By Hope Nda, *Sibafe Falone & *Ntangndie Tazeh
A conference held in Cologne, Germany, early this month by the Fon of Fontem and German authorities has revived the hopes of the Bangwa people of Lebialem Division, Southwest, of seeing the return of one of their most valuable cultural artefacts, the Lefem.
The German authorities at the conference were led by the Mayor of Cologne, Stefan Charles, while the delegation from Bangwaland was led by Fon Asabaton Fontem Njifua, Fon of Fontem, who was accompanied by other traditional notables.
The Bangwa delegation noted that it was the first time in over a hundred years that a native was seeing and touching Lefem, which was stolen by the Germans during their colonial rule in Cameroon (1884-1916).
Mayor Stefan Charles warmly welcomed the dignitaries present at the ceremony and thanked the Bangwa delegation for honouring their invitation to the Rautenstrauch-Joest Meseum, where Lefem has been kept since 1966.
Fon of Fontem (centre) and other members of the Bangwa delegation at Rautenstrauch-Joest Meseum, Cologne-Germany
“We promise to take responsibility of our past and work in collaboration to ensure the safe return of Lefem,” Charles said.
Lefem was stolen from the Azi palace in Bangwa around 1898 by the German military lieutenant under the reign of Fon Fontem Asonganyi during a violent raid.
“Taking this artefact into captivity far from its environment deprived us of its natural and spiritual protection, which we were provided by our ancestors,” said Fon Asabaton Fontem Njifua at the ceremony in Cologne.
The young ruler, who succeeded his late father, Fon Fontem Njifua in May 2014, added: “Its return is the beginning of ending the agony of collective punishment, which generations of our ancestors endured and are still enduring.”
Nanette Snoep, Director of the Rautenstrauch-Joest Meseum, said she and her team are ready to work to ensure that the artefact is returned to its cultural heritage. She, however, said the decision to do so is not for her to make, but it is for the City of Cologne, the Municipality that oversees the Museum, to decide.
“I am trying to convince the city that this sculpture will be returned to Bangwa,” she said.
In recent times, many African countries, Cameroon inclusive, have been striving to restore their stolen sculptures from various European countries who illegally took them away during colonialism.
The Nso people in the Northwest Region, for example, rejoiced barely two months ago after learning that the statue of Ngonnso, the founder of their clan, which was stolen by the Germans over 100 years ago, will finally be returned to its people.
The Fon of Nso, HRM Nsem Mbinglo, had said the return of Ngonnso will play a central role in stopping calamities that have been befalling their land, especially restoring peace to Kumbo, which has remained turbulent during the ongoing Anglophone Crisis.
The conference at Cologne to negotiate the return of Lefem ended with an open talk, where the Bangwa delegation reviewed on why they long for its return. They desired to see Germany fast track the return of the sculpture.
To the Bangwa people, Lefem is a symbol of peace and unity. Just like the people of Nso, they hope its return shall restore lasting peace in Fontem, which has remained a dead end for most natives due to the Anglophone Crisis.
*(UB Journalism Students on Internship)