The Colbert Factor:
Gas-piping Biya’s 40th Anniversary
The situation may definitely be different today because of the overbearing influence of Christianity over our African religion. But, in the 50s, 60s, 70, and 80s, virtually all able-bodied Muteff men would, before taking on an adventure outside Komland; and especially to far-flung coastal communities; first make a stopover at the village head’s compound- host to the Ancient Mystical Order of Nantang Yoh, (AMONY, as opposed to AMORC). Standing besides the keystone at the middle of the compound’s courtyard that looks virtually like the capstone at the head of every western mansonry, (recall every compound worth its salt in kom has a stone placed at the centre of the courtyard); the person would murmur some few words to the effect that he was going on a journey to this or that place and would only be back after a particular period of time; and so, needs the deity’s protection.
In the same light, it was believed that one couldn’t take away anything from the vicinity of that compound and survive to see the next harvesting season. That’s why as we grew up, we were told if you found a ripe avocado or banana around that compound, only eat to your fill and leave the rest for the next person. If you found an unripe pear, just carefully put it in some secure spot for it to get ripe, so you come for it some other day.
Growing up as children in Muteff, and given that the Natang Yoh’s compound was/remains so shrouded in mystery; we would stretch our imagination as to what the deity’s shrine looked like. Our parents would take all the pains to advice us on the ramifications of going beyond bounds in that compound or anytime the deity’s emissaries went out on its traditional weekday, ‘itu’ i two’, with ‘high instructions’ from the mystical order on the ‘Dos and don’ts’ in the village. Our inquisitiveness always made us to sneak away from our parents to that compound to see if by some luck, we could catch a glimpse of the dreaded shrine where the Order was lodged. When we got news that one of the villagers, a certain bobe Aryong, was the only one capable of thatching the roof over the members’ mansonry, we marvelled at him; yet, never had the guts to approach him to find out details about the shrine. After all, by that assignment, he was sworn to secrecy.
Muteff children, (like the three children -Jem, Scout and Dill), in Harper Lee’s 1960 novel ‘To Kill a mockingbird’ never ever had a grasp of the real nature of Nantang Yoh. It was more like Harper Lee’s fictional character, Arthur Boo Radley, who was such a mysterious, reclusive man and as such, the frequent subject of children’s ghastly lengends and fantasies.
The character, Boo Radley, hardly ever left his residence or spoke with anyone. This made children in Maycomb, Alabama (the setting of the novel), (just like the children in Muteff), to widely speculate about how he looks and acts like. But we quickly learn in the novel that Boo Radley was originally a kind and easygoing man (until he stabbed his father to dead, just like Biya was originally outgoing until the 1984 botched coup d’etat), and the circumstances changed his outlook to life. And so, he decided to permanently stay at home while occasionally coming out and placing gifts for children on the knothole of a tree outside as a friendly and social gesture. Even when a fire outbreak is reported in another neighbour’s house in Maycomb, Alabama, and everyone rushes out to put off the fire, a blanket is slipped on one of the three children’s shoulders, leaving them to ghast it must be the reclusive Boo Radley.
Harper Lee’s book: ‘To kill a mockingbird’ might have been set in the United States of America following the archetypal recluse in American popular culture-and indeed around the English-speaking world- yet it speaks to the real-life situation surrounding the personality of our President, Paul Biya, today.
Despite the fact that Boo Radley, (like President Paul Biya), is hardly seen in public, Boo surprisingly appears and rescues Jem and Scouts, (two of the three children of Atticus), from a mob, as they return from the Halloween party. In the same light, and just as Paul Biya is hardly seen or heard of, he would once in a while perform a friendly and social gesture. Before being seen (although only in pictures) last November 6, 2022, sharing his 40th anniversary birthday cake (with close family in their recluse), he had through the good offices of the National Hydrocarbons corporations, better known in French as CSPH, surprised the population of the North West Region with the gift 🎁 of an ultra-modern gas plant, whose works are programmed to be completed in 24 months.
The greatest wish of the population of the North West Region today is to see Okie Johnson Ndoh, Director General of the National Hydrocarbons Corporation, innovate so the gas plant is constructed in a manner that allows the system pipes in gas directly to individual homes in same manner as water and electricity, rather than stressing people to purchase gas in bottles in exhorbitant prices, as obtains today.
As the National Hydrocarbons Corporation gas-pipes Biya’s magnanimity to the people of Bamenda as Biya marks his 40 years in power as Cameroon’s Head of State, it behooves on the President to begin serious reflection on the meaning and symbolism of not only the number 40, but also the forty years of his rulership.
Forty (40) may seem a natural number following 39 and preceding 41, yet it is shrouded in mystery like the Nantang Yoh mystical Order. How comes it about that although 40 is related to four, it is spelled ‘forty’, instead of ‘fourty?’. Mathematically, 40 is a composite number, an octagonal number, and as the sum of the first four pentagonal numbers: 1+5+12+22=40; it becomes a pentagonal pyramidal number. In the sciences, negative forty becomes the unique temperature at which Fahrenheit and Celsius correspond; that is, -40 oF = -40 oC.
In religion, the number 40 is found in many traditions without any universal explanations for its use. In Kom, with its traditional 8-day-week, people work for three days and rest on the 4th day; that is, on ‘itu’ i boli’ and ‘itu i iyvinikom’). In Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Middle Eastern traditions, 40 is taken to represent a larger approximate number, similar to ‘umpteen’.
Like Biya, some Hebrew leaders and kings ( Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, et al), are said to have ruled for 40 years. The first 20 years of their forty-year-rulership saw prosperity while the last 20 years brought in anarchy and doom. That’s why, for a regime that has not been seen in good light for the last 20 years in the two English-speaking regions to come promise a gas plant in Bamenda, (especially where its track record of keeping promises comes in short-supply), the question on every lip remains: ‘that action go teh?’.
In entertainment, 40 is a 1983 song by U2 from their album ‘War’, whose lyrics are a modification of Psalms 40, which reads: ‘…For trouble without number surround me, my sins have overtaken me, and I cannot see. They are more than the hairs of my head, and my heart fails within me. Be pleased, Oh Lord; to save me; Oh Lord, Come quickly and help me.’
That may as well be President Paul Biya’s wish and prayer, who would do well to reflect on the four things that necessarily pre-occupy a leader who has served his people for forty years, and as obtained in biblical times: 1) Dead, 2) Judgment, 3) Heaven, and 4) Hell. And since anyone who finally gets to Heaven is animated by two surprises: firstly being the fact that s/he is there; and secondly, that those s/he thought could be in Heaven are surprisingly not there; The Colbert Factor can only wish for Biya the third of the four conditions: Heaven-as he admonishes himself with Psalms 40 on this 40th anniversary.
This, even as unlike the stiff moral roles imposed by the Natang Yoh deity of Muteff- that one only consumes the number of sugar canes, avocados, bananas or any other fruits one finds in the vicinity of that compound on the spot and to one’s fill, (without daring to take anything away as this would tantamount to depriving other weary passersby of an opportunity to also feed themselves); Biya has for the past 40 years, sustained a regime that depletes everything on its way with reckless abandon. Some of his close aides that declared they were working on high instructions from Mr. President to tar roads to help enclaved local communities, instead finally tarred them to their bank accounts in Europe 🇪🇺.
And just like Muteff village children would fantasize on how the Nantang Yoh deity that makes its appearances some nights on ‘itu i two’ weekdays to make divinations and cast spells on evil-doers, (with women, children and the unitiated villagers obliged to stay indoors with lights completely put off); so too when President Biya is expected to travel out or return to Yaounde, roads are blocked and people urged to stay at a distance from his pathway.
Again, just like the Nantang Yoh deity would speak to villagers through ‘high instructions’ handed down through its emissaries, so too Biya has spent the last 20 years of his 40-year-rulership governing through ‘High Instructions’. Despite such high instructions hardly ever implemented by even the people who relay them, ardents of Nantang Yoh know for a fact that the fear of the deity is the beginning of wisdom. For, unlike God who is slow to anger and quick to forgive, natang Yoh is rather quick to anger, and very slow to forgive.
That’s why, devotees of the deity would prefer to swear by God than to swear by nantang yoh the moment they have an iota of doubt in what they are saying.
In the meantime, happy 40th anniversary celebs to H.E President Paul Biya. And like him or hate him, we must admit to Biya’s uncommon destiny.
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