Very rarely are pioneer works mistreated the way I am Vindicated has been. In 1959, Sankie Maimo published I am Vindicated with Ibadan University Press and it became the first literary book to be published by an Anglophone Cameroonian. This work paved the way and was soon followed by works by other Anglophone Cameroon writers such as Mbella Sonne Dipoko, Jedida Asheri, Kenjo Jumbam and Nsanda Eba. This, however, does not mean that before 1959 Anglophone Cameroonians were not writing, as Joyce Ashuntantang points out in Landscaping Postcoloniality that “others like Vincent Nchami were writing stories for BBC by 1949”.
Like most books during its period (the years of independence, during which African nations gained autonomy from their colonial masters), I am Vindicated is a play which highlights the conflict between modernity and tradition, which is a consequence of culture contact and conflict, and it was included into the syllabus of May Flower College in Nigeria, where Maimo taught at the time.
Bola, a schoolboy, is an epitome of modernity in the play, while Baba-Kasim, the village sorcerer-cum-soothsayer is the bastion of traditional values. Bola, the son of a Bambalang fisherman embarrasses his family by his uncompromising attitude towards witchcraft and secret sects, and questions the alleged powers of Baba-kasim. He uses simple arguments, guided by Cartesian logic and questions everything around him, especially the supernatural and he turns out to be triumphant when Wisiy becomes critically ill and Baba-Kasim declares it a hopeless case, but Bola is able to diagnose and cure the ailment, and with Baba-Kasim’s shocking deathbed confessions, his machinations are exposed and Bola is thus cleared and vindicated.
I am Vindicated is a lyrical book which is very entertaining and full of wit, as it is said in the play, “brevity is the soul of wit”. Its witty nature is illustrated through some of the conversations and arguments, which are full of anecdotes, mythology and poetry. The play is also full of urbanity of tone which is a result of the local flavour inherent in the play. Pidgin English, words from indigenous languages and names of deities easily fit into conversations and create a commendable verisimilitude which will not leave Cameroonians estranged. Nevertheless, the expression “by Jove”, which appears a number of times, does not sound Cameroonian; one might as well be in ancient Rome during Spartacus’ time when gladiators swore by Jupiter’s cock.
A number of thematic preoccupations run through this book, and some of them include the erosion of tradition in the face of modernity, feminism, the proliferation of esoteric cults, gullibility, Cartesianism, appearance versus reality, escapism, witchcraft, lycanthropy, necromancy, and love.
Some critics have not hesitated to label Sankie Maimo, as well as a good number of first generation Anglophone Cameroon writers as escapists, because their works do not give a “political punch” to the-powers-that-be. Pierre Fandio opines that at a time when Francophone Cameroon writers like Mongo Beti and Rene Philombe were imprisoned or exiled because their works challenged the authorities, Anglophone Cameroon writers, until very recently, largely focused on romance (A Few Nights and Days, Because of Women, Taboo Love, etc.) and on “omnibus themes” which “interest everyone but don’t discuss anything of substance” (Sov Mbang the Soothsayer, Lukong and the Leopard, The Good Foot, etc.) and were like the infamous Cicada in the fable of the Cicada and the Ant, which spent the entire summer singing instead of saving food and building shelter for the coming winter.
The 2008 edition of I am Vindicated is a poorly bound book by Cowrie Publications (with no ISBN) which is marred by typos that do a great disservice to the status of such a pioneer work. Despite its status as a pioneer work, I am Vindicated is little known outside critical circles and universities, and the average Cameroonian has never heard of it.
One would have expected that after Wirndzerem G. Barfee’s write-up in PalaPala Magazine titled “Dearth and Death: the Growing Lacuna in Cameroon Anglophone Literary Criticism and Debate”, and Oscar Labang’s hachette job in Bakwa 02 titled “Anglophone Cameroon Literature: the Travails of a Minority Literature“, the amount of apologists would have soared— rather (arguably), the noose is getting tighter such that only a tenth of new books get reviewed, and it is sad to see that the most diligent apologists of Anglophone Cameroonian writing are in the diaspora— Dibussi Tande, Joyce Ashuntantang, and Oscar Labang— just to name a few.