He proposed to her that same night.
One month of frantic preparations in the Bamileké and Beti traditions brought the marriage to its final stage. They wedded in the Catholic Church in Banganté.
The afternoon sun was still bright in the sky when the bride and groom emerged from the Catholic Church in Banganté, basking in the glory of their wedding day. They shook hands with the well-wishers, smiled widely in appreciation of the wishes and blessings offered, broke up laughing every now and then when someone cracked a very funny joke, exchanged warm words with the curious and concerned around, and took photographs for the memory of the day.
Mami Njike looked amusingly felicitous, priding herself with the running success of the wedding. She sounded like someone fully in control of the situation as she gave out orders for the crowd to make way for the newly wedded couple and their troupers to saunter through to the waiting cars for the drive to the reception.
Hans and Averill rode in a Renault car to the family compound in Banganté. With preparations for the wedding party carried out to utmost perfection, Nana Njike was certain the five hundred-plus guests expected that day would be more than taken care of. He was expecting well-wishers from Douala, Yaoundé, Kribi, Nkongsamba, and Mbanga; and he was also expecting guests from several places in the Bamilekéland, the Noun region, the Adamawa highlands and even from British Cameroons.
The compound was already crowded by 14:00 hours that afternoon, justifying the need for the extra benches that Nana Njike requested at the last minute from the king’s palace, and from families and meeting groups in Banganté and nearby. However, it became evident that there would be a shortage of sitting place, which even though not yet at a crisis point, would become a major inconvenience in the next couple of hours. There were tables at various spots in the large compound holding jugs of palm wine, pots of corn beer and kwacha, imported beer and spirits, and large dishes and pots of cooked food.
The percussionists became ferocious with the beating of their drums and rattles at around 15:00 hours. Men, women, and children left their seats and standing positions, and then formed a circle around the drummers, moving their legs and body in sync with the rhythm. The song they sang and danced to was about a legendary or mythical Bamileké ruler who escaped the sweep of the mounted and marauding Fulani warriors with three wives and several followers.
Lore holds that he trekked across inhospitable lands with his people, and that he arrived in the South, in the Western High Plateau, where he began the search for a place to build a home. Called the leopard king by many, the great leader finally built a village whose exact location has become a source of controversy in the Bamilekéland. Some groups hold that the settlement was situated between two rivers while others maintain that its location is between a river and a lake. However, the majority of the people of Bangoua considered themselves the direct descendants of the leopard king. Not far away is Bangou where the people hold a rival claim of their own that the leopard king moved his settlement there from Bangoua, which he named Bangou, a shorter version of Bangoua. But then, the people of the realm of Batie lay claim to a leopard king of their own called Ngoua, who could have passed through Bangoua and Bangou before settling in Batie with his favorite wife, whence he founded a dynasty.
Now, the drummers and singers were asking the legendary king to bless Hans and his freshly-wedded wife by making them successful in their efforts to create a family in his name. When the song came to an end, some of the women ululated for a while as if they were trying to make a point. Their activity allowed the dancers to recede to their seats and rest stands while the drummers laid aside their drums and rattle sticks. It was then that Nana Njike emerged from the house to the cheerful applause of the wedding guests. He waved at them with mixed joy and gratitude, shook the hands offered, embraced the bodies that fell on him and exchanged words with the happy faces that spoke to him. That so many people turned up to bless his first son in his new conjugal engagement was a benevolent gesture he found overwhelming. He was thankful that there was enough to drink and eat, plus a clear sky to make it a day to remember.
Nana Njike looked satisfied when he mounted the podium in the portico where the wedding couple and their troupers were seated. He greeted the bride and her parents, patted Hans and his best man Alex on their shoulders, and then addressed the guests.
He thanked them for honoring their invitations by showing up in their great numbers for the wedding of their son and brother to a daughter from afar. That Averill had found a home among them as their daughter and sister was an achievement that the Njike family cherished. He sounded like an orator as he told them about Hans and Averill. He told them that Averill’s parents wanted him to tell their story, something he did to the warm applause of the crowd.
Nana Njike was beaming with smiles as he moved up to the table in front of the bride and groom, poured a horn-full of palm wine, muttered words in solicitation of the blessings of their ancestors, and then poured some of the drink on the ground as a libation. He handed the rest to Averill, before he passed it over to Hans. The crowd roared good-humoredly as he too drank from the horn.
He dished out platefuls of the plantain dish called Kondre and handed them to Averill and Hans to more cheers and applause from the crowd. More ululating followed as the young couple started eating. Then he moved to the edge of the podium and addressed the people again, first in the dialect spoken in Banganté, then in French, and later in English―urging the guests to enjoy themselves with the provisions of the wedding. He was overjoyed when the people heeded his call and closed in on the food and drinks. The drummers went back to work moments after. The wedding party was now in full swing.
Hardly three hours into the evening, Mami Njike realized that the beer and palm wine would run out before the later hours of the day. She felt tired and worried. The activities of the past two days had overworked her to the edge of her nerves, and the excitement of the day had only worsened it. Still, she was enthusiastic. Even though she was conscious of the fact that something needed to be done about the shortage, she, all the same, sagged into a chair at a corner on the verandah and rested her chin on her right fist, making the effort to put her thoughts together for a solution to the impending crisis.
Just as it dawned on her that the corner was providing more rest than a solution to the problem at hand, the drumming stopped, followed by an exchange of drummers. She watched the former drummers move up to their table for food and refreshment and was amused by the mounds that developed on their plates and bowls. But she did not mind. There was more than enough food for the occasion.
Niatcham, a popular drummer from the Banganté village of Kijifou, joined the new drummers. He settled in the lone chair behind the drums, picked up his sticks and started striking a gentle note on his wooden drum. The other drummers followed suit as the tempo increased. The moving effect of the music spurred men, women and even children to their feet as they shouted with glee and delight. Shrilling sounds could be heard from a distance as a circle formed around the drummers.
The upsurge in the festive spirit around excited Mami Njike to the point where she defied her tiredness and joined the growing circle. The popular foot dance called the tam-mbo’uh was in motion, with its graceful and funny dengue-like movements.
Mami Njike did not dance for long before she realized that the sudden jump in the festive mood around provided an opportunity to work on her supply of booze. So, she slipped out of the circle and started searching for her boys in a hurry. She found Philip and Nkabyo drinking beer and beckoned them over. Paul joined them hardly a minute after and looked amazed when she told him to go away. His immediate protest won his brothers’ support, forcing Mami Njike to relent and let him rejoin them.
Nkabyo raised his eyebrows inquiringly at her mother. “Are you trying to tell us that you have already chosen wives for us? You Bamileké women never stop trying to weave wives into the lives of your sons,” he joked.
Mami Njike laughed despite herself. “Ah, Solomon! What gives you a think I’m inconsiderate to the point of being willing to make the life of another woman’s daughter miserable, knowing that you think it is not a man’s job to split wood for a woman, even if she happens to be his mother?”
“A price you must pay. Yes, you will pay dearly for that. Don’t complain when you run out of firewood for the first time,” Nkabyo joked again.
Mami Njike smiled and rested her left arm on his shoulder. “I want you boys to drive to Bangoua and buy us some more drinks. You can even proceed to Batoufam if there is a need for that. Nkepseu will drive you there.”...