Showing posts from November, 2009

Ma Emilia, our Bankon (Abo) grandmother

Ma Emilia was my spouse's maternal grandmother. Unfortunately, I did not get to know his paternal grandmother, as she died when my husband was a teenager. I did, however, have the good fortune to spend many years with Mama Emilia. Emilia was from Abo, a group of villages in the Littoral region. The Abos are of a similar ethnicity as the Dualas. Unfortunately, it was very difficult to get there, and in 12 years, I never visited. She spoke Abo, Duala, and Pidgin English, but no French or English. We communicated through sign language and translators, until I learned enough Duala to get by. She was raised in the village of Besunkan, in the Abo region, and moved to the village of Banseng when she married. Her husband spoke fluent German; at the time, Cameroon was a German colony. After WW I, Germany, having lost the war, also lost its colonies, and the French took over Cameroon as part of their mandate. Those Cameroonians who spoke German were not dealt with tenderly, speaki

The dead are not dead (Part 2)

From time to time, my posts will feature a person who is not with us any longer. This is not meant to be morbid, quite the contrary. I write about them because they are alive in my memory, and because otherwise, they may be forgotten. Of course, I'll be writing about those I remember with affection. We still laugh out loud thinking of my father-in-law's expressions, and imagine what his reaction would be to some of the new configurations in the family. Love lives on, all over the world.

Learning the language

Having been raised in a multilingual household, and encouraged early on to learn the language of the country I happened to be living in, I planned on learning Duala, my husband's native language (albeit not his mother tongue, as his mother spoke Abo, and taught it to all her children). It turned out to be a different kind of endeavor than in countries which have one main native language, such as Germany or Italy. Anyone could live their whole life in Douala without knowing a single word of Duala. Cameroon boasts about 200 languages, and the official languages are French and English (former mandate administrators). Most Cameroonians speak one of these two languages. Moreover, Douala is now home to members of just about every ethnic group in Cameroon, as it is the commercial capital. The political capital is Yaoundé, further inland; it has about half the population of Douala. Less than a hundred years ago, many Cameroonians (from the southern part) spoke Duala, which was the li