“BORN UNDER THE GUN” part 1.
FR ROBERT O’NEIL mhm ON KAMERUN AND FERNANDO PO
(A famous Cameroonian musician introduced one of his lyrics saying: les choses qui ce passent a Yaounde, a Douala; mais les phantomes sont temoignes. The things happening in Bamenda, Buea, the ghosts are witnesses. Indeed witnesses to what took place and is taking place in Cameroon, Liberia, Uganda, Yemen, Libya, Egypt, Sudan, Syria, Zimbabwe, let alone the horrors of the holocaust, Apartheid and the massacres in DRC or Rwanda. No understatement that many people are ‘born under the gun’ if not the bullet, knife, missile or machete. Bob O’Neil sought to decry their ordeal.
In early 2017 when I bowed in courtesy to Bob O’Neil in our Maidenhead Headquarters, we chatted extensively and casually on diverse issues; my memories of him in my home parish Bafmeng in the late 80s, my nostalgic recollection of his thunderous voice in presentations, his maieutic/ Socratic approach of drawing out answers in his sermons and homilies especially with children on Sundays; his red Suzuki on our bumpy roads, his various written works on our Founder and Mission; the latest news and gossip about our Missionary endeavours. Moving from ideas and talk-talk, he pulled out some scripts, calling the names of some people in Bafmeng; do you remember so and so, who lived around Old Town…. here are some interviews I did with them and a few others before I left Cameroon in the early 90s… these were ex-soldiers or slaves who worked for the German soldiers etc…. I paused to read through the scripts, with no idea what was brewing, neither did I recognise any of the veterans, fascinating and compelling though as it felt.
It was clear that his passion in these scripts was about the poor souls/soldiers that were seemingly abandoned, sent home with no resources, no pension, no dignity except the million dollar faith of the sacraments and catechetical expertise.
And so, time has timely unveiled this, yet another, momentous book from Bob O’Neil, on the 11th of November 2018, marking the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1. There were echoes on the News, especially in Germany, France and Britain – with a loud and silent message, Never again. Indeed, the official last day of World War One was November 11th 1918, known as Armistice Day.
To me, this volume from the scripts of Bob O’Neil is the same yelling that I heard on the TV someday shortly after September 11th 2001, by an American woman in protest to the war in Iraq shouting unstoppably, bomb them with love… This is another missionary outcry for the poor, for the missions in Cameroon, for (ex) soldiers, for the English speaking, for the Anawim Yahweh – the remnant that returned.
Born under the Gun does echo in me the sentiments of the South African legendary singer, Lucky Dube, whose lyrics on Born to Suffer decry the effects of divorce on the children involved. Born Under the Gun underlines the history of the Cameroons, the First World War in the same, the Christian evangelization in and from the camps on the neighbouring Island of Fernando Po, now known as Bioko under Equatorial Guinea whose capital is Malabo after the War.
Our hearts are moved with pity on those whose interviews figure in the Appendix; our hearts are warmed by the faith, the passion and missionary impulse of the catechists, the ex-soldiers, the servants of the German soldiers who providentially learnt about the Gospel and when released and sent home, became teachers and transmitters of the faith in English speaking Cameroon. Their faith, passion and fame have been documented and extensively praised by many, including Pope St John Paul II in the “Africa Our Way” Series – Africa Our Way To Be God’s Messengers, by Sr Nicole Gregoire (MSOLA) and Fr Michael McGrath, SMA.
The beauty of the candid writing of Bob O’Neil is that there is no temptation to lure or insinuate to be anachronistic. We should never dig up the past to blame it or scapegoat or throw stones or condescend to feel better and righteous. We only lament and with the ancient, yet new Christian spirituality to redeem, forgive, heal, improve and learn from the past, one looks back to (German) Kamerun even with pity, sympathy, empathy and compassionate caring and healing sentiments. If only the surviving war veterans, slaves and carers or the German army can read or listen to their own stories and see how even now, we (in the 21st Century) are slaves in need of the same redemption.
We are born under the guns of various wars and conflicts of condescension; we are all born to suffer; if not like Christ and, then definitely because of some form of painful divorce- think of the holocaust and various crimes against humanity, culture, race or religious. The only thing that endures shamelessly in this life is love (agape and filial) that is at once inert and natural law; that which missionary evangelization brought to the nations/missions and seeks afresh to nurture, even if imperfectly so; and to keep pointing to eternity where there will be the fullness of love and light and life and no guns, no suffering, no divorces.
In the next issue, I will highlight the salient points from “Born under the Gun”; pray you me that I do justice to the book, otherwise let someone else do the honour to yet another work of Bob O’Neil, as insightful and inspirational as his previous works: Cardinal Vaughan, Mission to British Cameroon, to the Upper Nile and Herbert Vaughan.
Emmanuel Nuh Mbeh mhm