Singing Traditions in Cameroon, Africa

I’ve been corresponding with Nyango Melissa Nambangi who’s originally from Cameroon. Nyango Melissa mentioned that children in Cameroon sing a lot, so I asked if adults do too. Her response was so interesting that I asked her permission to share it here:

Yep! Cameroonian adults sing all the time. We sing while working – hunting, farming, cooking, cleaning around the home, etc. We actually whistle in the dark or while walking through the forest/farm, sometimes to let others who are nearby but out of sight to know that there is another human being nearby. And this helps, seeing as how dense our forests/grass can be and how dark our nights get to be in the tropics, so that anybody hearing movement in the dark or in the forest knows it is a human being not an animal. It also prevents accidental shooting for hunters hunting, and lets any other human being know that there is another person out there. Our farms can be very large and far apart but a singing voice carries, so you don’t feel alone. Singing also helps us work faster and/or gives us the momentum to work longer hours than we would if we just worked silently.

We have songs for almost all occasions. I spent my childhood in several parts of Cameroon and I can remember one song of encouragement to women working on the farm or returning from the harvest carrying bundles of food or wood on their heads. Any passer-by seeing them will call out, and if the women were farming they actually stopped for a minute to sing out in response:

Passerby:
“Miyaka weh”

Women working:
“O-na-o!
O-na-o!
O na, o na, o-na o!
O-na-o!”

The song is in the Metta language. “Miyaka” actually means “thank you” and also suggests “well done”, “good job” or something like that. I find it hard to find an exact English equivalent.

The song was such a delight to us that as children, we always sang out to the women just to hear them answer back. And then sometimes we just sat around and sang it. So, I really am not sure if this qualifies as a children’s song or an adult song.

Children also sing all the time, while playing, while fetching water or washing dishes, baby-sitting their younger siblings, etc. As children, we are encouraged to sing by our parents, teachers, etc. Children are also adept at making up songs to suit the situation, such as the victory songs I sent you about winning games – some of those are distinct children compositions.

Nyango Melissa sent me many songs that you can discover on my Cameroonian Song Pages – many with stories or explanations she has provided.

I’d like to thank Nyango Melissa for sharing so much about Cameroonian musical culture.

Nyango Melissa works with the Minnesota African Women’s Association to promote the health and well-being of African refugee and immigrant women and their families in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

This article was posted on Thursday, June 7th, 2007 at 10:06 pm and is filed under Cameroon, Children's Songs, Countries & Cultures, Customs and Traditions, English, Folk Songs, Languages, Metta, Music, Singing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply