Your Madness, Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon (review)
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Africa Today 47.3/4 (2000) 195-197



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Nfah-abbenyi, Juliana Makuchi. 1999. Your Madness, Not Mine: Stories of Cameroon. Monographs In International Studies, Africa Series, No. 70. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press.

Makuchi, the writer's pen name, is a Beba woman from the English-speaking North West Province in Cameroon. Her collection of nine short stories is a welcome addition from a new voice. We have little writing in English by Cameroon women. Male fiction writers are somewhat more numerous, but novelists, like the prolific Linus Asong and A. J. Ngongwikwo, for example, are not well known outside Cameroon. Despite Cameroon's bilingual colonial heritage, French still dominates the country's literature and culture, and Cameroon's most prominent female literary voices--Calixthe Beyala and Werewere-Liking--are francophone.

Makuchi's better stories have a meandering way about them, like the forest paths the narrator travels on her way to the compound of Azembe, the eponymous "Healer" in the first and one of the stronger stories in the collection. The story opens on a scene of devastation in the healer's compound, and then reverses the journey in time back along the forest paths to the tarred roads of Yaoundé, and back again from this urban and familiar world of family and friends to the forested "depths of other worlds" that are still thronged with the "living dead" over which the healer claims mastery (p. 4). When the female narrator, looking back on events, confesses that the "whole story" can never be known, "for only one person (presumably Azembe) could tell the stories, but he is in no condition or position to do so" (p. 3), we are reminded of a time when stories existed only in the memories and utterances of their tellers.

The narrator and her uncle are journeying to this place of power to retrieve the narrator's aunt, who has gone to consult the healer about her childlessness. The bush doctor's fame rests on his reputed ability to cure this "curse." We hear rumors, however, that the healer's technique may involve the laying on of more than hands. Women he has cured bear children without any resemblance to their putative fathers. When the aunt detects intimate signs of the healer's midnight ministrations--the "medicine" she takes turns out to be a powerful sleeping potion--she is enraged by her violation and, by extension, the betrayal of all the women whose desperate desire for children has brought them to Azembe's compound. She is the source of the destruction that greets the narrator and her uncle at the beginning of the story, for the aunt has ransacked the place and burned the compound to the ground.

Makuchi's story "The Healer" dramatizes several themes. The obsession [End Page 195] with fertility, the equation of womanhood with motherhood, and marriage with children, is a principle source of female victimization. In addition, she debunks the sentimental notion that the deceptions and the corruptions of the city are remote from the values of the "bush." Most interestingly, the aunt's wrath is made to take the form of an ancestral possession, and she becomes in effect the protective and punitive spirit of her mother, who used to go abroad at night to combat crop-stealing spirits. Azembe's predations-his "crop stealings", if you will--are punished in a way aptly modern; he is sentenced to prison for three years, where he dies of heart failure. But his nemesis is a force sprung from the ancestral past, fiercely female, still "out there taking care of business" (p.10).

Many of her stories invoke the past in the present as a source of female strength and recuperation. The title story, "Your Madness, Not Mine," begins as a fairly grim account of a woman's growing madness as a consequence of her drunken, abusive, and philandering husband's refusal to allow her to work as a typist, the profession for which she has trained. Though the story is a bit lurid--symptoms of the woman's growing madness...


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