By Joyce Ashuntantang
Not many FIFA world cup fans know that the official name of the 2014 FIFA World match ball is “Brazuca” and not many know that the name was selected by Brazilians after an unprecedented voting frenzy on the internet. The “Brazuca” won by over a million votes, an overwhelming 77.8 percent ahead of ‘Bossa Nova’ (Popular Brazilian dance style) and ‘Carnavalesca’ (Someone who loves a carnival). It is not surprising that the football loving nation chose “Brazuca”. Brazuca means “fella” and means “Brazilian” in some countries. Therefore “Brazuca” simply means “Brazilian”. Naming the official world cup “Brazilian” seemed like a natural progression of things. The soccer ball must be Brazilian; after all they seem to have domesticated the sport. The country has not only won the coveted trophy five times, It is the only country to have appeared in every tournament since its inception. Brazil is also the country that gave the world Edson Arantes do Nascimento a.k.a Pelé, widely regarded as the best player to have ever played the beautiful game. But by claiming the ball to be Brazilian, the Brazilians may have succumbed to hubris. “Hubris” which originates from ancient Greece means excessive pride or self-confidence which leads to action (s) or spoken word(s) that are offensive to God (s). Many heroes in Greek tragedies like King Oedipus were brought down by “hubris”.
Some may think that calling the official world cup ball, "Brazilian” may be nothing egregious for a nation that has come to believe that “God is Brazilian” but a look at the successive names for the world cup balls may reveal that naming the world cup Brazuca might have been the most potent form of hubris.
Sometimes life plays out like fiction. On June 9th I decided to take a photograph in my Cameroon Indomitable Lions uniform in anticipation of the World Cup fiesta set to begin on June 12th. When I got home that day and opened my university email, I found a very interesting email from photojournalist Douglas Zimmerman:
"Hi Dr. Ashuntantang,
My name is Doug Zimmerman and I am a freelance photographer who will be photographing the fans of different nations here in America this World Cup.
I came across your blog post about being from Cameroon and a soccer fan and was wondering if you will be watching the game this upcoming Friday in the Hartford, CT area? I would love to get some photographs if you will be watching it with some friend and/or family and talk to you about your experiences being a soccer fan if possible.
I've always felt that he World Cup has the ability to bring together people for a common passion. I want to explore that in photographing the many diverse communities in America, through the lens of soccer fandom..."
And so it happened...Douglas and his cameras were there on June 13th 2014 at Damon's Tavern in West Hartford to document as my family watched the Indomitable Lions take on Mexico in their 7th world cup appearance.
Click on link below to zimmerman's complete photo-story:
For Indomitable Lions of Cameroon
Ah terra dos Brasil! we come to claim our harvest
Our ancestors tilled the soils and their souls here
Their blood cries out today in the fields of Natal
Their sweat drives our energy and will
We would find our feet in Brasil today
A common ancestry binds our luck
Portuguese sailing ships bound our fate
The wind is on our back even here
Foe’s spirit still lingers on the field
Mila’s skills still lingers on our minds
History’s pages beckon to our story
We tell it on the Nile of victory!
Viva Rios dos Cameroes
Draft English Translation of Poems:
ASO (ASHUM): My Ancestral Home
Aso, my ancestral home in Cameroon
Aso, at the foot of Apiong[i]
You are rooted in my heart
Until the end of time.
To forget Aso
Is to forget the man who gave me life;
It is to forget the blood that runs in my body.
When I think of Aso
I think of my Dad
He who paved the way with love;
During festive periods like Christmas
He made the village our destination;
Placing a bag of rice before us
He would ask us to measure out rations
5 cups here and ten cups there
Other items would follow
Maggie cubes; Smoked fish
And we would make parcels
Distributing here and there
I have travelled to many different places
Paris, London, Brussels,
I have gone around the world making America my stop
But I continue to carry Aso in my heart
I have been told Aso is changing
I have been told problems reign in the family
I have been told chieftaincy disputes have brought in strife
But my love of Aso remains firm
It remains anchored on cherished memories
“Blood always follows the path inside a vein”
I am a child of Aso till the end of time.
Can’t Take It No More:
(Narrative poem inspired by the three Kenyang folk songs included here.)
Song: He will marry me; he says he loves me; He will marry me; this gentleman loves me; He will marry me.
He visited my father many times; his steps found our door steps many times.
He told me I am the one he loves
He told me I am the one he would marry
He said he would challenge the climb up Apiong Hill
To woo me
I was enraptured by his love
I was flattered by his love
But things quickly changed
He drank, got drunk, and staggered home
He drank, got drunk and lost his mind
My speech cuddled his blood
My screams fetched his slaps
My tears provoked his wrath
I became his punching bag,
I became dust under his foot
(song): He beat and trampled me.
I looked deep within my soul
I looked far into my future
Song (My darling whom I married in love; My darling whom I married lovingly now shouts me down “get away”; He now screams at me, “Fous le camps”)
I asked: What have I become?
One without a mother?
One without a father?
No I have people;
I found my way out of his life
I have a life to live.
[i] An imposing hill in Ashum village
Joyce Ashuntantang Univ of Hartford, Jeffrey O. G. Ogbar, Ph.D. UConn Source: WTIC - Hartford, CT.
It was a privilege and honor for me to talk about the legacy of Dr. Maya Angelou this morning on Fox CT. "I, we will continue to measure our feet/ On her over-sized humane footprint"
By Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang, University of Hartford, CT
And yes Maya Angelou will continue to rise from the ashes of history
A new ancestral presence, visible to those who feel
Yes, the earth will not confine her
This Amazon, daughter of the sun, phenomenal woman
She who straddled the world in body and words
She who broke barriers bringing healing words to taboo spaces
She sang beautifully and courageously from the cage
Her voice breaking free the hinges of our own cages
Today we gather in her name, a celebration of light
I pour a libation of words:
My people say “erong ambeu ereuh, erob asem ereuh-reugh”
The past was good; the future will be good too!
I, we will continue to measure our feet
On her oversized humane footprint
Orginally published on FOX CT
I fell headlong for you
Your saintly face goaded me to sing
Your seminary days lured me
Your snippets of my language at dawn caught me
I matured on the wings of your new deal
But you betrayed me too soon
What happened to the ring binding us?
The “united” in our names?
I obeyed you as my lord
I draped you in colorful clothes
I made my house home
And called you “fon of fons”
Everything of mine became yours
The nectar from my tea leaves
The pods from my cocoa trees
The coffee from my farms
I let you swim in my sea,
You anchored at my harbor.
I enriched you with my oil
What else was I supposed to do?
Like your true love I stayed
Wide eyed waiting for you
No airports lead you to me
No roads can bring you home
Yet I sang dimabola*
Hoping for sunrise at dusk
Now decisions excite me
And my future bugs me
Can we meet at the Moungo bridge?**
*Church song in Cameroon made anecdotally popular when it was used in pro-government political rallies in the 90's
**This bridge serves as a boundary between English and French speaking Cameroon
(For Yaoundé ‘92)
Some things refuse to go the way of all things
Like you reaching out to say hello all these years
Arriving each time like expected rain
Watering the dry riverbed of memories
With sharp refreshing arrows of rain
Under your gaze I am not afraid to be me
Pushing the frontiers of my being and nestling
in the warmth of your virtual breath.
Steeped in the mutual longings of two decades
We squashed distances at a button’s touch.
What does it matter where you are and
What dreams my nights now carry?
Who measures the taste of honey
on longing tongues? or firmness of
a nipple in a child’s waiting mouth?
In the mirror’s reflection I see my eyes
A harvest of questions blinking, dous
-ing fires raging in narrow valleys,
Yet the embers of coal remain hot,
Waiting and wanting your whiff of wind
On March 22 When news broke that the traiblazer, Prof. Chinua Achebe, had joined his ancestors, the 39th edition of the African Literature Association was in session at Charleston, South Carolina. A befitting ceremony was later organized that evening to honor the Sage who had done so much to enrich African Literature. The previous day, there was a memorial at Brittlebank Park titled "I have Known Rivers," to honor the Men, Women, and Children forced into the Middle Passage and the Struggles of Africans and African Descendants throughout the World. Achebe's comments in this video excerpt are poignant in the light of these two ceremonies.
Excerpt from an interview by Joyce Ashuntantang, Okey Ndibe, Oyiza Adaba and Sowore Omoyele on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Things Fall Apart, 2/15/2008.
by Joyce Ashuntantang
On February 15 2008, we entered Chinua Achebe’s residence in Annandale, New York, to interview him on the occasion of the Golden jubilee of his masterpiece Things Fall Apart. Okey Ndibe, author of Arrows of Rain, Oyiza Adaba of Africa-Related.com, Sowore Omoyele of Saharareporters.com and I, had come variously to chat with the author of Things Fall Apart as he commemorated the birth of that seminal novel but I had also come to follow up on a developing story concerning the manuscript of Things Fall Apart which Achebe told me took him two years to write. However I took the opportunity to ask him other questions as well. Here with two excerpts from that interview.
In the excerpt below Chinua Achebe offers his wisdom to Anglophone Cameroon writers who seem to be grappling with the difficulty of creating an effective writing tradition wedged between populous Nigeria and Francophone Cameroon, and with good-humor discusses the 1961 plebiscite when Southern Cameroon opted to join the Republic of Cameroon intead of Nigeria despite their shared colonial heritage.
Chinua Achebe talks about the character of Okonkwo, and why his story in Things Fall Apart continues to resonate with readers even after 50 years.
A Tribute to Chinua Achebe, 1930-2013
by Joyce Ashuntantang
It is difficult to know where to begin to pay tribute to the Eagle on the Iroko, but fortunately he gave me “a mouth with which to tell my story.” He unchained my African tongue from its colonial hinges, so I could confidently say “My spirit tells me” instead of “I have a hunch.” Chinua Achebe has to his credit more than thirty published works of fiction, poetry, children’s literature, critical essays and non-fiction including the recently published There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, which have continued to shape the trajectory of African literature around the world. Many times in his life, Chinua Achebe explained he was driven to write stories to combat the stereotypes of Africans in western narratives of Africa. He clearly identified his mission as a writer: “…to help my society regain its belief in itself and put away the complexes of the years of the denigration and self-abasement.” Even more fascinating, was his invention of a new dialect of English which many African writers adopted for their fiction. So today, three days after the news spread to the whole world that Omenka, the master artist, has breathed his last, my spirit tells me: All is well; the master still lives.
Like many other Cameroonians, I first encountered Chinua Achebe in a secondary school classroom. Interestingly, I read his third novel, Arrow of God before Things Fall Apart. Although later I found out that Achebe’s craft in Arrow of God is more sophisticated than in Things Fall Apart, the charm of Achebe’s first novel encircled me and has never left. As a young student in secondary school, I memorized the different Igbo proverbs in the novel, imagined Obierika was my Dad, worried about Ezinma’s survival and mourned for Ikemefuna. In fact recently I wrote a short story where I reversed the decision to kill Ikemefuna. I can see Achebe smiling over my foolhardiness. Somehow, Achebe’s manner of writing which was in sync with my immediate reality gave me a satisfaction which I could not get from all the British fiction I was familiar with at the time. As an undergraduate student at the University of Yaoundé, I worshipped copies of African Literature Today, and other critical sources of African Literature, where I devoured essays on this novel written by the likes of Bernth Lindfors, Solomon Iyasere, C.L. Innes, Abiola Irele, Ernest Emenyonu, and Eustace Palmer.
In fact, at every point in my academic life, I found a new reason to be fascinated by Achebe’s masterpiece. At the University of Wales where I was a graduate student pursuing a degree in librarianship I was introduced to the value of manuscripts and the importance of archives. As I studied and evaluated manuscripts of British writers who had lived over a hundred years ago, I had a burning urge to see the raw manuscript of my favorite text, Things Fall Apart. At the time this novel was only thirty-four years old, so my desire seemed like it would be easily satisfied. I spent several hours in the library each day searching different catalogs trying to locate the manuscript. I imagined that since the novel was published by Heinemann the manuscript could be somewhere in England especially since I found other manuscripts by African writers published by Heinemann at Reading University library. I wanted to see my favorite sentences and phrases in Achebe’s own hand. I wanted to know how long it took him to write this manuscript. I wondered whether he started re-writing it again when he feared it was lost in London. I wanted to see the words or phrases he cancelled and whether anything did not make it to the final print. And then more than anything else I wanted to read the very first manuscript which went beyond the story of Okonkwo. Achebe had written a story which included three generations of Okonkwo’s family when he was in London. After Gilbert Phelps, a novelist working as a producer with BBC at the time showed the novel to his publisher, they liked it and wanted to start working on the novel, but Achebe had second thoughts. He realized the novel was “too thin” to carry the weight of three generations. He decided to split the story into three separate stories in a trilogy. He later published the first story as Things Fall Apart and the story of Okonkwo’s grandson, Obi Okonkwo in No Longer at Ease. The middle story never got published and it has remained a mystery.
It was therefore not a coincidence when my doctoral dissertation included tracking down the publication and dissemination patterns of African/Cameroonian literature. It is during this time that I discovered through the intervention of the erudite scholar, Bernth Lindfors that I had not been able to find the manuscript because it is missing. My search finally led me to meet Chinua Achebe in 2008 and what a meeting it was! The magic of his presence and the profound wisdom in every word he uttered quenched the thirst I had carried for years. He answered all the questions I could ask and more. Encouraged by that memorable encounter, I embarked on a full scale search. Coincidentally, the manuscript could be in Cameroon because Achebe gave it to a Cameroonian scholar who needed it for a research project. The Search is still on! Whether I will find the manuscript or not is not clear at this time, but the search has taken a life of its own and it is interesting to see it evolve.
That is the nature of my fascination with the novel Things Fall Apart and the artistic ability of Chinua Achebe.
And today, Chinua Achebe is dead. If I had my way, he would have lived forever, but one thing I know for sure, I am in a much better place than Okonkwo’s bosom friend, Obierika, at the end of Things Fall Apart. During the scene behind Okonkwo’s house where his body has been discovered hanging on a tree, there is an uneasy silence, and “Obierika, who had been gazing steadily at his friend’s dangling body, turned suddenly to the District Commissioner and said ferociously: ‘That man was one of the greatest men in Umuofia. You drove him to kill himself; and now he will be buried like a dog.’” Today I think of the lifeless body of the trailblazer, Chinua Achebe awaiting burial and I can scream with triumph: “That man was one of the greatest men in Nigeria, Africa, you drove him to tell stories and now he will live forever.”
Chinua Achebe will continue to speak to me and others around the world through his stories. The global reaction to his passing testifies to this. As Achebe explains in his novel Anthills of the Savannah, “The story is our escort; without it, we are blind.” My eyes have been opened forever!
After my 2008 interview, I went down in front of the Master Artist and asked for his blessings. He was amused, but blessed me all the same...
Postcard from Hawaii:
On January 1st 2013, New year's day, I left home at dawn to catch a flight for Dallas, Texas and from there onto Honolulu on the Island of Oahu in Hawaii. I am here with 19 honors students from Hillyer College, University of Hartford who are taking a short winter-term course, "Hawaii: People and Culture" at the School of Pacific and Asian Studies, University of Hawaii at Manoa. It is my first time here and I just thought I should send a postcard your way.
...Jut arrived Honolulu, but it already feels like I have left the United States of America. It is not just because I see "Aloha" but it is my state of mind. I am determined to see beyond the beautiful flowers..I want to feel the spirit of the people of Hawaii...I want to go beyond the flowers to commune with ancestors long gone...I want to be at the shore welcoming one of the canoes of the warriors of yesteryears and feel their might...but I am barely here. Let me breath in and share with you warm greetings from Hawaii: Aloha!
By Joyce Ashuntantang
When life gives me lemons
I don’t make Lemonade
I hold them in my hands
And look at them
Lovingly…deeply…and I say:
Behold, these are lemons!
My eyes drink in
Their fine sunny color
Their skin evenly rough to the touch
Revives the nerves in my palms
Their pointed nipple tips
Tickle the edges of my nose
As I breathe in the healing fragrance
I cut them open and
Their tangy taste wakes up my insides
Alert, I engage life face-to-face
Energized, healed and renewed
Lemonade is an added luxury;
When life gives me lemons
I enjoy them in their own right!
Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
In February 2011, I participated in a poetry festival in Granada, Nicaragua. One of our poetry sessions was at the main police barracks. I was not only pleasantly surprised to see police officers enjoying our poetry presentations, I was elated when they shared their own poetry. Of course my surprise stemmed from the fact that some police officers around the world have abused their role as keepers of the peace, so it was strange to see police officers castigating some of the practices we have come to associate with their kind. Perhaps, this positive experience in the police barracks in Nicaragua prepared me to welcome Green Hills from the Soldier-playwright, Ayang Fred.
A soldier has the judicious task of protecting the land; a writer, I would argue, also has the arduous task of protecting the land by creating works that advance the visions and ideals of his or her respective community. The playwright of Green Hills, Ayang Fred, is no ordinary soldier; he has earned the rank of Major (Commandant) and heads the Military Security unit in Buea, better known by its French Acronym, SEMIL. He is equally no ordinary writer. He brings to this creative exercise his expertise as a consummate stage and TV actor. Before he joined the army, he performed such diverse roles as Othello in Shakespeare’s Othello, Thomas Beckett in T. S. Eliot’s Murder in the Cathedral, Lagham in Bole Butake’s Lake God, Adamu in Through A Film Darkly, and Remy Babila in Kwasen Gwangwaa’s Our Cousin. I can attest to his engaging performing skills since I acted alongside him in almost all of the above mentiond plays beginning with Othello where I was Desdemona. It is therefore not surprising that the collocation of Fred Ayang’s roles as soldier and writer has culminated into the creation of a play with a didactic value.
Green Hills is a play that dramatizes the importance of the community to protect its environment not only as an immediate source of livelihood but for posterity. Yet Ayang’s didactic stance in Green Hills is not a lone venture. Literature in Africa has always served a utilitarian purpose. Our ancestors told folktales, riddles and songs to educate and promote positive value systems in the community. Art for Art sake did not simply exist. It is therefore not surprising that modern African Literature from its inception has been didactic. Chinua Achebe crystallized this in his essay “The Novelist as Teacher” where he argued that “The writer cannot expect to be excused from the task of re-education or regeneration that must be done. In fact he should match right in front.” (45). Achebe made this call in 1965 when most African countries where still coming out of the grip of colonialism. For Achebe then his role as a writer was quite clear. As he put it, “ I would be quite satisfied if my novels (especially the ones I set in the past) did no more than teach my readers that their past with all its imperfection was not one long night of savagery from which the first Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered them”. (45). Osundare re-iterates Achebe’s stance by stating “…the writer by virtue of his ability to transcend quotidian reality, has a duty to elate not only how things are, but how they could or should be. He must not only lead the people to the top of the mountain and point out the Promised Land; he must also show them how to get there” (12). In Cameroon, writers like Bole Butake, Bate Besong, Victor Epie Ngome, and Nkemgong Nkengasong, Babila Mutia, Makuchi, Anne Tanyi-Tang and Mathew Takwi share Achebe and Osundare’s vision. These writers have used their works as platforms to educate the people on various societal issues. According to Shadrach Ambanasom, writers like these, “…side with the people, the down trodden and the left-out, subtly giving them a sense of direction”. Therefore, Ayang Fred as a playwright has joined a long line of African artists, from the anonymous producers of oral literature through modern African literature artists who have successfully used literature as a didactic tool.
However, what makes Fred Ayang’s Green Hills, a celebratory event is that there is a growing concern that African writers may be veering off this path. In his keynote address to the Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) on November 30 2011, the poet, Tanure Ojaide expressed his angst about African writers who do not only abdicate the role to educate but who even find ways of questioning the whole raison d’etre of “African literature”. Ojaide then goes ahead to state categorically that “African writers must work harder to deploy their writings to be at the vanguard of raising the life expectancy, education, and standard of living of African peoples”. Ayang Fred seems to have fulfilled this requirement in Green Hills.
Poetry From The Womb: A Mini Series
(For all pregnant women who die from abuse and those living with the scars)
I want to write a poem in anger
But I am no poet, only a woman with a womb
A witness to my sister’s pain
Her dying sounds finding my beleaguered ear
“Not for me, not just for me
Leave me to breathe life in this sacred shrine”
But Blood stains opened a path for her
Her womb ran on legs of faith
Violent steps encircled her light
Everybody part scattered around
And death gathered them all in its hands
Except her womb, slippery with life
She’s gone now but her bloody stains
Scream on the sleeves of your shirt
They cry in the armpits of your public face
And Flowers of her agony sprout in your sleep
No one wrestles with a God and wins
Every woman with a womb is a God!
By Joyce Ashuntantang
My daughter, you tell me you did not fall from a tree
You have a father, and you want his name
And so today you carry a piece of paper with
A new name, a flash light of identity
They say I am a good woman
Because I do not tell you how your father laughed
At the love that brought him into my thighs
And hung my hymen like a pendant on his neck
They say I am a real African woman
Because I do not tell of my nine month agony
His mother daily mocking my mother at the market place
Saying his son is no dog to fall for trash like me
They say my stomach is a guarded store
Because I do not tell you that my brain
Could find x even in the absence of y
But his P made me a “slut” fit for no school
by Joyce Ashuntantang
Yesterday our son was your son alone
As he made touchdowns into your patriarchal heart
You pranced the sidelines showing off the semblance of your nose
Your chest moving ahead, you said “That’s my boy”
“He’s a chip off the old block”
Today he became my son
Because the police nailed him with ½ a pound of weed
Today he became my son
because no fool like that could have your blood in his veins
Today he became my son in a cold court house with papers to sign
But I am glad I am a mother
My son will always remain my son
Especially when he is helpless just like he was in my womb!
Joyce Ashuntantang (Originally published on WBEZ)
Many film scholars and critics observe that in the post-apartheid era, Hollywood's portrayal of Africa and Africans generally miss the mark, foregoing opportunities to teach us profound truths about the African continent and its people — all for the sake of popularity and profit. Here, one of those critics, Joyce Ashuntantang, looks at one prime example: How the film Hotel Rwanda ignored complexity and context in dealing with the 1994 Rwandan Genocide:
09 Juillet 2012 Richard KWANG KOMETA [Cameroon Tribune]
Joyce Ashuntantang was one of 45 poets from 70 countries worldwide to perform at the Medellin festival.
Cameroon’s ace poet, playwright and actress, Dr Joyce Ashuntantang was one of the guest-stars who were recently at the 22nd Medellin International Poetry Festival, an annual event which started in 1991 in Colombia, South America. Selected on the merit of her maiden poetry collection, “A Basket of Flaming Ashes” which she read at the International Poetry Festival of Granada, Nicaragua in 2011, Joyce equally presented 20 poems, mostly from her future collection and made a statement on globalisation – the focus of this year’s Medellin Festival.
On the role of poetry in the era of globalisation, Dr Ashuntantang said; “Globalisation is creating tainted highways into the markets of Africa. It is stripping Africa naked, placing it on another Berlin table for the lusty eyes of the highest bidders. Poetry should sing the songs of its nakedness and clothe it again with ancestral truth. Such is the power of poetry, a rhapsody of the spheres.”
Talking on the nature of the festival, Joyce Ashuntantang pointed out that the event featured over 150 poetry readings carried out in various locations around the city, libraries, parks, open air theatres, etc. There were also seminars, workshops, and public lectures. Other Cameroonian poets who have attended the Medellin Festival include the Paris-based Paul Dakeyo in 2010 and Were Were Liking in 2011. This year’s event took place from June 23 -30, 2012 with over 8000 audience present.
The Medellin International Poetry Festival was founded to reclaim the city of Medellin and to a large extent, Colombia from the grip of fatal violence that had crippled the city claiming human lives with three generations of Colombian youths lost in bloody guerrilla warfare and drug related violence. It also serves as a forum for poets from diverse cultures to express their perception of the world, their cosmology, their complaints and suggestions for a more humane world.
Her next collection “Wings of Words” with poems like, “Something Remained” dedicated to pregnant women who die from abuse and those living with the scars, and “Because We Are Poor,” is highly awaited and is a must-read collection. She presently teaches at the University of Hartford, Connecticut, USA.
Joyce featured as one who inspires in Cameroon Tribune's "Les gens" Download Tribune article 2012 Les Gens
Many film scholars and critics observe that in the post-apartheid era, Hollywood's portrayal of Africa and Africans generally miss the mark, foregoing opportunities to teach us profound truths about the African continent and its people — all for the sake of popularity and profit. Joyce Ashuntantang is a professional actress and assistant professor of English/Literature at Hillyer College-University of Hartford. Ashuntantang looks at how the film Hotel Rwanda ignored complexity and context in dealing with the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. [Originally broadcast on WBEZ91.5 Chicago]
Prof. Theodosia E. McMoli, 1938-2012
MBBS (Ibadan); D.O-Ophthal (England); FRCS-(Edinburgh); FWACS, FNMC
Her accolades emblazon her name in any academic hall of fame worldwide and we can only usher in a triumphant beating of the drums as we call the roll of some of her trailblazing achievements in their rightful order:
By Joyce Ashuntantang
(Afterword from Their Champagne Party Will End: Poems in Honor of Bate Besong)
March 8th 2007, the literary sky fell in Cameroon. Bate Besong; Kwasen Gwangwa’a, Hilarious Ambe, and their driver were crushed in a ghastly accident on the Douala-Yaoundé highway. Yes, after writing poetry, crying, making and receiving frantic calls from and to Cameroon, it was clear that I had to go to the land of my birth to see for myself and be a witness not only to the dramatic exit of the erstwhile Obasinjom warrior, Emanyangkpe, iconoclast, playwright, poet, scholar, and social critic, Dr. Bate Besong , but also to witness the exit of the other two literary gurus, Television Producer, Thomas Kwasen Gwangwa’a and Dr. Hilarious Ambe who died alongside BB.
I left the United States on the 14th of March 2007 and arrived the next day in Douala at night. After having a restless sleep, I left for Yaoundé the following morning, March 16th, and arrived just in time for the viewing of Victim number one, Thomas Kwasen Gwangwa’a. After the funeral rites in Yaounde, I joined family and friends that night for another tedious five hour plus trip to Bali, Northwest Cameroon, for the burial. From Gwangwa’a’s burial, I rushed to Bafut on the same day to witness the burial of Victim number 2, Hilarious Ambe and the next day, I was back on the road to Yaoundé to prepare for my descent, and yes, ascent to Buea to be a witness to the traumatic funeral ceremony of the now legendary Bate Besong.
March 21st 2007 was the D day. The crowd at the mortuary was over two thousand including both friends and foe. Buea had not seen anything like that. BB had been such a public figure that he had become more of a symbol than a real person. But his death proved that he was just human, born of woman. And true, BB’s mother was at the mortuary. I stared at her for sometime wondering: how does a woman raise a child who becomes a symbol of hope for a people? When does she realize that such a child will carry the burden of his people? How does a mother mourn a child who symbolized the anger of a people? How does a mother’s personal grief negotiate the boundaries and margins of this show of public grief?
Today I will be at the airport to bid you goodbye
You will be dressed in your ancestral confidence
A worthy emissary of our people to their people
You will squeeze my hand discreetly because you
Speak the language of bodies too
Before the hands untangle you would utter
Words profound to fill my
Woven basket of desired memories
In my car I will unpack your words
and hang them on lines of shared moments
Waiting for the sunshine of recall
When I get home I will court sleep
To dream of the eagle on flight,
The one whose flapping wings
Float our ideals beyond our earth
And douse our fires with new words wet with
the defiance of oppressed humanity
Freeing the tight chains of tyranny’s reign
But today is still young and the sun
is smiling with the intensity of youth
Burning the weight of waiting on my skin
Tonight will never come and tomorrow neither
The airport is a space between my head and feet
Delirious with your impending “goodbye”.
By Joyce Ashuntantang
Yes, Batuo’s World has been quiet for some time. I can now tell you why. I have been inside letter V. Oh yes, even those of us whom friends and family have labeled "tough" have a time when the leaves of life just wilt in front of our own eyes and no matter how hard we try, we just have to give the cycle of life the space and time to run its course. I have dubbed times like this being inside letter “V”. In fact on May 21st 2011 I shared this insight with my facebook friends:
“When you go through life's alphabet and fall inside letter V, don't struggle to scale its steep walls. Just remember it must be time for a well deserved rest and when you wake up with renewed energy you will jump out like a champ and fly over W, X and Y to reach the finish line Z with a refreshed smile on your face”.
Little did I know that I will have to use my own recipe a few months down the line. Well, on the 19th of August 2011, just barely two months after I posted this status, I fell headlong inside Letter “V”. The death of my all powerful and illustrious aunt, Mrs. Comfort Eneke Ashu plunged me into the very depths of despair. She had been diagnosed with cancer and had been receiving treatment for about two months, yet I could not fathom her name and death in one sentence. She was a go-getter, dynamic, and
took no nonsense! She was what the patriarchal world called a “Nnem Ngoreh”, a woman who had pushed beyond the boundaries of womanhood to reach heights traditionally preserved for males. I believed my aunt could shout death down if it came to it, but helas she was only human and so death conquered her.
Mrs. Comfort Ashu receiving EduART Lifetime Achievement Award
And thus I found myself crumbled like a piece of paper inside letter V. I had to test my own recipe; I settled inside, "V" and tried to “relax” for a few days hoping that I will feel refreshed, jump out and continue anew. But life handed me one of its double jokers. September 1st came and swept me in the turbid floods of nightmarish memories. This was the 25th anniversary of my parent’s tragic deaths by car accident. For the last 25 years I have welcomed each anniversary with the ancestral assurances of an African, the certified faith of a Christian, and the practical tears of a mere mortal. This year, however was determined to be different. The events of those 14 days in 1986 came in 3D images and refused to go away. In that tight space inside letter V, I relived the nightmare in the huge flat screen TV of my mind:
September 1st: Accident occurs, My mother dies on the spot, My Dad is in a coma
September 9th: My Mom is buried
September: 11th My Dad dies
September 14: My Dad is buried.
Reliving this gruesome timeline with its crushing weight pushed me further into letter “V”. To make matters worse my father’s sister, Mama Lydia Ashuntantang, another major role model in my life died on the 10th of September the eve of my father’s death anniversary. I was now kaput!
Well, my two aunts were buried on September 24 and October 8 respectively. I calmly stayed inside letter V and had to pull back on some of my activities including my blog and facebook. It was a “me” time for the grieving process to run its course and also time for me to distill these events and find their lasting value in lessons that would transcend the pain of the moment. Just when I believed I had everything in perspective and I could now jump out, the now historic power outage in Connecticut occurred- it went peach black inside letter V!! I was forced to stay there for 10 additional days waiting for Connecticut Light and Power to illuminate more than my town of West Hartford.
Laying the family wreath- memorial service 1987
I have finally completed “my time" in letter “V” and after a couple of attempts I have jumped out, but I didn’t come out flying to Z. It has been a brisk walk but I have arrived and more than a smile refreshes my face. A deep laughter from within caresses my insides as I give thanks to the powers that be for blessing my life with these incredible people who have added to my throng of worthy ancestors.
Thanks again to you my loyal readers. All is well and I am back on course…I was just recuperating inside letter “V”.
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By Joyce Ashuntantang
This week-end, August 5-7th 2011, the Ex-Saker Students of the prestigious Saker Baptist College, Limbe, popularly known as Sakerettes will convene in Atlanta, GA, the land of Martin Luther King Jr., to celebrate the association's 10th anniversary in the United States of America. This celebration under the leadership of the current National President, Rev. Esther Tanga Gadpaille (picture insert) will serve as a golden opportunity to pause and look back on the journey covered thus far. The historic week-end will include a general assembly and common meal on Friday, a fun filled Saturday with games at the park and in the evening, a star-studded exquisite gala showcasing the best of ExSSA-USA. Besides the food to tantalize your taste buds, the Ex-SSA choir will be on hand to soothe your ears. As for your eyes, there will be a feast to titillate those pupils, and of course your brain will savor the memories for years to come!!
But it should be noted that the relationship between Saker Baptist College and the USA is enshrined in the very fabric of the school since the college was founded with the aid of the North American Baptist Convention in 1962. To top that, in 1969, “The College Singers” made up of students from Saker Baptist College made the now legendary tour of the US and Canada with songs of praise. From that time on many ex students from Saker travelled to the USA to further their education or join other family members. By the mid 1990s, with the growing number of emigrations to the USA, Ex-Saker students in Dallas, Houston and Maryland began congregating at intervals to share common concerns and to celebrate their sisterhood from their Saker days. However, it is in the year 2000 that Sakerettes in Dallas led by Ms. Martha Akwa Teke decided to create a national body to cater for ex students of Saker Baptist college living in the USA. In August 2001 the Ex- Saker students Association (Ex-SSA) USA was born in Dallas, Texas.
The Pioneer Executive:
Regine Efeti Ojongtambia: President
Christina Kidi Makia: Vice President
Shiri Ndang: Secretary
Sylvie Makoge: Vice Secretary
Marie Takusi Njowo: Treasurer
Alida Welashey: Financial Secretary
Genevieve Ndando: Public Relations
Martha Teke: Organizing Secretary
Jackie Atang: Vice Organizing Secretary
Vivian Barake: Music Prefect
Christina Naduvi Body-Lawson- Chief Whip
Since August 2001, Ex-SSA USA has been on a roller coaster ride. The three successive presidents, Ms. Efeti Ojongtambia (2001-2005), Ms. Ndedi Ngonga (2005-2009) and now Rev. Esther T. Gadpaille (2009 to Present), and their national executive members have built different parts of the magnificent edifice that we now call Ex-SSA USA. During this ten year run, ExSSA USA’s accomplishments include:
In the USA:
Indeed EXSSA USA members continue to make their mark both as a group and as individuals. The dedication towards excellence and orientation towards service built in Sakerettes runs across generations and we continue to celebrate mind-blowing successes even from younger Sakerettes. Some recent successes in the USA include, Ms. Martha Endum Teke, who at 17 became the second youngest student in US History to graduate from a University nursing Program in the USA. Endum recieved a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Texas A & M University- She was profiled in the Exceptional People Magazine, April 2011 edition; Geena Mbange Ngaaje who was recently profiled on Fox News for her innovative “Hip Hop on Heels” dance routine. In fact, EXSSA USA members continue to light the corner of the globe wherever they find themselves and the theme of this milestone convention captures this clearly: “Go Light Your World: Sustaining A Tradition Of Excellence In Service”.
Join us this week-end and be part of our world as we celebrate in Atlanta, Georgia.
By Joyce Ashuntantang
In life she had no biological children of her own but her death proved that she had used her voice to deliver a mammoth crowd that showed up at her wake yesterday at the Limbe municipal stadium. It is this crowd with persons cutting across every ethnic , age and gender grouping that welcomed the casket carrying the remains of the polyglotic singer born Elizabeth Bessem Manga. Her mortal remains entered the municipal stadium to the sonorous sounds of the brass band churning popular gospel tunes. It was a hair raising moment. By 10.30 pm Elizabeth Bessem Manga alias Bebe Manga lay in state, her body resplendent in a queenly lavenda outfit befitting the grand diva that she was. Her baby face did not lose its charm in death; her beauty still shown through in spite of her earthly transition to the world beyond. Her gilded casket seemed at home amongst the carefully chosen fresh flowers that graced the canopy which had become an instant shrine. As some dignitaries took their turn in viewing the remains of the diva, the roving ambassador/artist Roger Milla flanked by veteran artists Sam Mbende, Sam Fan Thomas, Henry Njoh and Nkotti Francois made their entrance into the municipal stadium.
It was now time for Bebe’s artistic family to mourn her with the rhythms that had formed an integral part of her life. Ms. Mary Mandi opened the way; a consummate guitarist, she tickled the guitar strings and the resulting sounds accompanied her velvety voice in her hit song “Na Wetin Be Man” to the thunderous applause of the crowd. Her song underlined what The Preacher had so succinctly captured in Ecclesiastes, “vanity of vanities; all is vanity”. Then came the makossa maestros in succession, Sam Fan Thomas, Djene Djento, Axel Mouna, Charlie Nelle Emile Kange, Nkotti Francois, Njoreh, Ann Nollo including stars of other musical genres like Ateh Francis alias Bazore. As each artist hit one of his or her signature tune, Bebe Manga’s children a.k.a her fans went into a frenzy. Like a Greek chorus the fans’ chants, shouts and tears reaffirmed that Bebe Manga had indeed lived a fulfilling life. She had enriched the earth and the earth was already missing her. Some of her songs like Amio, Esele Mba, Djiya Kamba, Na meya made their mark.
From L-R, With Veteran Cameroon Artists Henry Njoh and Sam Fan Thomas at the wake
I was moved and could not resist joining these artists to celebrate the woman whose poetic flair had put the kenyang language on a world stage. It was therefore only normal that I should acknowledge her achievement in this regard with a performance in Kenyang. With the band playing Bebe Manga’s Amio in the Background, I launched into a monologue celebrating the golden voice which had not only given her the children she did not have but a voice that paved the way and narrowed the African continent as her music quickly made rounds from Ivory Coast, to Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Equatorial Guinea etc.
Bebe Manga (2001) Performing at the Launching of our movie Potent Secrets
By the time I was leaving the stadium, the voice of Njume Loko trailed me, and Bebe’s casket was now closed and ready for the journey to her final resting place in Tinto, Manyu Division, but the verdict was already written in the early morning sky: Bebe Manga’s voice will live on because it has been trapped in time and will never die!!
On June 14th 2011, the venerable Professor, esteemed surgeon and internationally acclaimed scientist finally came to the end of his earthly journey highly marked by achievements in superlatives. In April 2009 he granted a major interview to Summit Magazine. In this interview, Prof. Anomah Ngu talked extensively about his life, his love for medicine, his medical research and discoveries including Vanhivax, the HIV/AIDS Vaccine, as well as his role in the process leading up to the reunification of the British and French Cameroons. At the end of that interview it was clear that despite his mega achievements in science, he was just another human being who loved playing golf and enjoyed eating “rice and moi-moi”, maybe an influence from his high profile Nigerian wife, Etso Clara Ugbodaga Ngu, an accomplished artist who died in August 1999.
For the complete interview and selected photographs click on the link below.
St. Joseph’s College (secondary school) Sasse, Cameroon (1943)
Scholarship to study in the Government College in Ibadan, Nigeria (1944)
Scholarship to study medicine, Ibadan, Nigeria (1948)
Qualified as a surgeon, University of London. (1954)
Rockefeller Foundation Research Fellowship in Cancer Chemotherapy, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA (1962-1963)
Exchange Professor in Surgery, Johns Hopkins Hospital Medical School, Baltimore, USA (1964)
Appointed Head of Surgery, University of Ibadan, Nigeria (1965-1968)
Appointed Head of the Nigerian Medical Corp (1967)
Professor of Surgery, University of Ibadan (1965 - 1971);
Professor of Surgery, Université de Yaoundé (1971 – 1974);
Vice Chancellor, Université de Yaoundé (1974 - 1982);
President of the Association of African Universities (1981 – 1982);
Minister of Public Health, Government of Cameroon (1984 - 1988);
Director of the Cancer Research Laboratory, Université de Yaoundé (1984 - );
Founder - Hope Clinic Cameroon opened to treat HIV, Sickle-cell anaemia and cancer (1991-)
Albert Lasker Medical Research Award in Clinical Cancer Chemotherapy (1972);
Dr. Samuel Lawrence Adesuyi Award and Medal by the West African Health Community (1989)
Grand Commandant de l’Ordre de la Valeur, Cameroun; (1991)
Leon H. Sullivan Achievement Award, U.S.A. for work in HIV/AIDS therapeutic vaccine research(2003).
A lion indeed has fallen asleep!!
Click here: Download Prof. Victor Anomah Ngu
By Joyce Ashuntantang
I have never been one for pets. I did not grow up with a dog or cat. Truth be told: I am scared of dogs. I have actually been bitten a couple of times by dogs. No pun intended. I am equally uncomfortable around cats; they leave me with an eerie feeling. If I have to own a a pet it would be a bird, but the whole idea of caging a bird traumatizes me; to ask me why is to start a whole different story.
Well, one day, while watching a national geographic documentary on primates, my four year old son told me he loved gorillas. Of course, as a vigilant mother I had noticed this. He was very excited to see one when we visited the zoo. He also wanted to read any book that had gorillas or monkeys in them. I was frightened out of my wits. We were not in Cameroon or any other African country for that matter; we were living in the United States of America where the connotation between blacks and primates is alive and raw. And this was well before Phillip Atiba Goff’s research which proved that “white supremacist assumptions that black people are related to apes and monkeys is not just history… those racist associations remain embedded within the minds of most white people, affecting their opinions and their behavior”. This was also a couple of years before the New York Times published a cartoon of an assassinated monkey signing a bill after Barack Obama signed the stimulus bill.
Well, I imagined my son in the predominantly white school library, picking up a book with monkeys or gorillas….that in itself could be turned into a scientific explanation of why blacks are considered apes. How does one tell a 4 year old about racism and stop him on his tracks from loving an animal he genuinely admires. I went on a mission NOT to bring him near books with pictures of primates of any sort. Then, he started pre-kindergarten and a week later, a teacher called him “Curious George” and I was on my toes. He was an intelligent boy, very curious and his name was George, so why did this make me uncomfortable? Well, the book character "Curious George" is a monkey! True, he loved monkeys and gorillas but he was not one! That day I had to tell myself over and over that the teacher did not mean any harm. A year later my son turned five and I gave him a birthday party; as we unwrapped the gifts, one stood out… a book on gorillas. My son jumped up excitedly and started flipping the pages. I did not know that his love for gorillas was known to his friends. He was the only black kid in his class. I was on the edge of my sit: a white family giving my black son a book on gorillas. I had no reason to doubt that it was a genuine gift, but the flood of history drowned me. I reviewed the racist premise of the last 400 years from Hegel’s “scientific” race theories to New Jersey cops’ racial profiling case.
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
This Valentine’s day finds me in Granada, Nicaragua at the VII edition of the Granada International Poetry Festival. There are over a 100 poets here including local Nicaraguan poets united in the theme “La poesía es el reino de la imaginación y el más feliz y doloroso testimonio del ser humano sobre la tierraa” In English, “Poetry is the realm of imagination and the most happy and painful testimony of human beings on earth” . On this Valentine’s day then, I decided to honor some male poets of my youth. These are the boys and young men who composed all those beautiful poetic monologues complete with performance in the name of “braining”. Braining, the way it is done in Cameroon can be rightly considered an art form. The English call it “to woo” which means to seek the affection of someone with intent to romance or to court a woman. In English Speaking Cameroon this phenomenon is known variously in pidgin as “to brain”, “lay case”, “nak kwadi”, and “nak parole” (or nak pa). These phrases combined together suggest that what is going on here is decidedly a creative and intellectual process.
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
Today, January 6th 2011, my cousin, Joan Bechem-Agbor Arrey, will start her final journey to her resting place in her husband’s village in Akak, Manyu Division, Cameroon; another victim of the dreaded disease, Breast Cancer. Joan was only 34! It was actually a few days ago, on the 24th of December, Christmas Eve, when I kissed Joan and wished her, a safe trip to Cameroon. The United States health care system had done its best and come to the end of what they could do. Her dedicated sister-in-law, Mrs. Christy Arrey Akoachere and her husband had done their best too and re-defined the notion of “in-law-ship”, but even they had to come to terms with the fact that they could do no more. Our greatest wish now was to see Joan reunited with her husband and family in Cameroon. Her husband Mr. Johnson Arrey had visited her in the summer and was hoping for a better outcome but things went downhill unexpectedly. It was a painful separation when I took leave of Joan as she left for Logan Airport. In fact, it was a slow two hour plus drive back to West hartford, Connecticut. My wheels rode on the lines of my tears as I drove to my kids who were innocently waiting for their mom to make christmas happen.
The last time I saw my cousin Joan before this time must have been when she was probably around eight years old. I was not in Cameroon when she blossomed into a beautiful woman, earned her degree from University of Buea, and became the respectable wife of Mr. Johnson Arrey, Delegate of Land Tenure and State Properties, Meme Division, Cameroon. I might have missed seeing Joan when her outer beauty was radiant but I thank God for bringing me close to her when her inner beauty shone like a light house. Joan, known as Mbockayah, to her family members, faced the disease that ravaged her body with fortitude and calm. It must have been God’s design that I should meet with her at this time because she gave me gifts I will always treasure.
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
The Ex- students of Saker Baptist College better known as Sakerettes will be having their annual convention in Houston ,Texas. The convention which has been framed under the theme “empowering today’s woman” will take place on August 6- 8th 2010. This will be the culmination of a very productive year under the leadership of Rev. Esther Tanga Gadpaille (top) as National President and Ms. Susannah Mondoa (bottom) as Vice.
This annual gathering at the Marriott, Sugarland, gives Sakerettes an opportunity to take stock of the year gone by and also to approve the budget and projects for the forthcoming Year. The convention highlights include a business meeting and common meal for registered alumni, an educational trip to NASA headquarters and the main event which is a Dinner-Gala fundraiser on Saturday August 7th.
"Ashuntantang is an extraordinary weaver of words who showcases vivid pictures that compete with 3D simulation. Her greatest asset is her use of the beautiful traditional Cameroonian anchor that evokes folk tales with its moonlight romance and glory. You feel, laugh, weep, shiver, wonder, and hail the triumphant spirit of the persona as it navigates African post-colonial and global experiences with the melancholy of an exile who is purposeful, strategic, and a lot of fun."
“A Basket of Flaming Ashes may be Joyce Ashuntantang’s debut poetry collection but it already displays the lyricism and craftsmanship of an experienced poet. The poems flow naturally with feminine elegance and course through myriad forms of love. These are poems that the reader will always go back to read because of their enduring freshness and evocation of experiences that one can easily identify with. I find the collection enthralling.”
An excerpt of my short story "My Mother's Recipe" has been published in the ground breaking anthology, Speaking For The Generations: An Anthology of Contemporary African Short Stories. I know the next question is "recipe for what? " Well, you will have to read the story and find out. But first let me tell you more about this anthology. It is edited by Dike Okoro, professor of English and World Literature at Olive-Harvey College, Chicago. It is published by the renowned Africa World Press, Trenton, New Jersey.
This is a collection to love and own. The stories here are in the flash fiction category, so each story is about 800 words long. I have already read about fifteen and I enjoyed them tremendously.
Well, I am Joyce Ashuntantang. I am originally from Cameroon. I graduated from the University of Yaoundé with a degree in English Modern Letters. I then left for Britain where I graduated with a master’s in Library and Information Science. I returned to Cameroon and after graduating from Ecole Normale Superieure, I started working with the Bilingual Training Program attached to the Presidency of the Republic. Here, I had the rank of a Chief of Service in the central administration. In 1994 I moved to New York, USA. I earned another Masters from Hunter College, City University of New York and a PhD from the Graduate School and University Center, CUNY. After my PhD, I taught at University of Connecticut at Storrs/West Hartford. Today, I am an Assistant professor of English/African Literature at Hillyer College, University of Hartford. In terms of my personality, I will prefer others to define me. Here with what one of my professors from University of Yaoundé, Dr. Babila Mutia said recently about me, “Adjectives to describe Joyce's multi-dimensional explosive personality, into all aspects of life, cannot readily be found to describe her dynamic nature”
I understand you now teach English/African Literature at Hillyer College, University of Hartford in Connecticut. Yet, several years ago, you were a star actress with the University of Yaoundé theater group and you also starred in several TV plays for the Cameroon Radio and Television (CRTV). Please tell us Dr. Joyce Ashuntantang, where are you today with your career as an actress?
Dr. JA: Although I am presently a college professor, I have not abandoned the theater. Acting is an integral part of my life. In fact, as a performing artist, my approach to teaching is performance-driven with roots in African participatory theater where the actors and audience collaborate in the process of creativity and performance. Based on this “dialogic” approach, I create a collaborative and interactive learning environment that facilitates the development of students’ self-confidence in their own ideas, analytical ability and their vision to draw connections between the literary texts and their own lives.
By Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D.
At 13, Martha Endum Teke became the youngest student to graduate from Saker Baptist College, Limbe Cameroon. Now, at 17, she joins Danielle McBurnett as the youngest graduate from a university nursing program in the USA. Endum received her degree, Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from Texas A &M University. She graduated Magna Cum Laude on May 21st 2010 and was equally inducted into the Nursing Honors Society. However, while McBurnett graduated from Arizona State University in 2009, she was homeschooled till the age of 12. Endum, on the other hand, took a route that began in an elementary school, in the USA to Saker Baptist College in Cameroon, West Africa. Born on September 4 1992 in Erie, Pennsylvania, Endum is the daughter of Martha and Mathias Teke who are originally from Cameroon and reside in Dallas, Texas. The young Endum’s success has been a combination of intelligence and discipline on her part and foresight on the part of her parents.