AN EXACERBATION OF RELIGIOUS MATERIALITY IN SECULAR CONTEXT: WRITING SACRED TEXTS ON BUILDINGS IN DOUALA

2020-04-21 23:31

Francois Manga,

PhD Researcher at the Graduate School for the Humanities

Radboud University / Nijmegen- The Netherlands

mangafh@gmail.com / / F.Manga@ftr.ru.nl

 

 

 

Résumé:

Les villes d’Afrique au sud du Sahara, à l’instar de Douala connaissent une présence de plus en plus marquée des textes religieux sur des bâtiments à usage non cultuel. Ce phénomène pourrait cependant être un élément catalyseur de troubles sociaux. Le présent article en quatre points analyse pour comprendre les origines, le sens et les impacts d’un tel procédé para-architectural. Au début, il y a une reconnaissance des lieux, Douala, ville à l’histoire fraîche et diversifiée. Vient ensuite l’identification de quelques-uns de ces textes, leurs auteurs et les livres d’où ils sont tirés. La troisième partie est dédiée à la visée commerciale de cette technique apparentée à de la publicité illégale. À la fin, concomitamment aux aspects esthétiques, se trouve l’influence sociale de la pratique, suivie de l’interpellation de tous pour une urgente régulation fondée sur les lois en vigueur, afin d’anticiper sur d’éventuels manipulations aux conséquences souvent irréversibles.

 

Mots-clés: Douala, Bâtiments, Religions, Publicité, Écrits

 

Abstract:

Douala likewise the other Sub-Saharan cities faces the phenomenon of writing of sacred texts on secular buildings. Since that practice could bear the seeds of social turmoil, the current article attempts to analyse it. Therefore, its four sections intend to understand the origins, the meaning and the impacts of the para-architectural fact. The first part is about the grasping of the multiple aspects of the history of the city of Douala. The second section identifies the texts, their authors and the books where they are taken from. The third part is dedicated to the commercial intention of that phenomenon which is then seen as illegal advertising. In the closing section, the aesthetic aspects are evoked alongside with a strong appeal to all, citizens and rulers, to regulate the practice according to the laws. This will help to anticipate all potential manipulations which always have irreversible damaging social consequences

 

Key words: Douala, Buildings, Religions, Advertisement, Writings

 

Abstract in Dutch: 

Zoals de andere Sub-Sahara-steden Douala wordt ook geconfronteerd met het fenomeen van het schrijven van heilige teksten op gebouwen.

Deze praktijk de kiemen van sociale onrust zou kunnen dragen, probeert het huidige artikel het te analyseren.

Daarom zijn de vier secties om de oorsprong, de betekenis en de impact van het para-architectuur praktijk te begrijpen.

Ten eerste is het begrijpen van de geschiedenis aspecten van de stad Douala. Daarna gaan wij de teksten identificeren, hun auteurs en de boeken waar ze vandaan komen. Het derde deel is over de zakelijke bedoeling van dat fenomeen als reclame.

In het afsluitende gedeelte zijn de esthetische aspecten gestudeerd, samen met een sterke oproep aan iedereen, burgers en heersers, om de praktijk te reguleren. Zodat dit helpt om te anticiperen op alle manipulaties die altijd onomkeerbare schadelijke sociale gevolgen hebben.

 

Key words: Afrika, Gebouwen, Religies, Reclame, Geschriften

 

Περίληψη: 

Στην Ντουάλα όπως και στις υπόλοιπες πόλεις της Υποσαχάριας Αφρικής παρατηρείται το φαινόμενο της ύπαρξης ιερών επιγραφών σε κοσμικά κτίρια. Το παρόν άρθρο επιχειρεί να αναλύσει αυτή την πρακτική, δεδομένου ότι μπορεί να επιφέρει κοινωνική αναταραχή. Συνεπώς, οι τέσσερις ενότητές του αποσκοπούν στην κατανόηση της προέλευσης, του νοήματος και των επιπτώσεων της συγκεκριμένης αρχιτεκτονικής πρακτικής. Το πρώτο μέρος αφορά την κατανόηση των πολλαπλών πτυχών της ιστορίας της πόλης της Ντουάλα. Η δεύτερη ενότητα προσδιορίζει τα κείμενα, τους συγγραφείς τους και τα βιβλία από τα οποία προέρχονται. Το τρίτο μέρος είναι επικεντρωμένο στην εμπορική πρόθεση αυτού του φαινομένου που υπό αυτή τη σκοπιά θεωρείται παράνομη διαφήμιση. Στην καταληκτική ενότητα, οι αισθητικές πτυχές του υπό εξέταση φαινομένου αναλύονται με την ταυτόχρονη έντονη έκκληση προς όλους, κυβερνώντες και κυβερνώμενους, να ρυθμίσουν την πρακτική σε συμφωνία με την κείμενη νομοθεσία. Αυτό θα βοηθήσει στην πρόληψη όλων των πιθανών χειρισμών με μη αναστρέψιμες καταστροφικές κοινωνικές συνέπειες.

 

Λέξεις-κλειδιά: Ντουάλα, Κτήρια, Θρησκείες, Διαφήμιση, Επιγραφές

 

Introduction

 

Almost everywhere, the cities landscapes are marked by numerous buildings on which are written single words or sentences. They indicate names of people, sometimes the owners, brand trademarks or any advertisement device. The life and urban landscape of a city is very dynamic.

The city always has relations with society as a whole, with its constituting elements (countryside and agriculture, offensive and defensive force, political power, States, etc.), and with its history. It changes when society as a whole change. Yet, the city’s transformations are not the passive outcomes of changes in the social whole. (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 100)

            Writings on buildings with their colours and shapes give an additional beauty to the reality of a city. Moreover, the materiality of the writings on buildings in cities such as Douala is representative of the relations between power structures for instance with a “society, regulated by large and powerful institutions (Church and State)” (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 101)

The legal texts in use in Cameroon since its birth in the years 1960 define the country as lay and secular. (Preamble of the Constitution). This is a formal and official recognition that there is no dominant religion and no interference of religious groups in the State’s affairs. Nevertheless, there is an open space created for religious activities as far as they comply the regulations. There are then worship places and religious buildings spread all over the country. They include churches, mosques and spontaneous locations in cars-parking or private houses. In Douala, the economic capital, writing religious verses on buildings has emerged besides the official and structured religious practices. Among others, this phenomenon involves the advertisement policy and the religious freedom for instance.

Therefore, the main question can be on the motivations of those who made the text, since they can be architectural, religious, economic, aesthetic or political. On the architectural dimension, we can check their necessity, and if they have some special meaning for the owner of the building they are written on? On the religious perspective, the search can be oriented on the texts themselves: what do they state? Which books and which authors are they from? Are they placed as an opened sacred book for proselytist purposes? On the economic point, the focus will be on the location of these buildings and the expectation to attract potential believers and non-believer customers. The aesthetic dimension includes the position on the top of the building, the quality of the material, the size, the colours and the difference they provide to the city landscape. The political point highlights the potential manipulations of opinions makers to create divisions based on religious groups. Three examples will guide the analysis for reliability and relevancy purposes of the exacerbation of religious materiality in secular context when writing sacred texts on buildings in Douala.

This paper uses literally method with text analysis, historical approach on the appearance of the phenomenon. It will also relay on the descriptive method that explores the legal, the geographical, the social and the spiritual contexts. For the last one, the deduction technique will be of great help.

The current work is structured into four main sections in which the first concerns the historical aspects of the city and the para-architectural phenomenon. The second part is more on the theological and legal sides, while the third studies the commercial motivations. The fourth section closes up with few aesthetic overviews and some proposals that could help to act beforehand a highly dangerous social practice considering its stigmatising and unpredictable power.

 

  1. Writing on buildings, a common practice in Sub-Saharan African cities such as

 Douala.

In many Sub-Saharan cities, it is very common to see names and other words written on buildings. This practice is not an African specificity since it is observable everywhere in the world. Douala, the economic capital of the Republic of Cameroon follows the same urban culture. The understanding of this phenomenon on a particular place deserves some requirements such as the historical side of the location and a general overview of the kind of texts placed on building.

 

  • Douala, a long architectural way

The city of Douala has a very long architectural history when considering it from the time of the German presence at the end of the 19th century. The move from the traditional building methods to new or modern ways and techniques is very challenging. There is still an unclear plan that creates a mixture of shapes, sizes colours and materials as if the main goal of a building is the protection against the climate, and animal threats. As an illustration, “the 1975 Landsat Image revealed that only 810 hectares of land were occupied by built-up at the time. The built-up was mostly concentrated in the Bepanda, Cité CICAM, Ndogbong, Cite SIC and Ndogbati neighbourhoods, which were identified as the sprawl areas at that time.” (Tichafogwe, 2018, p. 247)

This situation is far to having significantly changed. Nevertheless, the modernization comes as a must, due to the threefold dimensions of the city: its strategic geographic position near the Wouri river and the oceanic coast; its political role as the capital city and its economic importance as a huge goods transit and workplace. The architectural transformation of a city like Douala questions the necessity of texts on buildings. Because when visiting a city virtually or physically, one remarkable aspect is the presence of writings on buildings. Those texts could indicate the owner of the place, the kind of public service delivered there or a commercial announcement.

In Douala, with the practice of mixing alien construction materials to local ones, many architectural works  therefore usually “consist of block walls, corrugated iron or aluminium tray, floor tiles, and ceiling of plywood or wood panelling” (Ngoran-Xue, 2015, p. 6) That specificity does not stop these buildings to bear the name of the designer or signs of the owners. One can read for instance: “Villa Djoki; Residence Folépé; Domicile Dodo Leodine” or simply a family name or a nick name. That signature could be a proudness or a mark of life’s achievement.

 

  • Reading the houses, a browse on texts written on buildings in Douala

The fact that many houses and buildings bear the name of their owners does not only refer to a sign of property, but it could also show the social and historical importance of the name. This includes names of colonial and local rulers, important businessmen or just famous people. These people can be death or still alive.

Sometimes, the writings on buildings designate the service provided there on a public or a private base. It can be a health service such as a hospital, an educational space like a school, a governmental place since States officers will be hosted in buildings with clear indications, likewise every place dedicated to entertainment  such as a sport or events hall, and transport stations like airports, buses, cars and trains stations. Putting texts on building’s walls is also a regular commercial practice. In Douala, in most of the case and even always, this is associated to advertisement. As a result, accommodation and meeting sites like hotels and restaurants are easily visible. The same is for shopping houses, Cinema halls and brands presentation.

Besides these well-known texts’ significance, there is a special text or sign placed on buildings for a safety or city planning reason. This is the case of

buildings carry the sign (AXD) which signifies “à démolir”, meaning “to be demolished”, serving as an injunction stipulating destruction.(…) The sign is placed on buildings that do not conform to the legal norms required by planning laws regarding authorisation to build on prohibited sites or on legalized construction using unacceptable material. (Tichafogwe, 2018, p. 254)

 

  1. Sacred books opened upon the city: In Douala, Holy Scriptures are engraved on

 secular space.

It can be obvious that there are more and more writings on buildings. There is an increasing number of words or texts that do not belong to the categories evoked above. They refer to literature and precisely talking about that, they recall religious or sacred documents. Therefore, the city of Douala resembles a big opened book because of the numerous texts written on the buildings. The presence of religious quotations on buildings in Douala brings up several questions which can be helpful to the understanding of the core motivations of the owners of these buildings. In order to better grasp the issue, few points are taken into account, such as the texts themselves.

We have documented some quotations used on buildings. The “Immeuble Divine Providence” in the city section called Pk5, rented to people as to say, it is for commercial use. There, the  texts are written with tiles. The second one is named “Immeuble Grace of God” also in tiles, situated at the “entrée Benedicte- Ndogbat “otherwise called Ndogsimbi”. Another one is the “Immeuble God is Good” written with tiles and located at the same Pk5 - Kassalafam. Having these texts written on the city, Douala appears to be a book. However, “if I compare the city to a book, to a writing (a semiological system), I do not have the right to forget the aspect of mediation. I can separate it neither from what it contains nor from what contains it, by isolating it as a complete system.” (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 102) Thus, a starting step can be to clearly uncover the extensive content of these texts. From that point it will be relevant to identify their origins, the books they are taken from and their authors.

 

  • Some occurrences of the expression “Grace of God” in the Bible:

“And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom: and the grace of God was upon him.” (Lk 2:40)

 “Now when the congregation was broken up, many of the Jews and religious proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas: who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13:43)

 “But not as the offence, so also is the free gift. For if through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many.” (Rom 5:15)

“For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God, we have had our conversation in the world, and more abundantly to you-ward.” (2 Co 1:12)

 “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.” (Tit 2:11-13)

“As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.”  (1 Pe 4:10)

 

  • The divine providence

There are no biblical verses directly referring to the divine providence. Because the word providence is unknown in the Bible, although it is interpreted as care or purpose. From that perspective, many quotations can be mentioned. We cite only some of them:

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28)

Indeed, forty years You provided for them in the wilderness and they were not in want; Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell.” (Neh 9:21)

“Even there Your hand will lead me, And Your right hand will lay hold of me.” (Psalm 139:10)

 

  • Quotations with “God is good”

“The Lord is good, A stronghold in the day of trouble, And He knows those who take refuge in Him.” (Nahum 1:7)

“O taste and see that the Lord is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!” (Psalm 34:8)

“O give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His loving kindness is everlasting.” (1 Chronicles 16:34)

“The Lord is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works.” (Psalm 145:9)

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; Sing praises to His name, for it is lovely.” (Psalm 135:3)

 

  • About the authorship of the texts

The quotations chosen as illustrations to the current research are associated to the Bible. Except from the second one that comes from an interpretation, however from the same Christian sacred book. These mentions come from the Old Testament as well as the New. As a result, their authors are the prophets and some wise men of the ancient time of Israelites, and some disciples of Jesus (Peter) or their followers (Luke, Titus, Paul) converted to the Christian faith.

The Old Testament is quoted through some authors cited in this paper. Some of them are evoked without certainty due to the uncertainty of their authorship. It is the case of the book of the Psalms which is usually attributed to David.

Some prophets such as Nehemiah and Nahum are chosen for their association with the discussed topic. The Book of the Chronicles is one Old Testament’s historic document quoted without a specific author.

Peter or Simon was the son on Jonas and one the first companions of Jesus. He was chosen by their master to be the leader of the group. From his fisherman background, it is unlikely sure he wrote some letters unless with the support of other followers.

Luke and Paul committed many writings about the life and deeds of Jesus, and the spreading of the Christian faith in the early stage of the Christianity. Even though they have no physical experience with Jesus, their testimonies are very important for the understanding of the Christian faith. Luke produced the gospel bearing his name and the book of the Acts of the Apostles, while Paul signed many Letters to communities like the Corinthians.

Titus was one of the close disciples of Paul. He shares the experience of his master as well as his involvement as head of one of the earliest Christian community.

 

Going deeper, the texts on the walls of buildings are certainly chosen for a purpose according their meanings. This includes on the one hand the general or the theological understanding, and on the other hand, the special signification that could associate the owner of the building on which they are written. A relevant analysis of the words chosen to be placed on buildings is not always neutral because they are art works and for that purpose, “intellectual operations and reflective approaches are necessary to achieve it (deduction, induction, translation and transduction).” (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 102)

These texts or the most of them are built around religious themes such as the grace, the providence and the goodness, when talking precisely about the quotations discussed in the current article.

  • A slight theological overview

The theological understanding of some texts written on buildings in Douala.

The biblical analysis includes the importance of these words according to the experience of the Christian religion. The scrutiny will thus be on the grace of God; The goodness of God; The solicitude of God; and the name God itself.

 

  • The grace of God:

The grace of God can be described as the invisible extra assistance that is backing someone in the setting up of activities. If it might compare to luck, the grace of God comes as a religious expression that mentions the participation and the contribution of the divine. From that perspective, the continuation of the incarnation, the historical body silently feeds and supports the human activity through the invisible presence of the God’s grace. The grace of God serves as protection, inspiration and sometimes God’s presence. That grace can be materialized by the presence of religious officials, and some actions such as specific prayers, blessed objects like candles, statues, incenses, icons or some images. Sometimes, the grace of God comes through religious services.

 

  • The goodness of God:

The goodness is among the best-known feature devoted to God who according to almost every religion is described to be good. Moreover, God is the goodness itself, the source of the good, and the opposite of the bad. Additionally, God is said to be the author of every good, the provider and the keeper of the goodness. Consequently, the believers, and especially in our case, the Christians agree to celebrate the goodness of God, they worship and praise God for the same reason, and they proclaim that specificity even through texts written on their buildings.

 

  • The solicitude of God:

The analysis here scrutinizes the care and the attention shown by God to the creation. The faith of believers teaches that God is not only the author and creator of everything that exist be it visible or invisible, God is rather concerned about the various needs of the creatures. This is known as the divine providence, and it is announced and reminded by the means of writings on the walls for example.

  • What’s about God? 

For many cultures, the name ‘God’ is commonly admitted designing a Person or a Thing that is at the edge of natural activities like the rain, the harvest, the fertility, the light, the life, the wind or the war. According to other religious traditions, God is the Being who is at the beginning of all what does exist. He is the source of every kind of life. If God is a sex-neutral being, for many religious traditions, God is known to be a man, an old man, said to be wise and bearing all that can be seen as good and positive attitude. For many beliefs, God is eternal, that means is endless and has no starting point. The same God is said to have chosen few people to show the way to him. These selected or elected people and nations go around the world to share their faiths. The relation between the human and the divinity are among the most troubling ones since there are no agreements on how, who and when to worship or not. Therefore, the religions, structured assemblies of believers are divided into monotheists and polytheists according to the number of gods they revere. Besides them, there are the atheists, the faction of those who have no God or no religion. Anyway, every side struggle to impose its God or tendency as the best, what creates conflicts inside and outside them. Sometimes a leader of a worshipers group sets himself or herself to the endpoint, to God. They are therefore called ‘guru’ in a negative way.

 

  • Exploring the meaning for the building’s owners.

On the viewpoint of the building’s owners, the construction carrying biblical or religious words could have more than one reason. It can be to confess their faith; a testimony of the blessing and the gratitude of God; or a subtle advertisement artefact.

 

  • The “Credo” on the wall.

In the Christian and especially the Catholic Church, the Latin word “credo” refers to the confession of the faith. It is a public and official acceptance of the religion’s teachings and organization. Therefore, for the believers, the presence of sacred texts on buildings becomes a fearless and shameless exhibition of the religious orientation of the owners of the buildings. It is a clear opposition to the secular status of the public space in many countries like Cameroon. The “credo” that is usually said and expressed inside the community and sometimes during religious service, is now brought on an unexpected and unusual way on the public sphere. That unlawful practice is however tolerated by the State officials.

 

  • Done in the name of God

The phenomenon of religious texts on buildings in Douala can also be perceived as a thanksgiving attitude of the owner towards God. The owners intend to make it clear that the achievement of that oeuvre has been possible only by the power, the support and the blessings of God in who they believe. By doing so, they put God at the frontlines of their action. This kind of humility that places God in the spotlight also celebrates the divine glory and the goodness for the mankind. With that, the grace of God is a testimony for the work of God, these writings therefore sound like an act of gratitude towards God as well as the witness of the activity of the grace of God in the life of the owner, and why not those who will enter or use the building. Through such materiality, “the grace of Christ doesn’t make itself felt in us only in an inward manner, it comes to us also in a visible form” (Schillebeeckx, 1963, p. 268)

 

  • God calls you here

One goal and not the smallest of the presence of spiritual writings on buildings could be to attract the customers. This point deserves a special development since it is with paramount relevancy. In a context of social difficulties and especially the transition between the traditional way of life and the modern one, on the one hand, individuals are looking for psychological support. They are in quest of referential points be they cultural, political, historical, financial or religious. On the other hand, the religious sector appears to be very rewarding to their leaders, Priests, Bishops, Pastors, Missionaries, Prophets, Doctors and Apostles. The consequences of these two prerequisites are the increasing of religious-focused mindset. The name of God is evoked everywhere, and worship and religious services places are becoming crucial gathering points. Moreover, the social communication is sandwiched between religious terms such as “Halleluiah”, “Amen”, “In sh’Allah” and so forth. Thus, the presence of sacred texts on buildings in Douala, while following the social-communication flow, acts as an attractive action realized by God himself. In front of these texts, the believers, the worshipers and the mentally weak people have no means of resistance. In matter of choice, they will firstly and predominately go into these places.

 

3.         Religious items supporting business strategies.

The economic aspect of the phenomenon of positioning sacred texts on buildings in Douala encompasses three sections namely the geographic location since the choice of the city of Douala seems to be supported for commercial motivations instead of religious purposes; the language which is represented as a very important point because it is one of the communication tools utilized in the process; and the desired effects on potential clients come as the main goal of the practice.

 

⁃           The strategic choice of Douala for its business opportunities

The analysis of the economic aspect of the sacred texts on buildings includes the geographic situation of these buildings that is the city of Douala which is not only the most crowded town of the country but is also the core business place of the whole sub-region. Almost every activity here is business oriented. During many years, Douala has also held the status of political capital of the protectorate from 1885 to 1902, under the German rulers. This could have played a crucial role besides its renowned maritime privilege.  Consequently, on the one hand, every artwork placed on the sight of people has an attractive power on potential customers. On the other hand, the geographic location of Douala is an irresistible appeal to all kind of investors, and an incredible open space for advertisement techniques, among which is the method of using texts on houses. In huge cities such as Douala, all kind of resellers, “merchants and bankers acted to promote exchange and generalize it, to extend the domain of exchange value; and yet for them the city was much more use value than exchange value.” (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 101). This means that the city itself becomes an instrument supporting commercial activities.

With such an attractive position, the economic place comes across various challenges that affect every sector of the daily life. As a result, “due to the centralized nature of economic activities in Douala by the State, the city has witnessed a tremendous growth more than any other city in Cameroon.” (Ngoran-Xue, 2015, p. 2)

 

⁃           A language that captures people’s attention

The elaboration of the issue of the advertising with religious texts in Douala can be supported by a little however important reminding:

Cameroon is a country in Africa that was colonised by the British and the French. The colonial masters left, leaving behind their languages which resulted in the presence of French and English as official languages in the country. The advertisements in the country are therefore in French and in English. This notwithstanding, the country has more than 240 native languages, an English based pidgin and a French based Camfranglais. (Seino, 2016, p. 12)

Coming back to Douala, almost all the buildings with sacred texts are used for commercial purposes. Their owners, believers or not, are aware of the appealing power of such words on the walls. They know that people who belong to religious communities or with religious backgrounds will express more interest to places with religious input. They will feel comforted and secured by the mirroring effect of sacred texts. Therefore, “the advertisement becomes a representation of the advertiser’s perception of the audience’s world or dream world. The audience’s ideological perception of certain aspects of life, their experiences, or what they will like to experience become what the advertisement thrusts on their sensibilities.” (Seino, 2016, p. 12)

It is then noticeable that all those who act here are the producers or advertisers and the consumers through the means of words written whether in English or in French, even though the Pidgin-English is the most common language of daily communication.

The relation between the producer and the consumer shows a one-way type of conversational relation where one party, the reader or listener, is passive. Language choice in adverts therefore is that which affects the audience’s emotional response and often links an aspect of encoder’s message with a triggered emotional response from the target audience. This therefore means that the values, beliefs, and understandings of the decoder are implicitly what should be conveyed imaginatively by the encoder. (Seino, 2016, p. 11)

The texts on the buildings are these encoding methods awaiting for the reaction of the

 consumers.

 

⁃           Sacred texts hand by hand with secular commercial activities

As a preliminary remark, one can note that in Douala, buildings and many of their artefacts are “more functionalist rather than aesthetic constructions.” (Ousmanou, 2019, p. 59) Thinking about the financial value of the material that is used to write the sacred sentences, many of the texts are written on buildings used for renting or business spaces for shops or offices. Almost none of the concerned construction is a private house for the owners. The religious texts somehow automatically attract potential customers, particularly those having special connection with spiritual context. On an understated way, the building’s owners choose the beneficial aim of the presence of these texts that could be to seduce clients. They are aware of the fact that “in advertisements, the activity is the advertising of a product and the purpose here is to persuade the readers or listeners to buy the product.” (Seino, 2016, p. 11).

 

4.         A sacred text on the building: what a beautiful plus with some questionable points

The aesthetic and juridical angles of sacred texts on buildings in Douala firstly imply the various places where these texts are written, since in most of the cases they are on the top of the building. Besides that, the material and the size used bring an additional consideration. Regarding the judicial aspect, a remind of the legal organization of the religious activities will be made. While the last point will expose some proposals to support the State in its duty to regulate every activity within the territory.

 

  • Sacred texts on buildings in Douala, an aesthetic insight

Following the investigation undertaken for this paper, the texts concerned are often placed on the top of one or more floors’ buildings. It is a strategic position to make them visible from long distance. These texts seem then to define the horizon of the city. Generally, they are made of long-life material such as concrete, marble, iron, painting, glass, tiles and rarely wood. Their colours are chosen to contrast with the rest of the building to make them special to the beholder. The main purpose could be to make the texts more visible among the other available assets of the city. Therefore, these writings join the quality of artistic works, and consequently follow the characteristics of such realizations. They go beyond the simple fact of texts written somewhere because an artistic realisation cannot exist “without things, without something to shape, without practico-material reality, without a site, without a ‘nature’, a countryside, an environment. Social relations are achieved from the sensible.” (Lefebvre, 1996, p. 103). From that standpoint, the fact of placing sacred texts on buildings in Douala indirectly contribute to the beauty, the colourfulness and the delightfulness of the city landscape.

These texts act especially on the sight as they provide visual elements to the visitors as well as the inhabitants. The writings capture the attention of the one who read it or listen to it. Undoubtedly, they move from the buildings to enter in the mind of people through the eye or the ear. In this process, “seeing is a modality of visio: to perceive the external world is an internal organ (that is, the eye). The semantic field of visio includes both corporal and dream; and also, it includes verbs like to watch, to see, to observe and to contemplate.” (Marzieh, 2006, p. 51). As a result, the texts on buildings in Douala create multiple answers according to the emotional and the rational effects. For instance, for some people, it is very good, pleasant and supportive of permanent spiritual activities. For other citizens they would question the secular status of the State that should guarantee the freedoms and the neutrality in religious matters.

Therefore, for a relevant investigation on the impact of sacred texts on buildings in Douala on public daily life, it is worthy to have a good understanding of the religious freedom in the various legal dispositions in Cameroon

 

  • The juridical organization of Cameroon on religious matters

According to the “Cameroon Population and Housing Census” organised in 2005 by the “Central Bureau of the Census and Population Studies,” the religious demography is as follow: 69 % Christians (Roman Catholics – 38.4%; Protestants - 26.3 % other Christian denominations including Witnesses of Jehovah - 4 %); 20.3 % Muslim; 5.6 % Animist and less than 5 % Orthodox, Jews, the Bahai Faith, and persons who do not associate themselves with any particular religious movement. In Cameroon, Muslims and Christians are spread in every region. However, Christians are concentrated in the Southern and Western Regions. Large cities such as Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, Garoua, Bamenda have significant populations of both groups. Although the Northern Regions seem to be mainly Muslim, the population is somewhat divided among Muslims, Christians, and followers of local beliefs. Still, in Cameroon, from the North to the South, the freedom of religion and belief is respected up to the tolerance of some forms of syncretism, that is mixing religious beliefs and traditional local practices.

Furthermore, among the legalized political Parties, only one has a clear religious title namely the Parti des Démocrates Chrétiens (Christian Democrats Party), created in 2014 and chaired by Tchuimou Mbougueng Sandrine Épse Kanmogne. Nevertheless, the Mission Absolue et Suprême (Supreme and Absolute Mission), and the Cameroon Redemption Democratic Front are other Parties with names which could have religious interpretation. Moreover, the Government, as well as the official structures, remain very neutral vis-à-vis the belief of individuals.

Also, without an official religion of State, in Cameroon, the President does not swear on any religious device such as the Bible.

The Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD) manages the relations between the Government and religious groups. As the country is secular, all kind of religious groups must be approved and registered. Although the law prescribes the approval of every religious group, no specific penalty can be found. There is a tolerance policy that permits to hundreds of religious denomination associations to freely act without any official recognition. (www.state.gov/documents/organization/171604.pdf). According to the MINATD, a religious congregation in Cameroon is “any group of natural persons or corporate bodies whose vocation is divine worship” or “any group of persons living in a community by a religious doctrine.” Officially, “Religious associations cannot receive public subsidies or donations and real estate legacies.” However, the State financially supports public interest activities undertaken by religious groups on a regular basis. The same is for the several religious denominations that operate in Education (Primary and Secondary schools and Universities), and Health Care. Moreover, the Government in Cameron observes the following religious holidays as national holidays: Good Friday, Ascension Day, Assumption Day, Eid al-Fitr, Feast of the Lamb, and Christmas.

The Constitution and several other laws and policies protect religious freedom, and in practice, the Government generally enforced these protections.

 

  • Watch out for the freedom embezzlement by religious activists!

The Cameroonian government signed almost all of the International Laws and Agreements on Human Rights and according to its Constitution, “the State shall be secular. The neutrality and independence of the State in respect of all religions shall be guaranteed.” (Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon, Preamble) It is significant to be aware that “the Constitution of Cameroon appears to use the term ‘neutrality’ to define or elaborate on what meant by the Constitution’s provision for secularism.” (Temperman, 2010, 115) This means that the secularism in Cameroon is a strict neutrality of the State for Religious concerns. Not a single interference is admitted.

More explicitly, on religious aspects, the Constitution of Cameroon protects religious freedom by a strict and strong secular and neutral position, and also by the guarantee of individual religious freedom. The state shares the values of the society, encourages groups, supports religions for the wellbeing of all.  Therefore, the State should stay very neutral with religious matters by refusing any kind of interference. However, there are many situations in which the legal system faces confrontations. This subsection presents a single-case method with few subunits because, “within the single case may still be incorporated subunits of analyse, so that a more complex- or embedded- design is developed. The subunits can often add significant opportunities for extensive analysis, enhancing the insights into the single case.” (Yin, 2009, 52) According to that, the leading case is the presence of religious texts on buildings in Douala, with the point on how the officials can regulate and rule the cities without diminishing  the freedom of religion.

Considering that the activism is the willingness to practically modify the political and the social organization, it appears an utmost crucial action to have a closed and critical look on the growing phenomenon of sacred texts written on buildings in Douala. Because although Cameroon as a country is known for its religious tolerance, and always tries to find out a good balance on that issue. Also, officially, “the Constitution of Cameroon provides for freedom of religion, and the government generally respects this right in practice. There is no official state religion.” (Fuabeh, 2015, p. 32)

Nevertheless, on the one hand, with the social and political changes, and on the other hand, the increasing of religious activism, perhaps the suitable time has come to make some reflections about the potential influences of the religious groups in Cameroon, and especially, the impact of the phenomenon of writing sacred texts on buildings in Douala. This scholarly quest has three stages namely a warning signal on the extension of the practice and its dangers; a plea to modernize the cities by applying taxes on these texts; and a better city organization by mapping the streets and houses with names and numbers for example.

 

  • A warning signal and a request for a pro-active mechanism preventing abusive invasion of the public space in secular State.

As a secular State without a historical dominant religion, it is an extreme need to watch out the moves of religious organizations. Their impacts always modify the social landscape and the psychological processes of people and nations. In the past decades many misuses of the religious arguments brought social and political turmoil in the world. As a result, in Cameroon, and particularly in big cities like Douala, the States rulers should stick on the official texts about the religious-neutral character of the country. The religious tolerance could be a good orientation; however, it is better to follow the Law to avoid any kind of misunderstanding and confusion that could lead to social crises. The growing activities of religious-based groups needs a necessary regulation without any exception. Otherwise, there is a danger of confusion between tolerance and permission; additionally, it will be more difficult to move forward in correction attempts.

The issue of religious polarization in the context of social and political transformations characterized by groups and identity-focused attitude is of great interest. The task of the State officials is to keep a critical eye on such a situation and putting into practice what is already well written in the legal texts to make the cities safer and religious-neutral. The history and actions happened in other places in the world by extremists, fundamentalists and violent religious manipulations should enlighten the Cameroonian authorities.

 

  • A calling to apply strict taxes policy for advertisement that can reduce the phenomenon.

This financial regulation can also contribute to minimize the risk of religious polarisation in the public sphere. It is very important to be aware of the permanent risk of manipulation of religious topics in the destabilization of a country. The example of what happened between the Christians and the Muslim in Central African Republic is enough relevant. As a matter of consequence, there should be a clear difference between the indication of worship places, and any other use of religious material in the city. Because this second utilization of sacred assets could serve other purposes and hidden agenda such as religious advertisement, proselytism, religious radicalization, fundamentalism and religious-based socio-political activism.

If the motivation is proselytizing, then “religious urbanisation is an interesting example of development that may address the infrastructural needs of some at the expense of others. Whether it creates or ameliorates tension or conflict in cities is a critical issue to consider.” (RUA Project, 2017, p. 9)

Furthermore, if some religious structures would like to advertise for their faith, this has to follow some particular laws that guarantees the secularity of the country. Because the secularity is a priceless fundamental principle. Perhaps, this paper could be a proposal to set a law that bans every religious advertisement for commercial goals. 

 

  • A plea for a better city organization

The point here is an appeal towards city rulers to set up a functional roads and houses addressing system for delivery of goods, mail or orientation instead of relying on such buildings. With that method, which is worldwide used, there will be huge gap with the common practice in Sub-Saharan African cities, and especially in Cameroon that is the lack of formal addresses. People looking for their ways use buildings and shop’s names, round-about or trashes as reference points. It then appears important on a practical way to insist on the need of mapping the city with streets’ names or numbers, as well as on house number to build up a reliable localization and address system. Such a city organization will bring many advantages like the mail delivery; it could improve the e-business, and everyone, tourists and city dwellers will be able to find their way without using funny strategies. But still, there is a need of functional authority system where “the State legislature should ensure that the aspect of institutionalisation of local government through grass roots participation is enshrined in urban planning laws. What is required, therefore, is the improvement of competence at the level of the local authority.” (Tichafogwe, 2018, p. 257)

 

Conclusion

The development of Sub-Saharan African cities conveys various activities and phenomena like writing names or short sentences on buildings. This worldwide urban cultural practice is also observable in Douala, the economic capital of the Republic of Cameroon. Therefore, likewise the other big cities, Douala looks like a huge opened book with a special noticeable presence of religious quotations on buildings. These texts are for the most of them taken from sacred books, the Bible for example. They do not represent only a theological contribution to the aspect of the city, but they also raise several questions about the motivations of the owners of these buildings.

Rather than religious purposes, the economic aspect of the phenomenon could be quoted due to the geographic location of Douala. Moreover, the aesthetic and juridical aspects of the presence of sacred texts on buildings could lead to some concerns. Because, next to the beauty considerations, the perspective of the law calls on the State and the city authorities in their duty to regulate every activity within the territory as well as to prevent underground manipulations of the religious specificities that bring social and political threats while respecting the freedom of belief. Therefore, in Cameroon and especially in Douala, the city officials and the populations have to act pro-actively to avoid the manipulations of some politicians through religious extremists, fundamentalists, activists and radicalized who severely distort the secular status of the public sphere. The laws adopted by the Members of Parliament and the Senate deserve a better consideration, and if ever there are some issues related to them a clear and opened debate could enhanced a safer option to maintain a peaceful social and economic ambiance.

 

Bibliography 
 
Books:
 
- Lefebvre H. (1996), Writing on Cities, Eleonore Kofman, Elizabeth Lebas (Trans), Oxford/Malden, Wiley-Blackwell.
 
- Schillebeeckx E. (1963), Christ, the Sacrament of the Encounter with God, Mission, KS, Sheed Andrews and McMeel.
 
- Temperman J. (2010), State-Religion Relationships and Human Rights Law, Towards a right to religiously neutral governance. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.
 
- Yin R. K. (2009), Case Study Research Design and Methods. Fourth Edition. Los Angeles, London: Sage.
 
Articles:
 
- Ngoran S. D. Xue Z. X. (2015), “Addressing urban sprawl in Douala, Cameroon, Lesson from Xiamen integrated coastal management” in Journal of Urban Management, Vol 4, pp. 53-72
 
- Ousmanou Z, (2019), “Meanings and Significance of Colonial Architecture in Douala, Cameroon” in Structural Studies, Repairs and Maintenance of Heritage Architecture XVI, pp. 57-65.
 
Book Chapters:
 
- Tichafogwe T. R. (2018), “Urban Land Grabbing Mayhem in Douala Metropolitan Local” in Current Urban Studies, pp. 243-259.
 
- Marzieh A. N. (2006), Vision, passion, point de vue: un modele semiotique chez Paul Valery, Paris, Quoted by Smeets A. (2016), “The Impulse of Allegory” in Seeing Through the Eyes of Faith, Louvain, Peeters, pp. 581-
 
Online resources:
 
- IHL database, (2005), Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon., https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/ihl-nat/0/7e3ee07f489d674dc1256ae9002e3915/$FILE/Constitution%20Cameroon%20-%20EN.pdf
 
- Religious Urbanisation and Infrastructural Lives in African Mega-Cities (RUA Project). (2017), Urbanisation and Development: A Policy Review, https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/sites/default/files/cities-religious-urbanisation-policy-review.pdf
 
- Seino E. A. F. (2016), “Stylistic Ideology: Building Images in Advertising Language in the Brewery and Communication Industries in Cameroon” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/316735210_Stylistic_Ideology_Building_Images_in_Advertising_Language_in_the_Brewery_and_Communication_Industries_in_Cameroon
 
- https://www.state.gov/documents/organization/171604.pdf 
 

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