By Jesse Konang*
In commemoration of Cameroon’s regained territorial authority over the Bakassi Peninsula, AFRICAphonie, supported by Prince Claus Fund, last 14th August organized an all female cultural jamboree in Isangele. The one-day ceremony, being the first in a series of cultural activities by AFRICAphonie to reinforce peace- and confidence-building in the Peninsula, revealed the potentials of culture in women towards the enhancement of peaceful co-existence in the area. Somewhat, it was a paradigm shift from the talky-sensitization-seminar-approach to the ‘enter educate’ (entertainment + education) approach.
Although in the heart of the rainy season, it had decided not to rain in the Bakassi zone throughout the day of Saturday, 14th August, 2010 – the day that marked the second anniversary of Cameroon’s retrieval of the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria. The organizers and participants were therefore blessed with a bright, cool weather for a lively and successful ceremony.
By eleven o’clock (11 am), there was already a capacity crowd at the Isangele Square, venue of the festival. After the arrival of the Sub-Divisional Officers for Isangele (Azia Bukwara Claude) and Kombo Abedimo (Ayuk Edward Takor), respectively accompanied by their Mayors, Caroline Usim and Patrick Aboko, the ceremony proper kicked off with the congregational singing of the Cameroon national anthem and an inspiring prayer.
Co-presiding at the ceremony, Azia Bukwara and Ayuk Takor, took turns to address the two communities who had thronged the ceremonial ground. The two civil administrators unanimously acclaimed AFRICAphonie’s newfound initiative of peace-promotion in the Bakassi Peninsula through art and culture, encouraging the organization not to rest on their laurels. They both considered this strategy as powerful because it was one that tapped into the people’s emotions with the probability of easily renewing their attitude towards peace better than if they were simply given information in a typically educational setting. They used the opportunity to call on the local and traditional authorities to regularly organize cultural festivals to animate their communities in a fraternal manner and keep their traditions and cultures alive. They assured AFRICAphonie of their continuous collaboration in its pursuit of peaceful co-existence in the Bakassi Peninsula.
The speeches of the two other speakers at the occasion in the persons of Mme Caroline Usim, Mayor of Isangele, and Patrick Aboko, Mayor of Kombo Abedimo, rhymed in tone and message with those of the Sub-Divisional Officers. According to the two Mayors, “the people of Bakassi are one”. They demonstrated this by always jointly and joyously accompanying the choral and dance groups in their manifestations (see picture), indiscriminately dishing out gifts of money to all the participating choral and dance groups.
There were five women choral groups - Bateka, Oron, Amoto, Apostolic Women from Isangele and Akwa Women from Kombo Abedimo – competing for the singing competition trophy. Concerning traditional dancing,six women groups did compete, including the Massaka, Oron, Mosembe, Asiakiso and Idabanyanga Dance Groups from Isangele and the Ekombi Dance Group from Akwa in Kombo Abedimo Sub-Division. The focus was on women because, as the Executive Director of AFRICAphonie explained, “women are a great symbol of peace-making whether at home or in the society; more so, being a marginalized group of people, this was an opportunity for them to be showcased, especially in terms of how much they can contribute in the areas of art and culture.”
The competitions were intense with each group frantically vying for the jury’s admiration, based on the following evaluation criteria: entry (procession, salutation), instruments (originality, soundness, use and blending), stage appearance (dressing, décor, unity), message content (originality, theme relevance, meaning, clearness, and appeal-ness), stage performance (melody, agility, liveliness, respect for time), crowd reaction (emotion arousing), exit (salutation, recession). The total marks were over 60. The jury comprised three members, to wit: George Ngwane, Jesse Konang and one independent individual from the area. The contestants gave in their utmost best, in an atmosphere characterized by camaraderie and fair-play.
After the competitions, the jury, through Konang’s voice, proclaimed the results as follows: 1. Choral Singing (a) Akwa, 44/60; (b) Oron, 39/60; (c) Amoto, 34.5/60; (d) Bateka, 30.5/60; (e) Apostolic Church Choir, Isangele, 20.5/60. The Akwa Choral Group topped the chart and was, consequently, awarded the trophy and a handsome cash prize for choral singing. 2. Traditional Dancing. (a) Oron, 48.5/60; (b) Asiakiso, 40/60; (c) Masaka, 36/60; (d) Mosembe, 35/60; (e) Ekombi, 24/60. The Ekombi Group was fascinating and could have carried the day had they not included a male dancer in their group. There was the prohibition that men should not participate in the competition. That male factor then caused Ekombi to lose a considerable number of points. The Oron Women Traditional Dance Group of Isangele scored highest and so won the trophy and a handsome cash prize for traditional dancing. The rest were awarded consolatory cash prizes.
After the ceremony, the talk in town was about the scintillating peace-building songs rendered during the competition – a strong indication that the people correctly understood the essence of peace and unity to continue to reign throughout the Bakassi Peninsula.
*Jesse Konang is the Editor of “Bakassi Peace Letter” – a publication of AFRICAphonie