By Canute Tangwa.
As a school boy I had varied impressions about Bernard Fonlon. We learnt through teachers, colleagues, kinsmen and tribesmen that he was a genuine intellectual, a moral colossus, an epitome of down-to-earthedness and a proud-gallant son of Nso.
From his posturing, he understood national unity and later national integration better than most political slogan drumbeaters of his time and today.
But this came about due to a painful realization three years into the reunification business; the KNDP was being shortchanged.
Thus he wrote THE TIME IS NOW (a secret memo addressed to Ahmadou Ahidjo) in 1964.
One can second-guess that he thought of national unity or national integration, after his turnabout, not in terms of blending or harmonizing but through mutual respect and inclusion.
He was first and foremost a Nso-man before being a Cameroonian; an Anglophone before being a Cameroonian.
Remember his seminal article titled Res Una Republica which simply meant There is Two in One.
I am a Cameroonian because I am a true son of Nso.
I exhibit my Nso-ness by espousing the culture and tradition of the Nso and by championing the socio-economic development of Nso-land through the Kumbo Water Project, for example.
Stretching it further, I am a bona fide Cameroonian because I am first of all a dyed-in-the-wool Anglophone.
I display my Anglophone-ness by promoting the values and culture of the Anglophone and by upholding the socio-politico-economic development of Anglophones through the creation of the GCE Board, for example.
Finally, now that I am consciously aware of my Nso-ness and my Anglophone-ness, I can think and live Cameroonian through The Case for Early Bilingualism, for example.
Was Fonlon a proud man? Apparently, he was but not in the mundane sense of the word.
It was pride that oozed from a conscious awareness of self.
Evidence: Father Cornelius Fontem Esua had just been designated Bishop of Kumbo.
He was supposed to be consecrated as bishop in Kumbo. There was a lot of effervescence. Going by the press, I had the uncanny feeling that the Nso people did not quite welcome the idea of a non-Nso bishop.
Just at that time, a certain John Yein published a vitriolic piece in Cameroon Tribune on the goings-on in the Bamenda Archdiocese lorded by the late venerated Archbishop Paul Verdzekov.
The late novelist, Kenjo Jumbam came to the rescue. At the end of his rebuttal, he said something like John Yein going up to heaven and coming back to earth but is apparently disappointed because all the apostles are Jews.
The message went home and Fonlon, from his pedestal, decided to go to Kumbo and somewhat appease the people of Nso!
When the bishops of the ecclesiastical province of Bamenda were about creating a Major Seminary, Fonlon wrote a treatise (to the attention of the bishops) on his idea of a seminary that would meet the test of time and not one that would produce what he scornfully referred to as Les Curés de Campagne.
His view prevailed! The late Bishop Paul Etoga of Mbalmayo was one of such bishops who welcomed unreservedly Fonlon’s vista.
It is extremely hard, when reading or singing the Cameroon National Anthem in English, to be indifferent to the “magic in the translation” of the first stanza as well as the poignancy of the second stanza.
Mr Poubom Lamy (in The Post of May 13, 2012) could not but urge Cameroonians to “carefully re-read all of our national anthems, enjoy their words, and cheer both their inspired author and very apt translator”, Bernard Fonlon.
Mr Lamy posits that “the translated version into English of the Cameroon National Anthem is not only authentic but is so dynamic that virtually no other translation could be so viable”.
This is so because “when luckily (Fonlon) was a minister of the Cameroon Republic, he positively influenced the correction of the French version (expunging words like “barbarie” and “sauvagerie”).”
Did anyone quite humble Fonlon in the intellectual arena? Did anybody take him to task on any intellectual subject matter?
Seemingly, he was so towering that his contemporaries in the university and students looked like midgets, too awed to take on the master.
However, the late lamented Kevin Mbayu, one-time past president of Bishop Rogan College Ex-Students Association (BIROCOLEXSA), engaged Fonlon in a gripping, inspiring and groundbreaking debate on morality and the Godhead in Cameroon Tribune.
It was philosophy, theology, metaphysics and logic all wrapped up in one.
Most intellectual maharajahs at the time watched on the sidelines. I did not understand a thing but what caught my attention was the picture of Fonlon each time he shot back: a bespectacled Fonlon, dressed in a jumper poring over books. It is difficult to tell how it ended but admittedly Fonlon met his match.
When Fonlon passed away on 26 August 1986, his intellectual sparring partner, Mbayu, chiselled a stellar tribute to the inimitable master.
He later became one of the movers of the Bernard Fonlon Society. I saw and heard close-up a genuine intellectual in the caliber of Fonlon, when he delivered a paper at the funeral mass for the late Father Sylvester SuhNgwa, Rector of BIROCOL at Small Soppo, Buea.