Fr Johannes Emonts, S.C.J.

Ins Steppen-und Bergland Innerkameruns 1922 (2nd edition 1927), Xavierus, Aachen, pp. 265-276.

[Father Emonts had set out on a long journey, with a permanent core of Nso' carriers, and others recruited on the way, to collect boys for the Mission School at Shishong. He was well received at Mbot, Tang-Mbo (Tabeken), and Chup, but at Nchanti both carriers and food were at first refused by its Chief so his carriers had to steal from the fields. Emonts, gun on shoulder, finally threatened the Chief with reprisals; some carriers were finally produced and they set off. After four or five hours of trekking over rocky paths they came to a small compound where they asked the way to Lagabum. Fr Emonts underestimated the time it would take to reach the area, and to find the right river crossings. His party crossed a torrent with many waterfalls by a new tie-tie bridge and entered a rocky forest which gave place to a steep and stony wilderness. Both he and the carriers were exhausted by now. He refreshed them with some wild honey he had been given in Mbot and Tang-Mbo. He had sent his Boy ahead to ask the Chief for torches, as night was falling, and for some extra carrier help. Eventually rescue came at dusk, to the unspeakable joy of the carriers.]

We were fortunately accommodated in the secure mountain-top nest of the Chief of Bafumbum, who came forward to meet us in friendly fashion and greeted me warmly. He advised me to go and rest and said he would look after the carriers and take charge of everything. Bafumbum lies on the main route from Bamenda to the Kentu Post, so I found there a roomy Rest House. I was soon lying down, dog-tired, on my camp bed. I felt no hunger.

I stayed in Bafumbum for two days. On the first I slept till about ten o'clock. I was still knocked out, and after having read my missal I lay down again on my camp bed and covered myself up warmly. It was icy cold up here, the sky was overcast and so cloudy one could not see the next range of mountains. The mountain top and Rest House were in the midst of cloud. I got so cold that I was obliged to have a small fire lit in my room. The Chief came to ask how I was and brought me eggs and palm wine - I mixed the latter, finding it sharp, with honey.

By the afternoon I felt much better. The weather remained dreadful, with thick cloud. It was the start of the rains, as the Chief pointed out: he was with me for most of the time. He was a youngish man, in his mid-thirties, with a friendly, pleasant appearance and of a refined, aristocratic bearing. He spoke fluent Pidgin so that I could converse with him without an interpreter. He was an interesting man, who understood my plans for a school and education, and was very ready to give me some boys for the new Mission School in Bansso. He begged me to build a school in his village soon so that the boys would not need to travel so far and especially so that the whole tribe could take part in the modern advances. He asked after the Bansso Chief whose father and his had been close friends. I gave him news and accounts of Europe and of mission life: he never tired of listening and asking questions. He was a fine chief with a European rather than an African outlook. While elsewhere I had been generally plagued by demands for presents, even from chiefs, there was not the least breath of this from him; rather, he gave my Boy a small chicken and, unasked, rustled up for me the provisions I needed.

That evening I went to bed early to sleep off the last remnants of my fatigue. The next day was an overcast, cold, rainy day so an excursion into the neighbourhood was out of the question; so, with the Chief, I examined his compound. He took me to every corner of it... even the most secret sections to which only particular initiated persons can be admitted. I was even admitted to his bedchamber, carpeted with a fine mat and leopardskins. On the second afternoon I sat for a long time with the Chief and his men in the large but cosy drinking-hall, where I gave them palm wine at my expense, and where all sorts of tales were told, which the Chief translated. It was hard to believe that one was sitting among so-called "uncivilized" people.


It cleared up a bit in the evening. A mountain wind dispersed the mists and I was able, as twilight fell, to take a walk round the neighbourhood and the Chief's village. Through the open doors I could see into the huts - the people crouching round the small fires, the women flitting about with waterpots on their heads, the children helping or story-telling, the lads strumming on home-made instruments. People were laughing, talking, humming tunes. I counted twenty-three people in one small room, listening to a soldier from Bamenda telling stories of his campaigns, while his Boy... roasted a chicken... I went in and made a twenty-fourth. The people here are not so reserved as elsewhere since the route from Bamenda has accustomed them to the passage of European caravans and soldiers.

There followed a lively conversation with the soldier who had served some ten years and had taken part in most of the battles of the period.... Much of what he said seemed unbelievable, but I must record that even to this intrepid, hardened, well-drilled, long-service soldier from the wilds the unbelievable must have seemed possible. It was terribly hot and smoky in the hut, but I forced myself to stay, fascinated: it would have been a pity to miss the best parts of his narration, which included the defeat of the Bansso, in which he had taken part.

After supper the Chief visited me again to introduce the boys he had selected for me - wide-awake small boys, the youngest of whom was his best beloved....Said the Chief,

This one is my Kembi. I am handing him over to you, Whiteman, though I don't like to part with him. He is the one I love best, but for that reason he must go with you, because you will be able to rear him better than I, make him into a good man and teach him something... I have been talking to your Boy; I would like mine to be as clever and brisk and honest as he is. He has told me all about you and the Mission....

Then, after giving the boys some wise warnings and advice, he departed.... I must confess I had not expected to meet such a chief in this rocky wilderness. I began to realize, what I was henceforward to be aware of, that, under a simple exterior and black skin, better principles and finer feelings were to be discovered than in many a European heart. On my later visits to Bafumbum I learned to value the Chief even more. I was never disappointed in him.

[Fr Emonts had originally intended to travel from Bum, to visit Lake Nyos and places as far as Dumbo but was warned by the Chief of the difficulties he would meet in travelling during the rainy season, with swollen rivers and slippery paths. He promised to help with carriers. Fr Emonts decided to return to Nso' the next day. He delayed his departure for half an hour to say farewell to the Chief, and then set off, with extra Bum carriers, for Kumbe [Ngunakimbi], the small boys apparently unworried by such a sudden departure from home.]

On our way we met an old lady coming from the farm with a full basket and clambering up the hill. No sooner had she seen Kembi than she halted, wringing her hands, and called to him. She was his grandmother. The boy ran over and told her that he was going with the Whiteman to school in Bansso, and the other boys ran over too, to say goodbye to her. There were tears in her eyes. She looked sadly at the children and threw me a questioning look. I knew what she meant: she though I was taking the child away for good.... She mistrusted the Whites... she feared for Kembi. I told her that the child would come to no harm, would be well looked after, and that in a year's time I would bring him home.

There followed an unforgettable scene. The old lady drew the children to her and said something softly into their ears, then with spittle on her thumb she drew a line on their foreheads and breast, adding some secret words, and the children did the same to her. The scene was so moving that my own eyes filled with tears. It was as if she had blessed the children with the sign of the cross.... After final hugs, we started. The old grandmother watched for a long time and the children called a last farewell. [Fr Emonts is reminded of his parting from his ailing mother who wondered whether she would ever see him again. In fact she died and he never saw her again. He walks sadly behind the carriers, homesick.]

We arrived early in Kumbe [Ngunakimbi] where we found very few men but many women and children. It belongs to the chiefdom of Bafumbum. On our entry our carriers sang songs in their language, otherwise the women and children would have probably run to hide at my appearance, that of a white ghost. As I later heard, this was the first time a whiteman had visited them. You can imagine the surprise and the open-mouthed curiosity....

I pitched my tent in a small open space, in the middle of which stood a tiny hut, the size of a middling hen-house. This, I was to learn, was a spirit-hut in the middle of which there was a small sacrificial stone, which was smeared with oil and camwood during ancestor sacrifice, and over which the blood of a slaughtered fowl was allowed to flow. As I peered around the sacred hut and opened the little door to examine it more closely the women began to shriek and some carriers begged me not to disturb anything so as not to anger the spirits. There was...such fear in their eyes that I gave up my examination....

Before my departure next day the women serenaded me singing and dancing as is their wont... their children on their backs and leading the older ones. It seems that last night when I had stroked the babies' fat backs and given some a half-lump of sugar in the hand, the latter had been more to their mothers' taste than theirs! I said a few words and gave them all a little present. So they accompanied me on my way for a good quarter of an hour.

[The party then ran into a heavy rainstorm which chilled them to the bone. Fr Emonts drove them on until they reached a small compound where they sheltered. The next day they reached Nkoll (Nkor), which was also empty of men, who had been called out for roadworks, and where they found plenty of free accommodation. We have now left Bum. The party stopped at an unnamed small village where the Chief's house was covered with strange red and white wall-paintings of men and animals (Dom ?), then reached Jottin, and from thence Kimbo. This was Fr Emonts' first missionary journey and, as he makes clear, it was one that taught him a great deal. We can probably date it, on internal evidence, to the rainy season of 1913, though this date would need to be checked from the mission records of the Sacerdotes Cordis Jesu, i.e. Dehonians or Sittard Fathers.]

Glossary Contents Working Notes
Sally Chilver's Field Diary Phyllis Kaberry Fieldnotes Published Account

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