Éric de Rosny (1930–2012), born and died in France, was a Jesuit anthropologist priest. He is known to have been a missionary in Cameroon for more than forty years, where he was initiated into a brotherhood of traditional healers.
Father de Rosny arrived in Africa in 1957, at the age of 27, to teach in Yaoundé and Douala. He soon realized that Africa hides secrets, which must be conquered through trust, immersion, and respect.
I happily read his text “Les Yeux de ma chèvre” (“The eyes of my goat”, Collection Terre Humaine, Plon, 1981), which immersed me in an African journey that you can not discover without the “eyes of the night and a goat”. Éric de Rosny invited me to participate in a five-year anthropological journey made up of data collection, personal transformation, and emotions, through the lens of Western science and the feeling of Christian spirituality. He was a cultural man full of social and sensible backgrounds, which help me to start an exceptional journey, between tradition and modernity of Africa, between reality and the imaginary of cults and rituals. Indeed, Éric de Rosny, without never neglecting his being a priest and a Westerner, becomes a “nganga”, or traditional therapist, according to the definition of the World Health Organization.
From Douala to Cape Town, the word nganga traditionally refers to the doctor who treats not only diseases of the body but also spiritual ones, such as the “evil eye” or possessions. A unique character who “sees in the night” to bring the balance in a sick body or a family system, for example after a crime or a disgrace. An essential figure in the proportion of small local communities because it is the guardian of ancient rites, able to listen, reassure and protect from evil thanks to his continuous inner struggle with the spirits. Precisely this authentic, sincere and well-sided struggle for the good distinguishes the nganga from the vulgar charlatans, the sorcerers, the false healers in search of money or power. It is in the night that the struggle of the soul begins, in search of the “ndimsi” which means “the hidden realities of the earth”. An initiation path that Éric de Rosny documents with photos, transcription of the dialogues, interviews, in all transparency with the reader and giving details of the characters and situations. Among the many, a particular place will be given to Din, the nganga that “will open his eyes” on the invisible.
At the same time, the text allows us to enter the discovery of Cameroun, with its differences between the North and the South, different for geography, climate, languages, religions: the predominantly dry, wild, Islamic North, with tall men and the South made of humidity, florescent vegetation, Christianity, men of medium height.
But after all, reading today the works and writings of Éric de Rosny also means starting various reflections on education, on the transformation of developing countries, and the appropriation of a new culture. Indeed, Éric de Rosny was a teacher who needs to understand the meaning of rituals and symbols of everyday life to communicate and educate young Africans with whom he confronted. The Western world often conveys the education of developing peoples as a possibility of “evolving”, of “becoming competitive”, of “getting back into standards”. In this way, models that become almost myths are absorbed and adopted, propagating the idea of the superiority of Western school culture. This process of “schooling” imposes itself on traditional educational systems, based on complex and entirely different paradigms, which should be understood before being judged and, at worst, replaced.
Éric de Rosny arrived to learn the local language to give us the possibility of a careful testimony as an anthropologist, to mature and share a personal and human synthesis on African culture with Western eyes. Today a road to Douala is named after Father de Rosny, formal and symbolic recognition for having been able to open a dialogue of understanding between two borders.
I was in Cameroun. I saw something, but I missed the essential which I found, luckily, in the book.