Primary patriotism, shifting identity: hometown associations in Manyu division, South West Cameroon

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People's participation in hometown associations reveals a deep sense of belonging to their home place. It has been argued that promotion of this ‘primary patriotism’ by associations is potentially divisive as it may engender parochialism, increase the focus on autochthony, and enhance ethnicization of the political landscape. Contrasting views, however, do not see hometown associations as necessarily inimical to wider social and political cohesion, but as potential sites for civic engagement and citizenship formation at different levels, reflecting the shifting identity that individuals hold. The article explores these issues among the two main tiers of association in Manyu Division, South-West Province, Cameroon. It briefly describes their history and activities, then considers how the identities mobilizing them are constructed in three interlinked ways: geohistorical and genealogical; neotraditional; and national political. It concludes that while these associations occasionally engage in divisive politics in different spheres, analysis needs to balance this against their other activities and relationships. Most hometown associations continue in their original, social role of mutual support among rural–urban migrants, although their expansion into development at home has had more mixed results. Furthermore, concerns about parochialism are often hard to reconcile with the multiple levels of associational life observed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)397-425
Number of pages29
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 9 May 2011
Externally publishedYes


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