Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Welsh Dragon in Bamenda / Y Ddraig Goch ym Mamenda

Organising a training day here means that you have to think of things that we don’t have to consider much at home. We have had to budget to contribute to the travel costs of participants, i.e. to pay for the famous yellow taxis. Paper is expensive here, so there needs to be a budget for agendas, worksheets and so on. The cost of flipchart paper is astronomical. All this certainly concentrates the mind. We are so wasteful of materials in Britain.

The North West Association of Development Organisations is a tiny organisation which brings together and co-ordinates the work of a number of small bodies involved in the development of the North West province of Cameroon. It is run on a shoestring, and uses the service of students on placement as well as volunteers. Attached is a picture of its coordinator Eric Ngang. I presented Eric with a Welsh dragon flag (thanks, Elinor) as you can see in this photo. It will have its place on the wall of the new training room.

I’ve been finding out a little about the indigenous languages here. Most people here are at least bilingual. Some speak their mother tongue such as Yamba, then the pidgin (pidgin English, which has its own structure and is not just a funny form of English), standard English, and French. Although this is bilingual country, not everyone speaks both English and French. Levels of literacy in the indigenous languages are very low. Indeed, some speakers questioned the need to have written materials in languages spoken by a small number of villages. The Bible exists in a number of languages including Bafut. I’ve managed to get hold of a 2009 diary with days of the week in the Yamba language. Attitudes to the languages by their speakers vary, with some people calling them a ‘dialect’ or ‘a patois’.

Today I went out using taxis, of course, to see the palace of the local ruler, the Fon. The Fon of Bafut is the fon (traditional ruler) of the town of Bafut and its adjoining areas in Cameroon which comprise the erstwhile Fondom of Bafut. Presently, the Fon of Bafut is still a local ruler, but under jurisdiction from the Government of Cameroon, and a board of Fons. He retains a local court of justice too. The Fon of Bafut was, and to some extent still is, the "supreme fon" of the region, who presides over neighbouring fons.

The original palace was built out of wood and liana. The complex and the central shrine were burnt to the ground by the Germans in the Bafut Wars, but it was rebuilt over the period 1907 - 1910 with help from the German colonists after the signing of a peace treaty. Its buildings represent both colonial influences and indigenous vernacular architectural styles, and are mostly made of fired bricks covered by tiles.

Only one building from the original palace stands - it is supposed to shelter the spirit of the Fon's ancestors. It is the Achum - the old palace, and has a striking architecture with its pyramidal thatched roof. Only the Fon and some village notables are allowed entry into the Achum.
It’s nearly 8pm on a Saturday evening and there has been yet another power cut. Fortunately for me my laptop screen continues to light up the darkness, although it begins to attract all the flying bugs and moths from miles around. The laptop screen provides just enough light to enable me to locate my handy wind-up torch.

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