Monday, September 8, 2008

My Town Monday: Life in West Africa

The Rayne Frog Festival was rescheduled for November, so unfortunately there are no pictures of frogs dressed in jockey uniforms to post today. But it is the perfect time for another post from Mr. Boh, who sent a great piece on the heart and soul of the Kom people. He starts off with an African proverb that perfectly suits this (he has sent a long list of terrific proverbs that I'll have to post one of these days). Mr. Boh writes:

AFRICAN PROVERB: No obstacle in the forest can make the snail not to find its way; meaning, no matter how fast you run, justice will still catch up with you (for a crime committed).

THE 'AFO-A-KOM' (Kom's Property)

The AFO-A-KOM is a statue that was carved by one of the rulers of Kom called FOYN YUH FUNKUIN (Foyn is the paramount ruler of the Kom people, otherwise called Fon in most parts of the north western grass fields of Cameroon). Foyn Yuh ruled the Kom people from 1865 up to 1912. The Afo-a-Kom statue weighs about 200Kg and is about 1m80 in height. It stands on a pedestal holding firmly to its chest a baton (baton of command) with its two hands. It is naked and its manhood clearly exposed. Its body is plated with about 600 cowries and each of the cowries stand for the Kom people who perished at Babessi before the Kom people moved to where they are presently located. No one knows how long it took to have the statue completed because no one ever knew any such thing was in the making. In fact, people only knew of its existence when the fon came into the palace and ordered that some palace guards should follow him in to the forest surrounding the palace and carry it home. When it was being carved, the fon would get up in the morning and in his privacy move into this forest, which is very rich with medicinal plants, and spend the entire morning period there and would only get back to the palace late in the afternoon. In its completion, it was displayed in the palace museum amongst many others. It little occurred to anyone how important this statue was until...

One day, a Kom elite sneaked into the palace and made away with the statue. It was later sold to a stranger, and how it got to America no one really knows. However, it was sold into one of the American famous museums. While in that museum in America, it felt nostalgic and started portraying certain strange signs. The museum would close its doors at the end of the day and when everyone had gone home, Afo-a-Kom would start a kind of wanton destruction of the other pieces of art also in the museum. The following day when they would open the museum, they discovered that everything had been knocked down with the exception of the Afo-a-Kom which would be seen majestically standing on its pedestal as though nothing had ever happened. It continued like that for some time and soon the guards at the museum began complaining about cries at night were becoming unbearable. This started drawing the attention of many tourist and the rest of the population as the museum authorities were looking for ways to have it returned. One day a curious Cameroonian happened to have come to see for himself the talking statue and as he got in, behold, here was Afo-a-kom. Recognising it, he quickly informed the authorities at the Cameroon Embassy at the US. Negotiations soon opened on how to get it back to Laikom...

When its full identity had been obtained and it was certain that it was from Cameroon, the Cameroon embassy at the US together with the museum authorities who were anxious to make a name shared the responsibilities to fly it back to Cameroon. It had a hilarious welcome by the population and the Prime Minister who personally represented the Head of State. From the airport, it came into town escorted just like they do the Head of State and that same motorcade escorted it to the Kom palace despite the bad conditions of the road at that time.

In Kom, there is an annual dance that holds every December. This usually is a very festive period in the palace and all works of art that are in the palace museum are displayed for people to see; those who have always wished to see the Afo-a-Kom can take advantage at this time to have a look. It is very important to note here that the only person who is not allowed to see the afo-a-Kom during this time is the Fon of Kom, who can see it only once in a lifetime and this is only when he is being enthroned. After his enthronement, he is not allowed to see it again until he passes away. It is possible that he (the Fon of Kom) might have seen it many times before he became Fon, but from the moment he is crowned, he no longer has a right to set his eyes on it for it is said that the magical powers vested on the fon turn to conflict with the ones vested on the Afo-a-Kom.

Sometime ago in the 1990s, a group of tourists came into Kom, negotiated with the palace authorities and took away the statue back to America; this time it was an authorised visit. It stayed for about a month and was brought back.

The late legend Bob Marley sang one of his songs (lyrics) titled "Buffalo Soldiers" which was interpreted by many back here as referring to the Afo-a-Kom. In this song, he tells the story of Buffalo soldiers in the hands of America; fighting in arrival; fighting for survival; stolen from Africa; brought to America...

The Lost Totem, Time
The Wonders of African Art Explored in 2 Exhibitions, NY Times

Afo-A-kom (Cameroon)
AFOAKOM-USA National Convention, Washington, DC

Click here for other My Town Monday posts on Travis Erwin's site...


Terrie Farley Moran said...

Hi David,

I am frequently amazed by the things I learn in MY town Monday posts.

This is truly extraordinary.


Clare2e said...

I love the stories of Mr. Boh. Thanks for providing the conduit to share them with us. Hope you stayed dry and that Ike leaves you and Tina Turner alone.

Travis Erwin said...

What a journey it has gone on. Wonder if the makers of Night at the Museum drew on this for inspiration?

pattinase (abbott) said...

African artwork is special and so too the stories that come with it. Thanks.

David Cranmer said...

Terrie, I wish I had explored more while I was there. Incredible country and history.

Clare, I ran away from Gustav to Texas and now I may be running to the east to get away from Ike. I just wanna go back to NY where all I have to worry about are blizzards!

Travis, didn't think of that but I wonder if they'd admit it if they had.

Patti, My wife and I were just lamenting the fact we didn't pick up a few more pieces while we were there.

Barbara Martin said...

David, I really like these stories from Mr. Boh. It provides a look into life in Africa that we would never see otherwise. Thanks.

Reb said...

Wow, that is quite amazing. Thank you for sharing Mr. Boh and his stories with us.

lyzzydee said...

What a strange story!!!

David Cranmer said...

Once again, Mr. Boh thanks everyone for the kind comments they have left and for taking an interest in his culture. As I've mentioned before its very difficult to respond to each comment beause of the incredibly slow connections in his village.