When the past becomes the future

Report from Dieudonné Ndanga, Master in Visual Cultural Studies, University of Tromsø
Project 200601873-22

Financial support for the project: The contribution of the Cultural Revitalisation Movements in the Inter-Ethnic dialogue: The case of the Sirta Gbaya group in Bertoua, East Province of Cameroon.

Fieldwork in Cameroon

Fieldwork in Cameroon

From the 10th of April until the 4th of august 2006, I was in Cameroon for the purpose of my fieldwork. The topic I have chosen to work on is the inter-ethnic dialogue between the Gbaya of Bertoua and the other tribe present in the Bertoua subdivision and the use of cultural, historical and symbolic material in that process.

The element I got as starting point was a short description of Bertoua town. The Gbaya people arrived there at around 1870 and settled down. Progressively the small village grown so as it became in 1960 the capital city of the East province of the newly erected state of Cameroon. It has been therefore a turning point between the southern and the northern part of Cameroon, the said country and its neighbours Chad, Central African Republic and Congo. This state of affair made Bertoua becoming a sensitive administration’s place and an attractive commercial area where opportunities are numerous.

It is while getting in such a context that some young Gbaya decided to create an association with aims to revitalise the Gbaya culture in view for them to remind their presence to those who would be tempted to forget that they have been the first inhabitants of the town of Bertoua.

The problematic I was concerned with was then to see the dynamic of that kind of discourse where ethnic identity is made relevant as a part of the political syntaxes. My main interest is therefore to show how the cultural revitalisation movement can be perceived as a laboratory to such a dialogue as it is where people gather to construct (create or re invent?) knowledge, tradition, where they revive the past and make the history present in view to get access to the flow of goods or the political power.

Fieldwork in Cameroon II

Fieldwork in Cameroon II

I left Tromsø on the 9th of April and got to Bertoua two days later, the 11th of April. I spent three months and three weeks there and went back to Tromsø the 4th august 2006. During that period of time, I met my three main informants: Moussa and Bernard. Moussa (28) is a Gbaya man, graduated in Law and taking a work experience as Lawyer in Bertoua; he helped me as in between with the local administration and as informant. Bernard (64) can be considered as the opposite of Moussa: he is an old Gbaya man, educated in the traditional Gbaya way with some very conservative point of view and he performs some ancient rituals. As characters for my documentary, I was shooting Moussa, the Sirta group and Bernard.

During the period from the 30th April t the 31st of July, I met all the persons and group I mentioned above. I have a total of 6 interviews of various lengths, 12 hours of footage shot with a video camera. I also wrote around 15 pages of field notes: comments on events I attended and shot some time, my discussions with the informants, etc. I am currently in the process of elaborating my thesis. I will start the editing of the documentary in January and the two processes are expected to be over by mid June 2007.

I am thankful to the Archdiocese of Bertoua (Catholic Church) for they allowed me to use one of their offices during the period of my fieldwork there. I also thank the local administration for their availability and the efficiency in delivering the papers I needed to make research in the Bertoua sub-division. More over, I thank the Centre for Sámi Studies for the funding they granted me, it has been very useful in a moment where I had so much needs and not enough resources to cover the entire time spent on the field. Doing research in Africa can be very expensive.

Read the thesis online – Munin

About Siri Johnsen

Hovedtillitsvalgt for Akademikerne UiT, Norges arktiske universitet, januar 2006-januar 2017
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