- Rudolf Duala Manga Bell (ca 1873–8 August 1914)
He was a Duala king and resistance leader in the German colony of Kamerun. After being educated in both Kamerun and Europe, he succeeded his father, Manga Ndumbe Bell, on 2 September 1908. Manga Bell styled himself after European rulers, and he generally supported the colonial German authorities. He was quite wealthy and educated, although his father left him a substantial debt.
In 1910, the German Reichstag developed a plan by which the riverain Duala population would be moved inland to allow for wholly European riverside settlements. Manga Bell became the leader of pan-Duala resistance to that policy. He and the other chiefs at first pressured the administration through letters, petitions, and legal arguments, but these were ignored or rebutted. Manga Bell turned to other European governments for aid, and he sent representatives to the leaders of other Cameroonian peoples to suggest the overthrow of the German regime. Sultan Ibrahim Njoya of the Bamun people reported his actions to the german authorities, and the Duala leader was arrested. After a summary trial, Manga Bell was hanged for high treason on 8 August 1914. His actions made him a legitimate martyr in the Cameroonian opinion. His actions are broadly viewed as an early example of Cameroonian nationalism.
- Martin-Paul Samba, born Mebenga m’Ebono (ca 1875 – 8 August 1914)
He was a Bulu military officer during the Imperial German colonial period of Cameroon. M’Ebono became a favourite of the German colonials during his upbringing in Kribi, a coastal settlement in southern Cameroon. He was sent to Germany in 1891 to enter the German Military Academy; he was baptised Martin-Paul Samba while abroad. Upon graduation, Samba returned to Cameroon and accompanied German military expeditions across the colony.
Samba gave up his military career in 1902 and entered private business in Ebolowa. His admiration for the Germans eventually turned to hatred, and he began to plot an uprising against them. He secretly contacted British and French forces to secure arms, but one such letter was intercepted. German forces arrested him and charged him with high treason. Samba was executed on 8 August 1914. Today, many Cameroonian historians view Samba as one of Cameroon’s earliest heroes and nationalists.
- Charles Atangana (ca. 1880 – 1 September 1943)
Also known by his birth name, Ntsama, and his German given name, Karl, Charles Atangana was the paramount chief of the Ewondo and Bane ethnic groups during much of the colonial period in Cameroon. Although from an unremarkable background, Atangana’s loyalty and friendship with colonial priests and administrators secured him successively more prominent posts in the colonial government. He proved himself an intelligent and diplomatic administrator and an eager collaborator, and he was eventually named paramount chief of two Beti-Pahuin subgroups, the Ewondo and Bane peoples.His loyalty and acquiescence to the German Empire was unquestioning, and he even accompanied the Germans on their escape from Africa during the World War One.
After the escape and a brief stay in Europe, Atangana returned to his homeland in Cameroon, which by then was a League of Nations mandate territory under the administration of the French Republic. The French colonial administration doubted his loyalty at first, but Atangana served them with the same commitment he had shown the Germans. Later on, he regained his post as paramount chief. During the remainder of his life, he oversaw the Westernisation of his subjects and the improvement of his domains despite the erosion of his powers due to French policies and unrest among his people. He never advocated resistance to the European powers, preferring to embrace European civilisation and technology as a means of personal enrichment and in the service of African interests. After his death in 1943, Atangana was largely forgotten. However, since Cameroon’s independence in 1960, Cameroonian scholars have rediscovered his story which is part of the national heritage.
- King Ibrahim Njoya
This King was a distinguished ruler, intellectual, and inventor. He was 17th in a long dynasty of kings that ruled over the Bamum people in western Cameroon dating back to the 14th century. He succeeded his father Nsangu and ruled from the year 1889 until his death in 1933. He was succeeded on the throne by his son, Seidou Njimoluh Njoya.
Apart from being credited with developing a syllabic system for writing in the Bamum language, history tells us that he rejected the resistance proposals of Rudolf Duala Manga Bell during the german colonial rule. Later, under the french colonial rule, King Njoya relations with the French authorities would prove more negative and he was forced to die far from his kingdom, in exile in Yaounde. But before his death, it is well known that he studied Christianity for a time, possibly converting to it and also to Islam at a different point. After this, he ultimately created his own religion that mixed Christianity, Islam, and Bamum traditional religion. The Bamum traditional religion is believed to place great emphasis on ancestral spirits which were embodied in the skulls of the deceased ancestors. The eldest males of each lineage had possession of the skulls of deceased males. When moving, a diviner must find an appropriate place to hold the skull. Despite these efforts some men’s skulls remained unclaimed and their spirits are deemed restless. Ceremonies are thus done to placate these spirits. There is also respect for female skulls, but the details are less documented.
But, to many observers, his most important legacy was the development of the script spanned ideographic to syllabic systems, with the script’s final and most prominent form known as “A-ka-u-ku.” This is not to be confused with another of Njoya’s inventions, an artificial spoken language known as Shümom, which was devised after the script. Outsider observers in recent years have tended to confuse the script with the invented language. The French colonials destroyed Njoya’s schools and forbade the teaching of the script, which fell into rapid decline and today hovers on the brink of extinction (the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project, in Foumban, is teaching the script to young people to spread literacy), but the Shümom language is spoken as a second language by many people and is taught on the radio throughout the Bamum kingdom. Cameroonian musicians Claude Ndam and Gerryland are native speakers of Bamum and use it in their music.
- Ruben Um Nyobé (1913 – September 13, 1958)
He was an anti-imperialist Cameroonian leader, slain by the French army on September 13, 1958, near his natal village of Boumnyebel, in the department of Nyong-et-Kellé in the maquis Bassa. He created on April 10, 1948 the Cameroon’s People Union (UPC), which used armed struggle to obtain independence. After his death, he was replaced by Félix-Roland Moumié, who was assassinated by the SDECE (French intelligence agency) in Geneva in 1960.
(Please, note that the content of the following video is in french)
- Dr. John Ngu Foncha (21 June 1916 – 10 April 1999)
He was a Cameroonian politician. He founded the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) in 1955 and became Premier of the British Cameroons on 1 February 1959. He held that position until 1 October 1961, when the region merged into a federation with Francophone Cameroon. From 1 October 1961 to 13 May 1965, Foncha concurrently served as Prime Minister of West Cameroon and Vice-President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon. He held the latter title until 1970. In 1994, he led a delegation of the secessionist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) to the United Nations to request its backing of the movement’s drive for greater autonomy in Cameroon’s two English-speaking provinces. He died in Bamenda, Cameroon on 10 April 1999 at the age of 82.
- Dr. Félix-Roland Moumié (1926 – 3 November 1960)
Felix Moumié was 34 years old at his death at the hands of a french secret services (SDECE) agent, William Bechtel, in Geneva. Swiss authorities knew the murderer, but under pressure of France, they never judged him. The judicial inquiry ended by a dismissal of charges. France dreaded a public procedure – for fear of revelations on its dirty war in Cameroon against independence and anti-imperialist fighters led by Dr. Moumié.
It’s important to notice that this young politician had twice led delegations to New York to testify at the UN Trusteeship Council and, so, was well known to other African leaders, like Nasser of Egypt and especially Sekou Toure, whose country (Guinea – Conakry) was already independent since 1958. The young cameroonian doctor spent part of his time in exile in Guinea and in Egypt.
When the UPC began an uprising in Nkongsamba – fearing that the uprising would upset the french policy of “soft” independence for its colonies in sub-saharan Africa and that violence might spread as it had in Algeria, french colonial officials undertook a violent repression, and thousands of cameroonians were killed. Since the french public opinion – and even the broader anti-colonial opinion – was focused on the algerian colonial war, the repression in Cameroon went largely unnoticed by the french people and the international opinion, except for Africa specialists.
The cameroonian people will remember him as the leader who succeeded Ruben Um Nyobè at the head of the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC – “Cameroon’s People Union”) in 1958.
(Here’s a video of his biography, with comments of his widow Marthe Moumié, in french)