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Shirley and Edwin Ardener: Who are They?




Shirley and Edwin Ardener


By Elizabeth Etondi Elive



Four years have passed, since a fellow lodger, Kathleen, bumped into Mrs Chilver in Oxford during one of her fund raising rounds. Mrs Chilver told her of a friend who would be interested to help and gave her the phone number of her friend, Shirley. When they met, Kathleen told Shirley that she lived with a lady from Cameroon. The latter could not contain her delight. She asked if she could meet me and told the astonished young lady to give me her (Shirley’s) phone number. Shirley told Kathleen that Cameroon was like a second home to her. She had lived and worked there for many years and considered the people her people. Kathleen came home bursting with news for me and she handed me Shirley’s phone number. I was excited too and very curious to know who this lady was. I called at the earliest opportunity. Little did I know whom I was destined to meet.


My childhood memories of Mola Ngomba and Iya Efosi


During my childhood years I used to go to Bokwaongo for the Mahlé dances and I used to see a white couple there. They lived in one of the villages, took part in the dancing and seemed like intimate members of the Mahlé group. I remember that the dance could never start until they had arrived, and when they did, they were allowed right into the centre where only special members could come.


Everybody knew Mola Ngomba and Iya Efosi as they were called. I recall that they were a delightful couple who chatted with the villagers wherever they met them. They lived in a plantation house below Tole. They spoke the Bakweri language. When they came to Soppo, people would run out and greet them joyfully calling them by their “country” names and we, the children would gather round wide-eyed.  Even at that tender age, I used to wonder who this white couple was that loved us so much and lived like us. They seemed even friendlier than some of the missionaries.


Discovering the book, Coastal Bantus of Cameroon


Years later when I wrote my book, Yoma Ndene, Bakweri Classic Tales, I felt I needed to read more to get deeper insights into the Bakweri culture to enable me to introduce a  second volume I was planning to publish. I found a book by a certain Edwin Ardener entitled, “Coastal Bantus of Cameroon”. It was very well written and I was intrigued. The book’s treatment of the Bakweri tribe was so detailed that I was convinced it was the work of an insider. It was exciting to read and it gave me the insights I needed and even more. I just wondered who had written it. During that time, I suddenly remembered the couple I had known in our villages as a small girl and wondered if they had been anthropologists. Could they have written this book? The riddle remained unresolved. 



A Dream come True – Meeting Shirley Ardener


In the year 2003 I came to Britain and was working in Abingdon, a small village in Oxfordshire, when my fellow lodger brought me the phone number of a certain lady she had met called Shirley. She could not remember her family name but said it sounded like Adner. The name Ardener suddenly flashed through my mind and I shouted “Ardener?” “Yes, that is the name.” I was stunned. I repeated my question and Kathleen confirmed her reply. I was more than excited. I wanted to call immediately trying hard to contain my emotion. I called the following day.


When Shirley got my phone call she naturally wanted to know who I was. I told her how I had got her number and she asked if I was from Cameroon. I answered in the affirmative. She then wanted to know if I was a Bakwerian, I said I was. My heart was bumping so hard, I wonder did she hear it over the phone? I was full of expectancy.   Shirley responded by greeting me in Bakweri. I nearly busted.

 I said, “Wait a minute Shirley, what is your family name?”

She said, “Ardener”

“Are you the author of Coastal Bantus of the Cameroons?”

“It was written by my husband, Edwin Ardener.

“So?” I exclaimed. “Wonderful!”

 I told her I had read the book and found it great. Then I thought, she might be Iya Efosi after all. I could not imagine I had found our long lost Iya and Mola, the odds were too many, but I was determined to ask.

“Do you mind if I ask more questions?” Shirley seemed as excited as me.

She replied, “Not at all, go on!”

“Did you live in Bokwango when you were in Cameroon?” She said she did. Bokwango was one of the villages she had lived in and yes, she took part in the dances. I was stunned! Just one more question.

“What were your Bakweri names?” She laughed out right and said, “Iya Efos’a Ngove and Mola Ngomba.”


Providence or Mystery


Oh no! I could not believe what I heard. I thought I had gone back in time. The odds of meeting a lady I had known as a child in a small village in Cameroon, more than forty years ago, here in England were enormous. I could not imagine this lucky chance. For some mysterious reason, I had been stalking her all these years without knowing it. I had carried that image of her and her husband in my mind, then I met them in their book, and now providence had sent me to work in their own town in the UK and here I was, just a few miles from where she lived!

“Iya Efosi, I would love to meet you.” I told her. “Come, I am waiting!” was her simple reply.


Our meeting


Not long after that, Iya Efosi and I met. She was vibrant as ever, looking much younger than I had imagined she would be. She welcomed me like a long lost child and I clung to her like to a long lost mother now come back home.


Since then I have come to know her more and through her, I have met many other ladies and gentlemen who worked in Cameroon in the fifties and sixties and many who were children then like myself and still others who are working there now from Britain. Her simplicity, her openness and love to all are so refreshing. She is a point of unity between the British veterans and the new generation of Cameroonians. The Bakwerians are in her heart and she labours for them still.


Shirley and Edwin Ardener – Anthropologists and Authors


Shirley and her husband Edwin Ardener, came to Cameroon in the fifties as anthropologists, dedicating their lives to know the people and, by so doing, became one with them. The knowledge they gained about the people through this close relationship with the indigenes enabled them to write so intimately about the tribe, its people, their customs and culture. The couple returned home to Britain in the seventies, and remained until 1987 when Edwin died. Shirley returned to Cameroon in 1996 (quite unknown to me). They have written valuable historical books as well as research into the culture of the Bakweri people and others.


Although Coastal Bantus of the Cameroons deals with related tribes of the coastal area of Cameroon, the main focus is on the Bakweries. It is unfortunate that this work is no longer in print. Other books of great interest written by Shirley and her husband Edwin Ardener include Eyewitnesses to the Annexation of Cameroon, one about Bakweri marriage entitled, Divorce and Fertility, a third called  Kingdom on Mount Cameroon and another, Swedish Ventures about the peoples of the Mountain. Some of these books are still in print and are published and sold by Berghahn Books Publishers: http://www.berghahnbooks.com/series.php?pg=came_stud .

They offer special deals to people ordering from Cameroon and a certain discount to people ordering straight from them.


Other Work of Shirley Ardener in Cameroon


Shirley Ardener’s other activities for the people of Fako and Cameroon in general include her dedication in establishing the Archives in Buea, which was opened by the late S.T. Muna. She worked with late Henry Mbain and Primus Forgwe , who recently returned to the archives after the death Mbain.. Shirley still takes an interest in the archives office today.


As honorary teacher of the Buea University she continues to work with the department of Gender Studies in that university. Her contribution to a more recent publication of a book on Gender studies produced by the same university is noteworthy; another volume by members of the University is in preparation.




Shirley Ardener and many others who worked in Cameroon from the UK and other countries during colonial days as anthropologists strove to give to the indigenes an appreciation of their culture and their unique place in the world. Their contribution will enable us and our children to understanding our own history, culture and contribute to building our future. These are valuable books to leave to the next generation and should have pride of place in our libraries and in the hands of our children.


Shirley is a practical lady. She talks about sharing books with others or forming reading groups. While it might be difficult for one person to buy all the books, people could purchase different books and share.







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