Salt Wata Modernity: The Port City of Victoria (Cameroon) ca.1920’s-1980

Nkwi Walter

Abstract


Arguably, assumed to have been founded by an English Missionary, Alfred Saker, Victoria rose to prominence during the British colonial administration in the 1920s and 1960s. As a port city, many people migrated from the hinterlands to Victoria in search of jobs and also their allure to consume modernity which accompanied the port. Goods which represented modernity ranging from bicycles, whisky, clothes, gramophones or ‘talking boxes’ passed through Victoria from different parts of the world and reached the hinterlands through the migrants with astonishing ramifications. Changed in mentality and assuming new identities, people who migrated to Victoria also returned to areas of origin with multifarious stories and new ways of talking and dressing. This was a way to show off their own modernities which they understood variously as kfaang, bara and mukalla. Victoria thus became a household name and represented all that modernity could take in a global world. This paper examines the relationship between the port-city and modernity and pays attention to the stories of the returned migrants from Victoria. It further examines the dynamics which led to the decline and fall of Victoria and how it was imagined and represented in the hinterlands of Cameroon. Using sources which ranges from archives, oral interviews with those who travelled to Victoria and those who just witnessed returned Victoria migrants and secondary literature, the article contends that as a “new” port city it represented newer forms of consumption and the rise of a middling class in the hinterlands. In the context of port cities in West Africa, the port city of Victoria provides us with new lenses through which oral sources inform us that it was all about modernity.

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