Academic journal article Africa

Making Ethnic Elites: Ritual Poetics in a Cameroonian Lycee

Academic journal article Africa

Making Ethnic Elites: Ritual Poetics in a Cameroonian Lycee

Article excerpt


This case study of youth cultural production in Cameroon examines how lycee students introduce idioms of tradition and the ancestral past into the lycee context by creating a club modelled on a dance society popular in the region. In pre-colonial rural Tupuriland, the gurna society was a key site for the moral-sexual socialisation of youth and a cultural political arena where competition was staged between individuals and villages during death celebrations. Today, the gurna remains popular in Tupuri villages, though it has been recreated in urban contexts and modern institutions where members use its forms to mediate new social relations and modern realities. This paper explores the meanings, functions, and effects of the creation of the 'Gurna Club' by students in the Lycee de Doukoula, by examining students' Youth Day dance performances, vibrant song discourse, and nostalgia for earlier forms of indigenous socialisation (e.g. the gurna, youth initiation, and wrestling). By inserting the communal poetics of the gurna, into the lycee, Tupuri youth seek to yoke multiple facets of their identity, making visible their desire to be gurna, even as they pursue their civic obligations as students. In creating the Gurna Club, students begin to participate in an increasing trend in Cameroon toward the use of idioms of parochialism (such as ethnically based elite associations) as strategies for garnering national power and recognition.


Cette etude de cas sur la production culturelle des jeunes au Cameroun examine la maniere dont des eleves de lycee introduisent des idiomes de tradition et de passe ancestral dans le contexte du lycee en creant un club inspire d'une societe de danse tres appreciee dans la region. Dans le Tupuriland rural precolonial, la societe gurna etait un lieu cle de socialisation morale et sexuelle des jeunes et une arene politico-culturelle au sein de laquelle la concurrence etait mise en scene entre individus et villages au cours de celebrations de la mort. Aujourd'hui, le gurna reste apprecie dans les villages tupuri, meme s'il a ete recree dans des contextes urbains et des institutions modernes dont les membres utilisent ses formes pour faciliter de nouveaux rapports sociaux et realites modernes. Ce papier etudie les significations, les fonctions et les effets de la creation du Club Gurna par les eleves du lycee de Doukoula, en examinant les spectacles de danse donnes a l'occasion de la Journee de la jeunesse, le discours vibrant des chansons et la nostalgie de formes anciennes de socialisation indigene (ex. le gurna, l'initiation des jeunes et la lutte). En introduisant le poetique communal du gurna dans le lycee, les jeunes Tupuri cherchent a lier des facettes multiples de leur identite, en rendant visible leur desir d'etre gurna, alors meme qu'ils accomplissent leurs obligations civiques en tant qu'eleves. En errant le Club Gurna, les eleves commencent a participer a une tendance croissante au Cameroun, a savoir l'usage d'idiomes de parochialisme (tels qu'associations d'elites basees sur l'ethnie) en tant que strategies d'obtention de reconnaissance et de pouvoir national.


Africans ... are not so much faced with the dilemma of letting go of tradition as much as letting tradition go its own course. [Hecht and Simone 1994: 133]

Classic studies of youth culture (e.g. Hall and Jefferson 1976; Hebdige 1979; Willis 1977), as well as more recent contributions (Fuglesang 1994; Liechty 1995; Schade-Poulson 1995; McRobbie 2000; MacGaffey and Bazenguissa-Ganga 2000), have focused on the potential for resistance, rebellion, and social critique in the new cultural forms produced and consumed by young people. Although the cultural forms themselves may have older roots--for example, hip hop music has clear antecedents in African American and African poetic forms (Perkins 1996)--youth culture is usually characterised by its innovativeness, modernity, and high-tech veneer. …

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