|Sorghum||Kati at Njerep followed by Tadup dance by youths the|
|2 Bàm's||Feli for chief and Marenjo|
|1 Bàm||Feli for children|
|Bàm||Main Nggwun rites (see below)|
|Cuar||Dance in market and repeat drinking in line|
|Sep||Final rites: Marenjo and chief,|
|closing rites at River Dikwa
Tadup/Njung dance by youths
|Main Nggwun rites - sequence|
|Put on the vines (inside song) - treated with plantain
Drink palm wine
Outside song but within its fence
eat Luaga (termites/yulu)
Chief says oath
all sprayed with palm wine
Procession out from song to square
Circle 3 times then discard the elephant grass stalk to the
Circle and dance
Drink 2 gourds of beer
|The Nggwun ritual described
Scene Somié chefferie
Song mgbe = chiefs house with its own enclosure which I will call the song fence.
Entering the chefferie one passes through the jolori the public building passes through an
outer courtyard into the circle of the chief's wives houses at the top of which is the song fence
with the song behind it. I shall call this the wives courtyard.
Every two years nyima jii not nyima jong
NB same time as mushrooms so not Wawa like alternation of mushroom and
Timing. Nggwun occurs on the Bam nearest the new moon after the sorghum is ripe. It is
now fixed on the basis of both the sorghum season and the fall of Christmas. In effect
nggwun occurs on the new moon nearest Christmas. Although note that in 1994 it was
postponed by one Bam to prevent their coincidence (Bam fell on Christmas Eve).
NOTE 1997 Chief must bless knives used in harvest of sorghum - even in years when no
Twenty days before nggwun (i.e. two Bams before) a preliminary rite called feli is performed
for the chief, and the next Bam (i.e. ten days before nggwun) for everyone else. In 1997
|because of problems in palm wine procurement (i.e. forgetting until it was too late
to get any)
the two were done together on the last Bam before ngggwun this time. This was seen as
unfortunate but not at all serious.
For the first time I was allowed/invited into the song for the ritual.
The new mgbe leh - Adamu - was being instructed what to do - as 'new boy' he has to
perform much of the action. Note that he was being instructed in a mix of Fulfulde and
Mambila. Though Mambila he is an immigrant from a Nigerian Mambila village and speaks a
different dialect, although he does understand and speak some of the Somié dialect.
To begin with two unripe heads of sorghum were stripped of their outer leaves and (held in
the right hand) placed head first in a gourd of palm wine. Adamu gave three sips of this to the
chief. The sorghum stalks were then used to brush the chiefs sternum three times with the
wine. Feli was repeated for those present in the following order: the Chief, mgbe leh,
anthropologist, Marenjo, wives of chief. Then each person was given a piece of leaf and a
sprig of ripe sorghum. The unripe sorghum and the palm wine was only used to treat those
within the song fence i.e. those listed above.
The mgbe leh went outside into the wives courtyard and gave the leaf and sorghum to other
wives of the chief who had not come behind the song fence, and small children. We were
instructed to put these under the eaves over night then to put it either under the bed, or in a
pocket or tied to a thread round the neck (the latter is often done for small children). Once it
falls or gets lost in some way that is the end of it.
Feli was said to make your liver very cool (teme yee dole pip!)1
|Timing of ngggwun|
|The timing of ngggwun was juggled so as to avoid clashing with Ramadan. Early in
December little was clear but once Kati had been danced the chief and the ritual chiefs started
1A similar rite called fà (homonym with two) is perfomred for old people with maize as it ripens.
|thinking seriously about it, and counting up Bàms and considering where they
fell relative to
new year and the beginning of Ramadan (the relevant new moon is due on c 10 Jan.). If the
full pattern of Feli for chief alone (one Bàm) Feli for others (next Bàm) with yuop and dance
of nggwun on the third Bàm then Nggwun would have been occurring around the Bàm of 12
January. At one point it was said that this would happen but then the chief made a public
announcement that it would be on the preceding Bàm. So both feli's had to occur together on
23 December 1996 which duly occurred.
Once again there was a delay caused by problems in palm wine procurement. Nggom
insisting it was the chief's responsibility, the chief saying it was down to the ritual chiefs. At
one point it looked as though it would not take place since there seemed to be no palm wine
left in the village! A response to this was to make a contingency plan to perform the ritual on
the next Saturday after the weekly market at which lots of palm wine is available. It was clear
from the discussions that feli must be performed in order to do Nggwun, and that feli should
be on Bàm but it was more important that the rite be performed than to have the correct day.
The Nggwun dance.
The co dance.
This is the main element of the ìwar dancingî which is an integral part of the Nggwun rites.
In descriptions of what happens informants would say ìOnce we have co-d the Chiefís palace
and drunk the beer which he gives to us then we go to the house of Ndibi and co him. He
gives us beer. When we have drunk it we go to Nyagawaís house and co him...î
The co dance is done with a Mambila shield (kogo) and a ceremonial sword (bù wuli).
The imitation by the women may include reference to womenís sua in the teasing songs they
501/37 The Co war dance is an integral feature of Nggwun. In it lines of men armed with
shields and swords clash repeatedly in mock skirmishes. If swords get too close or if a hat is
knocked off passions may rise. On one occasion that I have witnessed blood was drawn from
a minor scalp wound. The senior men oversee the dance and they are anxious, however, to
|ensure that passions do not become overheated. On one occasion they intervened early
proceedings, stopping the dance, shouting urgently that it was just a game (vogo).
Two lines of men face each other crouching behind their shields. First one and then the other
side will despatch a party to attack the other line. Two or three men will leave their line and
dance across towards their opponents. They dance forwards hopping on the right foot so the
left foot can be waved in the air, with the shield on the left arm above it.
Facing the shield wall they trey to get either above or below the shields, feinting one way and
attacking the other. Cheers, jeers and whoops greet the successful toppling of someoneís hat.
Once everyone in one line has had a go the opposing line retaliates in a similar fashion.
Finally each group advances as a line.
The most spectacular and occurrences of this are early in the Nggwun rites when the parties
from the outlying hamlets first arrive in the village centre. In turn the men from Gumbe then
Njerup attack and are repulsed by the warriors of the village centre. During the Nggwun rites
the same dance is performed outside the houses of the Marenjo and the ritual chiefs in order
to salute and praise them. In these cases the whole group will stop the war dance by raising
their swords in the air and singing ìcooooooî. They then start to dance Nggwun proper.
The more formal co dance performed in the palace square differs in the numbers of people
concerned and that once both lines have advanced in line the youths from the village centre
who are defending the palace cede passage and make a tactical withdrawal to the inner
courtyard, hotly pursued by the attackers. Inside the inner court the chief sits in state. On the
first occasion that I saw Nggwun no one defended him, the attackers rushed up and saluted
him. A single, unarmed man (one of the chiefs messengers) held out his arms to stop them
touching the chief. Four years later the co dance was repeated in the inner courtyard. Finally
they broke into song and dance Nggwun whereupon beer was produced.
As the men perform the war dance they are flanked on either side and mocked by women who
imitate them using drying baskets (cungta) or knotted palm fronds as shields. They mainly
fight one another but occasionally they will try and knock the hat off one of the men in the
|NB The war dance or co may also be performed when a new wife formally comes to take
residence with her husband. This is only done rarely, typically when the wife comes from a
relatively distant village and a large beer drink and dance has been organised to mark the
event. However, it does point to another link between nggwun and new wives. For three
days after taking up residence a new wife is (or ideally should be and in some circumstances
still is) painted in camwood and sits outside her new house on a camwood painted stool. This
closely resembles the chief sitting in state outside the Palace during nggwun as described
The Mambila shield
Mambila shields are distinctive of the group and examples have been collected and/or
photographed by several people since the late nineteenth century. In shape they are ovaloid,
slightly dished to form a shallow convex surface. The top and bottom of the oval have been
replaced by large curved notches allowing the wearer to wield spear or sword.
Some images of shields are available via
The shields are heavy, woven from reeds, and they must have afforded good protection from
spears and swords. Patterns were introduced into the weaving producing triangles across the
surface of the shield. Each village centre had its own pattern of shield decoration.
No such shields are or were made in the Mambila villages of Cameroon. All such shields in
Cameroon appear to have been traded from what are now Nigerian villages. The only
examples still in use in Somié are quite old, although I have been told that some are still being
made in Nigeria - or could be made on commission.
Their documentation is as follows.
Flegel collected a shield in Gashaka but recorded it as being Mambila.
Meek photographed a Mambila shield in Nguroje in 1929 (published Meek 1931:xxx).
|The early missionaries and the first anthropologist to conduct fieldwork among the
all collected examples of Mambila shields in the 1950s.
Some Mambila shields are also to be found in the Foumban Palace Museum although how
they got there is unclear - cite Geary and Chilver ref...
Among Gebauerís photographs is one of a war dance in Lus which clearly resembles
Nggwun to some degree. The shields being used though similar to Mambila ones have a far
smaller indent at the top (the only part of the shield which is visible in the photograph) than
the Mambila examples. Although there are clear connections between the Wuli2 of Lus and
the Mambila across the river Donga from them, the Mambila style remains unique to the
Mambila group, unlike the four-handled basket which, now, at any rate, is also woven by
Yamba people. The sword (bù wuli) used during the Nggwun rites also has a wide
The dress of Nggwun
Women and men wear loincloths borrowed for the occasion from friends and relatives. These
are either tied as wrappas or worn as true loin cloths, passed between the legs and held in
place by a belt. Belts of beads or brightly coloured thread are worn diagonally over both
shoulders. Old Nigerian coins are attached to the ends.
Another cloth is used to attach a scabbard to the back. The cloth is folded into a broad strip
which is passed through the scabbard loops, then round the chest, under the shoulders and
around the back of the neck. The scabbard hangs vertically down from the small of the back,
and may be tuck into the loin cloth at the top of the buttocks. A bell is often hung from the
scabbard. Other bells on small braided cords may be tied round the upper arms or hung from
One man sewed two small loops into his skin to which he attached beaded loops with
Nigerian coins. This was only seen once.
2Often included among the so-called ìMfumteî in the literature.
|Women paint their bodies with powdered camwood and oil, men apply it to their arms
shins. Some girls wear bras which are then painted, others go topless. They wear many
beaded belts and other jewellery. The braided hairdos of women are done with particular care
and elaboration for this as for other major dances. Some dancers wear hats, wigs or special
dancing headpieces made from the skins of colobus monkeys. The black chest forms the front
of the headpiece, with the fringe of white fur running round the top and sides of the
headpiece. Other headpieces are made by attaching feathers (usu. hens) to combs. Some men
dance with one or two feathers in their hair, while some women make circles of feathers.
SBV dress is very similar with addition of kinjung anklets for women and different belts.
and of course the fact that during Nggwun it is predominantly the men that are wearing
scabbards and dancing with swords, whereas during SBV only women dance with these.
The Nggwun procession
Elephant grass (Pennisetum purpureum - gor) two flowering stalks held end to end so a
flowering head is at either end.
order in the line:
Nyu (Lebon Philip) with bogo of beer
Nyu (Telechen Simon) with dish?/gourd of leh water? Yuop
Nyu (Kung) playing double bell
Then line of people, all holding the elephant grass in their R hands
|W of Nggeye Abraham
Wives in order of marriage
Stools (carried on L shoulder of women - how are they related?)
The nyu of the Chief: nyu par and nyu chok
203/53 Le Suzanne knows all about washing heads. Talked as if she had seen it.
206/82 Heads are washed after nggwun, when mbe cang is done and following the death of
senior people in sbv and sbs. CHECK.
203/64 Washing heads t31B=t211b?
Kung on the rites performed by the nyu:
They mix camwood and water in a gourd, and wash the skulls with this, applying it with a
banana leaf. Then pour palm wine into a gourd. Someone acts as speaker and says: Nyam
bàgà nde loó, fuo ven kela ter three times and drink spurts (fam) palm wine over the skulls
each time. Then they take a vase (bogo) of beer and from this pour some beer (co- the same
verb used when pouring beer on graves). Drink and spurt beer three more times. Then, if
your liver (temeh) is bad you should go outside and spit (kulu) on the ground ìso things are
goodî. They ta nduan loó yeh.
Ritual names of participants in nggwun
|Ritual Title (name)||Hamlet||Qualifications3|
|Feniaga (Spakeh)||Centre||d of Chief Menandi|
|Fowani (Korobon)||Centre||d of Chief Kolaka|
holds two titles)
|Foachen (Loveh)||Centre||sd of Chief Menandi|
|Fongome (Ni)||Gumbe||d of Botuin kin of Njaibi of|
|Mbogom/Mbok||Njerup||d of head of Njerup|
Kung with bell, d of Korobon, Gangfi (yB of Telechen) with yuop dish, Wong with beer,
Mgbe Leh: Ngom, Gangfi Daniel, Magami, Isa. Chief. Marenjo: Sapkeh, Njieh, Korobon
Loveh. Wives of Chief: W1, 2, 3. Stools carried by female nyu i.e. ìsistersî of the chief.
Circle square 3x anticlockwise, shields proceeding, being pushed back by the skin. Then
throw the elephant grass towards the west behind the suàgà enclosure. Skin, yuop bowl and
beer vase return into palace. The stools put in line in front of palace.
501/53 Yuàr = praise song starting with coooo - à nde yuàr siî
502/44- distribute salt given by Marenjo after end of Nggwun 6/1/91,
502/48 women give wood to Marenjo who give money and beer back; the women buy salt
with the money then divide it among themselves...
502/ 51 Atta petel has Nggwun not Atta - because mgbe ti
3The criteria for selection are that those Marenjo from the centre must be ìdaughtersî of a chief, and the other
two be ìdaughtersî of the heads of Gumbe and Njerup respectively .
|502/ 99 chiefs hat made by Bamun exile =Yebo in time of Menandi
601/ 71 co shield dance after nggomdom field work....
NB Generalities about Nggwun
208/10 Jean Menagea said it came from the Tikar, not found in Nigeria.
208/41 Evangeliste: Nggwun not performed by the Kwanja.
Computer Assisted Interviewing - Asking what comes next
Repeated attendance at the Nggwun ritual has given me the basis for the detailed description
that follows4. I have been given access to parts of the ritual that few villagers ever see. An
implicit test of my understanding occurred during repeat performances when I had already
drafted a description. Seeing my description as a script, I could ask how complete it was.
This is, I stress, an outsiderís view; an observerís perspective. When I came to video the
ritual in 1996/7 I had already seen the complete ritual and was allowed to video all but some
of the inner-most rites when the chief was treated (the same actions are repeated for other
people and these I was allowed to video).
When I returned to the village some months after with extracts of the video digitised, ready to
show via a portable computer several issues of access became important. I was showing
videos of Nggwun at another time and in places other than their place of recording. Some
people felt strongly that the sight of these images was dangerous and should not be available
to ëordinaryí people. Others disagreed. The debate about taboo, about what was the most
dangerous or sacred (not a concept easy to render in Mambila) part of the ritual is connected to
my analytical interest. I am concerned to find the key parts of the ritual, the parts that are the
most salient for the actors involved. Local debates about which parts are taboo give important
clues. So too do the discussions which occur as the ritual is performed: if a problem arises
4I have witnessed Ngwwun in 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994 and 1996.
|then often something has to give. Either the sequence must be altered, the
actor changed or
one of the ingredients replaced with an alternative. The performers muddle their way through
and achieve a satisfactorily performance. The choices they make, the problems that
particularly exercise them by contrast to others implicate certain parts of the rite as having
greater importance than others. I see it as my analytical task to attempt to synthesise such
material into an account of Nggwun for non-Mambila that gives appropriate stress to the parts
of the rite that Mambila actors regard as important, bearing in mind, of course, the diversity of
The view from the village square.
For a villager not involved in the main ritual proper the focus is the dancing and the drinking
that accompanies it. Most villagers will be entertaining visitors from other villages so this
must be managed, supplies of beer arranged, smart clothes available for the whole family.
Adults are busy in the weeks preceding the dance in order to ensure that their domestic
arrangements run smoothly. Youths by contrast can concentrate on the dance, and the
opportunity for courtship it provides. Unmarried girls pound camwood for body paint and
plait bead strings. Young men make scabbards from raffia pith and check that the ceremonial
swords are securely hafted. Bells are sought, bought and borrowed in preparation for the
dance and men make raffia pith shields (which are not robust and do not endure) and those
lucky enough to have an old woven shield make sure that its handles are in good order. They
are often stored in granary attics or under the eaves and may not have been looked at since the
previous Nggwun two years previously.
As shields are prepared and printed there are informal rehearsals of the way in which the
shield dance takes place - one or two senior men marshal the ëwarriorsí on the eve of the
march dance and in the morning before the formal events get going. The youths are told what
to do, the seniors sometimes taking a shield and demonstrating the steps. There are always
senior men around during the dance to give instructions to the youth with the shields, some of
these men may be prominent in the practical organisation of the public part of the rite, but do
not otherwise play a prominent role in the village and are not regarded as among the BKKB.
|Muddling through - thoughts on Yuob 2/1/1997|
|Loveh did not turn up as she should have done for the Yuob rites. I managed
record any of the discussions about this!
The wait until she had was sufficiently late for someone to go and find out, and then
the wait for him (Amidu) to return delayed Yuob until dusk - one possible explanation
may be a conspiracy to frustrated attempts to video the rituals (Feli was similarly late)
- I'm confident that this is not the explanation but hard put to account for my
confidence. I suppose mainly that when they donít want me to see things they say so
(as occurred the next day)!
|What this bought home to me was something I'd discussed with Father Frans in Atta
the absence of plans or scripts, but rather a desire for goals so people work towards them to
achieve their ends... and work out the means as you go along. Memories and prescriptions
may help or constrain this process.
So the events that occur are 'happenings'. They are spontaneous yet constrained by a variety
of factors, what happened on previous occasions being among them.
The cool, post hoc or pre-hoc accounts that one may elicit by questioning (such as
suggested by Notes and Queries, the Craft of Social Anthropology (Epstein (ed.) 1967), the
ASA Handbook series (e.g. Ellen (ed.) 1984) or any other textbook on methods) is relevant
but as a textual commentary. It is essentially peripheral because not part of the action - so that
what I am attempting is an action or event -based account of ritual.
Summary list of different views of Nggwun ó different groups of actors
The view from the palace court
|The Bò Kuku bò (lit:. the big people) are the Notables
of the village. They are
elders, but not all the old men of the village are classed as such. When I asked ìwho
are the Notables?î there was a high degree of consistency in the lists that I was given.
I repeated Rehfischís ìopinion pollî conducted during his fieldwork among Nigerian
Mambilla (Warwar 1953) (Rehfisch 1972:159)5 to assess the degree of unanimity of
opinion in an acephalous society.
|5Although the distribution of percentages resembles
that obtained by Rehfisch,
in Somié 75% of the sample named the same two people first, whereas Rehfisch
has 100% unanimity for the first two positions in his poll. These differences
probably reflect the fact that he was working in one small hamlet whereas I was
|The Bò Kuku bò are recruited by a combination of age, peer and
be recognized as belonging to this group involves the investment of a considerable
amount of time; a Notable must frequently abandon his own work in the fields, even
at the busiest times of the year, to discuss a pressing case. Some men are not
prepared to do this. Apart from a small amount of beer there is no financial reward for
being recognized as a Notable. Conversely, wealth is not an important factor in the
recruitment of Notables.
|The view from the palace veranda: visitors to the village
Nggwun is one of the things Somié village does well. It is one of the pieces of tradition of
which villagers boast6. Invitations are sent to the chiefs of other villages who come with a
retinue of varying size. They are entertained in style and beer is given liberally to the dancers
(see below). In 1996/7 fewer invitations than normal were extended to neighbouring villages,
the chief concentrating his attention of the governmental administrative officers (the sous-
prefet and others) from Bankim, the local seat of government. This undoubtedly reflects the
new role of the chief in regional politics following his election as Mayor of Bankim in 1995.
In more local terms, events such as Nggwun are important in the jockeying for status that
makes up the relationships between the three main Mambila villages in Cameroon: Atta,
Sonkolong and Somié (in order of population ranking). Atta does not perform Nggwun, and
Sonkolong has in the past but has not in recent years.
The expectation of the influx of visitors leads the village to be tidied, houses to be painted
with chalk, black clay and red soil, and beds to be made for friends and relatives to sleep on.
Money is spent to buy meat and fish to give to the visitors. It is a matter of personal and
village pride that visitors can be well looked after. Little of this is special to Nggwun but it is
in a village centre. This resulted in some respondents including hamlet heads
among their list of Notables, whilst others restricted themselves to Notables from
the centre proper. If the question had been more restrictive it would not have
been that used by Rehfisch, thus posing other problems for the comparison of
the two sets of results.
6The other is the dance of women's suaga: a delegation of people from the village to a culturel manifestation
in Ngaoundere some 800 kiliometres distant carried a placard saying "Soua danse traditionel des Mambila".
|an important part of the background to the performance, and one whose political importance
must not be overlooked. If the sous-prefet is persuaded that the population of Somié is
conscientious and active, then who knows what aid may arrive. The chief, and some others,
must be conscious that one day a new Mambila sous-prefecture will be created and this will be
the focus of strong competition between the three villages. The role that public manifestations
of civic activity - such as the communal dancing, and the respect visibly given to the chief can
only be a matter of speculation. But as has just been said, some of the most active
participants in the rite share these speculations, so they form a genuine part of the rite. By
contrast, in Atta and Sonkolong the chiefs are not so active in regional politics (in 1996 the
chief of Sonkolong was old and had been unwell; the chief of Atta who had been appointed in
1993 had not fully relinquished his former life as a teacher in Magba and seemed unwilling to
fully embrace the role of traditional chief). But the other villages perform their own rituals at
which the boot is on the other foot - in Atta for instance mbe saa is performed, and this
serves as a focus for Atta village identity.
What visitors see is the orchestrated 'war dance', the enthusiastic dancing which follows (and
which continues until dawn) and the prostration of the village population before the chief as
he dances. Senior visitors who are invited to watched the proceedings from the veranda of the
public building of the chief's palace also experience the munificence of the chief's (and hence
the village's) entertainment: they are fed with chicken and with fish, and they are given bottled
beer and whisky to drink.
|drop with his right index finger and touches his right toe. Then he drinks out of
times. During first cup, people clap slowly during second faster and during third faster still.
Now finished. Now everyone drinks, dances and sings.
Next day is chiefs Sunday and more feasting.
If animals that should be brought to chief are not, killer will become ill. He must go and
confess to chief who will forgive him, the killer will bring a fowl as gift to chief. When the
chief takes the fowl he says ìkissumî which means blessing and sickness will go away.
If fighting goes on and chief comes and waves bush cow tail the fighting must cease at once,
this is true at any time.
Native chief asked to bless corn and guinea-corn before planting. (This I have not heard from
others) According to XXX chief waves Vurup (Africa Lily) grass over the seeds. These seeds
then mixed with the rest of the familyís seeds and this insures that they will all grow well.
Chief notifies whole village when he intends to burn his hillside. If he spears an animal on
this occasion he is prohibited from having a share of the animal that he spears.
If you want to marry during chiefs month you must ask chief. Bring him a fowl and later give
chief corn beer.
When a new native chief is appointed the shoas are asked to kill anyone who will not obey
Native chief has chair of his own and also Shoa of his own. If another person should sit on
his chair they will become fat and tired. No one can hit another with chiefís buffalo tail or
they will become fat and tired, that is person hit. When old chief dies new appointee hit with
Dec 18th YYY on Chiefs month
YYY says that the big medicine will not be made as his brother BBB died. He expects to go
stay at Tigul for awhile. Normally the medicine would be made tomorrow, as it is a full
He says that they will make small medicine much later. This instead of the big medicine.
He went to stay at Tigul on the 18th and returned to Tscharl on the 21st.