This research project is funded by the DFG as part of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence at the University of Bayreuth
Letters were one of the major means of communication during the 19th-20th Century British colonialism of Africa. Through them, the instructions, intensions, decisions, complaints, justifications and agenda of resident British colonial officers, local colonial administrators and collaborators, colonial officials in Britain and colonised subjects (individuals, villages) were transmitted across time and space. These letters offer extraordinary access to the mindset and overall agenda of the entities producing them. The ways of life of these entities, their patterns of social order, repertoires and constellations of knowledges, linguistic voices, world views and cosmologies are projected, both directly and indirectly, in these letters. In themselves, these letters embody the contact zone of colonial-precolonial structures, coloniser-colonised entities, indigenous-foreign knowledges, cultural and linguistic practices, etc.
The personal, formal, official, confidential and (top) secret letters were written in Southern Cameroons; read, commented on and summarised in Nigeria before being sent to their final destination, London. Replies to them followed the same itinerary back. Southern Cameroons was handed to Britain by the League of Nations after WW1, and was ruled by the British Colonial Governor in Nigeria – reason why the letters were sent there. This triangle of communication, Cameroon-Nigeria-Britain, captures the complex trajectory of knowledge movement and the entanglements involved. We follow the tracks of these letters in a bit to understand how colonial discourses on various topics were conceptualised and how these conceptualisations are identifiable in the contemporary postcolonial society. The letters are available in national archives in Buea, Enugu and London as well as in some private archives.
Overall, this research project studies, from a predominantly linguistic perspective, the instantiations of colonial contact and postcolonial heritages that are embodied in, and transmitted through, letters written during British colonisation of Southern Cameroons (1916-1961).
Markers of the construction of multiple identities, the discursive enactment of (social, political, hereditary) power and the coalescence of colonial and precolonial social norms of interaction (hierarchy, respect forms, kinship affiliation) found in these correspondences are studied from sociolinguistic, critical discourse analysis, discourse-historical, historical linguistic and postcolonial linguistic perspectives. In addition to the above predominantly linguistic perspective, the project also incorporates other interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary perspectives that include history, literature, sociology, anthropology, communication studies and (post)colonial studies.
Several studies in anthropology and history have investigated colonial communication (e.g., travel diaries, letters, journals, newspapers and telegraphs) with respect to the relationship between colonial administrators and the colonised subjects, the achievement of colonial agendas, and the encounters with new knowledges and resistances. For instance, Burns (2006) takes up the contact and clash between knowledges of herbal treatment and medical treatment as played out in the letters of Louisa Mvemve in South Africa during British colonisation and white settler rule. Krüger (2009) analyses letters written in colonial South Africa on a variety of private and personal topics, while Stoler (2009: 1) on her part describes “lettered governance and the written traces of colonial lives” in the Netherlands Indies.
In linguistics, not much research has been done on colonial letters or colonial correspondences and how they reflect the relationship between the coloniser and the colonised. On the contrary, the bulk of research on postcolonial linguistics today deals predominantly with discourses produced in post-independence times. However, a look at communication and discourses produced during colonialism yields enormous insights into how the current (im)balances of sociopolitical power, linguistic stratification, identity restructuring, repertoires and authenticity of knowledges, and sociocultural multiplicity started and were negotiated then. This is the ultimate objective of this research project.
The overall aim of this project is to describe and analyse epistolaric communication during British colonial administration of Southern Cameroons, in relation to the contact and clash of knowledges, production of multiple knowledges, social interaction, multiple identity construction and language stratification at a time when colonialism was in active exercise. Where possible, an attempt is made to investigate how these knowledges, identities and languages exist today in the contemporary postcolonial society and their relation to, and entanglement with, other non-colonial counterparts.
To achieve the above aims, the following research questions are posed.
Some of the research questions above extend into postcolonial times. To answer them satisfactorily, the textual analysis of the archived letters and correspondences are accompanied by data collection and fieldwork in the current society.
The data (colonial correspondences) collected for this project are from the following archives:
National Archives Buea, Cameroon
National Archives Enugu, Nigeria
British National Archives London, UK
These are available in paper form at the University of Bayreuth for in-person research and virtually as The Corpus of Colonial Epistolary Correspondences in the Digital Research Environment of the Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence of the University of Bayreuth. Access can be obtained through registration on the platform (see the Corpus sub-page for more).
English Linguistics, University of Bayreuth, Germany
African Literatures and Cultures, Humboldt University Berlin, Germany
Linguistics and African Languages, University of Buea
English Linguistics, University of Abuja, Nigeria
English Linguistics, University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon
Kiswahili Linguistics, University of Ghana, Legon, Ghana
History, University of Buea, Cameroon
English Linguistics, PhD Candidate Africa Multiple Cluster of Excellence - BIGSAS, University of Bayreuth, Germany
Linguistics and African Languages, University of Yaounde 1
English Linguistics and Translation Studies, University of Yaounde 1
B.Sc. Computer Sciences, Student Assistant, University of Bayreuth