A Day in the Life... Somié Village, Province de l'Adamaoua, Cameroon

There follow a series of clips that were taken at approximately one hour intervals throughout the period 6am-7pm of Wednesday 21 April 1999. The clips were taken in three locations: the central village square, a cross-roads near the village dispensary and outside the ethnographer's house in a residential part of the village.

For those who wish to watch the video clips before reading any more comments there is another page with no introductory text - just links to the clips:
blerb-less page.

Later I present a diary entry written by a villager that gives some idea about some other events in the village that day.

Background

April is early in the rainy season and is in the time of the year during which the most intensive work is undertaken. The village is relatively empty during the day - whenever possible people are working in the fields hoeing the maize that was planted in February and March to keep the weeds down and let the maize grow. The soil is mounded up into furrows that provide better support for the stalks a they grow. Some people have paid for a tractor (there are three in the area) to plough their field before planting. This considerably reduces the growth of elephant grass and makes the work of hoeing much less, but it is expensive. Often people will only pay for the tractor once every three years.

The village has a population of some two thousand people and it lies forty kilometres off the main road. It is located at 6.30° N 11.30°E at an altitude of 750 metres and has a single annual rainy season from March until October with November to February being the dry season. The villagers grow maize as their principal staple and coffee as a cash crop. Many other crops are grown.

Shooting started at 6am in the early light of day. There is life in the village at 5am when ethnographers are still abed. The cry for dawn Muslim prayers wakes many in the village even if few pay much heed. Some people, whose fields are some distance away, leave the village before dawn. Others may choose to leave in the cool, for example, if they are walking to a neighbouring village. Most rise between 5.30 and 6 am. By 7pm it is already dark, and the camera can only see people close to using its nightvision setting. Lightening is visible in the distance behind the mountain. The rain was preceded by strong gusts of wind which can damage roofs. It started around 8pm driving everyone indoors and continued until after 10pm.

The sites chosen

The three sites at which the clips were shot were selected as follows:

1) outside the ethnographer's house in a residential quarter of 'old Somié' - it was settled when the village was originally established in the early 1960s, and contrasts with the major influx of immigrants that has occurred over the last decade. The location is typical of residential areas (apart from the ethnographer) that are off the main roads and paths.

2) The centre of the village square in front of the chief's palace. The main road to the village enters one side of this, and turns a corner down the hill towards the plain. At the bottom of the slope is the dispensary, market place and Catholic church.

3) The cross-roads in front of the dispensary. At the bottom of the slope the road forks. Many houses have been built behind the dispensary over the last decade. The paths go to the fields. The left hand path (looking at the dispensary) continues to Mbonjanga village and Mayo Darlé town and also, to Gumbe hamlet at the bottom of the escarpment at the top of which is the road that connects Ribao village in Cameroon to Dorofi village in Nigeria.

The Data

The following table contains links to the video clips. Clicking on an image will start a relatively small movie playing (it is possible to have more than one playing at once depending on the power of your computer).


Time
Location One - residential quarter

Location Two - the village square

Location Three - the dispensary cross-roads
06.00
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07.00
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08.00
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09.00
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10.00
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11.00
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12.00
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13.00
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14.00
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15.00
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16.00
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17.00
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18.00
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For those with good connections and faster computers there are pages with all the videos from each location:

Location One - residential quarter

Location Two - the village square

Location Three - the dispensary cross-roads

What I would do different the next time.

Chose my sites slightly differently. Rather than standing by the tree in the centre of the square I would stand at the cross-roads so the circle took in the road down and the veranda of the bar (which is hidden from the camera by the house on the left of the cross-roads). The shops and vendors would be far closer to the camera that way. If I did repeat the shot from outside my house I would shoot for 180° from my veranda since from there you can see more houses which were hidden by the kitchen near which I was standing. Nothing of interest was going on in my house so why point the camera so much at it? Only half-way through the exercise did this occur to me!

I would consider making two sweeps at each place, one zoomed out the other zoomed in. It is hard to know which would be easier to deal with at either a practical or analytical level. This needs experiment on different settings and ways of realising the idea. Also a pole or a walking stick might have acted as a swivel base keeping the camera steady (at the risk of swaying). One of the attractions of not using a tripod is that there was no delay in starting shooting and packing up to move to the next site. This helped reduce the crowds of small children saying in tones of great excitement 'he is filming us' and running round to staying in shot. These are endemic problems (if problems they be) with this sort of work.

Exercises for Students

a) Pick any two clips and describe them as if you were writing fieldnotes. Now examine you notes. What assumptions have you made in your descriptions? Are there terms that you have used that might note be comprehensible to the people in the clips (apart from the choice of language)?

b) Pick one sequence of clips and describe the flows of people. What sensible divisions are there? Can you distinguish three or four periods into which the day divides? Justify your divisions on the basis of evidence contained in the clips.

c) Look at the backgrounds. Summarise the material basis of these people's lives. What evidence is there for different types of livelihood?

d) Discuss the problems and possibilities of generalising from such records to make general statements about how people in Somié live their lives.

e) How much (or how little) can we learn from visual records alone?
To assist this there is another page with no introductory text - just links to the clips:
blerb-less page

How much difference does the introductory text (above) make to your viewing of the images? It may help to imagine what information an alien anthropologist could learn about life on earth if the only data available were these video clips (had they been broadcast to outer space). What questions would be outstanding?

f) Is the idea of 'representative locations' meaningful? If it is then how should one go about choosing them? How could the locations used here be improved? If it is not then how can one go about presenting an account (visual or otherwise) of a population's activities and behaviours (let alone reasons for such things)?

A diary entry for the day

Dans la famille de Martin est neé un garçon ou il a été marier de Yaneque, et dans le dispensaire sa belle mère Tchieve Pauline n'a rien payer quelque chose pour l'accouchement de son enfant et juste lá dans la nuît même sa belle famille donc Mbiti la mere de Christine la tailleur on fait effort de faire le mieuse possible à trouver 2 pieces de pagnes pour couvrir à leur fille et sa mère Yanalé 4 savons plus emporter quelques serviettes chez Monique.