“In Africa, in Days Gone By…”: Gender, Intellectualism, and the Philosophizing of Cameroonian History

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Jacqueline-Bethel Tchouta Mougoue, Baylor University
This paper explores how female newspaper columnists in urban 1960s Anglophone Cameroon shaped narratives about Cameroon’s pre-independence past. Whereas a wider West African culture anointed men as Griots, professional storytellers, female intellectuals in this period, civil servants and wives of prominent politicians, carved new spaces of authority in part through philosophical interpretations of the past that emphasized the importance of women throughout African history. They garnered intellectual and social power as well as shaping and developing ideas about gender norms. While there is much work on how male African intellectuals adopted various ideologico-philosophical systems in their analyses of Africa’s past (e.g. Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara), examining the works of Anglophone Cameroonian female journalists complicates larger narratives about how urban West African political elites philosophized African history. I argue that these intellectuals used dedicated women’s advice newspaper columns to shape philosophical historical narratives primarily couched in the language of women’s social and political advancement. While the factual bases of their historical narratives may be questionable, their impact was clear in letters challenging their authority as well as applauding it. By selecting aspects of the past to import to the contemporary period, female journalists simultaneously shaped and reshaped ideas of Cameroon’s political, social, and gendered past by placing women at the epicenter of philosophical interpretations of history. Thus, the use of print media represents and reveals how a selected literate elite group in urban Anglophone Cameroon understood the past and how they used these varied understandings to construct ideas about women’s emancipation, gender norms, and cultural values in 1960s urban Cameroon. By employing unique philosophical interpretations of Cameroon’s pre-independence past, urban educated female elites played a fundamental role in human thought, invoking notions of human agency, change, the role of material circumstances in human affairs, and the putative meaning of historical events.
<< Previous Presentation | Next Presentation