Academic journal article Africa

Slow Going: The Mortuary, Modernity and the Hometown Association in Bali-Nyonga, Cameroon

Academic journal article Africa

Slow Going: The Mortuary, Modernity and the Hometown Association in Bali-Nyonga, Cameroon

Article excerpt


The article describes a new mortuary in Cameroon, which has been constructed in a government hospital by the Bali-Nyonga Development and Cultural Association (BANDECA). The history and character of this hometown association is analysed and the article then argues that the mortuary has changed the temporality of death celebrations, and that this change is largely driven by the needs of national and international migrants. It claims that the association and the traditional authorities are attempting to steer recent changes within a longer historical process of 'modernizing' burial. The construction of the mortuary reveals some of the tensions within the community and the challenges these present to the association's leadership. In particular it illustrates the potential conflicts of interest between the hometown association and the national government that result from this form of self-help development project. Finally, the article shows that, despite the increased mobility of the Bali-Nyonga population, it is becoming more important, not less, to be buried at 'home', and that the mortuary and remittances are contributing to this process. Since the mortuary enables burials to take place at home, BANDECA is unwittingly reinscribing ethnic territoriality and thereby contributing to a political process of deepening the sense of ethnic belonging in Cameroon.


L'article decrit une nouvelle morgue au Cameroun, construite dans un hopital public par l'association BANDECA (Bali-Nyonga Development and Cultural Association). Apres une analyse de l'histoire et du caractere de cette association, l'article soutient que la morgue a modifie la temporalite des celebrations de la mort et que ce changement est essentiellement determine par les besoins des migrants nationaux et internationaux. Il affirme que l'association et les autorites traditionnelles tentent d'orienter les changements recents dans le cadre d'un processus historique plus ancien de "modernisation" de l'enterrement. La construction de la morgue revele certaines des tensions qui existent au sein de la communaute et les difficultes que celles-ci presentent aux dirigeants de l'association. En particulier, il illustre les conflits d'interets potentiels entre l'association et le gouvernement national qui resultent de cette forme de projet de developpement d'entraide. Enfin, l'article montre qu'en depit de la mobilite accrue de la population de Bali-Nyonga, il devient plus important, et non moins, d'etre enterre dans sa ville natale et que la morgue et les sommes versees contribuent a ce processus. Puisque la morgue permet aux enterrements d'avoir lieu dans la ville natale, BANDECA reinscrit involontairement la territorialite ethnique et contribue par la-meme a un processus politique de renforcement du sens d'appartenance ethnique au Cameroun.


From the centre of the small town of Bali-Nyonga it is a short walk down the newly tarred highway to the junction with the earth road that leads to the government hospital. Behind the freshly painted hospital buildings is the new mortuary, a wide, single-storey white structure in good condition. It is made up of three sections: an office, the building containing the 'fridge' and a covered area that can be used by vehicles or people when they come to deliver or collect a corpse. Benches have been provided where people can sit and wait. The 'fridge' has the capacity to store forty-five corpses in fifteen chambers and is the largest in the Northwest Province. For an extra payment a corpse can receive a superior level of care in the mortuary: this guarantees that there will be no doubling up of corpses within the chamber and allows the relatives of the corpse to keep the key (enabling access at times of their own choosing). There is a back-up generator to ensure continuous electricity supply. The basic cost of keeping a corpse in the mortuary in 2007 was 5,000 CFA francs a day (around five pounds) though there are also reduced rates for members of BANDECA, the hometown association that equipped the mortuary. …

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