Magazine article New African
Cameroon: For Those Who Say Africa Had No Writing System ... According to Orthodox History, Africa Had No Indigenous Writing Systems before the Arrival of the Europeans on Our Shores. the Photos on the Pages Opposite Should Put the Matter to Rest. A Project to Save One of Africa's Indigenous Writing Systems, the Bamum Script, Has Been Launched in Cameroon. Tansa Musa Reports from Yaounde
In a small dusty room inside the walls of the Bamum Palace at Foumban in western Cameroon are held over 7,000 documents, many of which pre-date the arrival in the area of the first Europeans in 1902. These are the Bamum Palace Archives. The documents are written in African languages and transcribed in an indigenous African writing system--the Bamum script of the Cameroon grassfields.
One book chronicles, from the Bamum perspective, the arrival of the first German military officer and trader. Other books are devoted to traditional medicine, the art of love, and the founding of the Bamum kingdom and religion that fuses Christianity, Islam and African religion.
Many leading families in Foumban, the capital of the Bamum kingdom, also have important documents. One family's collection includes early Bamum script on banana leaves.
Another collection is particularly important in that it contains thousands of documents on family and kingdom history, transcripts of speeches given by the Bamum king in the early 20th century, documents dealing with medicine, commentaries on Islam and magic, and many beautiful maps of the kingdom with place names and geographic features identified in the indigenous Bamum script.
These documents, says Dr. Konrad Tuchscherer, professor of African History at St John's University in New York, USA, are all endangered. The documents, and those in private hands, he adds, suffer from the ravages of the environment. Other threats are theft and sale, fuelled by the international trade in Bamum art and antiquities.
It is against this background that in February the US ambassador to Cameroon launched the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project, a 15-month project to preserve "the most important collection of manuscripts written in indigenous scripts in Africa south of the Sahara". …