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T WO Maı̈tené’s Modern Life Song as Negotiation of Public Morality Fascinated by the scandal surrounding a particular young woman, Maı̈tené, I asked my research assistant, Dourwé, to write down the background of the case in a small notebook I gave him.1 A native of Maı̈tené’s village, he eagerly agreed and wrote: Maı̈tené was a girl who remained for a long time at her parents’ house. She made meatballs for sale, wore pants, and joined the opposition political party. She refused every suitor who came to ask for her hand in marriage. She joined the upstart Protestant church and was confirmed. She conceived a child out of wedlock, aborted it and, to the villagers’ horror, threw the fetus in a well. The church decided to expel her. Later Maı̈tené became pregnant again, though this time with a teacher in training. Delighted to have snagged a petit fonctionnaire [junior civil servant], she went to his village[,] where he promptly abandoned her to his mother and left for the South. Maı̈tené gave birth to a baby boy and lives in uncertain terms with her mother-in-law, with her brideprice still unpaid. MAÏTENÉ IS SUNG In 1996, songs about the modern life of Maı̈tené rippled throughout Tupuriland in the rainy-season waywa. The waywa, or dance of the youth, was known throughout Tupuriland for its trenchantly satirical songs and flamboyant costuming (see figures 5–7). Organized at the level of the village by youth, usually under the protection of an elder, the waywa has become a massive event during the harvest season. As the land begins to dry and the sorghum heads are cut from their towering stalks, hundreds of dancers and thousands of spectators gather not only for the dance itself but for a day of socializing and large quantities of sorghum beer. It is in the context of these waywa dances, as well as the smaller ones in the villages, that I first heard the story of Maı̈tené. Emerging from local gossip in the village of Mogom, the persona of Maı̈tené was objectified in songs composed for the waywa dances. Sung tirelessly by the colorfully costumed dancers as they trotted around the dance circle, the Maı̈tené Maı̈tené’s Modern Life 25 songs presented the follies of the girl who refused to get married. So popular were these dances that even Maı̈tené herself attended them. Her baby slung on her back, tied tight with a cloth, she listened to “her song” and took a couple of turns around the circle, dancing stick in hand. But was the romp really so lighthearted ? Why did these songs become so popular in Tupuriland? Was there a collective hunger that they tapped into? When I discussed this question with individuals, some of their enthusiastic reaction was sheer admiration for how thoroughly Maı̈tené was chasonnée, that is, made into a song and “published” throughout the region. But, beyond that, their reactions were also a unanimous recognition of certain tensions in Tupuri society that are aired by the song. The Maı̈tené songs tapped into and reflect an important recent trend in Tupuri society: young women’s reluctance, if not refusal, to marry. However, in watching the phenomenon of Maı̈tené, it seemed to me that the song encapsulated ambiguity in contemporary Tupuri society about the changing status of young women and expressed insecurities that young men feel vis-à-vis marriage during a period of economic depression in Cameroon. Most broadly, this chapter is about how social control is exercised through song and dance in Tupuri society. More specifically, it is a case study of a debate on the appropriateness of modernity for girls. Recent anthropological literature has sought to break down the unitary term modernity that is centered in the West in favor of understanding multiple modernities that are locally constructed and historically situated (Abu-Lughod 1998; Comaroff and Comaroff 1993; Ivy 1995; Rofel 1999). Local discourses about modernity often seek to regulate the right to “be modern.” Who deserves the privilege of “being modern” and who does not? Who is competent to “pull it off” and who will botch it? Who is abusing their status and freedom as a modern person and who is suffering these abuses? In Tupuriland, these are hotly contested questions because, among many reasons, they are closely tethered to the construction of gender. Should girls be permitted to “be modern”? If so...


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