Portrait of a parish
Ilung is another of the three parishes in the archdiocese of Bamenda entrusted to the Mill Hill Missionaries.
Number of outstation (‘Missions’): 15.
Dominic Nyachoti mhm
Benedict Ohanga mhm
Mill Hill team
Fr Dominic Nyachoti mhm (soon to take up another appointment)
Fr Benedict Ohanga mhm (on home leave)
Michael Mandagiri mhm
Fr Michael Mandagiri mhm (to move to Ilung after Easter)
Patrick Lonkoy MEP
Patrick Lonkoy Bolengu (MEP student)
Chandu Seckar (MEP student)
Chandu Sekhar MEP
An excerpt from my diary notes:
After early morning Mass and breakfast Noah takes me to Ilung. We reach Ilung well shaken – the road has some notorious stony patches – at about 09.30 hrs. Fr Dominic Nyachoti mhm, and MEP students Patrick Lonkoy and Chandu Seckar are there to welcome us. Noah only stays very briefly because he has an appointment in Fundong.
After a cup of tea Dominic announces that we'll make a trip to Konene this morning still. All four of us pile into the ancient Hilux pickup of the parish. As we progress on the boulder strewn road winding through the hills the gradual change in landscape is very striking. We are entering the 'grasslands' – savanna. Fr Dominic, who is a fluent Kom speaker and has written on their funeral rituals as part of a study in anthropology, explains a similar change in the human landscape.
Moraria Dominic Nyachoti mhm: 'Culture and Religous Change'. Read more
We are entering the area of the Bum ethnic group. They are an amalgam of different small groupings without an overall chiefdom like the Kom. They live in harmony with the Muslim Fulani herdsmen cultivating the arable land in the valleys and leaving the grassy hillsides and hilltops to the cattle herders.
Konene is a trading centre larger than Ilung itself. Its population is very mixed. Catholics are in a minority. Dominic takes us to a hill top with an exquisite view of the surrounding valleys. The grass on the hillsides is burnt during the dry season, but it is greening already after the heavy shower with hailstones a few days ago. I see cows and sheep in the distance and Fulani compounds with corrals for the cows.
Patrick beating drum, with Grace
We visit Grace, the woman catechist, whose son is finishing theology with Mill Hill in India! She offers us fufu, ndjama-ndjama vegetables and some meat. We pray over her and over her mother – a regular custom over here when concluding a visit. After that she takes us to the church. It is larger than I had anticipated and obviously quite old. The dried mudbricks of the walls and the foundation outside need attention. Grace tells us that they had been planning a new church and had already laid the foundations, but the plan was quashed by diocesan overseers for some reason. Since then people here and in some outlying villages who contributed, have felt discouraged. The foundations are now overgrown with grass. When Dominic talks about this episode I sense a lot of emotion.
'People should be encouraged in their initiatives and not quashed like that! It takes a long time to get them to cooperate again!".
On the way back the old pickup starts to overheat because of the difficult climbs. We have to wait at some point for the engine to cool down.
Ibrahim and Patrick
In the afternoon Patrick Lonkoy (MEP student) invites me for a walk through Ilung village. It is market day. It is not a fixed weekday since people here use an eight day counting system – but most women have gone to work on their farms. We chat with a number of people along the way. Among them a Fulani Muslim friend of Patrick's called Ibrahim. Patrick clearly feels at home and has made any friends. He tells me that he enjoys home visitation – getting the smell of the sheep.
"When you meet people on the road or at the church they smile, but when you go and visit them you get a taste of e reality of their lives. There is a lot of poverty and suffering. It often makes me feel powerless. I cannot do anything to help,in the form of material assistance. But people do appreciate he attention".
Working with the youth takes his mind off the many problems he cannot solve. He has introduced a soccer competition and invites young people to visit the elderly and the sick.
"My principle is to empower the youth so that they can operate independently. At first they tend to leave everything to 'brother'…
And so we visit an old and ailing lady later that afternoon in the company of a group of youngsters. She lives deep down a steep slope in a soot-blackened dark little room with only a wood fire to give some light and is cared for by her daughter in law. One of the youngsters is the spokesperson/interpreter. He inquires how she is. We pray over her and I am invited to say a prayer of blessing. Patrick has brought a dress for her which he was able to buy cheaply. He wants the youth to present it so that others do not get the impression that he is the one giving and other persons in need may expect the same. The old lady can still walk with a stick. So she comes outside and is dressed in the new dress. I return impressed with Patrick's ability to mobilise the youth and with their generous response.
Social issues related to labour migration are a major challenge in the Ilung area. Most of the men work in plantations in the South and only return home for a month or two around Christmas. Many have two families. There is a high incidence of HIV/Aids. Married women are most at risk. The root cause is poverty. The only salaried employment in the area is education. Timber is a good source of income for some.
Fons Eppink mhm