Saturday, May 1, 2010

Uncle Dibounjé, family celebrity

Uncle Dibounjé was one of the first non-immediate family members my spouse introduced me to upon my first visit to Douala. Uncle Dibounjé was otherwise known as Chief Dibounjé Cain Toukourou, the traditional chief of Bonendalé, a village about 20 km away from Douala over a bumpy road, crossing the bridge towards West Cameroon.
My spouse's relationship to him was through his paternal grandmother. Not exactly close blood ties, but my spouse and Uncle Dibounjé had been close on an intellectual level for many years. At the time, his grandchildren were all very young, but now we are in constant contact with his eldest grandson, who lives in France. When I asked him whether I could write about his grandfather, and use the photo I had available, he answered: "Why are you asking me? Do whatever you want: he's your family too."
Uncle Dibounjé was a local celebrity. In fact, he was one the the subjects of a book written by a French Jesuit priest, Père Eric de Rosny, who still lives in Cameroon.  At Présence Africaine, the publishing house and bookstore located in Paris, we were told that the book is a classic among students in ethnology.
Uncle Dibounjé  was said to possess great spiritual powers. Some went as far as to say he was a "sorcerer," which he refuted because of the evil connotations.
Being a chief doesn't pay the bills, so Uncle Dibounjé had a profession: pirogue (boat) builder, which he then rented out to local fishermen.
When I was taken to visit him, "fresh off the plane," as I was at the time, I was rather intimidated. This was the relative who had advised my spouse not to go abroad for his studies. Now, not only had he gone to France, he had also brought back a "white" wife, to top it all off. Of course, Uncle Dibounjé was charming with me, and offered me breakfast; grilled fish with boiled green plantains (one of my culinary cultural shocks: what, no bread at breakfast?).
In the year thereafterI had returned to the United States for workUncle Dibounjé fell ill. On his deathbed, he asked my spouse to prepare his will, an enormous mark of trust. He passed away soon after.
The house shown is Uncle Dibounjé's old home. 
Dibounjé Cain Toukourou's tomb