Monday, October 31, 2016


Chapter I


BEFORE we examine the economy of Bamenda and its bearing on the position of women, a somewhat detailed account of the history, ethnic character and distribution of the peoples is necessary since very little information has been published. The total population of the Province as given in the Annual Report for 948 is 301,000; but this is estimated from figures for adult taxable males, the last census having been taken in 1931. The people are negroid, with possibly a northern strain in some of the Tikar tribes. They vary considerably in physique; but, in general, those of the uplands appear to be taller, wirier, and of better build than those of the forest, where malaria, filaria, yaws, goitre and elephantiasis are prevalent.1

Apart from the analysis of the Nkom language by the Rev. Father Bruens,2 very little linguistic research has been done in Bamenda. The Basel Mission has translated the New Testament into Bali, and the Roman Catholic Mission has made some study of the language of Nsaw and produced a catechism in Nkom. The languages of Bamenda have hitherto been classified as Benue-Cross River (or semi-Bantu) and the Tikar placed in the Bafumbum-Bansaw group. But, in a recent set of articles dealing with a reclassification of West African languages,3 Greenberg has suggested that Bali, Bafut and Ndob (and presumably this would be extended to the dialects spoken by other Tikar peoples in Bamenda) are Bantu. But a definitive classification must wait on further research, as well as the publication of the results of the linguistic field survey of the northern Bantu Borderland now being carried out from the French Cameroons.

Until 1949, Bamenda was organized into 23 Native Authority Areas (see map in Appendix), but these did not in all cases coincide with ethnic boundaries. In Fungom, for example, there are a number of villages which differ in dialect, culture and provenance, - some deriving from the French Cameroons, some from the Benue Province. In the Ndop N.A. there are 12 small chiefdoms which neither linguistically nor culturally form a homogeneous unit, though 10 of them point to Ndobo in the French Cameroons as the centre

1 As far as I am aware there are no anthropometric data for the British Cameroons. Dr. Olivier has made a preliminary survey of the principal tribes of the Southern French Cameroons, and he includes a very small sample of 21 men and 13 women from the Tikar at Fumban. Vide, "Documents anthropométriques pour servir à l'étude des principales populations du Sud-Cameroun," - Bulletin de la Société d'Etudes Camerounaises, 1946, Nos. 15-16, p. 64.

2 A. Bruens, "The Structure of Nkom and its relations to Bantu and Sudanic", Anthropos, Band XXXVI1-XL, 1942-45.
3 Joseph H. Greenberg, "Studies in African Linguistic Classification. 1. The Niger-Congo Family," South Western Journal of Anthropology, vol5, No. 2, 1949, pp. 5-7. Greenberg has classified the West Sudanic nucleus, the Benue-Cross River, the languages in the British Cameroons, as well as some to the east, as Niger-Congo. Within this family he has tentatively distinguished 15 genetic sub-families; and to one of these-the Central Branch-the languageof Bamenda belong. This group includes, among others, the Cross-River languages, Munshi, Mbarike (Zumper), Jukun-Kyentu-Nidu, Bitare, Tigong, Batu, Ndoro, Bantu (Bafut, Ndob, Bamun, Bali, Banyen, Banyang, Ngami), and Mambila. In Bamenda, the Mbembe of the north appear to have linguistic affiliations with the Tigong; the Aghem claim to have migrated from Munshi; Badji (or Badjong-Pai) in Fungom is said to be of Zumper origin; while the Widekum may be affiliated with the Banyang in Mamfe.


from which they emigrated. In Nsungli,1 where there were the three Native Authorities of War, Tang and Wiya, the position is more complicated since the villages which belong to any one of these units do not occupy a continuous stretch of territory, but are interdigitated among villages belonging to the other two sub-tribes.

Some of the administrative units in the northern and western forests (as in Mbembe, Ngie, Meta and Esimbi) reflect to a much greater extent similarities of dialect and custom; but, while there is some consciousness of a common cultural heritage, the people themselves have never recognized a central political authority. It is perhaps only in Nsaw, Kom, Bum and Bali, where strong consolidated kingdoms had been created prior to the arrival of Europeans, that the existing Native Authorities corresponded, fairly closely to the traditional system of organization.

Following upon the proposals made in 1948 by the Administration, 22 out of 23 of the Native Authorities agreed to federate into four groups, each with its own central treasury and council.2 Bali remained outside this reorganization since none of the Authorities could be persuaded to become members of a group in which it was included. Traditional hostility dies hard: the people have not yet forgotten that in the last century Bali conquered villages in the south and south-west, exacted tribute, and, under the Germans, received recognition as a suzerain power. They are fearful of domination: as one ruler phrased it - "if you federate with Bali, you might just as well cut your own throat!" Such an attitude is no doubt unduly apprehensive today, but the appointment of the Føn of Bali as a member of the Eastern House of Assembly in 1946 has, if anything, reinforced it.

So far we have discussed the relation between administrative units and ethnic grouping, and attention has been directed to those differences of dialect and custom which are stressed by the people themselves. But, if traditions of migration and broader linguistic and cultural similarities are adopted as criteria, the peoples of Bamenda fall within five main groups:

(a) Tikar, 
(b) Widekum, 
(c) Mbembe,
(d) Bali,
(e) Aghem.

To these must be added the Hausa and Bororo (or Pastoral) Fulani who have entered the territory in increasing numbers since the advent of British rule. The former tend to congregate in the large market villages; while the latter pasture Zebu cattle on the hill tops of the plateau, more especially in Nsaw, Nsungli, Kom, Bafut, Fungom and in Ngwo.3 It is difficult to arrive

1 The term Nsungli is not the name of a particular tribe, but is applied to the War, Tang and Wiya groups by the Nsaw. It derives from the Lamnso word for chatterers, nsungnin. Since, however, these three groups present marked similarities of culture and dialect in contrast with neighbouring peoples I have, for the sake of convenience, retained Nsungli as a classificatory term for them. This has been and still is the practice of the Administration in its Reports.

2 The groups are (i) North-Eastern Federation (Mbembe, Mfumte, Misaje, Mbem, Mbaw, Nsungli); (ii) North-Western Federation (Fungom, Bum, Kom, Aghem, Beba-Befang, Esimbi); (iii) South-Western Federation (Ngwo, Ngie, Ngemba, Meta, Mogamaw); (iv) Nsaw-Ndop-Bafut Federation; (v) Bali. Bamenda, formerly a division of the Cameroons Province, became a Province in July, 1949. The Province now contains three divisions, namely Bamenda, Wum and Nkambe.
3 No census has been taken of the Fulani and Hausa; but, according to the Annual Report for Bamenda, 1947, there were among the former about 1,500 payers of jangali (cattle tax) - a rough approximation to the number of adult Fulani men. There were 156,870 cattle in the Province.


at even an approximate estimate of the numbers of the five main groups, the more so since, as mentioned previously, Native Authority Areas are not ethnically homogeneous. For example, among areas which are predominantly Tikar there are small bands of Mambila origin (as in Mbaw); villages of Mbembe and Zumper origin in Fungom; a Chamba (Bali) village in Ndop, and Widekum villages in Bafut. In giving some idea of the relative numerical strength of the main ethnic peoples I have disregarded these small enclaves, since I have no data on their size.1
Ethnic Group
Native Authority Area
Per Sq. Mile
Estimated Population of Groups in 1948
Percentage of Total Population
TIKAR ..Nsaw (Banso)
Kom (Bikom)
Tang-| (Nsungli)

Mbaw| (Ntem)
WIDEKUM ..Ngemba
Ngwo (Ngunu)
Meta (Menemo)
Esimbi (Age)

MBEMBE ..Mbembe
Mfumte (Kaka)

BALI ..Bali (Bani)

AGHEM ..Aghem (Wum)




(a) Tikar. As may be seen from the list above, the Tikar are numerically the most important. Nsaw, which constitutes a centralized political unit, has a population of 32,000 and is the largest. It is followed by Kom with 18,000, and Bum with 5,000. The Ndop N.A. has 35,000 but, as indicated earlier, it is a congeries of small chiefdoms which differ in dialect and custom and have, on an average, 1,500 to 4,000 members. The same applies to Bafut and Fungom.

1 The percentages given in the Table have been worked out on the basis of population figures in the Government Files of 1945. In the Widekum group, Beba and Befang are frequently linked together but should be regarded as two sub-tribes. In Mamfe, there are the Widekum-Menka tribes, which are culturally related to the Widekum, of Bamenda and which number about 10,000. There are about 10,500 Tikar settled in the French Cameroons. Since the writing of this report, further figures on the estimated population of the Bamenda Province have been made available in the Colonial Office Report for 1950, p. 236, Table 3. The figure given is 286,200, but as this may well be an underestimate and, as the next census is due in 1952-53, I have made no alterations in the Table above.


According to their own traditions, the various groups of Tikar settled in Bamenda came originally from Tibati, Banyo, Kimi and Ndobo - all in what is now the French Cameroons. Material on the history of earlier migrations is lacking, though Mr. Hawkesworth in his Assessment Report of the Bafut has made the statement that the Tikar, under a chief called Mbum, migrated originally from Bornu to the territory which now bears that name near Ngaundere. The French anthropologists incline to the view that the Tikar derived from the Mbum, and that the separation occurred many generations ago at a point somewhere between Ngaundere and Tibati. From there they settled in a vast plain watered by the Mbam River and its tributaries, the Mape and the Kim.1

About 300 years ago, increasing Chamba pressure, internal dissension, and a desire for new land resulted in the splitting off of small bands. Some of these were under the leadership of sons of a Tikar ruler, who were later to arrogate to themselves the title of Føn (Paramount Chief or King).2 They travelled west and south-west and eventually reached what is now Bamenda, but the sequence of their migrations is confused. Among the earlier were those coming from Ndobo to the Ndop Plain in the south of the Province, where small, politically autonomous villages were constituted some six to ten miles apart. None of these units was sufficiently strong to dominate the others; hostilities over land, murder and enslavement characterized their relations; and even the Fulani and Chamba raids in the last century failed to bring about some semblance of political unity or federation, though from time to time asylum was granted by one village to refugees from another.

Mbaw, Mbem, and Nsungli in the north-east of Bamenda were also the scene of early Tikar migrations from the French Cameroons. Settlements were made below the escarpment in the area formerly known as Ntem; but, at a later date, three main groups, whose descendants were to constitute the sub-tribes of Wiya, Tang and War, went up on to the Nsungli plateau and founded a number of small villages. In each sub-tribe one Village Head claimed the title of Føn and supremacy over the others; but even before the advent of the Germans his authority had been challenged by some of the component villages intent on asserting their autonomy. From Mbwot (most senior of the War group) a large band split off and travelled south into Nsaw, where some remained to establish the villages of Nkor and Djottin-Vitum and their offshoots - Dom, Din, Mbinon and Lassin.3 The main body of migrants under the leadership of their Føn journeyed farther west, subdued earlier settlers, and founded the centralized kingdom of Bum.
Bafut, Nsaw, Kom and Fungom4 were probably the last of the large scale

1 Vide, E. H. Hawkesworth, The Assessment Report on the Bafut Area of the Bamenda Division, 1926, para. 15; and I. Dugast, Inventaire Ethnique du Sud-Cameroun (Mémoires de l'Institut Français D'Afrique Noire, Centre du Cameroun Serie, Populations, No. 1, 1949), p. 129.

Dr. Jeffreys has made a special study of tribal migrations in Bamenda, and it is hoped that his information will soon he made available. I myself did not make intensive inquiries into this subject; but, in the course of discussion with Aføn and Village Heads, I found that some details of migration, which were mentioned in Reports written 15 to 20 years previously, had already been forgotten.
2 As a matter of convenience in this book I have employed the Nsaw term for paramount chief namely, Føn (pl., Aføn), but there are dialectical variations of it in other Tikar groups.
3 The Aføn of Djottin-Vitum informed me that their ancestors found earlier settlers on the site of the present village, and that they conquered them. Little is known about the indigenous inhabitants; but, in one of the Government Files, there is a note to the effect that remnants of this population are to be found today in the Fonfukka Valley. The people of Djottin-Vitum speak a dialect called Nooni.
4 In the Fungom N.A. there are five Tikar villages (Fungom, Mine, Nyos, Kuk and Kung) which, like Kom, are matrilineal. The first four may have been originally an offshoot of the Kom.


Tikar migrations to Bamenda. The Kom, who are matrilineal, defeated a number of patrilineal groups in the surrounding area (Nchang, Ake, Mejang, Basaw) and made them tributary. The sub-tribes which today constitute the Bafut Native Authority were earlier migrants who passed through the Ndop Plain on the way to their present territory. They comprise Bafut (which claims seniority over the rest), Babanki, Bafreng, Babanki-Tungaw, Bambili, Bambui and Bamenda.

The Nsaw, according to the history given to me by the Føn and most of his Councillors, settled first at Kovifem, some 12 miles to the north-west of their present capital of Kimbaw. There they prospered, multiplied and dispersed over the land to the south and south-west. There too they were joined by small bands from other Tikar groups which had settled earlier in what is now known as the Nsungli area, the Ndop Plain and the Bafut N.A. These became voluntary allies, but some of their leaders elected to maintain a semi-independent status as m'tar. They possessed, and still possess, among other privileges a right to retain the skin of leopards; and they were, and still are, under no obligation to give a daughter in marriage to the Føn. They became the founders of clans whose members regard themselves as "the true people of Nsaw", in contradistinction to the people of conquered subtowns of alien origin (see below). Some of the other leaders of groups who were voluntary allies were assimilated into the Føn's own clan as distant clansmen or duiy, and they became the founders of important sub-clans. Among these were the ancestors of three high-ranking councillors (vibai), namely Fai-o-Ndzendzef (from the Tang clan in the Nsungli area), Fai-o-Tankum (from Mbaw), and Fai-o-Luun (from Kiluun in the French Cameroons). In the last century, as a result of constant Fulani raids, the reigning Føn decided to move his capital to the south. He subdued the Chief of Nkar who, until that time, had held much of the land in the vicinity of Kimbaw and to the south-west. He then defeated a number of villages in the north-west whose founders had come originally from the Nsungli area. These were Djottin-Vitum, Din, Dom, Lassin, Mbinon, Nkor and Nser. By the time the Germans arrived the Føn had consolidated his kingdom and established a centralized machinery of government.1

(b) Widekum. I have classified the eight patrilineal tribes of the west and southwest of Bamenda as Widekum since the majority give the village of Widekum on the Mamfe border as the place from which they migrated to Bamenda many generations ago. Ngie and Esimbi deny such an origin and may represent an earlier stratum of settlement. The former claim a common origin with Meta and Mogamaw, but assert that Widekum split off from Ngie! The Esimbi recognize no affiliations at all with the others; but, apart from differences in dialect, their culture is similar.

The pattern of migration bears a strong resemblance to that in Nsungli, Mbem and Fungom. Small bands established their villages over the tribal territory and became politically and economically autonomous, although they acknowledged descent from a common tribal ancestor whose name is frequently that of the tribe (e.g. Ongieekum for Ngie, kum meaning lineage head; and Ungwo for Ngwo). The genealogies of some of the Village Heads in Ngie go back ten to twelve generations, and in Meta eight to ten .2 One Village Head in each tribe was recognized as senior to the others in that he took the leading

1 For another version of the settlement of Nsaw consult M. D. W. Jeffreys, "Nsaangu's Head," African Studies, March 1946, and his article on "Death of a Dialect," African Studies, 1945. See also M. D. W. Jeffreys and P. Kaberry, "Nsaw History and Social Categories," Africa, XXII, 1952.

2 The genealogies of the Village Heads of Asarabiri (Ngwo) and Benakemø (Esimbi) are much shorter, being 6 in the one case and 4 in the other.

role in the sacrifices to the tribal ancestor and the gods of the earth;1 but, according to statements in the Government Reports as well as those made to me by informants, it is now several generations since there has been an assembly of all villages of one tribe for the performance of such rituals. Prior to European control inter-village fighting and slave-raiding were frequent, and the only instance of concerted action in Ngie seems to have been for defence against the aggression of Bali in the last century. It was unsuccessful. Most of the tribes, with the exception of Ngemba and part of Ngwo and Meta, inhabit the forest since an advance to the uplands was checked by the Tikar and Aghem. Bebadji (Beba) was for a long time tributary to Bafut and was influenced by Tikar culture before it finally broke away and moved to its present site. Farther north, villages of Befang and Esimbi were harried by the Aghem and compelled to send drums of oil as tribute. German subjugation of the Widekum forest areas was piece-meal and in some cases was undertaken at the instigation of Bali, from whose suzerainty villages in Meta, Mogamaw and Ngie revolted between 1904 and 1912. Beba-Befang and Esimbi were not visited by the Germans until 1907; villages were burned, and many of thepopulation scattered to form isolated compounds, especially in Esimbi.

(c) Mbembe. The term Mbembe has been applied by myself to the group of three tribes, Mbembe, Mfumte and Misaje, which inhabit the rather lowlying forest areas of the north and north-east of Bamenda. With the exception of the two villages of Bebe Ketti and Bebe Jatto, they comprise small patrilineal groups who are of mixed origin and who settled in their present territories about four or five generations ago. The people of Misaje possibly originated from Kentu, but have been influenced by Tikar culture. In Mbembe itself, the first settlers were probably from the Upper Donga and established themselves in Akwadja. They were followed by others from the Wukari Division who were probably Tigong and who crossed the Donga farther to the west and founded the village of Ako, from which, at a later date, small bands migrated to what are now the villages of Mbandi, Akonkaw, Andi, Jevi and so on.2 Some of the villages in Mfumte, e.g. Lus and Kwaja, claim to have come from Akwadja in Mbembe to their present site; while others again allege that they are Tikar from the French Cameroons.

The villages consist of fairly compact clusters of compounds and, prior to the advent of the Germans, they were frequently on hostile terms with one another. Their political and kinship organization is very similar to that of the Widekum, although linguistically they differ markedly from the other ethnic groups of Bamenda. Their linguistic affiliations to the Mbembe-speaking people of the Cross River have not yet been investigated. They apparently offered little resistance to a German expedition in 1910 which came to collect labourers and taxes; and were left to pursue their own way of life, apart from the suppression of warfare and slavery. During the British regime they have, until recently, been only "lightly administered" owing to lack of communication by motor road and remoteness from administrative head-

1 The most senior Village Head in Ngwo, namely that of Asarabiri and its hamlets of Nkun, Geminggi, etc., maintains a more elaborate court than the Ngie Village Heads. He claims a right to a portion of game killed in his village-area, and to services in housebuilding and the provision of firewood. His authority is, however, limited to his clan and its effective exercise appears to depend on an exceptionally forceful personality rather than on the sanctions of tradition.

2 Vide, R. Newton, An Intelligence Report on Mbembe and Nchanti Areas of the Bamenda Division of the Cameroons Province, 1935paras. 11-17; and 91-97. Mashi and Munkap, in the Fungom N.A., claim to derive from Bebe Jatto and Ketti, but no longer follow matrilineal descent. In Mbembe, the villages of Berabi and Abonkwa claim an origin from Bamum, while Mbiribwa asserts that it came from Ntem (Tikar).


quarters. Medical facilities have been non-existent; and the solitary mission school in Mbandi had no pupils at all when I visited the area at the end of 1945. The American Baptist Mission has met with more success in Mfumte.

(d) Bali (or Bani). The Bali are a patrilineal people who are reputed to be a branch of the Chamba-Leko of Adamawa.1 Owing to increasing Fulani pressure at the beginning of the last century, they left Koncha under their leader Gawebe and journeyed south to Tibati. From there they proceeded to make war upon the Bamum and eventually entered Bamenda from Bagam. Some were mounted on horseback, and they harried Bafreng, Bande, and Bafut before passing on to what is now Bali-Nyonge, some 16 miles to the west of Bamenda Station.2

In 1889 the German explorer, Zintgraff, reached Bamenda from Tinto (Mamfe) and he stayed for four months at Bali-Nyonge, where he was well received by the Føn, Garega, who was a grandson of Gawebe. He returned again in 1890 with a trading expedition, but the Tikar Føn of Bafut was hostile and two messengers were killed. The following year a punitive expedition was carried out in which it was alleged about 1,000 Bali took part. A treaty was concluded with the Føn of Bali by Zintgraff in which the latter was recognized as exercising suzerainty. But, in return, the Føn was "assured of the establishment, recognition, and protection of his position as paramount chief over the surrounding tribes of the northern hinterland of the Cameroons". From the neighbouring tribes a regular tribute was raised, part of which was given to Zintgraff for expenditure on administration.3 In 1901, the Germans set up a military and administrative post at Bamenda Station, and soon after this some of the tributary villages began to refuse allegiance. The Government continued to support Bali, however, and, when a new Føn succeeded to office in 1905, his position as paramount chief over 31 villages was confirmed. But charges of oppression were made continuously and after 1909 some of the villages were granted independence., The Bali assisted the Germans in the first World War, but the British gained control in October 1915. Many villages attempted to break away from Bali and were punished; but, by 1920, it was realized that the problem of political relations in Bali required investigation, and an Assessment Report was made by Mr. W. E. Hunt (now Sir William Hunt) in 1925. Bali was an early centre for missionary activity, the Basel Mission making it their headquarters in 1903, although at first they were more successful in securing converts and school pupils in Mbengwi in Meta. The New Testament was translated into Bali and used in other parts of Bamenda where the Mission carried on its work. Today, many of the people in Bali are Christian (Protestant and Roman Catholic); many have received some schooling; and many are prosperous carpenters, tailors and traders. The Bali market is one of the largest in the Province and is attended by men and women from over twelve miles away. Most of the people wear European clothes of some description; a number have built substantial houses of sundried mud brick, and have even begun to agitate for a little town-planning!

1 W. E. Hunt, Assessment Report on the Bali Clan of the Bamenda Division, 1925, para. 7. Their original language was Mubakaw, but in Bamenda they adopted Mungaka, which is possibly a fusion of Bati and Bamum dialects. The account of their history in Bamenda is taken from the Report cited above. For a discussion of the Chamba in the Benue and Adamawa Provinces, see C. K. Meek, Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria, 1931, Vol. 1; and C. L. Temple Notes on the Tribes, Provinces, Emirates and States of the Northern Provinces of Nigeria, 1919, pp79-80.

2 Vide WE. Hunt, opcit., paras. 17 and 34. After a number of forays the Bali split up into six sections. Two, Bali-Nyonge and Bali-Gansin, remained in what is now the Bali N. A. Area; the Bali-Bagam and the Bali-Gasho submitted to Bagam; the Bali-Kumbat went to the Ndop Plain; and the Bali-Muti went north to Kentu, through Aghem.
3 Ibid., paras. 19-25.


(e) Aghem. The Aghem, or the Wum as they were called in some of the Government Reports, claim that their ancestors came from Munshi and that they passed through Esu in Fungom on their way to their present site on the tableland, some 4,000 feet above sea-level. Their principal village is divided into ten large sections under Section-Chiefs (Batum), one of whom is regarded as senior to the others. They were all originally matrilineal, but a few generations ago one of the Batum quarrelled with a sister's son and instituted patrilineal descent, inheritance and succession in his own section. His example has not been followed by the others and their kinship system resembles that of the matrilineal Tikar villages of Fungom. Prior to the arrival of the Germans the role of the Aghem in the north-west was similar to that of Bali in the south-west. They conquered the neighbouring forest peoples of Befang and Esimbi, but they did not evolve the highly centralized system of government characteristic of Bali, Nsaw, Bum and Kom.



Among the Widekum and Mbembe peoples the village, as already mentioned, was the political unit and the village head had very little executive authority. The political structure of Bali and most of the Tikar chiefdoms is basically similar to that of Nsaw. A paramount chief, with the assistance of councillors, rules the country and, under the traditional system, depended for the enforcementof his orders and justice on one or more secret societies. These societies still exist but no longer act as a police force though they are still feared by non-members. In Nsaw much of the former structure remains intact though stripped of many of its functions and some account of it is given here.

It will be remembered that Nsaw includes a number of villages of alien origin conquered in the last century. These villages became tributary to the Fon-Nsaw but in many ways retained independence in the management of their own affairs. Their chiefs were permitted to keep the title of Føn, but succession to office was contingent on ratification by the Fon-Nsaw. In the system of rank the latter is of course paramount. Next to him in precedence is the Fon-Mbiami (a Nsaw sub-chief), followed by the Fon-Nkar and the Fon-Ndzerem (a Føn whose ancestor sought sanctuary with Nkar when his people were harried by the Fulani in the last century). Below these are the Aføn of the conquered villages of the north-west. Each sub-chief has his own set of councillors, court officials and ngwirøng society.1

The Fon-Nsaw has his palace in Kimbaw: it comprises his own inner courtyards, dwelling huts, kitchens and stores. In front of this section lies a large courtyard (Takëbu) where the Føn hears cases and discusses public affairs with his advisers. Separated from this by small antechambers is a piazza (mandëngai), flanked on one side by the quarters of the Føn's wives, and on the other by those of the ngwirøng society, members of which are called nshilafsi and act as personal attendants, messengers and, in the old days, as police.2 The governing body of this society is called Ye-ngwirøng (literally, Mother of

1 To simplify orthography in this book I have not italicized Nsaw titles when prefixed to proper names -e.g. Fon-Nsaw (Fan of Nso), and Fai-o-Ndzendzef (the Fai of Ndzëndzëf). A very brief account of Nsaw history is given in my article on "Land Tenure Among the Nsaw of the British Cameroons," Africa, XX, 1950See also correspondence between Dr. M. W. Jeffreys and myself in Africa, XX11, 1952.

2 Members of the ngwirøng society are recruited from the first-born sons of court officials (atanto) and of all other nshilafsi; and also from the first-born sons of all male and female kin of the Fan at six generations' remove.

Ngwirong) and is comprised of several high ranking councillors with the Føn as president. Close relatives of the Føn are not permitted to join the society, but they have an association of their own - nggiri - and headquarters at the far end of the piazza.

The management of the palace, the guardianship of the Føn's wives, and control of food and wine stores are in the hands of court officials, the Atanto, whose title means "Fathers of the Palace" and who are all of nshilaf status. They have an important voice in the arrangement of the marriages of the Føn's daughters and grand-daughters, though they are not allowed to wed such women themselves. Their compounds are in the vicinity of the palace; they are in constant attendance on the Føn; and, by reason of ease of access to him, wield considerable influence. The Føn'sCouncillors proper are, however, the Vibai (sing. - Kibai), the most senior of whom, Fai-o-Ndzendzef, also assists in the sacrifices carried out annually to the ancestors and to God at Kovifem. The High Priest (Tawøng), the High Priestess (Yewøng) and the numerous Queen Mothers, (Aya; sing. - Ya) also assist in the government of the country and the hearing of cases. In rank they come next to the Føn, but play a less prominent role in secular affairs than the vibai.1 Upon the succession of a Føn the title of Queen Mother (Ya) is conferred upon his mother; or, if she is dead, then upon a 'sister' or 'daughter' of the Føn providing her mother is of m'tar status (see p. 5). In addition, there are other women of royal lineage who bear the title of Ya in commemoration of the mothers of previous Aføng. They are treated with reverence by all Nsaw people, including men of rank; they have large compounds, servants, and their own raffia and kola plantations.

In the old days the Føn had his military organization (mandjøn) which was divided into two sections - g??am and baa. Most of the villages to the north and north-east of Kimbaw belonged to the g??am, and those to the south and southwest to baa. Each village had its own club house (laf mandjøng) under a Ta-mandjøng (Father of the Mandjøng); adult males automatically became members and met regularly for wine drinking, hunting, and of course gave military service when called upon. Kimbaw itself was divided into two sections, g??am and baa, each having its own club house in the environs of the palace, and its own ta-mandjøng, and supreme commander, nfoomi. The Society has been shorn of its military functions but it still exists for purposes of recreation, hunting and tax collection!

Local Organization. Bamenda villages may be anything from one to five miles apart and they vary widely in size. The smallest have little more than a few score inhabitants; the largest, including Kimbaw, Aghem, Bali and some of the Ndop village-areas, have over 3,000; while, in the great majority, population ranges from 300 to 800. In the 1947-48 figures for adult taxable males in Nsaw, 47 villages were listed; but it is worth pointing out that 14 of these only became tax-paying units in 1942-1943 and that their population is small by Nsaw standards in that it varies from just under 100 to just over 500. Of the remaining Nsaw villages, there are 15 with a population from 500 to 1,000; 7 with a population from 1,000 to just over 2,000; and, finally, Kimbaw with

1 There are 13 vibai who act as Councillors to the Fon-Nsaw. In the case of 4 (Ndzendzef, Tankum, Yuwar, and Luun) the office has been vested in their respective lineages since the settlement at Kovifem; a fifth councillorship (that of Tsinlaa) was created by the Føn who fled to Tauwvisa from Fulani raids; while those of Ndzendzeftsen, Do-e-Ngven, and Do-e-Run were established when Kimbaw was made the capital. The late Føn during his long reign, which lasted from 1910 to 1947, appointed 5 others - Tankumkui, Sob, Mbisha, Ngandzen, and Nkavikeng - who are still looked upon as parvenus. There are 7 important Atanto (sing., tanto) who live in Kimbaw and whose lineages have been entrusted with the office for many generations. The late Føn raised other individuals to this status, but most of them live outside the capital.


approximately 4,800.1 Nsaw occupies an area some 700 square miles in extent and the density is about 40 to the square mile; but, within a radius of some two hours' walking distance from Kimbaw, the density must be well over 100. In this particular region there are 17 villages with a total population of nearly 15,000. The pressure on arable and residential land is considerable and, for many years, there has been a drift to the fertile areas near Kwanso, Shiy, and south of Mbiami.

In most Tikar tribes and in those influenced by them, houses are square structures of wattle and daub surmounted by a pyramidal thatched roof. The usual size is 12 feet square, some being a little more commodious. Immediately under the roof is an attic, which is usually approached through a small aperture in the top of the front or side wall, and which is reserved mainly for the storage of grain and firewood. The traditional style of hut lacks windows, and has a sliding door of raffia poles raised a few inches or a foot above ground-level. A hearth of three or four stones occupies the centre of the floor, while ranged around the walls are beds, and racks for pots, baskets and other utensils. Women and small children have stools of cane, and usually there is a larger and finer one kept hanging on a peg for visitors of rank or importance. At the back of the hut (but sometimes outside) is placed a grindstone; and ranged along the outer walls under the caves are raffia bins for dried grain, bundles of thatching grass, and heavy firewood. Chickens are kept in coops of wattle and daub, or in cane boxes where available. Failing these shelters, they roost inside with the family at night. In many Tikar villages near the main roads, Africans are beginning to build their huts from sun-dried mud brick, - a practice which results in a great saving of raffia poles. These houses often have windows and doors of plank, are rectangular in shape, and in some cases are lined inside with mats of raffia pith. Christians have displayed most initiative in adopting this style of architecture, but their wives are usually confined to the traditional type of kitchen, where they sleep with their young children and where they are sometimes joined by the head of the household when the weather is particularly inclement. On the highlands nights are often very cold, firewood is scarce, and the crowded though ill-ventilated snugness of the old-style hut is preferred to the spacious and draughty atmosphere of a modern dwelling. In Mbembe and Mfumte, hut-walls are made from layers of clay bound with palmnut fibre; in Ngie most of the huts are round, but have a raffia or timber framework mudded over and surmounted by a roof thatched with palmleaf mats.

In all Bamenda tribes each married woman generally has her own hut which she occupies with her unmarried children. If her husband has no other wives he may for some years possess no special dwelling of his own; but, when circumstances permit, he builds one in order to have space for his belongings and the entertainment of his guests. Adolescent sons may share this with him, but as soon as possible they take over a vacant hut and in any case they will, when they marry, construct one for the bride.

Dwelling and store huts face on to a central courtyard and nearby are small kitchen gardens, plantain groves and sometimes kola trees. The size of a compound varies widely throughout Bamenda: in Mbembe, Mfumte, Nsungli, Bali and Aghem one which has been established for several generations may

1 For tax assessment Kimbaw is divided into the two mandjøng sections of g??am and baa, but both are under the immediate surveillance of the Føn. The figures for population are approximate and are based on those for adult males who pay either the head-tax or income-tax. I have also included Hausa and other strangers such as Bamum, but not the Fulani. There are some 770 Hausa living mainly in Kimbaw, Jajiri, Mbiami and Lassin; and some 800 Bamum in Mbiami, Mbo-Nso, and Kifom. There are a number of small villages beside the 47 mentioned in the text above; but, for payment of tax, they combine with large villages in their vicinity. All told, there must be from 50 to 60 independent villages.

contain anything from 10 to 20 houses; while in Nsaw that of a senior Councillor such as Fai-o-Ndzendzef has 103 and extends over some 4 acres of ground. But in many tribes, even among the Tikar, compounds are smaller and inhabited by the compound head, his wives, married sons and perhaps younger married brothers. The Ngie kinship group which constitutes a co-residential unit is even more limited in size, since a man, at marriage, normally leaves the parental compound and builds one of his own on land allocated to him by his father. In those Tikar tribes where rank is stressed the apartments of a lineage head are trellised off from the rest of the compound; and the graves of his predecessors, where sacrifices are performed, lie in his small inner courtyard. But in most of the forest tribes even a village head lacks such privacy and his hut may be only a little larger than that of an ordinary villager. A rough plan of some Kimbaw compounds is given in Appendix D.

As a general rule Bamenda villages form fairly compact clusters of compounds, but much depends on the lie of the land and whether the women also have rough shelters on the outlying bush farms, where they live for weeks at a time during the season of heavy work. Where the forest is relatively dense, as in parts of Widekum, compounds are dispersed in small clearings. The system of land tenure will be discussed in detail in a later chapter, but it should be pointed out that it is only rarely that a village is subdivided into territorial units or wards under Ward Headmen appointed at the will of the paramount authority.1 More commonly, sections of residential land are vested in the heads of lineages and occupied in the main by their male dependants, except in some of the matrilineal groups where the individual may elect to reside with his father, wife's father, or a friend until he inherits the house or compound of a mother's brother or elder brother. Much depends on personal inclination, amicable relations with kin and neighbours, good health, availability of farmland, occupation and, nowadays, propinquity to co-religionists in the case of one who has become a convert to one of the Christian sects or to Islam. For example, out of 33 male householders in the zønafø Section of Aghem, only 6 were living near a mother's brother; 14 were near their father; 4 were with a wife's father; and 9 were with a friend or a stranger. The strength of the tie between a man and his father, the considerable economic independence of a man after marriage, and his right to receive the major part of the marriage payment for his daughters - all these factors operate against the emergence of the matrilineage as a localized unit.

In the patrilineal tribes, on the other hand, the pattern of residence is more uniform. Where compounds are small, the male members and unmarried females of a number of adjacent compounds are related as a rule by agnatic ties and, for certain purposes, come under the authority of one of the compound heads who acts as lineage head. In Nsungli and Nsaw, where compounds are frequently large, some 4 to 10 families may have their huts grouped round a rectangular courtyard. The elementary family emerges as a clearly defined residential, social and economic unit, producing nearly all the food it requires and exercising a certain amount of control over its own affairs. But male members of these families, as well as unmarried females, are related to the compound head by patrilineal ties and may therefore be regarded as constituting the major part of a co-residential patrilineage. The women, who at

1 The Ndop villages of Bamessi and Bamungo are divided into 4 and 6 wards respectively, each ward having its own headman. The Bamessi term for ward head, tieentüa, is obviously a dialectical variant of the Lamnso tantee, "Father of the Village." The tieentüa settles minor disputes, particularly over compound boundaries, and has a place on the Føn's council. The Bali term for ward head is nkøm and he may have under his supervision at least 9 compounds. In Aghem, a ward is called akøn, and a ward head, tsho-akøn. The position of Ward Head in both Bali and Aghem is not hereditary, and the same is true of the office of compound head (mokubee) in Aghem.

marriage go to live with their husbands, pay frequent visits, sometimes continuing to work plots on the land of the lineage; and they may, in old age or when widowed or divorced, return to live permanently in the parental compound.

(a) Nsaw Lineage Organization. In Nsaw the average size of a lineage is difficult to compute since it may number anything from 20 to 70 members; but frequently a lineage head (fai or she) had under his direct surveillance from 3 to 10 adult married males who stand in a relationship to him of sons, brothers, brothers' sons, and more rarely father, father's brothers and grandsons. Sometimes a man goes to live in another part of the village or even in a different village. The reasons for changes of residence are various: pressure on building-space, particularly when an individual has more than one wife and many adolescent sons; desire for better farm land; care of distant raffia plantations entrusted to him by the lineage head; ambition to have a compound of his own and to become the founder of what may ultimately be a sub-lineage; prolonged illness, constant misfortune, or quarrels. It should be stressed, however, that even though he builds his compound many miles away a man still remains under the authority of the lineage head and is known merely as a compound-owner, ngaalaa, whatever the number of his wives and children.

If a compound in Nsaw prospers and at least two generations have lapsed since its foundation, the title of sub-lineage head, she, may, with the consent of the Føn and of the fai of the parent lineage, be conferred on one of its members. The new she then has rights of inheritance to the property (vitsø) of the members of his group (kisheeer: pl., visheeeer), arranges the marriages of the women; but is expected to make a token gift of firewood each year to the fai of the parent lineage as a symbol of subordinate status. After a lapse of four generations, the title of fai indicative of senior status, may be granted;1 after five generations, marriage is permitted between members of the two lineages.2 But a man may not select a wife from the lineages of his mother, his mother's mother, and his mother's mother's mother.

When a woman is given away in marriage with the consent of the fai of her lineage, she is referred to as a wiiy o nøøne (a woman who enters the house) or a wiiy o foone (a woman who is given). Her children belong to her husband's lineage; and, when he dies, she is expected to marry the member of his lineage who has been selected by her late husband's fai; or at least to remain in the compound, unless she is very old. On the other hand, if she "marries" without the consent of the fai of her lineage, she is termed a wiiy o tsheemin (translated into Pidgin-English as a woman who is stolen, although Lamnso for stolen is shøng). Efforts are made to secure her return; but, failing success, any children whom she bears belong to her own father's lineage. Normally they remain with her until they no longer require her immediate care, that is, until about the age of 6 years. Sometimes they are not claimed until later, but the fai of the mother's lineage has the right to arrange the marriages of the girls. If an unmarried girl becomes pregnant, the child belongs to its mother's father's lineage and will address the mother's father by the term for 'father'. An illegitimate child of a married woman (wiiy o nøøne) belongs to her legal husband.

1 It should he noted that in the Nsaw lineage organization the genealogical relationships between the founders of the component lineages of clans are rarely known.

2 The title of she is sometimes used as a matter of courtesy for men who have established their own compounds and have one or more married sons living with them. But it is not associated with any rights over kola and raffia plantations, nor with the giving of female dependants in marriage. It may also he applied to married sons of the Føn, and to ex-officials of the ngwirøng society. The son of a High Priest may also be granted the title of fai and its attendant privileges by the Føn.


Nsaw patriclans are dispersed and the number of their component lineages varies widely from three to twenty-two. In the latter case some of the lineages are only three generations in depth, in so far as descent is traced back to the first man who was granted the title of she or fai; a parent lineage front which others have hived off may be ten generations in depth. In some of the large patriclans there may be two or three afai who are almost equal in status, although in matters of etiquette the seniority of one is recognized. In this case each fai is the head of a lineage from which several other lineages have stemmed off, and so may be regarded as head of a sub-clan. Social relations tend to be frequent and intimate among members of a sub-clan, though, in the absence of geographical propinquity ties may weaken.1 In theory, the sub-clan head may demand a gift of firewood from the heads of the component lineages; in theory, he has a voice in the selection of their appointment to office; and he would, in any case, be present at their installation. From time to time the lineages assemble for sacrifice (tati fe tangri ntangri); and, in times of disaster or the death of the clan head, the heads of all component lineages would participate in a joint ritual.

Once a man is appointed a fai (or a she) his personal name is no longer used except by his superiors in rank.2 He is a talaa, father of the compound, to all its members irrespective of age and generation. He has the right to call on all his dependants for assistance in the clearing and cultivation of his farm (shu-sum), and in bridge and house construction. He inherits, with minor exceptions, the raffia and kola trees planted by male members, as well as such types of property as livestock (sheep, goats and fowls), clothes, guns and money. He arranges the marriages of all women of the lineage, with the exception of the first born; he receives the major part of the gifts made by their husbands, and has first claim on their services.3 He acts as intermediary between the living and the ancestors; and, finally, he settles minor disputes. Despite the spread of Christianity, greater mobility of population, and opportunities for the attainment of a large measure of economic independence in the pursuit of new and relatively lucrative occupations, the authority of a lineage head over his dependants is still considerable. One of the main factors in this is his control of land, but full discussion of the subject must be deferred until a later chapter.

Before we touch on the rights and responsibilities of kinship heads in other Bamenda groups, attention should be drawn to the strength of ties with maternal kin among the Nsaw. There is much visiting among matrikin and joint participation in ceremonies connected with birth, marriage, death, and the various societies. The individual is believed to come under the influence of the ancestors of his or her mother; and, in consultation with a diviner,

1 A Kimbaw man in discussing the closeness of ties between a sub-lineage in Kimbaw and a parent lineage in Memfu said: "If he (a man) goes and sees a thing in Memfu, he then takes and eats (it). If a man from Memfu comes to Ka (i.e. the compound of that name in Kimbaw), he sees something, he then takes and cats it, because it is a thing of that which is one (that is, the sub-clan)."

Wu du yeen kifa e Mmfu (Memfu),wu nin li a yii. Wir o fee Mmfu wi e Ka, wu yeen kifa, wunin li a yii, bifeeee ki dzën kifa ke sho ke mo'øng.

2 Character and not seniority in age is the main criterion for the office of lineage head in Nsaw. If there are no male members in a lineage, a man may be selected from another lineage in the same clan; or, more rarely, the firstborn son of a woman of the lineage may be appointed, though I was given no actual instance of this. If none of the males has yet reached puberty, a woman of the lineage may be appointed to act temporarily as lineage head until one of the boys has attained adolescent status. I was also told that, in the absence of suitable candidates, the son of an unmarried woman of the lineage might succeed to the office.

3 When a fai dies his widows are inherited by his successor; but if a man who is not a fai or a she, that is, a wir o feeteer, dies the widows are allocated by the lineage head to male members of the compound, usually to the deceased's brothers.


sacrifices may be offered to them in the event of sickness or misfortune. Again, when a man succeeds to the position of fai or she, he not only goes ceremonially to the head of his own clan or sub-clan, but also to the head of his mother's lineage, whom he refers to as tar-yewor (father of our mother). He takes with him salt, oil, fowls and firewood, the last a symbol of submission. The tar-yewøsh then performs a special sacrifice (tshu melu) and invokes the blessing of the ancestors. On occasion, sacrifices are also offered to the ancestors of the patrilineages of the mother's mother and even of the mother's mother's mother. The officiant priest is always the head of the lineage involved, while the fai, on whose behalf the sacrifice is to be performed, presents the fowl, sheep or goat required for the rite.

Finally, a man has rights of usufruct in land belonging to the mother's lineage; he receives assistance from her kin and may be sure of a welcome and hospitality when visiting them.1 As one youth explained to me: "People of your mother know how to look after you more than those of your father. Perhaps it is because they are going to take a child of a woman from there (that is, a child of a woman of their own lineage) to give away in marriage."2 This last statement is probably a rationalization, since in most patrilineal tribes of Bamenda ties with maternal kin are very close and, as a rule, friendly. But it serves to draw attention to a custom which distinguishes Nsaw from the rest of the Tikar peoples. A lineage head has the privilege of arranging the marriage of a first-born daughter of any female member of the lineage; he also has a major part of the marriage gifts, and first claim on the services of the husband selected for the girl. In the case of the Føn and Vibai, this privilege is extended to grand-daughters and other descendants, and illustrates the way in which rank influences kinship affiliation in Nsaw.

All descendants of the Føn down to the fourth generation are referred to in general usage as wønto or children of the palace, but exact generation level may be indicated by prefixing to this the term for child, wan. Thus a great-grandchild would be described as wanwanwanto. The Føn gives away in marriage not only his own daughters and grand-daughters, but also the first-born among his great-grand-daughters and his great-great-grand-daughters. At the fifth generation his descendants are called duiy, a word probably derived from the verb, du, to go and indicating a more distant relationship.3 A first-born son of any man or woman, who is at six generations remove from the Føn, may be taken as a servant (nshilaf), and a first-born daughter as a wife for the Føn.

All those related to the Føn by the ties discussed above are referred to as wiri e Føn and may be regarded as a limited kinship group consisting, firstly, of all agnatic descendants of a Føn; and, secondly, of all other cognates of a Føn down to the sixth generation. Often a son or son's son of the Føn is granted the title of she or fai, and he may become the founder of a lineage within the Føn's patriclan or even of a sub-clan, as in the case of the ancestor of the

1 When a youth spears his first game, he takes the animal to his fai, who tells him to take it to the tar-yewøf (that is, the father of the mother of the boy). He is instructed to hand over the next game he kills to his own father; and, on a third occasion, to hand game over to the mother's mother's father.

2 The Lamnso text is: Wir ye-wøn a ki mo lei fee wo shaa vee tar-øng. G??ansemosi bo dzë bifa a yii li wan o wiiy fo fo bo djuur.

3 Among wir duiy distinctions may be made on the basis of closeness of relationship to the Fan. An individual who is at 5 or 6 generations remove from a Fan may be described as duiy-nto (duiy of the palace) or duiy-shinggwang (duiy of the salt), that is one who in time of need begs salt and other necessaries from the Føn. One who is more distantly related may he described as duiy-kikeengi, that is duiy of the plant emblem of the Føn which is carried by his messengers. A relative, who has "gone far" and who no longer wishes to recognize a kinship tie with the Fan, is referred to as duiy-meenkingi, duiy who turned his face away. He is a strong head (taf kitu)" attempting to achieve m'tarstatus.


councillor, Fai-o-Yuwar, who was a son of a Føn who reigned at Kovifem in the early days of Nsaw settlement. In addition to those lineages which trace direct agnatic descent from a Føn, there are the sub-clans of three of the senior councillors, Ndzendzef, Tankum and Luun, whose ancestors came from other tribes but who elected to become affiliated to the Føn's own clan and assumed the status of wir duiy. 

Some of the other important vibai are the heads of m'tar clans but, whether they are duiy or m'tar, vibai have privileges similar to those exercised by the Føn in the matter of marriage. A kibaiselects husbands not only for his own daughters but also for the first-born among his grand-daughters and great grand-daughters. He has also the right to inherit the property of a first-born daughter's son and that of the first-born son of any grand-child. At the fifth descending generation he may take a first-born daughter as wife, and a first-born son as a servant (nshilaf).1

As may be inferred, Nsaw kinship is complex and I hope to deal with it in greater detail in a later publication; but, before we leave it, attention should again be drawn to the fact that, although the lineage organization is patrilineal and although a wider range of contacts and activities is influenced by patrilineal affiliations, in some situations an individual places particular emphasis on his tie with his mother's patrilineage and acts as a corporate member of it. If he is a son of the Føn, he frequently goes to reside, after marriage, with his mother's father. If he is related to the Føn or to a kibai through his mother, then he is brought up in his father's compound and regards himself as a member of his father's lineage, having with its others members residential, economic and religious relations. But, in times of hardship or financial emergency, he may beg assistance from the Føn or the kibai, as the case may be; and, if he quarrels with his own fai, he may repudiate his patrilineal connections and assert that he is only a wir duiy or a wan kibai. This fluidity of kinship affiliation is to some extent reflected in linguistic usage where the term kføø has a wide range of meanings and may apply to such groups as the family, kindred, or lineages or clans of the father, mother, father's mother or mother's mother. If an exact distinction is sought it may be qualified in the following ways: kføø ye laf - group of the house, i.e. elementary family; kføø ye laa - group of the compound, i.e. co-resident patrilineage; kføø ye ku'un - great group, usually the clan of the father, but sometimes that of the father's mother or mother, where either is politically and socially more important than the former. In the case of a man descended through his mother's mother from the Føn or a kibai, her lineage may be referred to as kføø ye ku'un; but, where this is not so, the mother's mother's lineage is spoken of as ram (a term which is also used for a runner from a plant), and kinship relation is unlikely to be recognized in the succeeding generation except in the case of a fai or she. 
(b) Kinship Organization in other Bamenda Tribes. In the other patrilineal Tikar tribes (where I had only a brief stay), the kinship system appears to be similar in many respects to that of Nsaw in so far as the lineage head (usually referred to by a term equivalent to Lamnso Talaa (Father of the Compound) allocates land and inherits the property of his male dependants, particularly

1 In 1946, I attempted to make a census of the Føn's wives and counted 84. To this should he added at least another 10 who carried water for his household and whom I did not see. Among the 84 there were 15 who had not reached puberty and who were referred to as wøn wiinto (children of a Føn's wife). They were being trained to become wives of the Føn, and their marriage would not be consummated until several years after they had menstruated. Among the adults, whom I personally questioned, 23 were daughters of nshilafsi; 2 were daughters of atanto (also of nshilaf status), and 10 were grand-daughters of duiy. The remainder had either been given by sub-chiefs or else voluntarily by men of m'tar status. Incidentally, only those wønto (sons of the Føn) whose mothers are m'tar are eligible for the office of Føn. The same qualification is also necessary for other dignitaries of royal status, such as the High Priest, High Priestess and Queen Mother.


livestock, money and such trees as kola, raffia, mangoes, and oil palm where these are cultivated.1 In return, however, he is expected to assist them in procuring wives, but it is he who arranges the marriages of all women of the lineage and claims a major share of the marriage payment. In Ndop and Bafut, the Føn has the right to take a first-born daughter of any family not closely related to his own as a wife.2 As in Nsaw, a woman is not consulted about the marriage of her daughter, but in Bamessi the consent of the mother's mother is important; she is treated with great respect, and may demand some assistance from her grand-daughter's husband. Again, in this community (as well as in Bangola and Bamungo), when the mother of a lineage head (tieenda) dies, he appoints either a sister or a daughter to act in her stead as the "great mother", and to perform minor sacrifices which do not entail the offering of a fowl. Finally, as in all Bamenda tribes, he is the intermediary between his dependants and the lineal ancestors; indeed his function as priest is one of the main sanctions for his secular authority and an important factor in the cohesion of the lineage.

Among the Mbembe, Mfumte, Ngie, Ngwo, Esimbi, and possibly some of the other Widekum peoples, the lineage organization provides the framework of the political structure. Clans tend to be localized and, as a rule, most of the lineages in any one village are segments of the patriclan of the village head. In the Mbembe villages which I visited, -namely, Akonkaw, Mbandi, Jevi, Ako and Akwadja, there were from three to five major patrilineages (ndu) named after their founders: e.g. Zafiya (people of Afiya), Zienka (people of Nka), and so on. One lineage is senior to the others and its lineage head (afa) acts as village head. It is said that patriclans were once exogamous, but nowadays intermarriage is permitted between members of some of the component lineages.3Each major lineage has under its control a tract of arable land which is allocated to individuals by the lineage head; in addition it is associated with a locality in the village. Most of the compounds established in such an area are occupied by men and unmarried women who are members of the lineage, though from time to time residence is changed if there has been illness or misfortune. Each compound (yapëre) has its compound head (ngwuriku) who has under his authority his younger brothers and sons. Traditionally he had a claim to their services and earnings; but, in return, was expected to assist them with their marriage payments. However, in the Government Report of 1935, it was stated that the pattern of economic cooperation was being modified4 and, when I visited the region in 1945, the evidence I collected indicated a growing desire on the part of the younger men to have full control of such resources as palm bush.

1 Titles, corresponding to the Lamnso term, talaa, are telaa (Wiya); tufu (Bamungo); tifo (Bamessing).

2 Among the Tikar, as well as the Bali, the Føn has the right to take as a wife a female twin, unless she is closely related to him. Twins are regarded as a blessing from God and the term for them is often " Children of God." It is also noteworthy that in all the Tikar tribes, with the possible exception of Nsungli, Fungom and Mbem, the Føn has a right to a share of the marriage payment on the first-born among his grand-daughters and, in some cases, the first-born among his great-grand-daughters.

3 In Akonkaw village I was told that a man might not marry a woman belonging to a major patrilineage of his mother; while in Mbandi the restriction applied only to the minor patrilineage of the mother. In most Mbembe villages there is a lineage called kepinthëre or kupinsiri, the head of which has important ritual functions. He was described to me as a "medicine man"; and, to Mr. R. Newton, as one who in times of epidemics or droughts prepared a special "medicine" to sprinkle on the roads leading to the village. Members of kepinthëre may marry individuals belonging to any of the other lineages.

Vide, R. Newton, An Intelligence Report on Mbembe and Nchanti Areas of the Bamenda Division, 1935, paras. 277-279.

4 R. Newton, opcit., para. 225.


The lineage organization of Ngie, Ngwo, Esimbi, and probably of the rest of the Widekum group, appears to be basically similar to that of Mbembe. For instance, in the Ngie village of Teze, where I spent a month, most of the people, apart from some women who have married into the village from outside, are members of the patriclan of the founder and are known collectively as "children of Uføømbøiy," bungë, Uføømbøiy, or sometimes as the "children" of his son, Andjoføiy. There are five major lineages (also named after their founders) which, according to genealogies collected from lineage heads, are only from three to six generations in depth. Obviously some ancestral names have been forgotten; while the names of others are recalled only after a considerable amount of head-scratching, contradiction, and requests for assistance from the Village Head! Fission has occurred in all the lineages, and the head of a minor segment either bears the tide of lineage head, kum, or is referred to as an "important man of the lineage" wva'eku. The title for village head was originally kum; he was primus inter pares, and was assisted in the direction of village affairs and the settlement of cases by the heads of other lineages. Nowadays he often calls himself a Føn in imitation of Tikar chiefs, but he is indeed a Føn fainéant

A lineage head acts as mentor to his dependants, performs sacrifices, and has a right to a portion of the larger game caught by them. But he has little in the way of economic privileges, as compared with his Tikar counterpart; and, in matters of marriage, he is consulted but has neither the final voice nor a lien on the marriage payment, though he may be given a sheep or a goat. It is noteworthy that in most of the Widekum group a woman has the right to veto the marriage of her daughter; and a suitor therefore usually makes sure of her consent before he approaches her husband. Marriage may occur within the clan, the exogamous unit being a lineage some three to four generations in depth.

Among the matrilineal groups - Kom, Aghem, and five villages in the Fungom N.A - the matrilineage is rarely a co-residential unit, since many men elect to reside after marriage with their father, an affine or a friend. The lineage head has ritual and advisory functions; and, among the Kom and Fungom, he usually has a tract of residential and arable land under his control, which he allocates among kin and those strangers who approach him with a request for a plot. He has no rights, in virtue of his office, over the property of members of his lineage.

The term for matrilineage in all three groups is very similar and derives from the word for buttocks and that for house, and may be translated as "buttocks of the house". As one man explained to me: "all people come out from there!" In Kom it is sa'ëndo or sassëndo; in Aghem, seeh'ëndugu; and in Fungom Village, sasseendee. In theory, the matriclan is the exogamous unit, but marriages sometimes occur when the parties belong to different lineages in different villages and are unable to trace a genealogical relationship. As a rule, a man in Kom obtains financial assistance from his own father for the marriage payment; but, if this is not forthcoming or if he is a younger son, he seeks the help of a mother's brother.1 When his own daughter marries, a large part of the marriage payment is handed over to him; another portion is given by the groom to the girl's mother, who in turn divides some of it among her mother, sisters, brothers, and mother's brothers. If a lineage head happens to be own brother or own mother's brother he receives his cut; otherwise he must be content with any gift which the groom makes to him as a matter of expediency and courtesy.

1 In Aghem and Fungom villages a man looks first to his mother's brother or, failing him, to an elder brother for assistance.


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