Remembering 'The Troubles': Reproductive Insecurity and the Management of Memory in Cameroon

By Feldman-Savelsberg, Pamela; Ndonko, Flavien T. et al. | Africa, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

Remembering 'The Troubles': Reproductive Insecurity and the Management of Memory in Cameroon


Feldman-Savelsberg, Pamela, Ndonko, Flavien T., Yang, Song, Africa


ABSTRACT

The 'time of troubles', a period of a radical nationalist movement (the UPC) and state reprisals sometimes called the Bamileke Rebellion, rocked Cameroon during the years surrounding its Independence in 1960. At the time, Bamileke women related their political and economic tribulations to numerous reproductive difficulties. They continue to do so today, linking perceived threats to their ethnic distinctiveness and survival to a sense of reproductive vulnerability. In this paper we explore the management of collective memories of the troubles as part of the social and cultural context of reproduction in a high-fertility society. Building upon extensive fieldwork among the Bamileke since the 1980s, we use data from participant observation, intensive interviews, and a two-round social network survey in six Bamileke women's associations in Yaounde. Envisioned as a complement to a meaning-centred ethnographic approach, we are interested in several interrelated aspects of how urban Bamileke women manage their repertoire of memory. First, we explore how the 'time of troubles' and its memories are referenced in women's images of reproductive threat in three periods of Cameroonian history (the troubles themselves, the aftermath of a regime change, and the 'crisis' at the turn to the new millennium). Second, we seek to understand the social structuring of memory in network terms. Who are the carriers of memories of 'the troubles'? And through which social ties are these memories transmitted and negotiated? Finally, drawing upon Mannheim's insights regarding generations and collective memory, we analyse cohort effects on the content of memories.

RESUME

La << periode de troubles >> marquee par un mouvement nationaliste radical (I'UPC) et des represailles de l'Etat, parfois appelee rebellion Bamileke, a secoue le Cameroun dans les annees qui ont precede et suivi son independance en 1960. A l'epoque, les femmes bamileke liaient leurs tribulations politiques et economiques aux nombreuses difficultes de reproduction. Elles continuent de le faire aujourd'hui, en etablissant un lien entre les menaces percues pour leur specificite ethnique et leur survie, et un sentiment de vulnerabilite reproductive. Cet article examine la gestion des memoires collectives des troubles dans le contexte social et culturel de la reproduction dans une societe dont le taux de fecondite est eleve. S'appuyant sur les abondants travaux menes chez les Bamileke depuis les annees 1980, l'article se sert de donnees d'observation, d'entretiens approfondis et d'une etude de reseau social en deux phases porrant sur six associations de femmes bamileke a Yaounde. Envisage comme un complement d'approche ethnographique centree sur le sens, l'article s'interesse aux aspects interdependants de la question de savoir comment les femmes urbaines bamileke gerent leur repertoire de memoire. Il commence par etudier le mode de referencement de la << periode de troubles >>, et de ses souvenirs dans l'image qu'ont les femmes de la menace pour la reproduction au cours de trois periodes de l'histoire camerounaise (les troubles eux-memes, les retombees du changement de regime et la << crise >> a l'aube de ce nouveau millenaire). Il cherche ensuite a comprendre la structuration sociale de la memoire en termes de reseau. Qui sont les porteurs de memoires des << troubles >>? Quels sont les liens sociaux a travers lesquels ces memoires sont transmises et negociees? Enfin, s'inspirant des idles de Mannheim sur les generations et la memoire collective, l'article analyse les effets de cohorte sur le contenu des memoires.

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It is easy to imagine how biographical memories of reproductive trauma may profoundly affect an individual's subsequent reproductive behaviour, from seeking a 'replacement child' after a loss to giving the body a rest through contraception (Bledsoe 2002). Less immediately apparent but equally important are how memories of reproductive trauma on a macro-social level, including those regarding ethnic conflict and threats to cultural distinctiveness, affect the reproduction of 'fresh people' (1) as well as deep concerns with social reproduction. …

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