LIVING AND LEARNING IN CAMEROON
A collection of traditional masks collected by Dr. Kini and housed in his museum in Yaounde
During my time in Cameroon, there was a great amount of time devoted to looking at the arts and its function and impact in society. In as much as one is concerned, art is greatly represented in the forms of visual, musical, dance, and to a lesser extent literary. I hope to present an accurate picture of the situation throughout this essay. Our first grand encounter with art came at Dr. Kini’s art museum in Yaoundé. A large amount of time was devoted to seeing the art that Dr. Kini had housed at his museum. To give some history behind the art collection, Dr. Kini had inherited a large amount of art in the form of traditional masks from his father, and was in the process of increasing his collection of art. It was in this time that Dr. Kini gave us a lecture on art. The lecture presented gave an interesting picture to the view of art and its relation to culture and its role within society.
In the cultural realm of art, Dr. Kini posited that art is a summit, a supernatural gift of human expression, that when performed allows one to be close to the supernatural. In and of itself in the definition, it was posited that any form of creativity could be included as a form of art in that anyone who invents, albeit painters, musicians, engineers and even chefs are performing art. In as much as the role of the artist is concerned, the blacksmiths in Africa held a reverent role in that with their skills, they functioned as the first surgeons and doctors to the people, which led to the belief that the blacksmiths were close to the supernatural and had a deep an profound power and control over the people.
In another interesting light, the mood of the artist is also in a sense reflected within the offspring of the art. As simple example can even be taken from the form of art in food, a chef in a good mood is more likely to spend more time I preparing an appetizing meal than an individual who hastily prepares a meal due to some inner conflict. Moreover, it was thought that one could not construct art when in a disagreement with another person, and the continuation of art could only continue once the disagreement had been settled between the two parties. Art is always for a purpose, which is indicative to all forms of arts in that no form of art is useless, and that all art is created with a purpose and mind and for use in a particular fashion. In the way that art connects itself to humans, it is a realization of the unknown says, Dr. Kini. It is the dwelling of the supernatural with us in that it is something more of oneself and a way that one can interpret the world in which we live.
One of the most interesting implications shared by Dr. Kini was the role of the artists as professionals and the implications it had to anyone who sells art for a living. In the mind of Dr. Kini and in the custom of the people, art has no earthly value in that art lasts forever. In as much as art is priceless, it should not be sold, but rather should be exchanged from person to person. There is even the belief that when individual misuses his talent, in the act of selling the art for personal profit, the gift power of creating art will leave the person. One may parallel it to the impact or the importance of the art being lost if it is not viewed as significant by its creator.
Throughout our time in the country, we were introduced to several musical and dance styles. Within every region, one could be sure to find a variance of dances and music indicative and native to the region. While in Yaoundé, we witnessed the dances by the Bassa tribe in which the individuals doing the dances had amazing control over their shoulder and back muscles, allowing them to initiate difficult dance movements with ease. Within Bamum we were treated with music from the royal court, played on string instruments and accompanied with sounds. Our audience with the Fon of Bali gave us a look into the art of the Bali kingdom, which is home to incredible cultural dances. The north also produced its own style and persona, quite different from the southern half of Cameroon, but was still indicative of the Cameroonian spirit. It just seems as if these individual were made to dance and others to sing. One interesting moment arrived in our travels to the governmental barracks in Upstation Bamenda, where we met a man who composed a song and shared it with us. With a hand made guitar, he openly shared his disdain for the government by singing his song “bomb the bomb makers.” The man might have seen minimal at most, however, he carried an important message, which socially can carry high implications.
Yet, the largest amount of time devoted to art on our trip came toward the close of our academic portion in a trip to Buea. We had the privilege of meeting Max Lyonga, and Mathew Takwi, a painter and an artist respectively. Both were well known in their field and had remarkable stories. Mr. Lyonga, had been showcased through the World Bank, and even created a variety of colors himself to create his art. Mr. Takwi was exceptional in that he was placed into the position of many other Cameroonian artists, without a means to have royalties on literature sales, and without any structures in place to efficiently publish his literature. According to Mr. Takwi, life as an author comes at a high burden. As there isn’t as great interest for the arts or literature among the youth in Cameroon it becomes harder for him to make an income solely as an author. An at times when his books are needed, it comes when a government school might request his books. His worst situation might arise in that he must supply the books himself, which causes him to go through a greater amount of stress and preparation in order to make ends meet. Mr. Takwi’s works were of an interesting style, he spoke of social issues and anything that came to mind, form celebrating the life of fallen Cameroon football star, Marc Vivien Foé, to writing about the injustices in the educational system that take place when school officials try to take advantage of pupils who will do almost anything to gain a passing grade within a course.
Mr. Takwi’s own dilemma gave a look into some of the issues involving the modern day look into the art of the country. Whereas art is divided between the classical traditional art and art of the modern day, there seems to be a great sense of individuality in design, a sense of uniformity form region to region. Another great form of art comes in the design of jewelry. Wherever one decides to go within the country, jewelry can be very accessible within market places, and public venues. The artists become very aggressive in their attempts to sell, and at times it can be overwhelming to bargain with them and to be assertive in the fact that you do not wish to buy any more goods from their stores. Interacting with these artists and businessmen that they are gives one a sense of appreciation for the culture and how they must be masters of diction and communication in winning people over to buy from them. Many can be sneaky, however, and can easily swindle people out of money if they are not careful enough to hold their ground and bargain back with the sellers. Perhaps the greatest and most intriguing form of art is found on the clothing of Cameroon. The cloth from Cameroon comes in various styles and patterns, which even display social issues such as international women’s day, anniversary celebrations of the Presbyterian Church, to even fabric supporting Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon. It almost seems as if there is a print that could be made for any occasion and it is not uncommon for individuals to wear these garments in support for the various causes at hand.
With the exception of literary rates in Cameroon, the art of Cameroon is vibrant, and is diverse from region to region. From carrying social implications to simply trying to capture the stillness and beauty of life it is a manifestation of the beauty within the culture and the power of the human spirit. It is this beauty and relentlessness of spirit that makes me so proud of my Cameroonian heritage. The arts will always remain a large part of Cameroon’s cultural history, and hopefully this nature of the art will transform the modern day social view of art into one that is more socially and readily acceptable, possibly one that transcends into the liberating view of art held in the West.