This collection of poems celebrates the prowess of the Takembeng, a militant female secret society in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. The poems address human rights violations, rape of democracy, misgovernment, and other forms of societal ills that plague post-colonial Cameroon. It is written in impeccable Standard English. The strength of the book resides in the vastness of the thematic terrain broached.
The Takumbeng, a female secret society in the Northwest Region, has played a critical role in changing the political landscape of Cameroon. The militancy of this group has empowered rural and urban women in their strife to ensure democratic governance and human rights protection under the regime of Paul Biya. It should be noted that Takumbeng has been in existence since the pre-colonial era but came into the limelight in the 1990s in the wake of political liberalization in Cameroon that ushered in a new dispensation, following the launch of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) on May 26, 1990. The group derives its name from the society of Princes in the Bafut fondom (Fonchingong and Tanga, 2007) but its members hail from the fondoms of Akum, Bafut, Bambui, Bambili, Kedjom Keku, Kedjom Ketinguh, Mendankwe, Chomba, Nkwen, and Santa. The strength of the Takumbeng resides in its numerical value and mobilization for the course of social justice. They became prominent at the time of Cameroon’s uneasy transition from unitary to multiparty politics in the early 90s (Takougang & Kieger, 1998).
There is no gainsaying the fact the Takumbeng and its precursors, the Anlu and Fombwen have contributed significantly to shaping the course of political activism in Cameroon. These valiant women have lent their voice to opposition parties’ demands for political freedoms in the country. The role of the Takumbeng in matters of social cohesion cannot be underestimated. The group functions as agents of ritualistic cleansing, enjoining women to refrain from of acts deprecation such as adultery, alcoholism, witchcraft, and gossip.
This secret society plays a role analogous to that played by male secret societies in the Grassfields of Cameroon such as Kwifon, Tifuan, Nwo and Ngwerung. Takumbeng uses occult powers to check excesses in the community. Their modus operandi of using nudity to cast aspersions on evildoers has been transformed into a powerful tool now used by women to press for political freedoms in Cameroon. Kah (2011) observes that “The display of nakedness of the African woman was and remains her expression of anger and outrage at both public injustice and private male viciousness” (73). The women utilize their bodies as combat tools; stripping themselves naked when threatened by authority figures. This is based on the belief that an exposed vagina is an ill omen in the Grassfields of Cameroon.
Kah (2011) notes that the symbolic power of the vagina was used by the Takumbeng to cow gun-toting soldiers in Bamenda into submission in the early 1990s following the re-introduction of multiparty politics in Cameroon. The militancy of the Takumbeng gained leverage during the Ghost Town operations or Villes Mortes in Cameroon initiated by opposition parties in a bid to force Paul Biya out of office. At that time, these women used their bodies as symbolic and metaphorical devices to subvert the dominant discourse of manipulation. The practice of undressing and exposing their nudity constitutes the magic wand employed adeptly by these women.
In general, the Takumbeng is composed of post-menopausal women believed to be immune to witchcraft, sorcery and effects of traditional medicine or megan. These women exert considerable influence on the community,and are sometimes capable of performing ritual roles that were, hitherto, denied them (Awasom, 2002). It must be underscored that during the current dispensation in Cameroon, the Takumbeng has metamorphosed from an indigenous secret society into a contemporary resistance group determined to put an end to political intransigence, abuse of human rights, economic doldrums and social asphyxiation. The political activism of the Takumbeng is comparable to the momentum gathered by the activities of other female resistance movements in Africa, such as the Aba riots of 1929 (Fonchingong and Tanga, 2007), the activities of Kenyan women involved in the Mau Mau war of liberation (1952-1957), the Pare Women’s resistance in Tanzania (Feierman, 1990) and the protest movement of women in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
The collective resolve of the Takumbeng and commitment to social justice are legacies that Cameroon owes this group of resilient women. The evolution of the Takumbeng from the status of a secret society to that of a resistance movement has yielded dividends for opposition parties in Cameroon given the unalloyed support that this group has lent to proponents of democratic governance and social purgation in Cameroon. The actions of the Takumbeng have engendered a culture of social protest and political consciousness in Cameroon.
In sum, the militancy of the Takumbeng has had economic, cultural, social and political ramifications for the New Deal in Cameroon. During the pro-democracy turbulence in Cameroon, the Takumbeng showed proof of women’s leadership capabilities by playing a myriad of roles—mobilization and raising awareness of the public through civil disobedience campaigns, lampooning acts of injustice through demonstrations, educating the masses on questions of human rights violations, monitoring the voting process and more. For all these reasons and more, this collection of poems is intended to be a celebration of the prowess of the Takumbeng, a sorority that has become a force to reckon with.
Notes: Takumbeng and Takembeng are orthographical variations of the same lexeme.