Joe Mozingo: From Whence I Came

Mozingo, a white American, recounts his trip to Cameroon in search of his ancestors @ Guernica.This was where the thread first came into view, an old stone palace miles up a rutted dirt track, alone in the gum resin trees and elephant grass. We parked next to the wives’ quarters, a small village of soot-blackened walls and peaked zinc roofs. Young men in frayed clothes guided us through a twisting corridor to the king’s court. My friend Walter and I waited on benches until the eighty-year-old king, the fon, beckoned us from his wood throne in the fading gray light. We crossed the courtyard in an extended bow. The fon, wearing a black skullcap and a light blue boubou robe, sat rigidly erect in his chair, sipping a African liqueur called Marula Fruit Cream from a Baltimore Orioles mug. His face was long and stolid, thin clenched lips and cold rheumy eyes. He spoke haltingly in his language, showing teeth like weathered pickets. Walter translated that the king was welcoming us, and I nodded and smiled as the palace guard hissed at me to take my hands out of my pockets. After further formalities, I was told to kneel before the king and cup my hands at my mouth, as he poured a blessing of the liqueur so copious it streamed down my right arm under my jacket. Walter whispered to me that this was the highest honor, to show effusive gratitude. I sighed, knowing my sleeve would be stuck to my skin until my next shower, whenever that might be. As evening came, the young men, whom I had taken to be street hustlers and now realized were princes, guided me to a perch in the canopy on the high ridge. I let them walk off so I could have a moment alone. As I listened to the dry rasp of the elephant grass, I gazed out over the Kingdom of Kom. A narrow gorge threaded through the lush terrain below, opening into a smoky blue chasm in the distance, the Valley of Too Many Bends. A cluster of white streetlights hovered on a dark crest a few miles away—Njinikom, a town to which earlier kings once banished sorcerers and foreign missionaries. The crumpled topography of these mountains had long repelled invaders, colonists, and change. Many villagers still lived in red earthen huts with grass roofs, collected firewood before dusk, and poured libations of palm wine on the ground for their ancestors. The view from this spot had not changed much in centuries. Only that tremulous constellation of electric lights broke the deepening shades of blue. The footpath wended down into the darkness, almost two thousand feet below, where I was told a momentous baobab tree stood near the river. The story is that it fell one day, years ago, cried and cried all night, and the following morning was standing again. Villagers call it “the talking tree.” Mythical stories abound up here, filling the void left by an unwritten history. It is said the Kom were led to this very spot by a python. But the story that no one talks about is the true story of the people removed from this land. This belt of fertile savannah in western Cameroon rested at a terrible crossroads, with no forest to hide in when the marauders arrived. The kings may have been safe in their fortified isolation, but their people were not. They were taken first by Arab invaders in the Sudan in the north, and then by the southern peoples who found that humans were the commodity Europeans most desired.Read More... Post a Comment