Mémoire refoulée, manipulée, instrumentalisée

Chetima Melchisedek
  • Cahiers d études africaines, July 2015, OpenEdition
  • DOI: 10.4000/etudesafricaines.18119

Memories of Slavery through Oral Traditions in Africa

What is it about?

This paper offers an historical analysis of the memories of slavery in Northern Cameroun. Entitled "Mémoire refoulée, manipulée, instrumentalisée: Enjeux de la transmission de la mémoire servile dans les Monts Mandara du Cameroun,” the paper was published in 2015 in the Cahiers d’études africaines, the premier journal of African anthropological and historical studies in France. In it, I use written sources and oral histories to understand how the memory of slavery continues to structure social hierarchies, architectures and cultural sensibilities in the Mandara Mountains of northern Cameroon. Up to the 1980s, I find that public discourses occulted slavery. People transmitted the memory of the slave past through symbolic media: songs, myths, and vernacular architecture. After the 1980s, a new memory process emerged, shaped by a new emphasis on resistance and victimization. In retelling the history of being sold as slaves by Muslim warriors and traders, the residents of the Mandara Mountains reversed the negative meaning of slavery. Now they use it to celebrate their resistance to Islam, to claim an identity as historical victims, and to voice political claims. This new narrative congeals around being Kirdi, a new regional and trans-religious identity claimed by Christians and pagans in the mountains.

Why is it important?

This article offers a deep historical research on early periods of history with archeological and architectural sources, alongside written archives and oral histories; it offers compelling narratives that help us to understand key issues of the present through the African past. In addition, the study engages with nineteenth century explorations (Clapperton and Barth), classic anthropological studies in French and in English (Juillerat, Van Santen), works conducted by Cameroonian scholars (Alawadi, Bah Mouktar), and general theorists such as Achille Mbembe on the state in Africa, Pierre Nora on memory sites, and Tzvetan Todorov on victim’s memory.


Melchisedek Chétima (Author)
University of Ottawa

The most original aspect was his use of oral traditions and housing design to think about a number of subjects such as memory of slavery, social differentiation, ethnicity, and social changes. Moreover, the paper is important insofar as it opens up the possibility of different paths for future research.

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The following have contributed to this page: Melchisedek Chétima