Cinema Signal:

Culture and Customs of Cameroon
by John Mukum Mbaku

. "Sisters In Law"

The former French colony of Cameroon and part of the British colony of Cameroon merged in 1961 to form the present country which, apparently, has benefited in terms of enlightened standards of jurisprudence. The positive inheritance from its historical masters is the subject of this documentary from Florence Ayisi and Kim Longinotto which records the work of two judges interpreting and applying laws in a manner that approximates our own.

Not as well funded nor couched in grand buildings, these high level administrators (Vera Ngassa and Beatrice Ntuba) do their utmost to bring justice into a society that's rife with inequities, particularly as it applies to women. Here, a wife may be logically considered chattel by a husband who is both overlord and master and thinks he may rule her comings and goings at the pain of self-justified beatings. In the view of these judges, this man is due for a harsh lesson in 21st century justice.

But, selfish cruelty isn't limited to husbands and wives. In one case brought before these determined jurists, a woman who "adopted" the 6-year old daughter of another woman (whom she purports to be her sister), has been trying to turn the girl into her virtual slave. The welts on the child's back, eye and legs are all the evidence necessary to protect the child from further exposure to such calumny in part by throwing her tyrant into lockup.

The only off note here is the unnecessary emphasis on feminism which should have been left to speak for itself without falsely superimposed articulation that makes it sound like a commercial. But, then, what may be expected from a company that brands itself "Women Make Movies?" Fortunately the promotion doesn't have much to do with the subject matter and doesn't dilute the message. The human compassion shown by these judges, advocates and arbitrators, mixed with humor in the face of sin and brutality, is an impressive achievement.

Documenting this third world emulation of proper justice is nothing less than a guiding light for much more advanced countries who have yet to bring their legal systems out of the control of political masters. Russia and Saudi Arabia come to mind as two example nations whose leaders could profit by studying the small West African nation bordering Biafra, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. It would do them some good to see that it only requires a socially conscious enlightenment, possible even in a place that's firmly in the hands of an ethnic oligarchy.

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Vera Ngassa and Beatrice Ntuba
Daringly applying legal enlightment in a political oligarchy.
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