Cameroon Arts and Literature

By | September 23, 2021


Cameroon is one of the few countries in Africa where there are documents of written literature. In the sec. XIX two types of writing appeared, one in the Bagam area, imitation of Roman capital letters, the other in the Bamun area, original, invented by King Njoya, syllabic and phonetic. Several manuscripts remain, with the history, customs, religion and medicine of the Bamuns. There are also manuscripts (in Arabic letters) of the poetry of the fulbe shepherds (celebratory, religious and moral songs). But the real traditional literature was the oral one: the dramatic-narrative one of the pygmies and that of the beti, whose aedi accompanied the epic-lyric songs with a stringed instrument, the mwet, enjoying great prestige. The strong bilingual schooling (French and English) has made Cameroon one of the literally richest countries of the Francophone group and the first in the field of fiction, with Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono. After independence, the University of Yaoundé and the magazine Abbia (1962-82) became centers of irradiation of national culture. English literature had its most significant representative in Bernard Fonlon (1924-1986), founder and editor of the magazine Abbia. As for French-speaking literature, and especially fiction, it has always been the most abundant and incisive. A feature common to all writers is militancy, that is the belief that the intellectual is assigned a social, pragmatic role as a witness to reality. Among the main writers we remember F. Bebey (1929-2001), R. Philombe (b. 1930), P. Kayo (b. 1942), D. Ndachi Tagne (b. 1958). Poetry, which for a long time underwent the influence of the French, approached, after independence, the African values ​​of négritude, without however abandoning the path of aesthetic research.

Noteworthy are B. Bernetel (b. 1937), E. Alima (b. 1938), C. Nguedam (b. 1946) and, among the numerous poetesses, W. Liking (b. 1950). Also noteworthy is the essay and critical production, while the theater, with a search for original expressive means and an intense work on language, combines oral tradition with European scenic conventions. In the field of publishing, Cameroon is one of the most advanced African countries, even if it remains difficult, almost impossible, for a Cameroonian writer to make a living from his work. In spreading the national literature, a key role was played by the magazine Cameroon littéraire of the Association of Cameroonian Poets and Writers, which, founded in the 1970s, was completely renovated in 1983. The most significant exponent of the Cameroon literary landscape was Mongo Beti (1932-2001), an author with difficulty accepted by critics for his denunciation of the colonial system. Among his most significant works, in recent times, Les deux mères de Guillaume Isma’l Dzewatama, futur truckneur (1983; The two mothers of Guillaume Isma’l Dzewatama, future truck driver) and La revanche de GIS (1984; La revincita di GIS) and especially L’homme de la rue (1987; The man in the street) who talks about the relationship between village Africa and urban life, a cross-section of Cameroonian society in the 1980s. Another important presence is that of Calixte Beyala, a young writer who in C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée (1987; It’s the sun that burned me) gives a crude vision of the reality of her country, witnessing an Africa in balance between different civilizations, tortured by corruption and witchcraft. With a narrative of great strength and a clear style, Yodi Karone draws the climate of rebellion in Le bal des caïmans (1981; The dance of the caimans). His talent was established with Nègre de paille (1982; Negro di straw) and Les beaux gosses (1988; The beautiful children) that inaugurate new narrative structures, more articulated, to express the complexity of the African continent. Among the most interesting authors of the contemporary literary panorama we can remember D. Zanga Tsogo (b.1935), who was also Minister of Social Affairs from 1975 to 1984, and Calixthe Beyala (b.1961), who describes the reality and the condition of the African woman in its various facets. His novels, first of all C’est le soleil qui m’a brûlée (1987; It was the sun that burned me), have been translated into many languages.


According to allunitconverters, Cameroon is one of the richest artistic areas in Africa, especially for the art of the Bantu and semi-Bantu. The arts of the Bantu-speaking forest and coastal populations deserve a special mention: the fum figurines, with curious postures and almost caricatured expressions, the ornamental tablets of the Ngolo that combine anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and symbolic motifs, but especially the singular art of coastal duala, the best known manifestation of which are the great bow ornaments of the boats; carved and painted, they tell myths in a style that is both dynamic and abstract.

Cameroon Arts