Description

This page is an official record of the First World War from the Kingdom of Bamum (pronounced Pa-mom), in what is now north-west Cameroon. It was written in the Bamum script, known as A-ka-u-ku, by an anonymous scribe.

The A-ka-u-ku script

The Bamum kingdom traditionally preserved history through oral transmission between each generation.[1] However, from 1896 their ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Njoya, instigated the development of a syllabic writing system.[2] After 14 years of revision, the script evolved from a pictographic system to a sixth and final syllabic version called A-ka-u-ku (after its first four characters).[3]

Not only was the script employed throughout court life, primarily with the introduction of written records, but also – due to an education programme – up to 1,000 Bamum people were literate in the script by 1916.[4] Another significant outcome was the Sângam, a 529-page book which chronicled the history of the kingdom and its rulers from the late 16th century.[5]

The Cameroon campaign and its impact on the Kingdom of Bamum

Before the First World War, King Njoya had negotiated a relatively stable relationship between his kingdom and the colonial administration of German Kamerun.[6] However, with the opening of the Cameroon campaign in August 1914, and the German retreat from Bamum in late 1915, Njoya found his position and life under threat.[7]

According to an official military history, Njoya had approached the British column and urged the commanders of the West African Frontier Force (WAAF) to advance on Fumban (the capital of Bamum) as he feared that the German forces would hang him before they evacuated. Njoya and his envoy provided the WAAF with information about a river crossing five miles upstream to aid their advance, and promised ample supplies once they arrived.[8]

After Germany’s defeat, the colony of German Kamerun was partitioned between Britain and France. The new French colonial administration implemented a system of direct rule, which saw the limitation of King Njoya’s royal power.[9] By 1924, Njoya’s powers were officially stripped, and seven years later, he was driven into exile. This shift in control eventually led to the near extinction of the script by the 1990s.[10]

The Endangered Archives Programme

This item was digitised as part of the Bamum script and archives project (EAP051), supported by the Endangered Archives Programme.

The Bamum Script and Archives Project ‘sensitised an entire community to a shared goal of rescuing cultural patrimony and inspired a revival in learning the Bamum script. As a result of this project, for the first time in years people are reading and writing the Bamum script which is written in important books and inscribed on important cultural markers throughout the Bamum Kingdom which for decades have not been read or understood’.

Footnotes

[1] Christraud M Geary, Visions of Africa: Bamum (2011), p. 7.

[2] Konrad Tuchscherer, ‘The Lost Script of the Bagam’, African Affairs (98:390, 1999), pp. 55–77.

[3] Konrad Tuchscherer, ‘Recording, Communicating and Making Visible: A History of Writing and Systems of Graphic Symbolism in Africa’, in Christine Mullen Kreamer (ed.), Inscribing Meaning: Writing and Graphic Systems in African Art (2007), pp. 37–53.

[4] Kenneth J Orosz, ‘Njoya’s Alphabet: The Sultan of Bamum and French Colonial Reactions to the “A ka u ku” Script’, Cahairs d’Etudes Africaines (55:217, 2015), pp. 45–66.

[5] Konrad Tuchscherer, ‘Recording, Communicating and Making Visible’, pp. 37–53; Christraud M Geary, Visions of Africa, p. 23.

[6] Kenneth J Orosz, ‘Njoya’s Alphabet’, pp. 45–66.

[7] F J Moberly, History of the Great War: Military Operations: Togoland and the Cameroons, 1914-1916 (1931), pp. 367–371.

[8] Ibid., pp. 367–71.

[9] Kenneth J Orosz, ‘Njoya’s Alphabet’, pp. 45–66.

[10] Konrad Tuchscherer, ‘Recording, Communicating and Making Visible’, pp. 37–53.

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