By Tikum Mbah Azonga
Please, accept my deepest condolences for the loss of Pa Simon. My heart also goes out to Ni Alfred, Ma Rose, Richard, Eli, Atso. I have just called and spoken to Lillian Kwende. But I think of Sylvester, John and all the others.
KWENDE THE TAILOR
Pa Simon is best known in the village as "tailor" because that was his profession. In fact, when I passed to go to Sacred Heart College in 1970, my late Uncle Pa Peter Ndah Geh Tamo who prepared me for college by buying the items that were in the prospectus took me to Pa Simon at the City Chemist Round About and he sewed my college clothes.
NI TAH AS A BUFFER ZONE
I added them to the ones I had earlier received from my big brother, Ni Tah, as he was leaving for further studies in Canada. We are both related to the Kwende`s. Ni Tah also bequeathed to me his entire library and the suite case that contained his personal belongings while he was in CCAST Bambili. The books were on a wide range of subjects. However, what marked me most was the inscription, "a thing of beauty is a joy for ever" and "there`s daggers in men`s smiles" which he had on most of the books. At the time, the aphorisms didn`t` mean much to me. But then later on and even today, I see a lot of wisdom in them. I remember vividly the last day I saw Ni Tah before he left for Canada. It was in Ghana Street, Nkwen, in the home of our eldest sister, Ma Magdalene (Engonwei Ngeh) . While we sat in Engoh`s kitchen, I spotted a man struggling to control a motor cycle that was stubborn and being encouraged to do so by the muddy and slippery side road that came down into the compound. The vehicle skidded and landed in the ditch. Ni Ngwa, junior brother to Ma Helen, the other wife of Engoh’s husband, Pa Vincent Ndangoh Tayong, came to the rescue. Ni Tah had borrowed the bike from our other brother, Ni Sam Asaah Asongwed who was at the time a nurse at the Bamenda General Hospital. Ni Tah had come to inform the family that he had won a scholarship and would soon be leaving for Canada. But before he left us, he called me, removed his wallet and searched and he held the wallet upside down for me to see that it was empty. However, he gave me the two thousand francs with regret: ”As you can see, this is all I have here. Take it for now, but take your studies seriously”. For me, it was like winning the lottery.
THE KWENDES AS A SYMBOL OF UNITY
Pa Simon was a cousin to my mother and I know the Kwende family to be a very united one, which is not to say that life among them is a bed of roses. The fathers brought up their children to know that a Kwende father was a Kwende father. Distinctions such as those of children from the same father or the same womb therefore have never counted among them.
THE KWENDE LEGACY
The Kwende`s have made their mark on Mbu. Nei Kwende in Douala was once a powerful bank general manager. Pa Daniel Anyere created a powerful impact as a primary school teacher before joining the Cooperative Department where his passage was equally felt. He did something that created an indelible impression on me when I was a student at the ENS in Bambili. That was in 1980-1981. I met him in town and after we had finished chatting and I was about to leave, he searched his pockets, took out a five hundred franc note and while giving it to me, he said: “Pay your taxi with this.” It wasn`t just the giving that struck me; it was rather the fact that he should have considered giving me money when he knew very well that as a student at the ENS, I received a monthly allowance of 35 000 day as Pa Dan whipped Ma Esther Afor Geh who was in his class, he reportedly rubbed it in by saying to her: “If you think it`s because it`s your uncle who is headmaster of this school, then go and tell him!”
Another Kwende baobab was the long serving headmaster of Government School, Santa. I remember an anecdote I heard about him too. It is that while Pa Kwende was headmaster, Pa Sama, father of lawyer Sama Francis and the others, was rural science master. It turned out that some yams were harvested from the school farm and sold. After the HM waited for the proceeds but didn`t receive them, he queried Pa Sam by asking him: “Mr. Sama, what happened to those yams?” Pa Sama reportedly responded in Ngamambo by saying:”Me fe dzeghe Kwnede. A boe ghe reye?” (“ I have eaten them, Kwende! What will you do?” In Santa, Pa Headmaster was very close to Pa Zachaeus Asongwed (they are the same family) who worked at the Customary Court in Santa. Pa Zak lived in one of four rooms of a building that was and still is located up near the Santa Council premises. I know that because my brother Martin Mbaku who at the time worked at the Santa and Pinyin Cooperatives, also rented one of the four rooms. Whenever I was in Santa for vacation, especially during the long holidays when I joined other students by doing paid work at the Cooperative, I lived in that room with him. Often, when Pa Zak ate, since he lived there alone, he gave me the remains of his meal which I devoured as if I had been expecting them. I remember that his favourite meal was “reka”, that is, ground corn prepared with cocoa leaves and oiled and salted and w9ith ingredients added. This is a meal served in plantain or banana leaves, like achoo.
Whatever is the case, I know that this loss of a Kwende father will give the family at large another opportunity to showcase the Kwende unity in action. Obviously, the rest of us will learn lessons from it all.