By Francis Wache
Chief Mbella Sonne Dipoko is no more. The novelist, poet-politician died on Saturday, November 5, in Tiko after a brief ailment. According to a family source, he showed no signs of any serious illness because, by late afternoon, he was on and about. When the news of his passing was made public by 7a.m. that Saturday, family and friends were stunned and shocked by the sudden and swift nature of Chief Dipoko’s death.
Dipoko, the author of two popular novels, A Few Nights and Days (Heinemann, 1966) and Because of Women (Heinemann, 1974) and a poetry collection, Black and White in Love (Heinemann 1972) was born in Douala but grew up, studied and worked in Southern Cameroons and Nigeria. In 1958, Dipoko worked as a news reporter with the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC. After his stint with the NBC, he proceeded to France where he registered at the Paris University to read Law. He soon abandoned academics and concentrated his time on writing and trotting – hobo style – around the world.
In fact, he wrote his acclaimed book of poetry, Black and White in Love after travelling through North Africa – Spain and Morocco – France and England. This is how Femi Oyebode captures Dipoko’s poetry: "The structure is free verse; the language is evocative and accessible; the concerns are urbane and liberal. There is tenderness and sensitivity in his poetry, but his political ideas are unrefined and fragmentary."
Dipoko published Because of Women in 1968. The novel was recognised as one of the best known Cameroonian novels written in English. Other key novels by Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono were only translated into English. On publication, Because of Women sparked controversy because it was condemned as crudely sexist. Other critics dismissed it as championing a misogynist stance.
One of Dipoko’s poems, "Our Destiny," is widely anthologized and is used for GCE Advanced Level Literature. In the passage below, Chief Mbella Sonne Dipoko talks of his lifestyle, his weird beard, writing career and political snippets. Chief Sonne Dipoko had ruled Missaka village since 1991 after succeeding his late father. The family is still to release the funeral programme.
A prolific writer, Dipoko contributed articles to local and international newspapers. In fact, his last poem was sent to The Post on Saturday, December 5, 2009. (See Literary corner).
Mbella Sonne Dipoko in His Own Words: The Luxury of Memory*
So let them be scared of my look, of my beard, of my head of hair. They are just philistines who are afraid of originality. They wish to be caricatures of Europeans. When they are scared of a mere beard, what would these people do when war comes, when the horizon suddenly begins to sneeze smoke and spit flames? Who will save the nation? For only the courageous can defend the colors of a country.
I did two stints at the university. First, it was when I imagined I could become a lawyer. So for a couple of years I studied law and economics at Paris University. But I gave this up when I began to work on my first novel, A few nights and Days. I really could not reconcile the drudgery of law school studies with the flamboyance of compulsive creative information. And also, what news was coming out of Africa, spoke of the death of freedom, and I thought it would be spiritually stultifying to try to function as a lawyer in a totalitarian environment.
For you will agree with me that Ahmadou Ahidjo was not exactly friends with human rights. So why wish to work as a lawyer in a country where such a man was in command? For the barrister is essentially an orator. And oratory is sweet when it is in defence of freedom and human dignity, both of which are impaired whenever freedom of expression is not allowed. That is why I gave up my law studies not wanting to become a learned mercenary.
In short, I turned my back university and on the wish to make it in the mediocre way of the sworting professional or bureaucrat-to-be.
The decision was easy. For I already had a profession – writing. So I returned to it full-time, having chosen freedom thanks to which I became for many years, what you might call a traveling lover, a dreamer searching for God between the women’s thighs – those days when I was at the height of my intimate powers. You had to see me! I was like an angel stuffing recoilless erections into just where they are most needed – into the fleshy folds of winter! But I did it with rosy summers too.
And each divine thrust was like stuffing your women with yet another trump card of desire! And, there was no AIDS stalking through the world just to scare sensible chaps off sex.
And then the Vision of my call [to found the Esimo ya Mboka faith] happened. Such a mighty vision. Spain and Morocco led up to it – the starlit solitude and loneliness of my nights spent mostly in the open. That was after the American woman had returned to San Francisco because I wouldn’t marry her; because I wouldn’t marry a woman from the West.
And that Vision I had of the Marvelous Star really did change the whole of my life. And always I shall remember it as a kind of anointment – all that light of that Star pouring down on me.
But after I published my third book, Black and White in Love, I returned to university where I took a degree not in law, but in Anglo-American studies, majoring in English. Not that I ever intended to use it for obtaining a job. I had found for myself a profession – writing – and I meant to do it full-time. So the degree lies somewhere in one of my valises – a mere piece of paper less precious than a love letter, just one of the light souvenirs of those years I spent in the West.
On The Underdevelopment Of Southern Cameroons
There hasn’t been much development in this part of the country. For development means new industries and major public works projects. The scene is pretty much the same as it used to be some 32 years ago. In fact one can even say Tiko has regressed. For its wharf is gone, the shipping wharf which used to make Tiko such a bustling town, especially during the banana shipment days and nights. And it is a phantom aerodrome we now have. It had such brisk traffic in the past, a quick link with Nigeria and Lagos and the wider world beyond.
And one of the most popular records those days was Mama Rumba! Loud music on gramophone records could be heard all over Tiko Town. And only the sirens of Banana trains sounded louder, more shrill, as they were rushing to the wharf with their green cargo for loading into ships which, after they too had sounded their sirens, turned round and then, ploughing their way through the deep wide Tiko creek, set sail for Europe.
Those days long ago there was a kind of economic boom in Tiko, indeed in the whole of what used to be called Southern Cameroons. For, from being an accounts clerk I became a journalist. I traveled from South to North. So I know how comparatively prosperous used to be. Evidence of the prosperity I talk about was there, in the increasing number of bush radio sets which were being bought, their antennae strung to bamboo poles which made their aerial contraptions look like fishing rods. They could have been just that, fishing rods, for we were fishing for news broadcasts from Lagos and overseas; and fishing too for music, especially Rumba and Cha-cha-cha from Lumumba’s Congo.
But A’Mon! Those were very exciting years in what used to be Southern Cameroons. Even the politics were exciting. For going into politics was like becoming a retailer. You were free to open your own shop. And if you felt like it and someone else had the same idea like you, you merged your shop with him… until someone came along and said that sort of thing just wasn’t good enough for the country that was trying to make unity the very foundation of its existence. The 99% man. The result, as we were to see, was one vast party, one platform for everybody; one production line of unifying slogans. But while the old political free enterprise still obtained, did our politicians have a great time! For they were all promising us a paradise of fundamental rights.
Not that these rights were exactly lacking; for the British were running Southern Cameroons as of it were the most economically backward country and socially handicapped Shire of their own Island Kingdom. And so what political oppression there was was quite occult and not rash and rampant. The individual was quite free to indulge his ego or just his dreams in any amount of soap-box sense or nonsense.
Still our politicians insisted on promising us even more fundamental human rights as if new ones could still be invented. But all that was before the Alhadji from Garoua came along with his message of one country, one people, and one voice – his voice. And because he was an autocrat of the no-nonsense Islamic School, the noisy good intentions of our Southern Cameroons politicians sensibly fell silent for fear of what the straightjacket of El Hadj’s rule might do to them.
And Mecca said nothing. And Medina minded its business, which is cashing in on the tourist trade as the promises we had been made of fundamental human rights and of "life more abundant" slunk away like frightened dogs, tails down, snouts straight-jacketed, no longer able to bark because forced into silence by circumstances.
But to tell the truth, during all those years that I was abroad, I never joined any political organization that fought Ahmadou Ahidjo. I never in public criticized him. For, in my head, I was a soldier, a born member of the Cameroonian armed forces. And the armed forces, spiritualized, made incorruptible, patriotic, are the finest thing in any country. They are the backbone of a nation’s destiny. So how can one who is born to exercise traditional command take to criticizing the government whose auxiliary he is born to be? That is why I never became a politician in exile.
I was content with being just a poor poet, just a roaming writer, comfortable in the luxury of memory in which the most palpable pain can be massaged artistically into the sweetest messianic songs. The other reason why I would not criticize the El Hadj’s regime was because I felt that it really is not courage when one can only shout invectives fro the safe distance of exile.
On His Writing Career
I have a number of manuscripts I have vowed to work on until they become published books, and my imagination is still full of stories I would like to write. I am sure some day not too far away I shall return to writing full-time. For example, I’d like to do a book about Tiko Town. The story has been dancing Makossa in my mind for some time now. And I’ve even found a title for it.
I’ll call the novel Bobi Tanap, which is also going to be the name of the heroine, a girl who wanted only one man but whom every man who was a man wanted. A story about slum city love. In the book I shall be raising the question; what is more important, man or money? And then of course, there is my autobiography to finish and the Moboka, the holy book of my faith.
However, the planting season is now in full swing. I wouldn’t be returning to any serious writing until I have finished planting this year’s crop of Egusi and corn. I am planting these on a farm by the Mungo River where my novel Because of Women is set.
On His "Mad" Look
In the West they would call me a romantic, one of the last breed, I suppose. A romantic and not a mad man, as some people do here, in Africa, fearing the beard and scared of the head of hair. Listen, all those years I was abroad, not once did any European or American call me a mad man as some of my own people are now doing, thinking I am mad. I tell you, in Douala, sometimes it takes me as long as an hour to get a taxi. When they stop, it is to give some chap who might be waiting with me a ride. But me, no! They don’t want the beard. They don’t want my look. They are damned scared.
Don’t let anyone impose their will on you. So let them be scared of my look, of my beard, of my head of hair. They are just philistines who are afraid of originality. They wish to be caricatures of Europeans. When they are scared of a mere beard, what would these people do when war comes, when the horizon suddenly begins to sneeze smoke and spit flames?
Who will save the nation? For only the courageous can defend the colors of a country? Only people like those few taxi drivers who, not minding the way I look, give me a ride in their vehicles, will be at the command of our cannons. For they are courageous people. They love all their people, even those who do not look like caricatures of Europeans. Even the Bearded Ones.
*Culled from Cameroon Life Magazine (May 1990)
Late Sonne Dipoko (L) with father Paul Sonne Dipoko (M) and son Paul Sonne Dipoko (R). The unexplained mysteries range from no pathology or other evidence of the cause of death; a strange female, visiting Dipoko on or before the day he died; the meals he ate in Douala and Tiko on separate days; land ceded by the Cameroon Development Corporation, CDC, and land leased to a foreign company for the cultivation of bananas; a résumé drawn up by the late Chief and deposited with the Tiko Divisional officer, DO, a day before he (Dipoko) died and Dr. Ebanja’s sealing of Dipoko’s residence immediately after his death… and the sudden appearance of Dipoko’s long-lost Lagos-based son.. He said on November 10, 2009, Dipoko and his cousin, Adolf Mongo Dipoko, travelled to Douala for another family meeting to discuss projects under Missaka Holdings, Dipoko’s development brainchild, and share out some fallouts in the form of money.. The Missaka Chieftaincy lineage indicates that Chief Jacob Embola Dipoko, the founder of Missaka chiefdom, sired the following children: Chief Paul Sonne Dipoko, Elong Dipoko, Martin Embola Dipoko, Makunde Dipoko, Ngondedi Dipoko and Victoria Kingue Dipoko.. Chief Paul Sonne Dipoko would bring forth late Mbella Sonne Dipoko, who would take over the chieftaincy when his father died in about 1990.. In the case of abandoning patrilineal succession and bringing in a nephew or any other relation into the Missaka succession line, the Divisional Officer, DO, for Tiko Subdivision, Augustine Awa Fonka, said "a few days after Chief Dipoko died, some members of the royal famil, led by Adolf, came and told me that Dipoko hadn’t any children, let alone a male child and they presented Jacques Ebengue Dipoko.. Meanwhile, article 15 of the same decree states that First Class Chiefs shall be appointed by the Prime Minister, Second Class Chiefs by the Minister of Territorial Administration and Third Class Chiefs by the Prefect, and article 16 (1) states that "the objections raised on the occasion of the appointment of a Chief shall be brought before the competent authority vested with the power of appointment who shall have the last say on the matter; (2) provided that the decision taken, may be reversed if it is proved that the competent authority was misled and article 17 (1) states that "the Chief shall necessarily reside in the area under his rule…."
And one of Ngoso’s rivals, wanting to make trouble, had turned up at Ngoso’s house and he was sleeping with the pregnant Njale.. Just like the meeting of Ngoso and Ewudu at the waterfront.. Ngoso, truly, leave me please.". "I say leave me, Ngoso.". "Ngoso, Ngoso," she cried.. A long time of uninterrupted rhythmic action passed, the clapping of waist against waist and Ewudu began to feel once more as if she had been pushed and pushed and pushed to the sky of all intimate dreams from which she was now falling through the clouds and thunderstorms, such an intense sensation, such incredible pleasure.
In this exclusive interview, Paul Sonne Dipoko remembers his father as not weird as the mask he wore, and talks about one of his controversial literary works, "Because of Women".. He did not mind or thought your opinion mattered.. Yes, some people thought and said my father was a weird man.. I think he valued his people.. Let me zero down to Misaka, which my father over the years had protected; he was not in the habit of selling land.. So, why should they inform me of his death when they wanted to grab the project?. Immediately after your father’s death, some family members approached the then DO of Tiko and said late Chief Mbella Sonne Dipoko had no children…
Mr Dibango Manu Le 12 décembre 1933 naît à Douala au Cameroun Emmanuel N`Djoké Dibango.. Son père est issu de l`ethnie Yabassi, sa mère est douala.. Sa religion n`y est sans doute pas étrangère.. Mr Bell Dina La musique, c`est la seule carrière que j`aie.. Hormis les sept lettres inscrites en blanc sur une pochette noire, personne ne sait vraiment qui est Douleur.. Mr Longue Longue Après une sombre affaire de murs en France, Longuè Longuè est de retour avec un album où il laisse encore admirer sa verve.... Mr Eboa Lotin Eboa Lotin fût une îcone de la musique et des arts du cameroun.mélodiste, vocaliste, technicien de la musique et du chant.. Mr Eto´o Samuel Samuel Etoo fils appartient à la ligné très rare des génies engagés.. Il ne supporte pas linjustice et ne manque pas loccasion de le dénoncer directement sans contours.. Mr Roger Milla Pendant plus de 25 ans les stades du monde entier ont été témoins de ses exploits Mr Essaka Gustave Eternel insatisfait, Gustave Essaka aime à se faire appeler "le Camerounais errant", pour sa mémoire permanemment en quête de découverte, pour sa volonté de connaître, pour sa soif de liberté et pour son long exil Mr Soppo Priso Premier Président de la JEUCAFRA (Jeunesse Camerounaise française ) Mr Ekangaki Nzo L´éphémère Secrétaire général de l´Oua est décédé le 06 juin 2005 Mr Kotto Yaphet Kotto was born in New York and is descended from Cameroonian royalty, Njoki Manga Bell Abraham Mr Ekambi Brillant Voici incontestablement l`un des artistes africains les plus prolifiques.. Februar 1892 in Douala, Kamerun als (Ludwig) M`bebe Mpessa; 11.. Sein erster Auftritt erfolgte im Alter von 23 Jahren unter der Regie von Joe May in dessen Joe Deebs-Detektivserie in der Episode Das Gesetz der Mine.. Etudes Supérieures : Faculté de Droit de Paris, Ecole Nationale d`Administration de Paris, stage à l`Ambassade de France-La Haye.. Ils remportèrent la première coupe d´Afrique des clubs champions en 1965 Mr Me Douala Moutomè Maître Douala Moutome est né le 28 décembre 1943 à Yabassi.. Après des études primaires à Sa´a, Obala et Douala, il va effectuer ses études secondaires dans les lycées Leclerc (Yaoundé), Joss (Douala) et St-Exupéry (France) où il obtient le baccalauréat en 1963.. Mme Ekwe Nyangon Henriette Elle fait partie depuis plusieurs années déja des figures médiatiques connues des camerounais.
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