Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon : maintaining culture even out of home

Internally Displaced Persons in Cameroon : maintaining culture even out of home

CAMEROON – Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis, which emerged from legal and education grievances in November 2016, rapidly escalated into secessionist political conflict that is threatening the unity of the country. This crisis has caused over 900,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and more than 600,000 refugees (Craig 2021). These movements have greatly affected cultural and traditional practices; even so, the people still move on with the culture in them as they some of them still carry out cultural and traditional obligations like festivals, marriage ceremonies and death celebrations at their present area where they seek refuge.

Moving across towns like Yaoundé, Douala, and Bafoussam, many internally displaced persons from the North West and South West regions are already settling into their new livelihoods. Most of them are engaged in new petty businesses and little jobs to keep their heads above water. Thousands have fled to the predominantly French-speaking regions and across the border into Nigeria because of security concerns.  They left everything behind but what is for sure is that they did not leave their culture nor traditional practices back home. The insecurity and unrest in the two regions is not favorable for the usual cultural events like death rites, cultural festivals, and traditional marriage rites just to name but these.

For this reason, the Internally Displaced Persons, IDPs make sure they keep up with culture. This is visible in ceremonies like traditional weddings and festivals. A typical example is the Ngonso Cultural Festival from the Nso Tribe that used to be celebrated at the end of each year but due to the crisis, it was suspended. The people now displaced then take upon themselves to organize mini cultural events in towns so as not to let the culture die down completely from the people. Sendze Emmanuel who is part of such an organizing committee in Yaoundé explains, “The little children who are growing up now, need to know more about our culture because, they are the ones that will promote it when we are not there. It is unfortunate that the crisis stopped some cultural events in one way or the other; but we make sure that small cultural gatherings are organized to bring youths back to their youths. An example of such a committee is the NSOBAHTI association.” Some of the displaced persons also argue that, the movement from one town to another has made a lot of children forget their mother tongue, thus the need to reinstall it is deemed necessary among them.

Matrimonial Celebrations

Apart from cultural events, traditional ceremonies like marriages have also been pushed to towns where most them think security is guaranteed. For most cultures in the English-Speaking regions, it is but natural that the payment of bride price occasions, typically referred to as “Knock-door”, be done in the village where the parents and other elders are found. However, things have changed with the start of the crisis as for fear of the unknown, many people have decided to go on with traditional marriages in town. Besong from Manyu Division, of the South West region of Cameroon thinks that “Traditional weddings celebrated in the village have a different feeling from those in town. The situation is such in a way that we have no choice now. Than to forget about traditional rites, it should better be done in an area where it is safer.

Closely linked to traditional weddings, death celebrations and rites are also essential parts of every culture in Cameroon. This is because; much respect is paid to the dead because they are never seen again. In most tribes like Nso, Bali, Lebialem death rites are mostly performed for a week or more characterized by many cultural displays. Recently, it hasn’t been the case as most people prefer celebrating death ceremonies in their current area of residence as Beri Charlotte who lost relative, points out “It is true that the death celebration we had here was not as fun-filled as the ones that takes placed back home. Nevertheless, we have to keep our culture on the move whether there is war or not.”

Despite the fact that many Internally Displaced Persons from the two English Speaking regions are slowly adapting to the new environments they find themselves in, their greatest wish is for them to one day see an end to the deadly crisis so that they can freely go back home.

Kuwan Chelsea Kernyuy (Trainee editor) ©
Illustrative picture : Nso during the Ngonso Cultural festival

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