Swedish Ventures in Cameroon, 1883-1923: Trade and Travel, People and Politics: The Memoir of Knut Knutson with Supporting Material

Swedish Ventures in Cameroon, 1883-1923: Trade and Travel, People and Politics: The Memoir of Knut Knutson with Supporting Material

Swedish Ventures in Cameroon, 1883-1923: Trade and Travel, People and Politics: The Memoir of Knut Knutson with Supporting Material

Swedish Ventures in Cameroon, 1883-1923: Trade and Travel, People and Politics: The Memoir of Knut Knutson with Supporting Material

Synopsis

The 1880s were a critical time in Cameroon. A German warship arrived in the Douala estuary and proclaimed Cameroon a protectorate. At that time, two Swedes, Knutson and Waldau, were living on the upper slopes of the Cameroon Mountain. Very little is known about their activities. One, Knutson, wrote a long memoir of his time in Cameroon (1883-1895) which is published here for the first time. It gives fascinating insights into everyday life in Cameroon and into the multifaceted relationships among the various Europeans, and between them and the Africans, at the end of the 19th century; we learn about the Swedes' quarrels first with the Germans and later with the British, over land purchases, thus revealing the origins of long on-going disputes over Bakweri lands. We are given vivid descriptions of Bakweri notables and their, and the Europeans', cultural practices, a rare eye-witness account of the sasswood witchcraft ordeal, and learn about Knutson's friendships with slaves. Together with appended contemporary correspondence, legal opinions, and early (translated) texts, this memoir must be considered as a unique and invaluable primary source for the pre-colonial history of Cameroon.

Excerpt

How I came to edit the memoir

Shirley Ardener

Knutson’s memoir is of interest because of the rarity of early, first-hand, intimate accounts in English of the people of the Cameroon Mountain area before the turn of the last century. There are none in English from the Swedish point of view by someone who lived for several years in the villages at that time, who spoke the local language, and who hunted and traded. Knutson shows us the great events of the day in Cameroon from the ground, looking upwards, as it were. the interrelations between the many contending groups, Cameroonian and foreign, the thoughts of the chiefs and villagers as they respond to the dramatic events taking place, the critical moments changing pre-colonial to colonial times, are vividly expressed in the minutiae of the daily life he describes. Knutson in his memoir and Waldau in his published articles, give us pictures of the lived customs of the people on and around the Cameroon Mountain who became their friends and trading partners.

The memoir, dealing with Knutson’s stay with his friend Waldau, from 1882 to 1896, came my way on a visit to Buea in March 1997. a few days before I left Buea, a copy in the possession of Mr Burnley of Victoria was shown to me privately by Chief Peter Efange. I was excited to see it, since I had long been interested in Knutson and Waldau. in the 1960’s I had seen a note in the Buea National Archives, hand-written in 1884 by Waldau, which said he had ‘bought’ Buea for the German authorities, for a sum in goods valued at less than £25.

Despite this highly significant demarche, the impact of which is felt today, the two Swedes were not normally mentioned in Buea then. Their role on the mountain did not figure in the historical accounts compiled from local oral traditions by Paul Kale (1967) and Dan Matute (1988, 1990). I had referred briefly to the Swedes in an earlier publication (Ardener, S.G. 1968) but the full details of their agreement with the elders of Buea setting out the terms of ‘the purchase of Buea’ was not published until 1996, in Kingdom on Mount Cameroon written by my husband, Edwin. Why Waldau had been buying on behalf of the Germans had . . .

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