CAMEROON NATIONAL ANTHEM: A DIVIDE
“O Cameroon, thou cradle of our fathers, – Ô Cameroun Berceau de nos ancêtres”
It is no news that the 50th anniversary of Cameroon’s reunification will soon be celebrated in Buea, the town of legendary hospitality. As the capital of the south-west region prepares to host this grand anniversary, stakeholders of the Cameroon government thought it wise to revisit pertinent issues in the country’s history. It is with regards to this that they recently converged at Fulassi, Sangmelema, and South-West region of Cameroon to exhume the Cameroon National Anthem. Among the stakeholders that met to reckon with a review of the Cameroon National Anthem were: Prof. Mendo-Ze, former general manager of the state broadcaster CRTV, Mrs. Ama Tutu Muna, minister of Arts and Culture, and 101- year- old Samuel Minkyo Mamba, one of the students of the Teacher Training College Fulassi, who in the 1920’s composed a poem which is today sung as the National Anthem of Cameroon.
If one were to flip through the pages that enclose the history of Cameroon’s National Anthem, one would have much to discover. “Rallying Song” or “chant de Ralliement”, is the National Anthem of the Republic of Cameroon. The original text of what became the national anthem at independence was a poem composed in the 1920’s by students of the Teacher Training College, Fulassi, to the colonial masters and national fighters for independence. It was eventually adopted by the Territorial Assembly of the then Trust Territory of French Cameroon in 1957 as the National Anthem. Nine years after the unification of French and English Cameroon, the national assembly of Cameroon adopted the 1957 French Cameroon version as the national anthem of the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
The first words of the chant were written by René Djam Afame along with members of a student group way back in 1928. The French words were written by Moïse Nyatte Nko’o and the English lyrics were written by Bernard Nsokika Fonlon. The music was composed by Samuel Minkyo Bamba and Moïse N. Nko’o. Although the Anthem was used unofficially from about 1948, it was finally adopted in 1957 when Cameroon became an autonomous Republic with France. As a matter of fact, the French and English versions were eventually adopted by the National Assembly and passed into law on July 12, 1978 with the two having different meanings.
Known worldwide as the “Rallying Song”, the national anthem of Cameroon is a patriotic musical composition that evokes and symbolizes the tradition, history, dreams and aspirations of its people. The anthem opines the sacrifices of the nation’s forefathers as well as pledges to restore the peace and unity of the country for ages to come. Cameroonians will remember the National Anthem when played on national days and festivals, during sporting events like the Olympic Games and the world cup, when sung in most schools every morning and why not when played by most broadcast media.
Over the years, attempts to harmonize the texts of the two versions have failed because the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians have insisted on sticking to the versions voted into law in 1978. The debate over the harmonization has been unearthed by Cameroonian Linguists and university Dons arguing for and against the modification of the various versions of the anthem. According to Dr. Samuel Ejoa Mbonzo’o, former secretary general of the National Assembly who currently teaches literature at the University of Yaounde 1, it is impossible to harmonize the two versions, “the French and English texts of the National Anthem cannot be literally translated because they are poetic productions interpreted in music and protected by law, which adopted them as the National Anthem”, he insists. On to others like Prof. Gervais Mendo Ze, a French language expert, the harmonization of meanings can be achieved. The alternative argues that Théophile Thomas Nug,
a literature researcher, is to compos ea completely new anthem that supersedes the original song that was of French inspiration. “Cameroon must produce and adopt a single text which expresses our real vision as a nation and which articulates the identity and unity of Cameroon with the objective of promoting our spiritual and cultural patrimony”, says Bissohung
These are some of the arguments that characterized the April 2012, special edition of “Mercredis des Grandes Conferences”, of the Faculty of Arts, letters and social sciences of the university of Yaounde 1. The special edition that came on the eve of the celebrations to mark 50 years of the reunification of Cameroon, had as theme:”Towards the Harmonization of the Cameroon National Anthem”. From Yaounde to Fulassi, all seeking approaches to review and harmonize Cameroon’s National Anthem, the question is who is responsible for the difference in text and meaning of the French and English versions? Stakeholders and active members of government have all pointed the error to be in the English version that was translated in 1961 by Bernard Fonlon.
The English version is not a literally translated version of the French version, but a text drawn from the inspirations of the English culture but putting in evidence the symbols of Cameroon and asking Cameroonians to be united. Come to think of it; the French version says, “Que tous tes enfants du Nord, Sud, de L’ouest à L’est soient toutes en amour………..”Translated into English in its second verse to be, “From Shari, where the Mungo meanders, from along the banks of lowly Boumba stream, muster thy sons in union close around thee, mighty as the Buea Mountain be their team……” This and lots more constitutes differences identified in the nation’s anthem, which have necessitated its review and harmonization.
Anglophone Cameroonians, who constitute 20% of the population of Cameroon, insist on recognition of the country as having two distinct cultural backgrounds, which the national anthem should be sensitive to. The music of the national anthem is a reminder that we Engligh-Speaking Cameroonians are strangers in French territory”, political activist, Eben Gregory, complains.
In trying to unravel this immense quandary, many dignitaries have proposed possible elucidations to this predicament in Cameroon’s unity. Dr. Efoua Mbo lecturer at the University of Yaounde 1 suggests three possibilities of resolving the anthem issue. One, the two versions could be preserved as is the case in Canada and Mauritius. Two, the texts of the two versions are eliminated while only the music is used just like the Spanish National Anthem. And thirdly, a committee be appointed to produce a completely new National Anthem. How is this possible? Others have even asked the question; where are the women in the National Anthem? They have spotted that the only mention of women is in one of the last verses which is seldom sung. This advocate to, “Foster, for mother Africa, a loyalty…..” These advocates have hence, called for harmony in the Anthem, so that it includes women and even God.
Eighty-five years down the road, Cameroonians have learnt, known and sung the National Anthem. Many have mastered the text and lyrics of this “Rallying Song” to the extent that, reviewing it, will mean more harm than good. At a time when some Cameroonians can hardly master the present National Anthem, stakeholders’ of the Cameroon government are about reviewing it. The question now is, can Cameroonians after close to nine decades learn and master a new anthem? Is reviewing the anthem the best option? Time shall tell.