Women in the church in Africa, continuity in change : the case of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cameroon from its inception to present day, (1923-1999)
The thesis aims at bringing to light the immense, yet ignored, contribution of women to the establishment of Christianity in Northern Cameroon. Northern Cameroon has a quite different historical development from the south of the country, with a significant difference being the presence of Islam in the north, which dates back to the beginning of the eleventh century. However, the situation of women in the church and society in Northern Cameroon today is no different from that experienced by women throughout centuries of male domination and, indeed, still experience in most of the traditions and cultures of the African continent. In highly patriarchal societies, like the African traditional societies of Northern Cameroon, in which Islam and Christianity have increasingly silenced and isolated women, it is very difficult to see clearly the contribution of women in social, economic and cultural domains. In Northern Cameroon, as elsewhere, women's contribution to the country's development, as well as their involvement in planting Christianity has not been, and still is not being, properly acknowledged. Everything achieved for the advancement of the well being of society, even if achieved by a woman, has been attributed to a man. Yet, as my interest in the historical development of Christianity in Northern Cameroon grew, I realised that women were at the forefront of bringing Christianity into the region, and remain the main contributors in its spread throughout the region, even though official records do not mention them as the main contributors. Hence, this oral history study has made it possible to bring to light the role of not only the women missionaries, but also the African women in a major area of public life, the church, when their contribution to it has been denied for years. Therefore, the thesis is based mostly on oral interviews since nothing is written about the work of women in the church in Northern Cameroon, apart from the reports by missionaries for their mission societies. Hence, the aim of this study has been to explore both the past and the present of Christianity in Northern Cameroon in order to make known to a wider public the extent of women 's contribution to social, cultural, and religious change. Thirty-five people were interviewed for this study in three different countries, Cameroon, Norway and South Africa. Twenty-seven interviewees were women, eight were men and interviews were conducted in French, Fulfulde (an African language spoken by most people in Northern Cameroon), and in English. Fifteen interviewees either served or were still serving as missionaries in Cameroon, the remaining twenty were non-missionary Cameroon nationals, except for one person from Madagascar. Most of the women who contributed to this study were involved in the women's movement in the Lutheran church in Cameroon. Apart from a group of regional leaders of the Women For Christ (WFC), who were interviewed together during their annual meeting in 1999 in Ngaoundere, all interviews took place individually, and interviews were conducted in the form of free conversation so as not to limit the informant by a question and answer format. Despite telling their stories to myself, a man, the women were enthusiastic and openly willing to relate their experiences as church members, as well as their thoughts about how they believed relations between men and women should be. An explanation for this attitude is that most of the women knew me as one of the very few Lutheran ministers in the church in Cameroon with a concern for the position of women in both church and society. The thesis concludes with proposals in favour of the women's full participation in the ministries of the church, which include the ordained ministry, and some suggestions on the necessary mutual collaboration between men and women in social, economic and political domains in Northern Cameroon.