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Reviewed by:
  • Michaela Pelican
Ian Fowler and Verkijika Fanso (eds), Encounter, Transformation and Identity: peoples of the western Cameroon borderlands 1891–2000. Cameroon Studies 8, New York NY and Oxford: Berghahn (hb £58–978 1 84545 3367). 2009, 256 pp.

This book is a festschrift for Shirley Ardener, a distinguished scholar in Cameroon and gender studies. It brings together the voices of African and European scholars, all of whom, in one way or another, have drawn inspiration from the works of Shirley Ardener and her late husband Edwin Ardener. Many of the contributions in this book pay tribute to her exemplary role in 'fortifying Cameroon Studies'–as Martin and Dorothy Njeuma put it in their preface–and in fostering recognition and collaboration among Cameroonian and Cameroonist scholars.

The book comprises twelve original essays focusing on the production of ethnic, political, religious and gendered identities among the peoples of the Cameroon-Nigerian borderlands. The contributions can be grouped into three sections. The essays in the first half of the volume adopt a historical perspective, focusing on the German colonial period. A second group deals with issues of gender, personhood and religion. The last two contributions highlight global dimensions of ethnographic research and scholarly encounter.

The opening chapter by Fowler provides an introduction to the subsequent essays, making an argument for understanding colonial and post-colonial identities as co-constructions of insider and outsider voices. Edwin Ardener's (previously unpublished) essay examines the construction of ethnic and administrative identities in the Mamfe 'Overside'. This region constitutes a classical example of border zones as sites of intense identity production, as theorized in his earlier work.

The following five chapters examine encounter, transformation and identity during the German colonial period, reflecting both insider and outsider perspectives. Chilver presents an epitome of extracts from the 1923 publication Im Lande des Dju-Dju by the German colonial officer Hermann Detzner. His book provides insight into the work and encounters of the Anglo-German Boundary Commission, and illustrates the salience of the Cameroon-Nigerian border zone as a site of contestation and latent violence. The subject of colonial violence is at the heart of Geschiere's chapter on the commander of a German expedition, Freiherr von Gravenreuth, who was dramatically defeated and killed in the first battle of Buea in 1891. As he argues, the event was at the same time traumatic and productive; it led to a German punitive expedition and put Buea on the map of Cameroonian history. Ndobegang's chapter, coauthored with Bowie, examines another dramatic death: that of the German explorer and trader Gustav Conrau. The focus here is less on Conrau and more on how the Bangwa of Azi perceived and reacted to his demand for plantation labourers, and how his death led to long-term shifts in local power relations. Röschenthaler's essay centres on Nsanakang, a town in the Mamfe 'Overside' caught in violent struggle between the Germans and British towards the end of the German colonial period. She draws connections between the colonial encounter, village history, the circulation of associations and cult agencies, and present-day local politics. Finally, Verkijika Fanso examines early manifestations of southern Cameroons nationalism, which he interprets as a response to the Anglo-French partition of the German protectorate.

The next four chapters break away from the previous historical focus and centre on contemporary issues. Ifeka's contribution takes us into the forest zone, to the Anyang of the Cameroon-Nigerian Borderlands. Inspired by Shirley Ardener's work on female sexuality, gender and resistance among the [End Page 668] Bakweri, she examines transformations in ritual, gender and power relations, which she attributes to increasing market exposure. While providing rich ethnographic material, this chapter is conceptually overburdened, and would have benefited from more thorough editing. At the origin of Niger-Thomas's succinct essay on memorial statues of women of the ndem association is Ardener's curiosity about these objects. Niger-Thomas substantiates her elaborations on the meaning and decline of the ndem association with remarkable photographs, paying tribute both to Ardener and the women commemorated with these statues. Bowie's contribution deals with methodological issues of multi-sited ethnography, and with the imperative for...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1750-0184
Print ISSN
0001-9720
Pages
pp. 668-669
Launched on MUSE
2010-11-14
Open Access
No
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