The Bakweri are a small tribe of some 20,000 people who live on the slopes of the Fako Mountain. They are quiet and reserved and are not widely known outside the Southern Cameroons despite the fact that both the Premier of the Southern Cameroons, Dr. Emmanuel Mbella Lifafe Endeley, and the capital, Buea, are Bakweri.
Not many non Bakweri have the opportunity of witnessing their ceremonies, and it is rarely indeed that the participants will allow photographs to be taken.
This is the season when the annual dances of the society (Njoku Male
) are held. Members, in the higher grades at least, claim the power to own elephant 'doubles' into which they can change at will. There are four grades in Male known as Love, Venjuka, Tamba
which have an ascending scale of entrance fees, and which are open to men only. The society came from Womboko on the other side of the Cameroon Mountain. It was there that the belief in the power to change into an elephant (njoku
) seems to have been
grafted on to the widespread Male society, which, without this belief, is found all over the inland Kumba Division. A number of Bakweri villages have the society. The most well known is Wokpaongo
near Buea, but less accessible villages such as Mafanja, Wova
can sometimes show more of the traditional features of the society.
The evening before the annual dance of a society a bonfire is lit (ewond' a Male), and that night members are believed to enter their elephant bodies and trample through the bush. Next morning, as I saw one year at Mafanja, the damage is visible on neighboring farms, although it must be said that the `elephants' seemed to have
scrupulously avoided plots in use. On the next day, usually nowadays a Sunday, the public is allowed to witness a dim reflection of these activities in the annual dance.
First there is a general dance of the members of the society dressed in head and waist cloths, with their bodies smeared with red mud and decked with vegetation of various kinds. This dance is known as Veambe and the participants, some of whom are quite young children, wind in and out of the village to the rhythm of the drums. This
is said to represent the movement of the elephant herd through the forest, but some of the members almost seem to be dressed to resemble the forest itself. Most of the old meaning of this dance is lost and young members view it as an opportunity for bizarre fancy dress.
Then comes the spectacular part of the ceremony the entry of the elephants themselves (njoku
), not, alas, the real elephant doubles, but representations suitable for public view. The njoku are dressed from the waist down in large spreading skirts of palm frond, while the rest of the bodies and the beads and arms of the dancers are
completely enclosed in loose head dresses of sacking with a shaggy covering of raffia. From these extend `tusks' of iron wood, held from inside by the dancer. The whole head dress is extensible to twice the height by raising the tusks at arm's length above the head. As the njoku dance they stamp their feet, and `lisonjo
' nut shells
round their ankles make a rhythmic rattling. Senior members of the society pretend to hunt the elephants and the elephants in their turn charge at the hunters and strike their tusks furiously into the ground.
After a time the elephant dancers rest and the popular `clown' of the society comes on. This is Moseke
, a dancer covered in a net costume from head to foot, with yellow garden eggs for eyes. There is a special Moseke
drum theme with a catchy rhythm, and the spectators join in with clapping. His
appearance is eagerly awaited and be has to be a good dancer or suffer the criticism of the crowd. At the end of his performance, after some humorous by play, Moseke
is presented with a fowl by one of the senior members. This year I noticed that at Wokpaongo he only received an empty dish, the members having failed to make the necessary
subscription in time. On the other hand his dancing in general opinion did not reach the standard of great Mosekes
of other years.
Another figure of the Male celebrations is Ekpang' a Teta
, the `policeman' of the occasion. He has a wooden mask painted black and white and carries a knife and ‘medicine’, and strides about the dance ground, his ankle-shells rattling, threatening the crowd in a guttural language of his own. Ekpang' a Teta
is traditionally lent for the occasion by the Nganya society
(a more exclusive group that sings satirical songs at night). Eventually, after further dancing by the `elephants', the celebrations come to a close and the members repair to their own feast, and the real business of the society
(By Edwin Ardener (in Nigeria No. 60, pp. 31-8, 1959
The town of Bafut is a town in Cameroon in the Northwest Province, to the North of the city of Bamenda. Once autocratic, increasing tension, military conflict and finally defeat at the hands of the Germans in the Bafut Wars (1901 - 1907) turned Bafut into a part of the German protectorate of Cameroon (Kamerun Schutzgebeit) during the reign of Abumbi I. After World War I, the Fon
of Bafut and his people became part of the British protectorate of the Cameroons or British Cameroon. The Bafut Wars were a series of wars fought in the early 20th century between the troops of the Fon of Bafut and German-backed troops of neighbouring fondoms and German troops. It is famous for Image Metadata. The location of the palace of the Fon of Bafut, the residential dwelling
of the Fon and his wives and counsel which now houses a museum. The nearby location of the botanical garden of Savanna Botanic Gardens, which noted naturalist Gerald Durrell helped plan, is located near the town. The presence of the Bafut market, which is a very vibrant one in the area, occurring every eight days, selling fruits, spices, vegetables, meat and animals. The town of Bafut
is probably best remembered as the place where the famous naturalist Gerald Durrell came on two animal-collecting expeditions in 1949 and 1957. Durrell wrote two accounts - The Bafut Beagles and A Zoo in My Luggage - on his travels in Bafut, and created a mini-TV series, To Bafut with Beagles. The Fon of Bafut is the fon or Mfor (ruler) of the village of Bafut and its adjoining areas
in the Northern Region of the Southern Cameroons (R. K. Engard; Myth and political economy in Bafut (Cameroon)- the structural history of an African kingdom; Paideuma, Vol. 34, pp. 49 - 89; 1988; R. K. Engard; Dance and power in Bafut (Cameroon), Creativity of power: Cosmology and action in Afrian societies, ed. W. Arens and Ivan Karp, Smithsonian Institution
List of the Fons of Bafut
Some of the notable Fons of Bafut are:
- Firloo : the first king of Bafut
- Nebasi Suh : the second king of Bafut
- Ambebi : the third king of Bafut
- Achirimbi I : the eighth king of Bafut
- Abumbi I ( - 1932): the ninth king of Bafut
- Achirimbi II (1932 - 1968) : the tenth king of Bafut
- Abumbi II (1968 - present) : the eleventh king of Bafut
Traditional Role of the Fon
The Fon had titular powers in pre-independent Cameroon. He had multifarious functions:
He controlled external relations and internally he made laws; All justice was done in his name, he was the final court of appeal and had power of life and death over his subjects; As chief priest he offered sacrifices to his ancestors and interceded with them for the welfare of the people; He presided at important festivals, the most important being the Abin e Mfor, the dance of the Fon.
The Fon was assisted and advised by titled royals - the most prominent among them being the Mamfor or the mother of the Fon, either his real mother or a sister. In addition there were two fraternal assistants called Ndimfor (the elder brother) and Muma (younger brother). However, none of these royals served as regent in the case of the Fon's death or indisposition. The body which actually
shared power with the Fon and deputized for him was the council of elders or Kwifor. The strength of Kwifor lay in its role as a council of kingmakers and was thus a check on royal power. The Fon acknowledged this and tried as much as possible to avoid confrontation.
There are two other older palaces of the Fon of Bafut.
- The old palace of Mbebli, also known as Ntoh Firloo was built by the Bafut people when they first arrived from Tikari some 400 years ago. It contains the tombs of the first three Bafut kings Firloo, Nebasi Suh and Ambebi. Libation for the famous Bafut annual dance “Abin e Mfor” begins here.
- The palace at Njibujang contains the tomb of the 8th King of Bafut Achirimbi I.
The original palace was built out of wood and liana. The complex and the central shrine were burnt to the ground by the Germans in the Bafut Wars, but was rebuilt over the period 1907 - 1910 with help from the Germans after the signing of the peace treaty. Its buildings represent both colonial influences and indigenous vernacular architectural styles, and are mostly made of fired bricks covered
by tiles. The residence built by the Germans for the Fon presently serve as the guest house, and also houses a museum.