Joseph Merrick: Pioneering Missionary Work in Cameroon

Cameroon
Map of Cameroon, with the capital Yaoundé

How many Cameroonians have heard of Joseph Merrick? The Jamaican and first missionary to create a mission on the coast of Cameroon? Most people are used to hearing about the British missionary Alfred Saker who “brought” christianity to the coastal towns of Cameroon, and is often referred to as the pioneer, even though he was first hired as a ship mechanic, millwright, and naval engineer before becoming a missionary upon his arrival. So there are thousands of schools and streets named after this “great” white man in Cameroon: College Alfred Saker and Boulangerie Saker in Douala, Saker Baptist College in Limbe, to name just a few; there is even a monument to this man in downtown Limbe. Can you imagine my surprise when I learned that Alfred Saker was not the “pioneer” I had been made to believe, but rather a later pioneer following on the footsteps of others? Yes… Alfred Saker came after others had started sewing the seeds of Christianity on Cameroonian soil, and his main advantage was that he was a European (let’s call a spade a spade). The real man who should be considered missionary pioneer to the coastal towns of Cameroon was the Jamaican Baptist missionary, Joseph Merrick, who, assisted by another Jamaican Joseph Jackson Fuller, established the first successful mission on the Cameroonian coast of Africa.

Cameroun_Joseph Merrick_at_Isubu_funeral in 1845
Joseph Merrick at an Isubu funeral, in Bimbia (1845)

Who was Joseph Merrick?  Joseph Merrick was a Black Jamaican, who began preaching in 1837 in Jamaica and was ordained a full missionary in 1838. The work of the Baptist Society in Cameroons was an outcome of the freeing of the slaves in Jamaica. Many thousands of these freed slaves were members of Baptist Churches in that island, and the first-fruits of their new found liberty was the desire to help their own people in Africa, the land of their origin. Thus, Joseph Merrick had been recruited by the Baptist Missionary Society of London who was looking for Jamaicans to preach in Africa. Merrick, accompanied by his wife, arrived in Spanish-controlled Santa Isabel (then Clarence, and today known as Malabo) on the island of Fernando Po (Bioko) in 1843. In 1844, he visited Bimbia (near Limbe) and spoke to King William (William of Bimbia) of the Isubu people to request permission to establish a church on the mainland. After the initial resistance, he was granted permission, and in 1844-1845 he founded the Jubilee Mission. Over the next 5 years, he set up to translate parts of the New Testament in the Isubu language, set up a brick-making machine, a printing press, and translated the bible, and wrote a textbook for teaching in  Isubu.

Cameroon_Victoria 1889_Thomas Comber book
Bird’s eye view of then Victoria, now Limbe, Cameroon, in 1884

Adventurous, Merrick made several excursions into the interior from the coast, and climbed Mount Cameroon, thus becoming the first non-African to visit the Bakoko people.

Unfortunately, in 1849 he got sick, and set off to England with his wife for treatment but died at sea. Upon his death, Joseph Jackson Fuller took charge of the mission station and congregation at Bimbia. Merrick’s efforts also paved the way for Alfred Saker to make further progress – he made use of Merrick’s printing press to translate and print the Bible in Duala. Joseph Merrick can be seen as the pioneer of the missionary work in Cameroon. He had a talent for learning languages and within a short time he preached in both  Isubu and Duala.

Cameroon_Limbe_Saker Monument
Monument to Alfred Saker in Downtown Beach in Limbe, Cameroon

In essence Joseph Merrick is the man who should be celebrated, just as much as Alfred Saker, if not more, particularly in the Limbe region. Why has Joseph Merrick been forgotten? Is it because he was Black?

German Warfare in Africa: 1884 Bombings in Kamerun and The Defiance of Kum’a Mbappé

douala_vue des airs
View of Douala from the airs: on the other side of the bridge (not shown) is Bonabéri, old Hickory Town

I never thought that bombing, grenades, and warships had been used in wars in Africa prior to the 20th century. Little did I know that it had been in use in the 19th century, during the European invasion of Africa that is known as the scramble for Africa. Today we will talk about the first bombings on Cameroonian soil which occurred on 22 December 1884, when Germans on warships SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga bombed Hickory Town (Bonabéri) in Cameroons Town (modern-day Douala). What might have caused these bombings by German forces on Cameroonian soil, long before the area was ever known as Kamerun?

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Kum’a Mbappé, Bonaberi 1884 Liberte by Enoh Meyomesse

Well, when the 12 July 1884 Germano – Duala Treaty was signed between the representatives of the Jantzen & Thormählen firm and some of the Douala kings, King Ndumbé Lobé Bell and King Akwa, it was not a unanimous choice among the locals. As a matter of fact, most of the population was against the treaty, and sided with Kum’a Mbappé also known as Lock Priso, King of Hickorytown. The other kings had signed treaties ceding their lands to the Germans without consulting with the others. Kum’a Mbappé refused to sign the treaty. On that fateful day, when the Germans raised their flag in Hickory Town, after raising it in Joss Town, Kum’a Mbappé reacted by writing to the German consul: “Pull that flag down. No man buy we. They want to give us plenty dash, we tell them no. Leave us free and not make us plenty trouble.” The Germans, of course, did not heed the warning, and Kum’a Mbappé ordered the flag to be taken down and the mast ripped apart, a German merchant was killed in the fightings that ensued.

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Eduard Knorr, in 1884

Kum’a Mbappé and his people courageously resisted and defeated the German army. The Germans were outnumbered. After this defeat, German consul Max Buchner wrote to Germany to send troops with real armament, cannons, bombs, grenades, in order to level out Hickory Town and kill Kum’a Mbappé who was a thorn on his side.

Opposition to German rule followed the annexation of July 1884. Lock Priso still favored the British and staged a rebellion in December 1884. Around this same time, King Bell faced off against his own people, who were largely opposed to the German rule. Bell then found himself up against the other Duala chiefs in the Duala War, which was fought over the killing of a Bonabéri Duala and Bell’s alleged refusal to share his profits with the other sub-lineages. Germans played the competitors against one another – this is a classic technique used by Europeans: divide-and-conquer. They supported the weaker King Bell to counter the powerful King Akwa.

Kamerun_Corvette allemande SMS_OLGA durant la canonnade de Hickorytown on 21 Dec 1884
SMS Olga during the shelling of Hickory Town on December 21, 1884

From December 20th – 22nd, Commander Eduard von Knorr sent by Berlin decided to intervene immediately, and sent ashore a landing party of some three hundred men from warships SMS Bismarck and SMS Olga to arrest the leaders of the anti-German tribes and destroy their villages. The troops from SMS Bismarck that went ashore and landed north of Hickorytown, while the men from SMS Olga went ashore south of the village. The Germans fought their way into the town, forcing the local forces to retreat into the mangrove forest, where they could not easily be pursued. While this operation was underway, Knorr received word that other hostile locals had attacked the trading post operated by Jantzen & Thormählen in Joss Town and had captured the company’s local manager. Knorr sent SMS Olga upriver to shell enemy positions, and on 22 December, the landing parties returned to their ships, having lost one man killed aboard SMS Olga and eight men wounded between the two ships. German sailors descended on Bonabéri, and burnt the city down; the deluge of fire was endless and lasted several days. They also stole the princely bow or Tangué from Kum’a Mbappé’s ship, considered the symbol of the Belé-Belé people (people of Hickory-Town): the Tangué is a sort of a bow, carved and personalized, sort of a pennant that identifies a king among the people of these water tribes. The German consul Max Buchner wrote in his war diary,

Kamerun_Explorer_Max_Buchner
Max Buchner

Lock Priso’s palace is plundered, a colorful and striking image. We set it on fire. But I have asked all the houses to be inspected before to find ethnographic treasures. My main booty is a great wooden carved work, the princely bow (tangué) of Lock Priso, which will be sent to Munich.” [“Le palais de Lock Priso est mis à sac, une image colorée et saisissante. Nous y mettons le feu. Mais j’ai demandé avant d’inspecter toutes les maisons pour trouver des trésors ethnographiques. Mon butin principal est une grande œuvre sculptée en bois, la proue princière (tangué or tangu’a bolo, in Duala language) de Lock Priso, qui sera envoyée à Munich.”]

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The bow, Tangué, of Kum’a Mbappé at the Ethnographic Museum of Munich (Wikipedia)

After several days of fighting, the German army won because of their superior arms, and also the help sent by other Duala kings. Negotiations went on, and a peace treaty (i.e. a treaty acknowledging defeat) was finalized on 13 January 1885, forcing Kum’a Mbappé to accept German rule in Hickory Town. This hero of Cameroonian resistance, passed away in 1916.

The symbol of the Belé-Belé people, the Tangué, was only returned over 100 years later, after tireless work from one Kum’a Mbappé’s grandsons, Prince and professor Kum’a Ndumbe III and others. To learn more, please read the book Kum’a Mbappé Bonabéri 1884 Liberté! by Enoh Meyomesse, and visit the website of this proud descendant of Kum’a Mbappé, Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III at AfricAvenir.

Why the Name: Douala?

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German flag on the Joss plateau in Cameroons Town (Douala) on 14 July 1884

Have you ever wondered about the meaning of the name of the largest city of Cameroon, Douala? For the longest time, I always wondered why it was named after the people of the locality, the Douala people, and it seemed odd that a people arriving somewhere would name the locality after themselves as a group, not the king, not something to do with the environment, but themselves… I wondered if the name was not a heritage of the European colonization instead.

Before falling under German rule in 1884, the town was known as Cameroons Town, and later became Kamerunstadt (Cameroon city), the capital of German Kamerun. On January 1st 1901, the city was renamed Douala by decree of the German governor of the colony, and the original name Kamerunstadt was transfered to the entire territory of Kamerun.

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Old German Government Headquarters in Douala

For many of the indigenous inhabitants of the city of Douala, the name comes from a phonetic change of the name of their ancestor Ewalé, who upon arriving on the shores of the Wouri River around the 16th century called it Madu M’Ewalé or the mouth of the watercourse of Ewalé. Madu M’Ewalé is the plural form of Dul’Ewalé which later became Duala. Yet others believe that Duala comes from the exclamation “Dua, Ala!” (“Start, go!”) which has nothing to do with the arrival of Ewalé.

On 12 July 1884, the Germano – Duala Treaty was signed between the Douala kings and a representative of the German firm Woermann. On 14 July 1884, Gustav Nachtigal landed in Cameroons Town to take possession of the territory. The city then became known as Kamerunstadt, the capital of the territory from 1885 to 1901.

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View of the city of Douala, its port, and the Wouri Bridge

Today, Douala is the largest city of the country, and its economic capital; it is in essence the economic lung of the entire country, and is one of the major cities of the CEMAC zone. If you ever visit Douala, do not forget to go by the port, and visit Bonanjo with all its relics from colonial times, a blend from German, French, and modern architectures. Also, on a clear day, one can catch a glimpse of  Mt Cameroon, Africa’s 3rd tallest mountain.

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View of Mt Cameroon from the Port of Douala

 

 

Why the name: Yaoundé?

Yaoundé around the May 20th Boulevard
Yaoundé around the May 20th Boulevard

Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and its second largest city after Douala, is often known as “the city with the seven hills” because of the hills surrounding it… but what does it really mean?  Does its name refer to its hills?

Map of Cameroon, with the capital Yaoundé
Map of Cameroon, with the capital Yaoundé

In Béti, Yaoundé is often called, Ongolo-Ewondo, or the Ewondos’ enclosure (la clôture des Ewondos).  The city was born around 1889, when the German traders implanted a camp in the Ewondo region and called it Sono station after a local Ewondo chief Essono Ela who had offered them hospitality (the Germans had encountered a strong resistance in the Vouté and Eton regions).  Hearing locals from the coast refer to it as Ya-Ewondo or Among the Ewondo (chez les Ewondos), the Germans called it ‘Jaunde’ and it later turned into ‘Yaunde’, and in French Yaoundé.  The station later turned into an administrative region under the leadership of the botanist Zenker who established a detailed map of the area in 1890.  Upon its creation, it was first a scientific post (probably because of the botanist), and later in 1895 became a military and trading post for ivory and rubber.

Yaoundé at night
Yaoundé at night

Yaoundé was not always the country’s capital.  After the 1909 volcanic eruption of Mt Cameroon in Buéa (Gbéa) which was then the capital, and the humid climate of Douala, the Germans decided to move the capital to Yaoundé because of its central location and its milder climate (and of course, no volcano).  After Germany’s defeat in World War I, Cameroon was placed under French (the eastern regions) and British protectorate (the western regions).  Yaoundé consequently became the capital of French Cameroon, and continued as the capital of the Republic of Cameroon after independence (it was first the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961, then The United Republic of Cameroon in 1972, which then officially became the Republic of Cameroon in 1984).  From 100 inhabitants on 2 acres on land at the end of the 19th century, Yaoundé is today a vibrant city home to almost 2 million inhabitants.

The Reunification Monument in Yaoundé
The Reunification Monument in Yaoundé

Yaoundé lies at the center of the nation, at about 600 – 1000 m above sea level.  The city first grew around the Mfoundi river.  A network of hills make up its landscape such as Mts Mbam Minkom (1295 m), Nkolodom (1221 m), Messa, Fébé, Akokdoué in the North and West, and Mt Eloumden (1159 m) in the south.  The rivers are the Mfoundi, Ekozoa, Biyeme, and Mefou.  Today, Yaoundé is the siege of power, the presidential palace, the house of parliament, all ministries and embassies. Please enjoy this song of one of Cameroon’s great singers: André-Marie Tala about Yaoundé, and its beauty.  What I have always liked about Yaoundé are its hills (and the red soil):  from the top of one them, other parts of the city can be seen; it gives a feeling of “breathing in” or “taking in” the beauty of the entire city.  Feel the joy of visiting this city which, like Rome has 7 hillsEnjoy the Rome of Africa!