By Mirabel Azangeh Tandafor Fru
"You creators and critics of literary works also have the obligation to lay bridges of social peace and justice among people….." These were the words of His Eminence Christian Cardinal Tumi, as he delivered the key note address at the International Conference on Caribbean and African Literatures that held at the University of Buea from November 4 to 6.
The conference, which Africa as a whole and Cameroon, in particular, was hosting for the first time ever, brought together a cream of writers, scholars and historians from far and near. The governor of the Southwest Province; Louis Eyeya Zanga, represented the Minister of Higher Education.
Based on the conference's theme: "Bridging the Atlantic", the Guest Speaker, Cardinal Tumi, said African writers and writers of African descent everywhere in the world must promote the positive aspects of our people's image, while not restraining from condemning the excesses of some leaders who, to him, "have gained unenviable notoriety for their brutality and their embezzlement of public funds.
"The message that should go from Africa to the Caribbean and from the Caribbean to Africa through your creative efforts should be one that defends the inalienable rights of our people to freedom, social justice, peace and dignity. We need as many bridges as there are human needs," he maintained.
Noting that it is thanks to religion that African cultures have survived in the US, the Caribbean and in Latin America, he further said "…look at those vestiges of African cultures that survived the brutality of the Master's whiplash in Caribbean plantations, and in turn, examine what has come back to Africa from across the Atlantic."
He added that what unites both sides of the Atlantic is spiritual; while every truth is universal. The Caribbean and the African are both endowed with faculties to reason and to will.
On what makes a Caribbean different, the Cardinal had this to say: "They have the same essence, but distinct from one another. They have the same degree of being, which gives them a certain mutual similarity but their essence has its own characteristics in each of them. Their substance is the same and universal but their accidents situate and make them different. The Caribbean and the African are mutually similar but individually different," hence the need for a bridge, he reiterated.
His Eminence called on the literary experts to examine the challenges posed by the superhighways of information technology to writers and critics of creative literature in Africa and the Caribbean; if Africa is cruising this highway on a slower lane; if the Caribbean writer has a clear advantage over his African counterpart, how can the African writers' speed be improved so that they both can cross this bridge over the Atlantic with greater but cautious speed,? The Cardinal questioned.
Among the negative attributes of the Information superhighway, he cited the Internet. "Conferences like this one, while rightfully landing the advances of modern technology, should not fail to caution its users especially the younger generation of the dangers lurking in it such as unbridled violence, pornography (paedophilia) and promotion of hate literature which paradoxically most people instead go for."
The Cardinal painted a deem picture of African literature. "One of the greatest difficulties creative writers have always faced is the lack of publishing houses; a general lack of a reading culture and the inability to publish literary works on the web as is the case elsewhere."
He enjoined conference participants to also bridge the gap of poverty separating the world into two: "one inhabited by a handful of excessively rich and arrogant individuals and the other by a majority of the downtrodden; be it in Africa or in the Caribbean."
The International Conference on Caribbean Literatures was renamed the International Conference on African Caribbean literatures, during the conference.
The Vice Chancellor of UB, Prof Vincent P.K Titanji who welcomed conference participants tagged the Buea University, "a privilege meeting point for the African Diaspora" thrown to the different corners of the world by the quacks of history. While opening the session, he said Buea University will henceforth become the centre for scholarship in Caribbean and Africa literatures. He explained that the theme of the conference underlines the essential mission of literature which is to "sound a warning note where danger is present, to sing the victory song whenever human genuses move humanity forward in the right direction."
The Dean of the Faculty of Arts , Prof Azeyeh Albert, enjoined all to remain focused from start to finish of the conference.
A lecturer at the Department of English at Morehouse College in the United States, Dr Melvin Rahming, who spoke for the foreign delegation, expressed the desire that the conference would be a pageantry of thoughts, literary works and intellectual fête, and the beginning of greater collaboration between the founding institution and the University of Buea. He explained that the conference held in Cameroon with the aim of constructing a literary bridge across the Atlantic, and to involve Caribbean and African nations in the discussions to promote each other's literature.
For three days running, the literary minds examined and debated on some outstanding literary works.