A Forgotten Page of Colonial History: ‘Born Under The Gun’

A Forgotten Page of Colonial History: ‘Born Under The Gun’

“BORN UNDER THE GUN” part 2.

(Internment Camps, Christian Missions and Testimonies from Cameroon)

FR ROBERT O’NEIL, mhm, ON KAMERUN AND FERNANDO PO

EXCERPTS chosen by Emmanuel Nuh Mbeh mhm:

Africans in their colonial wars most often died in anonymity.  They were buried in a pauper’s grave and their names and stories wiped from memory and history…

‘Born under the Gun’ succinctly examines World War I in Kamerun; the retreat of German colonial troops and Cameroonian soldiers and porters to Fernando Po now Equatorial Guinea; the internment camps in Fernando Po; the partition of German Kamerun… (Victor Julius Ngoh)

There are characters in the history of colonial West Africa found in this book – explorers, soldiers, traders, missionaries, planters, prominent Africans coopted into the expansion of colonial control over new areas and peoples.  There are even events that brought Africa into a cash economy, a world religion… This is a time in our collective history when we ask about all those left behind, the anonymous men and women of history.  We have become more and more aware that we are connected to one another as individuals with hopes and ambitions, whether one is a governor of a German colony or an elder in a small village of the African interior…  A believer can go beyond and recognise the Spirit moving through the story told in this book, especially in the words of the many Cameroonians who shared their memories with the author.  It is in their words that the image of God is revealed present in the heart of each one of them….

Following the defeat of the Germans in Kamerun… a unique refugee situation occurred.  German troops sought refuge in Rio Muni and Fernando Po. Probably the only large group of Europeans to ever become refugees on the African continent, the Germans were followed by their planters and businessmen and by some 60,000 African soldiers and villagers. (Ibrahim Sundiata).

(Prominent testimonies come from Banbanki-Tungo and Bali-Nyongha).

There was an opportunity to interview some of them in 1988 when I recorded the testimony of two Cameroonians, Benedict Mukom and Peter Vewese of Babanki-Tungo… Peter Vewesse welcomed us to his home… he was baptized on Fernando Po on 15th April 1918 by Fr Baumeister, one of the German missionaries interned in the island….

In the trip to West Africa, we learn of the arrival of the Germans, both imperial and Christian in mission; from governance, to dealings with the local leaders to missionary activities of the Baptists, the Protestant and Catholics; to the War, to the times of trials for the Christian missions, to the transportation to Fernando Po and life in the internment camps, to schools and catechesis in the camps, to repatriation to mainland and dividing of Cameroon, to loyalty to Germany, to the expelled missionaries and seized property, to the Problems with British Administration, and the Colonial Ambitions…

On mission in Bafmeng in the North West Region, one night elders told stories about the arrival of Christianity in their country. Ngong’s story was one of them.  This also happened on a visit to Djottin Mission as well, where similar stories were told.  Here I imagine the night one boy’s heart was moved by the words spoken about Jesus. His very words are true and from one witness.  “My heart went out to there”, as he listened to the story of Jesus.  The story is fictitious but based on the words of real people:

It had been a fearful time in the country.  His father and many other men had been taken away to work as porters for the Germans, who often passed through the village.  Others had gone to work on plantation and sickness.  Everyone was affected.  And then the quarrels began over chieftaincy succession followed by accusations of witchcraft and the terrible sasswood ordeal.  No one was safe. Evil was everywhere.  One night two men returned from the coast.  Their families rejoiced.  They came with stories of life on the plantations and near the sea.  The next evening Ngong and his friends heard singing.  It was coming from a small hut in the chief’s compound.  The village head had given it for the use of the men who returned from the coast.  They boys made their way to the hut and looked through the small window.  A few people were seated around a fire in the middle of the floor.  The faces of others could be seen in the shadows.  One of the men, who now called himself Patrick, read from a book in the language of the Germans.  He stopped and sang a song they had never heard before.  Then he began to speak about Jesus.  The words touched Ngong’s heart.  Instead of the death and fear of witchcraft that had filled the village he now heard about Jesus and his words of peace and kindness, love and forgiveness.  Ngong’s life was never again the same.  He was determined even at his young age to learn more.  In time he was baptized. Later he was a catechist for many years in hi s own country.

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