April 2018’s Missing Post II: Doing away with Stereotypes One initiative at a Time
There’s a lot to rant about when it comes to Cameroon. Increasingly heavy militarization and other government mishandling of the problems in the Anglophone regions, the fight against Boko Haram in the North and developmental problems from bad roads to corrupt institutions plaguing all ends of the nation.
Perhaps because there is so much to rant about, we as Cameroonians tend to see mostly the negatives and own them, while rarely appreciating the positive. How often do you hear someone muttering “C’est Cameroun” with disgusted resignation? Or if we do notice something positive we remark on it as though it were ‘nothing much’.
Shortly after I set up Better Breed Cameroon, I decided that I will try to ‘light candles’ as often as I curse the darkness. I have often failed to achieve that parity, but fortunately, no one gave me the sole task of being a superhero. And even more, fortunately, there are many more like me, many other young people seeking to help make some positive change in their own way and for that I’m grateful
Recently, one of those negatives we had owned as Cameroonians- the stereotype that “Cameroonian’s don’t read”- is being taken head on by several youth-led initiatives which prove Cameroonian do love/appreciate the beauty of words. Both the writing and reading of it.
So without further ado, let me introduce you to just a handful of names/initiative titles to drop the next time someone presumes to tell you “Cameroonian’s don’t read.
For 100 days, renowned literary magazine Bakwa Magput a spotlight on Cameroonian literature, showcasing books by Cameroonian authors of all genres and both national languages. This social media campaign ran with the hashtag #100DaysofCameroonianLiterature between December 2017 and March 2018. The campaigned was widely followed particularly on Twitter with several statements of appreciation to Bakwa for their introducing people to books and authors they’d either forgotten or never heard of before. In the words of Bakwa editor Dzekashu Macviban “We did this both to showcase the diversity of Cameroonian writing as well as debunk the notion that there isn’t enough writing from Cameroon”.
IYA Restaurant has established itself as a culinary and cultural delight located in Buea, Cameroon. Along with a magnificent menu, the restaurant offers events to bring the ‘Bougie’ of Buea out. One of those events it has highly encouraged is regular spoken word poetry events. Every last Saturday of the month, a crowd made mostly of University of Buea students with guests like Olga from Yaoundé and more come out to share their love for spoken word.
One way IYA stands out is by actually training the poets a few days prior to the event to ascertain that their performances are of good quality and they show progress from practice. As a result of this, you might meet the same faces, but you’d likely be surprised by the stark difference in content and delivery.
Attendance is usually ticketed using Eventbrite and the room is packed! Sometimes the evening’s have a theme and at other times it’s up to your whim.
Either way, it is easy to see that IYA started something which rekindled the beauty of storytelling in poetry from among youth in the area.
Mito Mito, a weekly Open Mic event equally originated in Buea likewise offers new encouragement to word lovers in Cameroon and offers to make poetry cool again. The events held regularly as of 7 pm on Mondays and mixed spoken word with Comedy, Karaoke, and Live Music.
From Buea, Mito Mito has spread to Douala and the team behind it offering poetry performances on demand.
For those of us who grew up at a time when poetry reciting in Cameroon consisted of rote memorization of some very tired lines teachers helped one with, this new wave of spoken word and the new generation vulnerable and bold enough to share art, what they read and write is utterly refreshing. And of course, stereotype defying.
Let’s not focus solely on Buea though. Spoken word events like the BLACK SWAGGER POETRY SLAMs (BSPS) are hosted in Bamenda as well. Black Swagger poetry slams offer space for creatives based in the capital of the Northwest region and alternative evening entertainment encouraging wordsmiths and lovers of words alike to come out and share.
The team ‘posits that Blackness is not an occasion for crying but a strong clarion call to stand up, stand out and be proud of who we are’ they try to discover unsung talents and help young people work on themselves by finding their own gift of words. Words that define them and define their stance on issues of change.
Given the regularity of the events, one can confidently assert that there are enough word lovers; writers, thinkers, and listeners in Bamenda as well.
A big shout out to the team behind the scenes making these events still possible despite the increasing militarization of the area. With events like this, they’re ensuring young people have a different outlet to vent.
More recently, I was privileged to be part of a team running an inaugural reading caravan project that aimed at inspiring reading culture in young Cameroonians- particular primary school pupils. The reading caravan began on the 23rd of February 2018 and closed on the 23rd of April 2018. This initiative lasted three-months and had over 20 volunteers read in eleven schools across towns in five regions of the country; Centre, Far North, Littoral, North-West and South-West regions. Over a hundred books were given out and the kids loved it! Eager to not only be read to but to read for themselves.
Olivia Mukam Wandji volunteer reading at Tassah College, Yaounde
I was particularly amazed at the support the caravan project received and is still receiving. The number of people who wrote offering to take time out to offer to read at schools. The eagerness of the schools we approached for time and excitement of our young audiences.
Of course, as more initiatives like these grow Cameroonian writers become more well known. Most recently I came across the work of LaBelle Nambangi. Her inspiring book Women Who Soarreminded me of how little creative nonfiction Cameroon- at least Anglophone Cameroon literature- has. And if we don’t tell our stories, if we don’t immortalize our heroes and heroines who will?
May these initiatives inspire you even as you feel the need to rant. May you find hope in the young generation upturning that stereotype. So the next time someone tells you ‘Cameroonians don’t read’ remind them that Cameroonians are not a monolithic group, and more Cameroonians would love to read for fun if we just invested a bit m