Returning to the Past

Filmmaker:  Ndanga Dieudonne

Year of production: 2007
Location: Cameroon
Duration: 31 minutes.
Sound: mono
Language: French
English Subtitles

This film is about the struggle people are conducting to keep the pace in a context where things are changing quickly and the exchange flow with other cultures is more than never intensified. It aims to describe the outcome of a process of detribalisation during which ethnic groups had to relinquish their tradition to enlist in the modernisation as prescribed by the states government and dragged ahead by the western power. The film addresses a dilemma faced by tribesmen in Africa: should they stay faithful to customary lifestyle or go modern?

Copyright: 2007  Visual Cultural Studies, University of Tromsø

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ABSTRACT This work is done in a context where groups and associations for culture revitalization flourish in Cameroon. By focussing on the actors, means and challenges of culture revival, I aim to describe the outcome of a process of de-tribalisation during which ethnic groups have had to relinquish their traditions in order to subscribe to modernisation as prescribed by states government and through pressure from western powers. The phenomenon studied here, the cultural revitalisation of the Gbaya in the group called the Sirta, works against this trend; tradition is made relevant and used in the modern context as a tool for respectability, social element for identity reconstruction and ethnic cohesion. By using different research techniques (participant observation, filming and interviewing) and combining historical background and empirical data, this study deals with the struggle for adaptation to a changing environment and the (re) invention of tradition. My thesis also highlights hindrances pertained in that process related to the scattering of knowledge and energy, misunderstanding and difference in life and educational background. By placing this debate in the global context of encounters between civilizations, this thesis reveals dilemmas that occur in people’s lives, choices that are to be made, and mainly the state of confusion in which members of ethnic groups find themselves in Africa and more specifically in Cameroon. To conclude, the most important thing to discuss appears to be the dynamism and the fluctuation of culture that are demonstrated through revival, invention and manipulation of tradition. These are finally presented as results of historical confrontations and social challenges.

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