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No Turning Back

2007, author(s)-editor(s) Dibussi Tande

Poems of Freedom 1990-1993

No Turning Back relives the tumultuous beginnings of Africa’s democratization experiment in the early 1990s. The main theme of the collection is an investment in hope and in the resilience of Africans. The poems are loud and clear in their castigation of dictatorship and its miseries. They celebrate the mass resolve and thirst for democracy by Africans for whom there is ’No turning back!’

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ISBN 9789956558056 | 72 pages | 216 x 140 mm | 2007 | Langaa RPCIG, Cameroon | Paperback

7 Book Reviews

  • Book Review: Collection of Poems Entitled "No Turning Back" (2007) 26 May 2009 00:39, author(s)-editor(s) CANUTE TANGWA

    Reading through Dibussi Tande’s collection of poems NO TURNING BACK (2007), I could not but recall Wole Soyinka’s one point five billion naira question: "How did creativity survive under such arbitrary exercise of power? How did Art survive in a climate of fear?"(2004 Reith Lecture).

    Dibussi Tande wrote most of his poems in an atmosphere (the turbulent and fiery 1990s; clamor for political change in Cameroon and the coming to the fore of the so called Anglophone Cameroon self-determination) of fear, uncertainty and expectation.

    At the time something apparently of import but that went without much notice happened; the manhandling and belittling of the much heralded and celebrated writer Mongo Beti in the streets of Yaounde by policemen as the prince was moving out of town. Thus, the line between ART as vision cum commitment and ART as emotion and spectacle was drawn.

    NO TURNING BACK encapsulates the Christian eschatological trinity of Vision, Tribulation and Hope; all these subsumed into the quest for freedom and political space that the poet skilfully handles as if to the manner born.

    Dibussi makes poetry look refreshingly simple but vision-packed. His language departs from the hermetic forms associated with mentors like Bate Besong and precursors such as Christopher Okigbo. Through Dibussi, the poet has elected domicile at the marketplace. He is no longer a wizened seer; remote from society. Dibussi is a skilful language resource manager: short powerful lines and a constant/unbroken rhyming pattern.

    Though visionary poetry is serious business one cannot help but move in time and beat with the musical undertones, though monotonous, of Dibussi’s poignant, podgy and at times sorrowful lines. The lines in Amand’la conjure sweet memories of Miles Davis’ rendition of this ’South African nationalist rallying slogan’.

    No keen reader can pin Dibussi on any particular poetic school of thought. He is neither a classicist, an abstract expressionist, modernist nor postmodernist. However, he has a bias for the traditional; witness Dibussi’s concern for aesthetics in all his poems.

    It cannot be gainsaid that the poet has a wide intellectual baggage. He taps from or draws inspiration from several sources. For example the poem, I Know Why the Frog Croaks So Loud, immediately brings to mine Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings.

    Dibussi draws from home-grown as well as international experiences. He moves effortlessly from the fiery 1990s in Cameroon characterized by the fear of the midnight knock from gendarmes, street battles with the forces of law and (dis)order, fight for political liberty, Anglophone Cameroon reawakening to apartheid South Africa, the killing fields of Serbia, the butchery and rape of the Congo and Liberia, the hollowness of Francophonie as well as the plight of the African American.

    In one sweep, Dibussi takes us round the world of tribulations. Of tribulations, he reminisces on a late lamented mutual friend, Etekele. But this is symptomatic because it symbolises a lost generation!

    However, he sees hope (though minimalist) in the horizon because "The mighty Fako mountain/ And the crumbling Bismark Fountain/Shall spit out freedom’s fiery venom/That will end this shameful serfdom;/ Our nation shall be born again/ And our freedoms forever regained".

    "No Turning Back" can be purchased from major online bookstores such as www.amazon.com. It will soon be available in bookstores in Cameroon.

  • No Turning Back 22 June 2009 11:18, author(s)-editor(s) Lyombe Eko Iowa City, Iowa (2009)

    Writing is an existential act. To write is to proclaim loudly and clearly that one exists. From an historical perspective, those who would not have written something, anything, would not have existed! However, writing is more than a mere proclamation of existence. Writers who have made their mark in life, whose proverbial pens have left strokes on the body politic of humanity are those who are engaged in the eternal struggles of human existence, the fight for justice, fairness, human dignity, as well as the right to appreciate the sacred and the aesthetically pleasing things of life.

    Cameroonian journalist, writer, poet, and essayist, Dibussi Tande, can clearly be numbered with the "engaged" writers of Cameroon. His book, No Turning Back: Poems of Freedom 1990-1993, is a palpable act of literary and intellectual trench warfare. The vigor, talent, and idealism of youth pulsate with immediacy and urgency throughout the collection. The genesis of Tande¹s literary career is the momentous events of the 1990s, when global political circumstances led to a rare flowering of the African bombax tree of freedom, giving voice to the voiceless. The music of freedom was in the air as ossified and mummified kleptocratic regimes trembled and quaked. This collection of poems is a thundering, yet highly disciplined critique of the authoritarianism, tribal patronage, and political arbitrariness that is the stock-in-trade of the political jungle of Africa in general, and Cameroon in particular.

    Though Tande is a poet with a view, a global view, he is at his best when he casts his sharp poetic eye on Africa in general and Cameroon, in particular, and vocalizes the anguish of his native oppression. The poet laments that the birth pangs of freedom of the 1990s led to tribulation, which morphed into the death throes of youthful idealism. The poet metaphorically shakes his fists at the rebirth of tyranny in the aftermath of Africa¹s post independence wind of change in the 1990s.

    While this collection of poems is born of the tyrannical suffocation of an African¹s youthful idealism, they are not permissively cynical. The message that echoes through the volume is a message of the triumph of hope over despair. In a moving poem "Journey¹s End-Going Back West," which echoes a refrain from Jamaican Musician, Jimmy Cliff, Tande expresses the longing for the mythical, eternal return and the New Beginning:

    "I am going back West

    To start off from where I left."

    This is his take home message: even in Africa, New Beginnings are possible! Hope is, after all, the stock-in-trade of the bard.

  • No Turning Back 22 June 2009 21:34, author(s)-editor(s) Kangsen Feka Wakai

    Reviewed by Kangsen Feka Wakai (Originally published in The Frontier Telegraph Vol. II No. 8 of January 29, 2008)

    To suggest that Cameroon embodies the tragedy that befell African peoples when European colonialism imposed itself on the continent is quite an understatement.  

    Today, Cameroon, like a host of its African neighbors has become a landscape on which real and imagined identities are contested.  This struggle within Cameroon, albeit critical in its evolution as a geo-political entity, occurs against a backdrop of political misrule, economic stagnation, social tensions, and systematic graft.

    Modern Cameroon occupies an area that was ’discovered’ by the Portuguese, claimed by the Germans, colonized by the English and French and is now the personal playground of an avaricious cult. It stands amongst one of the last colonial frontiers on the African continent.

    Cameroon requires prudent study and evaluation when one considers the fact that it is the only country in Africa, and perhaps the entire formerly colonized world with two independence dates. It wasn’t by choice.

    In fact it earned its place in this caste because in reality Cameroon is actually comprised of two nations. One of them is English speaking and the other French speaking, both of them unenviable vestiges of that infamous conference of 1884.  

    A fragile fabric binds them together. There are historians and political scientists by far more competent to elaborate more on the unholy liaison between these two entities and the strains that have characterized their relationship since 1961. I will spare the reader the details.  

    On June 9 th of 2007 I met African-American activist and writer Amiri Baraka. He was hosting an informal lecture and Q&A session at Texas Southern University’s Martin Luther King building in Houston.  

    Baraka, a veteran of political and socio-cultural struggle with scars to show for it began his lecture by posing this question to the audience:  

    "For whom do you write for?"

    He must have repeated the question at least once or twice. I do not remember.  

    But I do know that Baraka’s question assumes a socio-political relevance when one begins the ritual of interpreting Dibussi Tande’s verse in the aptly titled NO TURNING BACK , Poems of Freedom 1990-1993.

    In this first collection of verse, the author assumes multiple roles: actor, chronicler, interpreter and conscience of a generation during an era of redefinitions and realignment of loyalties.

    If the poet is the conscience of any given nation then Tande is the conscience of his generation. A generation who’s coming of age coincided with Cameroon’s coming of age, as a political entity anyways, a resultant of the so-called political wind of change, democracy strewn to its wings, which blew across the continent.

    In Part I, visions, the author becomes a poetic seer prophesizing of an impending storm. 

    I. Visions 
    I hear a sound so loud 
    Announcing the gathering clouds 
    Signs of an impending storm 
    That’s about to come.

    The first poem, The Gathering of Clouds, sets the tone for the entire collection; it is a throwback to the turbulent 1990s.

    The Cry (Freedom!!),
     No Turning Back and Detention Blues are a poet’s revelations and yearnings for dignity under virulent circumstances rife with violence, corruption and treachery but deciding to confront tyranny head-on, daring it to make its cannons roar, but reminding it that the dove shall soar .  

    Detention Blues
     is a poetic chronicle of the orgy of violence that was unleashed on opponents of the regime, mostly university students who defiantly demanded political change.  

    Then, the poet meets America and America meets the poet. In Black Power, the poet shows solidarity with black Los Angeles residents who took to the streets to vent their anger at the Los Angeles judicial machinery after the Rodney King verdict.

    II. Tribulations
     
    Beyond the promise 
     Is the lament of a people misused 
      Beyond the promise 
       Is nothing but a desolate muse 
       Beyond the promise 
        Is a tale of dreams shattered 
        Beyond the promise 
         Is a story of lives battered 
         Beyond the promise is no promise.

    Art, according to Jay Cantor, as suggested in The Space Between: Literature and Politics , ’is supposed to be self-reflexive, concerned with how we order reality, make our world, deceive ourselves or deceive...It criticizes our perceptual habits. It severs us from the myths we were deluded by. It clears the vision and thus clears the ground for action’.

    The poet does exactly what Cantor suggests. He is persistent in his attempts to reorder the reality in which he finds himself, the global reality. He is not comfortable solely with being chronicler of events; he reassumes his role as actor/participant and critique of this unfolding drama. He mourns a friend and loved one, puts Winnie on the dock, and castigates plunderers, false political messiahs and dream killers. The poet even sings a song for martyrs and Africa, mourning her pulverized dreams.

    The poet seeks peace in a warring world.  Like the dove, symbol of peace, of which he writes, he soars and embraces humankind. 

    III. Songs of Hope
     
    It has been taken over 
    By the tyrant from across the river 
    Who now controls the empire; 
    The one and only umpire 
    Who treats his new acquisitions with contempt.

    These poems address the subject of Cameroon, which has been called everything from a colonial creation, a forced marriage to a partnership betrayed, but one thing is certain, Cameroon has a national crisis, one of identity.

    The poet in this final segment becomes somewhat of a mouthpiece for English speaking Cameroon.  He moans, vents and rages, but most importantly he attempts to inspire the uninspired about a promise denied and a stolen nation.  

    No Turning Back
     then becomes another reminder of the resilience of English speaking Cameroonians whose plight Dibussi Tande has added another tale to their story, a story that must be told, again and again.  

    Perhaps under more erudite eyes, the collection could be rightfully called protest literature; even though, No Turning Back is more than about protest, it is a story of a man trying to engage his reality. 

    In fact it is an important document chronicling, through verse, the events of an era in a given space with unmitigated passion.  Perhaps it is the poet’s sensitivity towards the plight of humankind that makes his visions, tribulations and hopes idyllic.  

    Consider this...

    Between 1990-1993, many Cameroonians were arrested, brutalized, exiled and killed.  Dibussi Tande was one of them. He was one of those who lived. Others died.  He lived to tell his and their story. This work is a tribute to that twilight in Cameroon’s history.   

    Back to Baraka, one might be tempted to ask the question:
    So, for whom does Dibussi Tande write for?  

    Dibussi Tande writes for the oppressor and oppressed. He writes for Cameroon.

  • No Turning Back 22 June 2009 21:40, author(s)-editor(s) Rosemary Ekosso

    This review will not deal with matters of style. I am concerned with the ideas that I perceive through this work, and their implications in a broader context. I am reminded, as I tap this out, that yesterday I saw press reports of alleged killings by the police in Bamenda, Cameroon.

    These are the poems of a young man. However, they are not marred by the blind anger and naivete by which young men of literary bent draw attention to themselves, often to the embarrassment of their friends. The collection of poems is, considering the writer’s age when he wrote this, a candid and mature look at Cameroonian society with its head-in-the-sand approach to the politics of oppression.

    The work is reminiscent of the liberation poetry that has sustained the soul of Latin America through decades of torture and human rights abuse. Such poetry, while not shying away from grief and pain, brings with it the freshness of hope for humanity in the face of the ancient and universal crime of not loving one’s neighbour as one loves oneself. It is the tenacity of this hope, I think, that will make this work resonate with victims the world over.

    In using the word victim, I do not refer solely to those who have suffered the depredations of the brutal and unfair appendages of a system that has no regard for how its actions can shape the future, or to those whose lives have been lashed to shreds by the poisoned tentacles of its bureaucracy. I also refer to those who suffer but survive. For hope is life. A feature of that hope is the impulse, as expressed in these poems, to explore the full depth of emotion that our experience arouses.

    Those whose hope for the future is adulterated or destroyed by a combination of their action and failure to act, and who are incapable of introspection, are those who feel that this hope is directed against them.

    But unlikely as it may seem to some, they too are victims. Consider the many quislings on the African continent. As Dibussi puts it in False Prophet:

    …another deceitful son

    Aiming for a place in the sun


    None of these quislings are anything but the lavatory down which common human decency is flushed by their Western masters. As such, I feel they deserve nothing but the pity and contempt I read in these lines.

    What I have said so far might give the impression that this is a collection of hopeful jeremiads (if you’ll forgive the contradiction in terms). This is not so. Dibussi Tande is by turns impish (as in I Know why the Frog Croaks so Loud), stern as a judge (Boomerang), and even imperious (Freedom Now!!!).
    I grappled (fairly unsuccessfully, it now seems to me) with French literature in my undergraduate years. We were taught for some time by a dreadful Frenchwoman who made us feel like dirt. But I have been surprised, in later years, to find that I remember something of what I read:

    You! Hypocrite lecteur! Mon semblable!
    Mon frère!

    That is Charles Baudelaire at his strident and posturing best. This line attracts our attention. It is designed to do so. But the reason it holds and keeps our attention is that it speaks to something in us. I would call it our shared humanity if I did not feel, on the strength of what I see on the news, that many human beings are really not terribly human at all. But it is the same feeling I get when I read Dibussi’s poems. For those who have the receptors for it, I think they will come as a jolt to the system. Perhaps it is our common memory that is triggered. I do not know.

    But I think you should find out for yourselves what it is.

    Now, just the briefest of words about other things. I have always found that rhyme can stunt an otherwise natural flow of poetry. I am not sure that one or two of these poems would have suffered from its absence.

    Source: www.ekosso.com
    Rosemary Ekosso is a Cameroonian translator and court interpreter. She lives and works in Cambodia.

  • No Turning Back 27 June 2010 18:38, author(s)-editor(s) George Ngwane, Chair, National Book Development Council, Cameroon

    ...a subtle yet unapologetic critique of Cameroon’s chequered history of predatory governance. The poems provide succor to a people besieged first by the unrealised dreams of a political (mis)marriage and then a false promissory note on which their democratic development is written.

    George Ngwane, Chair, National Book Development Council, Cameroon

  • No Turning Back 27 June 2010 18:38, author(s)-editor(s) Kangsen Wakai, poet, Houston, Texas, USA

    This collection is an important document chronicling, through verse, the events of an era in a given space with unmitigated passion.

    Kangsen Wakai, poet, Houston, Texas, USA

  • No Turning Back 27 June 2010 18:40, author(s)-editor(s) Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D., Department of English, University of (...)

    A lucid and truly memorable collection of poems. Dibussi forces us to turn back and look at the pivotal volcanic moments in Cameroon’s history between 1990- 1993... As a student activist and budding journalist during this historic period, Dibussi captures cadences of this struggle eloquently.

    Joyce Ashuntantang, Ph.D., Department of English, University of Connecticut, Greater Hartford, USA