Gender, Separatist Politics, and Embodied Nationalism in Cameroon

As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie recently argued in the New York Times, the consequences of Cameroon’s dual colonial legacies reveal the “muddled sludge of colonial history” in greater detail than any other nation’s history. Today’s strife has its roots in the period Gender, Separatist Politics, and Embodied Nationalism in Cameroon examines—the period of the Federal Republic of Cameroon, 1961 to 1972. The book illuminates how issues of ideal womanhood shaped the Anglophone Cameroonian nationalist movement in the first decade of independence in Cameroon, a west-central African country. Drawing upon history, political science, gender studies, and feminist epistemologies, the book examines how formally educated women sought to protect the cultural values and the self-determination of the Anglophone Cameroonian state as Francophone Cameroon prepared to dismantle the federal republic. The book defines and uses the concept of embodied nationalism to illustrate the political importance of women’s everyday behavior—the clothes they wore, the foods they cooked, whether they gossiped, and their deference to their husbands—in the project of demonstrating that West Cameroon, which comprised of English-Speaking regions, was a progressive and autonomous nation. Its sources include oral interviews and archival sources such as women’s newspaper advice columns, Cameroon’s first cooking book, and the first novel published by an Anglophone Cameroonian woman.

Anna Foncha wearing the West Cameroon women’s national costume, March 14, 1964. Source: Cameroon Times, National Archives of Cameroon in Buea.

Manhood, Religion and Transcontinental Networks in Africa

Mougoué’s current research, like the first book, highlights gender history.  The project traces the history of the Bahá’í Faith in English-Speaking Cameroon. It examines how religious identities, and extensive networks, shaped the performance of manhood from the 1950s to the 1980s when young men converted to Bahá’í— a religion founded in Iran that teaches the essential worth of all religions, that believe in one God. Young African men increasingly felt marginalized in Christian churches in the 1950s; white European Christian missionaries held most of the power. Young men between the ages of 13 and 26 found conversion to Bahá’í an appealing alternative. Through conversion, young men found jobs as Bahá’í missionaries, or as pioneers as Bahá’ís phrase it, converting Africans in West Africa, including a king in Benin in the 1970s. As the young men traveled westward— via motorcars, trains, bicycles, small planes— and settled into their assigned regions, they left trails of telegrams, postcards, and elaborate handmade greeting cards that they sent to family and friends throughout the continent and around the world. These tools of communication illustrate how young African men facilitated networks across the continent and across the Persian Gulf and the Atlantic Ocean. By examining these everyday artifacts of communication, Mougoué argues that we learn much about how young African men found new ways to (re)claim social and religious power, facilitate beneficial networks, and, ultimately, reshape ideas about manhood. The extensive transcontinental networks that young male pioneers forged would eventually extend to Israel, India, and East Germany, and lead to marriages that spanned national and racial lines. The book project draws from a wide array of sources to analyze and visually represent the interplay of ideas about proper codes of conduct for men, and constructions of religious authority: oral interviews, greeting cards, postcards, studio portraits and letters confirming declarations of belief.

Images from here, here, and here.

The State of Scholarship on African Feminist History, edited by Alicia C. Decker, J.B. Tchouta Mougoué, and Maha Marouan

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