Friday, May 20, 2011

Histoires d’un Cameronais

We stayed a couple nights in the home of a French-Cameronais family just before leaving France. I always love stories about other cultures, and so the father of the family shared these very intersting things with me...

Basaa Tribe, Cameron, Africa

Traditional parts of a wedding ceremony:

Before the ceremony the mother takes the bride apart, the father takes the groom, and they wash and dress them and give them their blessing. The (patriarch) blesses them.

At the wedding feast there is a cake: Gateau de concombre/Cucumber Cake. It takes practically a week to prepare from scratch. You take the seeds from big cucumbers (an African type), dry them, crush them into a paste (same as you would with peanuts to make peanut butter) add shredded meat (and water, I think) and then it cooks. Men are forbidden to enter the kitchen during the process. The cake is a light color, almost white. It is wrapped and cooked in big leaves. The cake symbolizes the bride. At the wedding ceremony the groom unwraps the cake, then cuts it, symbolizing the marriage (breaks it/opens it—we don’t quite have the right word in English. It is not and does not represent anything violent). You are not considered married until this ritual has been observed. While at the family's house we were privileged to try some of this cucumber cake. It was delicious!

Religious Origins and the Creation

There are two theories for the origins of the Basaa Tribe (and how they have traditions which are so similar to the religion of the Old Testament and the Temple culture). One theory is that the Africans were in Egypt. They lived there at the same time as the Israelites, and that they left around the same time as the Israelites did. They then traveled southward into Africa until they found a similar river system to the one they left: two rivers diverging and running parallel. This is where they settled.

The creation legend describes the creation of spirits, then the first man and woman who lived with God in a state where they felt no pain or death. The legend explains that they had children in this state and that God did not leave them until they became very wicked and they scattered to new areas, at which point they forgot God and no longer worshiped him. The Basaa people believe that a certain cave in their country is where God lived while he was on earth with them. They also believe that this area is where man was created. The man who recounted these stories to me thinks that it is also possible that this creation could be a symbolic adaptation for when the tribe moved into the area and re-established their (world)—a new beginning—a creation of their people.

Though Catholicism and Protestantism came to Africa, the people say they are neither Catholic nor Protestant—they are more, because they already knew what these religions teach, plus more.


Authority and age is very important and respected in Basaa society.

When performing a ceremony or rite the (authority) wears an apron, sometimes on the left shoulder, sometimes on the right, depending on the nature of the ceremony he is performing.

Among the elders in the tribe there are leaders who have specific responsibilities: justice, … , and one is the link between the earth and the heavens.

When someone is found guilty and is given the death penalty, they are killed without the shedding of blood.

When there is a crime and someone dies, the community kills an animal (often a chicken as it is easily found). The ritual will wash the community (the people/village/region) of the sin so that a malediction doesn’t come upon them.

Motherly Wisdom:

A baby in the womb often results in bending backwards slightly to reset your center of balance. After the baby is born it is attached to the back, which results in the mother bending slightly forward, which will stretch the muscles the other way and balance out the tired back muscles. Also, wearing the baby on the back is important because it keeps the baby close enough to feel and hear the mother’s heartbeat and body, which is familiar.


  1. Would 'receive' be a good word for the groom and the Basaa wedding cake? The cake (bride) is given to the groom, and the groom receives it? That mirrors our ceremony.

  2. Ya, I think 'receive' would be a good word, but you know how symbolism is, there are so many meanings that a word just doesnt describe. It also suggests the intimacy that enters the relationship at marriage. That is why the groom is not allowed in the kitchen while the cake is being prepared/cooked-- it is symbolic of the girl's innocence and upbringing until marriage.