Saturday, May 17, 2014

Collective Memory and Internet: The First World War (1914-1918) a Cultural Legacy

Poster of The Conference Held in Yaounde Goethe Institut  Poster Goethe Institut

            World War I was just a small but complex human event in a series of war events whose origins and causes are linked to changes in Europe since early17th century (Hamilton and Herwig, 2005, p.2).  It is an important event in world history because it changed how politics would be made and resources used. Its impact on societies was such that its present existence in the collective memory cannot be neglected. Since cultural transmission that is the transmission of cultural material from a generation of individuals to another generation of individual within a psychological view point is highly reasonable (Madelaine Baranger, Haydee Faimberg cited in Mijolla, 2005, p.357 and p.846), it is imperative to highlight the relevance of World War I in the cultural world we are now living in. World War I involved the cultures of the world (Hamilton and Herwig, 2005) and thus positions itself as one of the world wars – there has been several world wars (Hamilton and Herwig, 2005, p.2) - whose influences are far reaching. The motifs of this war can be alleged to be linked to a natural human inclination to transform nature thus by the basically cultural side of the human. Throughout time humanity has passed through several stages which are linked to specific patterns of behaviours and thought processes. It is interesting to note the particularity of the 20th Century with the presence of World War I, a global war. As humans of the digital age, an event of the type of World War I calls and questions us. Internet has changed for ever how cultures will relate to one another and will forever enable collective memories to be remembered. The deaths of the Great War, World War I and the trauma it created.

          World War I started on the 28th July 1914 and lasted until 11th of November 1918. In Cameroon, Africa in miniature, it started on the 5th of August 1914 by the attack of Bonga and Zinga  by the French tropes from Congo . It ended with the capitulation of Mora on the 20th of February 1916 (Mveng, 1983 cited in Demassosso (in press). The North, South, Central and coastal regions were affected by the war and have until today visible effects  not only on the physical environment ( buildings , monuments)  of  the region but on the social environment (bilateral relationships)  as well but mostly on the collective memory (psychological implications e.g. collective/social trauma ).

              It was necessary therefore that a reflection be made on this event in Cameroon. On Friday 9th May 2014, Collective Memory and Internet ( in collaboration with Goethe-Insititut Kamerun (  organized a colloquium  under the theme : First World War And Historical Consciousness in Cameroon : Stakes and Challenges for a memorable celebration.    

Prof Philippes-Blaise Essomba and Mr Jung during The Conference  Photo Didier De Masso
              The conference started with a deductive reflection on the history of the war and its meaning by Prof Philippe-Blaise Essomba from the University of Yaound√© I.Women were involved in several ways during the war. Dr Andela Laure presented a thesis in favour of a massive contribution of women in World War I in Cameroon. Though more subtle, her position informs us on their attitudes to the war which was determinant in many ways according to the Historian, in shaping the evolution of the war.The role and function they had cannot be underestimated.The psychological impact at individual and collective level and the emergence of problems relating to cultural identity as an element of cultural personality and problems relating to its development then and now was highlighted by Psychologist Didier Demassosso. History Phd Student Kampoer Kampoer revealed the influence of the war on the language of the Kwasio a people made up of Ngumba and Mabea of the coastal hinterlands of the littoral region in Cameroon. The expression Na Nyan 14 is often used by these people as language behaviour to depict an attitude toward conflicting situations. The war was indeed conflicting in many aspects. An artistic view point of the War was presented by artist Victor Dicka  in a sequence starting with the beginning of the war and its end.

 Dr Andela Laure (right)  During the Conference Photo Didier De Masso

Women, the Psyche and Arts: How women consciousness, psychology and arts can be used to understand what happened during the World War I in Cameroon.

Drawing by Victor Dicka depecting the scenes of th First World War in Cameroon 
            As Dr Andela emphasised, women in Cameroon played a great role in the unwrapping of the war and this in all aspects. The implication of women in the war was in itself a complex issue since it provoked among the colonial masters confusion and controversy. It also revealed concretely the power of women, something acultural at the time. It is not surprising since women’s consciousness has a unique feature: women are the bearers of culture, and they share it from generation to generation. It was but natural Cameroonian women protect the values and traditions of their people then. The feminine collective unconscious since more rich provided them with the resources they needed to direct the war in the sense it took.  The analysis of the art work of Dicka Victor shows a conscious effort to document on the one hand and to express on the second hand the unspeakable. The effects of traumatic events are often difficult to verbalize using words. Suffering and pain is the common experience of the victims. The construction of meaning through images is also important for recovery. It is true that artistic construction can be polluted by information overload which historical facts beautifully provide. However, when we consider the artist to be historically linked by virtue of  his ancestors to part of the  history of  the event we have obligation to focus on the role that arts can play in consolidating the collective conscious , revealing suffering and providing a means for recovery. 
The Meaning of World War I and the future

            World War I meant that humans are capable of committing terrible atrocities. Moreover it showed by the involvement of continents not linked to the origins of the war how humanity is united in its essence, avoiding pain and suffering. The war lasted more than it was expected and it created a breach into the freedom of humans thereby in some contexts reawakening a sense of nationalism by the reaction of refusal of the war it generated in local communities. World War I reveals to us today that irrespective of our cultural diversity we share unavoidably the same worries and fears. We are linked beyond boundaries by our  human history. By being aware of the existence of this war, our collective consciousness  now and then an integral part of  the digital age, will lead to a healthy collective memory for future generations of humans. It seems reasonable to think that historical awareness and historical consciousness go alongside. That is the need to know what happened and to experience it consciously in some way is necessary for a complete reconstruction of the mental history of the event.The advantage we have is that we have the internet which acts as a sort of memory. We are  now part of a Collective Memory!

Interested participants at a performance marking the end of the conference of WWI in Cameroon Photo DD


 Andela, S., L. (In press). « Les Camerounaise a l’√©preuve  de la Grande  Guerre: Etude Psychologique, 1914-1915 » Colloque international du Centenaire de la premier guerre mondiale. Vendredi 9 Mai 2014 Goethe-Institute Kamerun.

Demassosso, B., D. (In press). The psychology of World War I in Cameroon: An Exploratory Analysis.  International Colloquium on the Century Anniversary of World War I Celebrations in Cameroon Friday 9th May 2014 Goethe-Institute Kamerun.

Halmiton, F., R., Nerwig, H., H. (2003). The Origins of World War I. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Kaompoer , K. (In press). ‘‘Na Nyan 14 ?’’ : Autopsie Du Legs De La Grande Guerre Dans La Memoire Kwasio  Colloque international du Centenaire de la premier guerre mondiale. Vendredi 9 Mai 2014 Goethe-Institute Kamerun

Mijolla , A., D. (2005). International Dictionary of Psychoanalysis. Detroit : Thompson Gale. ebook.

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