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Quinn - 1987 - The Impact of the First World War and Its Aftermat

Quinn - 1987 - The Impact of the First World War and Its Aftermat

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Published by colonialismhistory
similiar to
Quinn Frederik. An African Reaction to World War I : the Beti of Cameroon.. In: Cahiers d'études africaines. Vol. 13 N°52. . pp. 722-731.

doi : 10.3406/cea.1973.2682
url : http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cea_0008-0055_1973_num_13_52_2682
similiar to
Quinn Frederik. An African Reaction to World War I : the Beti of Cameroon.. In: Cahiers d'études africaines. Vol. 13 N°52. . pp. 722-731.

doi : 10.3406/cea.1973.2682
url : http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cea_0008-0055_1973_num_13_52_2682

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Published by: colonialismhistory on Nov 20, 2012
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07/24/2013

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9 The Impact
of
the FirstWorld
War
anditsAftermath
on
the Beti ofCameroun
FREDERICKQUINN
Wan rarelycomeat
pr
opitioustimesf
or
their
participants,and
the
First
World War came at
an
especially difficult time fortheBeti, a
group of recent migrants intotherain forest
of
central Cameroun. The
Beti
societyhadonly justestablishedthemselves
in
the corridorbetween the Nyong
and
SanagaRivers when theGermans arrivedthereaswell.Withinlittle more than twodecades, this fragile, acephelous societyunderwenta complete change
of
leadership.
Headmen,therulers
of
traditionalBeti society, were supplanted by
an
order
of
chiefsappointed by
the Germans,
who,
in
turn,
werereplaced
by
otherchiefswhenthe Frenchestablished alocaladministration in Yaounde
in
the
1920s.
There wereother
striking changes aswell.Thousands
of
Beti menwere forced
to
leavefanningtowork as labourers on the coastal-inlandrailroad,where the death rate was
high.
Theybecame
manpower
for
European
concerns-military,commercial, and administrative.
The
result
of
these 20-odd years
of
contact with the
Gennans,
climaxing intheFirst WorldWarand widespreaddemandsforlocal troops, pluspost war conflictswith the French,was to leave the localsocietyfragmented. To understand the war'simpact
more
fully it
is
usefulto consider thestate of traditionalBetisociety
on
the eve
of
theGerman arrival
in
Cameroun inthe1890s.
There
wereperhaps 500,000Beti,a Bantu-speaking society, whose slowmigrationfromthe northern tipof
the
Camerounian rain forest towardthe coast'insearch
of
salt'was
171
 
172
Tlrt
8('fi
o[C11mermm
~neued
by
the
Ge
rm
an
arri~al
in
c,u
n
croun.
Gco~rn
ph
ically.
tilt
Be1i
occupy
p4111
ofthe
Ce
n!ml
l'
l
atc01
uiutlwmodern
~la
te
or
Ca~roun.
his
ge
nerally
n~
t
terrain
.r"ucd
with inscl
bc
r
s$
afi!J
ettbed
wilh
sharply-eroded ravines.
Hca''
> r:oinf"
ll
duringt
wo
rainy
seasonsa
yta
rhascontr
ibutcdtn th
egr:tdu:ll
w:
r
~
hin,awayofSOOd
soi
l
.leavi
n&late
rit
e
in
manyplaces.TheOc
ti
uri!!in;olly
rmctised
small·scalc shiftingagricuhurc inthiss.:
nin
8 withsmallf:mn
ri
ots
l
aboriouslyc
lc
~red
f
ro
m
th
ethickgr
owth,
culti•·atcd
fl>r
tw
oot
th
r
~
years.
nd
abandoned
f
or
new
fieldsa fewmilesdtstaut
The
most conspicuous
units
of
Bcti
soc
icl
)'
w~·rcs
c~·cr~lthousand
au1onomousminimal lin
eage
co
re
segment
s.
cotc
hthe
struc
tural
dup
lica
te
of !he o
tht("!;
.
Theywere
COffi['JOSC
tl
of
a
hc;~dman.
his
wi~
!Rdchi
l
dren,theheadman'sunmarricdbrothe
i'$.Ci
icnts
aua
ched
to
thehou5c:hold,a
nd
sl
av
es.
These
cellular
units.
called
mla
bod
('holM
andfamily
')
.
retained
th
ei
r politi
calindependence
;uldresidential
auto
n
omy
formost
of
their
existence.
A
Germ<~n
explorer
who
uavc\lcd
thr
ough
the
Be
ti
la
ndssaid
a
m<~p
of
them
wo
uld
be
as
kaleidoscopic
as
a
map
of
German
principalities
of
theMidd
le
Agcs-1
The
headman
of
eachunit
was
called
mit
dzol
a
('
mold
er
of
tile
compound'), whose
control
was
virtually
comple
te
ove
r his compou.nd,
but
nowhere
el
se
.
He
ownedth
e
land
and
was
given
sh
ar
esof
any111inc
Jrownon
it
or
kill
edby hunt
e
rs
on i
t.
as
well
u
a
paymtt~
t
frorn
the trade
soods
m
ovina
in
eitherdir
ec
t
ion
across
hisl
and.
Thc
Beti temporarily formed larger
unh
s
throuah
asys
tem
of
i
nfr
eq
uent
councils
convened
for
warf
are,
ritual
action.such
asto
war
d o
ffcrop
f~lurc,
Of
f!)l'
a
periodic initiationritefor
young
men
name
d after the
SJo
a
ntelo
pe.
However,
suc
h
ga
th
er
inp
soon
diS501ved
when
theirlimited
purposew
uac
hieved.
ln
such
a
fragiles
etting
,
much
time
wasspent
see
kingconsensus; otherwise,
itwould
be im
poss
ible
for
t
he
Beti
to
act
wilhcommonaccord,
for
Beti
councils
had
no
power
to
makeor caforcedecisions.and Beti
headmencherished
th
e
ir
indepcnden~
of
action.
Traditi
on~
!
warfare
amo
ns
the
Beti
was largel
y
armed
disput
e5
amo
n1 male kinsmen
or
with neighbouring
sroups,and
the
re
ne
ver
re
Mil'
aene
ral wars,as
for
insta
nce,
between
the
Beti
and
the
Du
ala.
The
Beti practised1form
of
limited
warfare
in
which
only
wooden
dubs
wereallowed
iMtead
of
lances,
andan
o
pponent
co
uld
be
struckwith
the
side
of
ama
chett
e,
but
notlhe
bla
de
.
The
causes
of
di5put
t$
couldinclude
adultery
or
theft
of
a
wom
a
n,
sorcery
ICCIISI.tions,
disputu
over
land,
anim
al
trespass.
hunlina
or
fishinJ
riJha,
or
avenPnaattac:ks
on
akinsman
who
w
as
ins
ull
edor
robbed
 
rr~dukk
Quinn
173
whil
e
tr
avelli
ngthr
oug
h
;not
hertribcsm
a
n'sterrit
ory.Warfarewithlarger
sroups
ofBeti.
or
with otherneighbouring$0cieties, wascharacteri
sed
by3mbushes
and
raids.Themainweaponswere lances.
ue~.
mnchettes. crossbows, bows
and
arrows. andeventually,
European
OintlockstheBetisaid sounded
"like
thepopping ofdriedcorn
in
a
fire"
.
·'
Th
is.then
wast
hefrag
il
eBeticulture in Camerounat the time ofthe
European
advancementin the late nineteenthcentury.
De
~r
i t
c:
their
mo
vement closer
to
thecoast.the
Bc:1i
~re
notamong thefirstAfricans
to
confrontEuropeans
in
the
Oennan
drivetoestablish a
co
lonyalongtheBightof
Bi
afra.AlthoughCameroun wasdeclared
a
German
oolonyin1884.lt wasnot until
1887
tht
the
Germans
cameto
Yaoun~.
the namethey gave toa Beti compoundwheretheybuilt astationthat eventuallybecame the country's capital. Originallyt
he:
Germans
~re
lookingforivoryand for ways
totapthcluerati
ve
ivorytr
adc:t
heBritishhadest
abl
ishcdtowardthe
No
rthin
A.
damawa.
The
Ya
ound4!
station,
for
mu
ch
of
its
uistence.
was thus principallyajumping-offpoint for German pacification and
tradecarava
n
smov
in&furtherinland.
There
were
so
meexamples
of
armed c:onnict
bet~en
the Betiandthe
Germans
inthe p
os
c-1887period,buttheywerealways sporadic andisolated, usually the workof afew headmen
over
spc:c:ifte:
iNuessuch
as
insistin&
thll
passingcuavans
paytribute to Beti headmenwhose lands they traveBCd.SomeBeti thou&Jttthey might lose their lands
or
women
to
the neweomers;stillothers
~re
used to
wufare
as
away
of
de
alingwithinterlopers.However, there was
no
pneral
Betiresistance
to
theGermans;moreover, there
was
really
no
possibility that theBeti could
orpnise
along lines thatwould effectivelycontesttheGermans,since
tr
aditionalBeti warfare
depended
on
individual bravery
or
ambushesbysmaiiJrOUpi.While
some
Beti
banled
sporadieallywith the
Germans
for several
yean,
ochers
soon
allied themselveswith the Germans,
abandonins
warfarefor work with theadministration,traders,
and
missionaries.This
alto
limited the
prospectS
of
warfare
b«
ause,
u
thi1 class
of
Beti
fultCCionl
ries
cn!a
ted
by
lhe actministralion moved
into
posiliom
of
power,
it
WI$
intheirinteRSIS to
ddcourqe
retilulnce
and
promole
pacifica.cion
.
NonetJaelea, there
~n:
moac who continued
paaive
R$iii
i
TICe
to the
Gennan
praenoe,
as
described
in a
Beli
proverb:
'I
will
model
mywlf
Ofllbe
lizard; swallowed
by
me
dtitkem,
he left
bil
legs
limp
and
ipread
0111'.4
By
1900
miliwy
incidents were
few
in
LM;
yaov.ndt
reJiOfl.A network
of
ro~cb:
and
tta.il1allowodtbc

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