By Dibussi Tande
AFRICAphonie (with an OSIWA support) presents Kuva Likenye, a Historical Documentary. Directed by Kome Epule Mathias. Editor: Njukeng George Njukeng. Script Consultant: Dibussi Tande. Narrator Muema Meombo. Executive Producer: George Ngwane. Music by DJ Kofi.
Very few Cameroonians know the history of Cameroon in all its diversity and depth. And with good reason. Most of what passes for “Cameroonian history” in schools is a sanitized version of the country’s history whose sole purpose is to reinforce “state control” and “toe-the-line” concepts such as “unité nationale and intégration nationale. These concepts seek to legitimize the official narrative on the “colonial partition” of the Cameroonian family and the ultimate “reunification” of these long lost brothers and sisters against all odds in 1961 in a “historic burst of nationalism”. Any piece of history which either questions or contradicts this official narrative, or fails to add value to it, is simply ignored or discarded. The result? Many key events and personalities in Cameroon’s pre-colonial and colonial history remain largely unknown and confined to local and ethnic folklore.
No wonder the Frenchman, General Leclerc, has an imposing monument at the center of Bonanjo in Douala for fighting the Germans in French Equatorial Africa during WWII while no Cameroonian enjoys a similar honor for standing up to or fighting on against colonial intruders in Cameroon.
One of these unknown heroes is Kuva Likenye, the mountain king who mobilized the Bakweri to resist the German penetration of Buea in 1891. Kuva’s improbable story of defiance and challenge to German colonial endeavor is the subject of a brilliant 30-minute documentary titled “Kuva Likenye”produced by George Ngwane. The documentary traces the origins of the Bakweri-German confrontation of the 1890s, revisits the famous battle of Buea of August 1891 during which the Germans suffered their first defeat on the African continent, analyzes the impact of that defeat on broader German colonial designs on Cameroon, discusses Kuva’s significance in Cameroonian history as a bulwark to colonialim. It also highlights the high price that the Bakweri eventually paid for humiliating the Germans, and explains how the events in the late 19th century ultimately gave birth to what is now known as the Bakweri Land Problem.
Although purists might gripe at the lack of archival material from the Bakweri-German wars or of pictures of Kuva Likenye (they do not exist), the documentary largely makes up for this with the use of animation and stock pictures from the German colonial era.
The documentary’s compelling narrative is interspersed with interviews with a number of experts such as historians Henri Kah and Julius Ngoh of the University of Buea; cultural anthropologist and legendary photographer Pa Emmanuel Mbwaye; Sociologist and Mayor of Limbe, Daniel Matute; and Bakweri notable and Secretary-General of the Bakweri Land Claims Committee (BLCC), Mola Njoh Litumbe.
In the first interview, Henry Kah explains how aclash between Bakweri traditional values and the Christian values of the Basel mission set the stage for the confrontation between the people of Buea and the Germans. In fact, the Germans attacked Buea under the pretext of putting an end to the “pagan and barbaric practices” of the people of Buea, particularly the Sasswood ordeal, which the Basel mission in Buea had brought to the attention of authorities in Victoria. However, as Prof. Ngoh points out in his contribution, the Germans were simply looking for an excuse to take control of Buea with its fertile lands and temperate climate, and to neutralize Kuva whose beligerent attitude prevented free trade between the Germans and the Bakweri interior.
Standing by the ravine where Kuva’s ragtag army routed the German-led army, killing its commander Herr Gravenreuth (near the present-day Parliamentarian Flats), Pa Mbwaye gives a play-by-play account of what producer George Ngwane describes as “The battle for the soul of Bakweriland; a battle between David and Goliath”. Kuva was able to hold off the Germans until 1894 when a better prepared and much stronger German military contingent took over Buea.
Over a century after Kuva imposed his veto on German penetration of Bakweriland, Cameroonian historians have still not fully grasped the significance of that veto whose importance on the German colonial enterprise was immense. As Edwin Ardener points out in Kingdom on Mount Cameroon
… the waste of Gravenreuth’s expedition had serious repercussions. It should have been used to go far into the interior to counteract French movements. In March 1894, Germany signed an agreement with France that fixed the eastern boundary of Kamerun far more narrowly than once had been hoped for. The official memorandum on the treaty contained a withering catalogue of the ineffectiveness of German colonial expeditions compared to those of the French. The home negotiators had, as a result, no serious territorial claims in north and east to offer. The Zingraff and Granvenreuth expeditions were singled out as failures in this respect…
Kuva’s case is of more than local interest. This remote and ideologically merely intuitive tribesman held up the march of events, by an unexpected veto on the foreign economic exploitation of the mountain. The veto only ended with his death. During its existence, it revealed serious weaknesses in German Colonial administrative and military practice… the resistance of the mountain people provided one of the important shocks of the early colonial system in Kamerun. As a resistance movement, it was before its time…
Unfortunately, like most of Cameroonian history that is not directly relevant to the “unité nationale” rhetoric, Kuva’s story is largely confined to books written by European historians and missionaries. It is this theme of erased collective memory and historical amnesia that sociologist Daniel Matute addresses in the documentary as he laments that there is no statue, not even a commemorative plaque, to remember Kuva Likenye.
The documentary ends with Mola Njoh Litumbe tying it all up together by highlighting that often often-missed connection between the aftermath of the Bakweri-German conflict – which resulted in the massive expropriation of approximately 400 square miles of Bakweri land for plantation agriculture, and the expulsion of the Bakweri from their ancestral lands to disease-infested “native reserves” on the fringes of plantations – and the current demand by the Bakweri to be recognized as the legitimate owners of these expropriated lands now under the control of the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC).
Ngwane’s “Kuva Likenye” is a brief, facinating and very educational documentary which shines the light on a little known but very important aspect of Cameroonian history. With this documentary, Ngwane joins a growing list of African African writers, cinematographers, etc., who are determined to tell their stories from their own perspective rather than leaving it up to non-Africans to do so, with all the baggage that this generally entails.
To order the documentary, contact:
Tel: (237) 77 66 84 79
E-mail: gngwane@ yahoo.com or Africaphonie2000@ yahoo.co.uk