to the treachery of alien winds that have mastered the terrain of domination by reinventing horror as a strategic, expedient logic. Yaoundé, January 5, 2011.