Category Archives: Fon

Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 8)

If you missed part 1 to 3 you can get them part 1 here , part 2 here, part 3 here , part 4 here , part 5 here , part 6 here and part 7 here:

V-4. THE DESTRUCTION OF THE ŊGÍRÌ COMPOUND IN 1935
Sometime in the mid 1930s, the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì truce was shattered. During a mortuary ceremony at Ki’ Kingomen by the Ŋwéròŋ cult, members of the Ŋgírì cult appeared even though they were not invited and seized the drinks that were reserved for Ŋwéròŋ cults members (ki bi la Ŋgírì ngwaah bo wu no bvee king – who even invited Ŋgírì to this party before they made this mess). The Ki’ clan was able to calm nerves and the ensuing scuffle was brought under control. Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv was expected to reprimand the Ŋgírì group for this affront on Ŋwéròŋ and he did not. Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn I (1910-1947) was livid, especially because the princes who led this affront on Ŋwéròŋ were the principal contestants to his sitting on the throne and dared to boast that Ki’ Kingomen was the beginning of their power grab with the throne as their ultimate target.

Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn I (1910-1947) demanded an explanation from Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv that Shúufaáy refused to provide. In addition instead of reporting to the Palace Court to see the Fòn as was required that week, Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv went to the Ŋgírì compound. This was the last straw. The Fòn then went back to Ŋwéròŋ and ordered an attack on Ŋgírì. A major Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì clash ensued and Ŋwéròŋ burned the Ŋgírì compound to the ground and banned Ŋgírì from the Nso’ Palace. Tensions were high and Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv in the following dry season did not perform sacrifices for the millet harvest (jang saar). The Fòn and Ŋwéròŋ had enough of Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv’s obstinate tirades.

The Fòn openly invoked the occultist powers to smite Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv. The spirits obliged and Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv (Nsairun) died in September 1935. The Ndzәәndzәv lineage never forgave the Fòn for the death of their young Shúufaáy and this incident festered on to the 1956 Ndzәәndzәv Crisis (settled in 1968).

It took another Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv (Shaafee) and the next decade before peace was re-established and the Ŋgírì cults were re-instated. The members of the Ŋgírì cult accepted their subordinate status to Ŋwéròŋ, continued their existence as a fraternity of princes and everything progressed peacefully until 1947 when another progressive prince Sheèy Wan Nto’ Mbinkar Mbiŋlo was enthroned as the King Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972). Ŋgírì saw the opportunity and attempted to regain their old glory and power under Fòn Mapri (1907-1910). Unlike his predecessor Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) was very tactful in handling the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì conflict. He gradually increased Ŋgírì’s power and influence without alienating Ŋwéròŋ, but the rivalry still boiled to the surface after a decade of apparent peace.
V-5. THE PALACE FIRE DISASTER OF 1956
The festering Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì dispute may have claimed another casualty, this time dismaying the whole Kingdom. On December 24th, 1956, a mysterious fire started at the Ŋwéròŋ compound section of the Palace and quickly engulfed the whole Palace in flames. Even though the Ŋwéròŋ people could not prove it, they accused the Ŋgírì cults of burning their compound in retaliation for the 1935 destruction of the Ŋgírì compound. Ŋgírì vehemently denied the charges especially given that the retaliatory effort had caused the destruction of the whole Palace except the Ŋgírì compound which was a little removed from the rest of the Palace structures.

Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) was however quietly elated by the destruction of the Palace. In fact he named the first son who was born into the extended Royal Family after this incident Beri Ngaa Ton (thanks to the arsonist). Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) saw this as an opportunity to reconstruct a modern Palace and he ordered his whole Kingdom to build him a befitting Palace comparable to the Bamoun Palace in Foumban. The Nso’ people took the challenge and the great Nso’ Palace Reconstruction Project (which is still ongoing today) was started. The Reconstruction Project took attention away from petty squabbles and kept the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì conflict at bay for another decade.
V-6. BAA GWAR ŊGÍRÌ OF KOOŊGIR
Like Ŋwéròŋ’s Yeŋwéròŋ (mother of Ŋwéròŋ ) cult, Ŋgírì also had a Yeŋgírì (mother of Ŋgírì) cult, with the difference that the Yeŋgírì cult was just occultist (shiv) without a display masquerade like Yeŋwéròŋ had. In 1967 things changed. The Yeŋgírì cult decided to create their display masquerade. The inaugural ceremony chosen for the masqerade was the death celebration of Shúufaáy Kooŋgir, a senior Lord of Sacrifice (Kibay ke Dùy ke Ntaŋri). Ŋwéròŋ was enraged by this development and lodged a complaint with the King Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) but the Fòn refused to intervene.

Ŋwéròŋ diplomatically convinced one of Shúufaáy Kooŋgir’s sons that if they allowed the Yeŋgírì masquerade to display during their father’s funeral all the male children of the lineage would die mysteriously. Shúufaáy’s son, Mr. Anthony Suila (Baa Anthony Gwar Ŋgírì – Baa Anthony the Ŋgírì slayer) warned Ŋgírì not to display the Yeŋgírì masquerade but they were determined to do it. So when the Yeŋgírì masquerade attempted to display, Baa Gwar Ŋgírì swung to action with a machete and threatened to behead the Yeŋgírì masquerade. In the commotion that followed Yeŋgírì was saved in extremis and Ŋgírì left the Kooŋgir compound in broad daylight (all cults travel only at night) and retired to the palace in disgraceful disarray. This was sacrilegious, with Ŋgírì cult members raging mad and Ŋwéròŋ laughing all the way back to their quarters. This not withstanding Yeŋgírì was saved and has survived with a display masquerade to this day. The Ŋgírì members did not forgive Ŋwéròŋ for this humiliation that has remained in Nso’ folklore with Baa Gwar Ŋgírì as the ultimate vilain. This incident kept the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì squabbles alive for the next four decades.
Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) was able to contain the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì rivalry till the end of his reign. Before he joined the ancestors however he did something remarkable. In negotiation with the Bamouns, he agreed to absorb all Bamoun Ŋgírì and Ŋwéròŋ cults with their occultist accoutrements when the Bamoun acknowledged to him that they no longer had the wherewithal to preserve this Tikar culture. The Ŋwéròŋ cult refused to accept any new Bamoun occultism except what was going to enhance their Kinghaayasi, Jwiŋwéròŋ and Yeŋwéròŋ cults, and threatened to retaliate if the Fòn gave anything further to the Ŋgírì cults. Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) ignored Ŋwéròŋ and started the upgrade of Ŋgírì with additional Bamoun occultism, but died and left the task to be completed by his successor Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983).
V-7. THE PALACE MAYHEM OF DECEMBER 1976
In 1972 a new King Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983) was crowned. To complete the task left to him by his predecessor Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972), he first had to prove to Ŋwéròŋ and Manjoŋ (the war society) that he was the overall Paramount and that his word and his decisions were final. In 1975, without consultation Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983) returned Bamoun King Nsaŋgou’s (1863-1889) cap-and-crown that was captured in the 1885-1889 Nso’-Bamoun war when King Nsaŋgou (1863-1889) was beheaded. When Ŋwéròŋ and Manjoŋ objected the Fòn informed them that it was the price to be paid to keep the Bamoun Ŋgírì and Ŋwéròŋ cult artifacts that his predecessor Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) had accepted. He also informed Ŋwéròŋ that he was about to complete the handing of the five (5) Bamoun cults/masquerades that Ŋwéròŋ had refused to keep [Moo (Taa Maandzә), Nchiy Kibah (Yeye Boy), Moomvem (Mbiy a Bami), Shiŋwar Ndzә and Rifem] to the Ŋgírì group. Despite Ŋwéròŋ’s vehement objections, he did and re-opened old wounds. The Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì feud was re-ignited with a new ferocity worst than that of the previous four decades.
On December 26th, 1976 during a dual death celebration, Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì did everything in their power to coordinate the outing displays of their masquerades to avoid any face-to-face encounters of their masquerades in the open public court at the Palace square. But trouble had been brewing for more than a year and there were trouble makers eager to start a fight on both sides. The Ŋgírì group’s Wanmabu masquerade came out to display when the Ŋwéròŋ group’s Kibaraŋko masquerade was still out. The two masquerades met in open square and a confrontation ensued. The Kibaraŋko masquerade hit the Wanmabu masquerade with its club (kimbuh) so hard that Wanmabu almost fell. In retaliation Wanmabu hit Kibaraŋko’s huge head so hard that it almost fell off. To the Ŋwéròŋ members this was beyond sacrilegious. An open fight broke out in the Palace square. If you were a Ŋgírì member you looked for the nearest Ŋwéròŋ member you could beat and punched the living daylight out of him, and vice versa for the Ŋwéròŋ members. It was open mayhem.
After making sure that Kibaraŋko had safely retreated to the Ŋwéròŋ compound, the Ŋwéròŋ young men decided that the best way to end this feud for good was to capture Ŋgírì’s Wanmabu as a Ŋwéròŋ kintan (captive Ŋwéròŋ hopper). Wanmabu sensed the danger. Since Wanmabu’s path back to Ŋgírì’s compound was blocked, Wanmabu ran to the Queens’ and Wives’ quarters (Vikiynto’ Ŋsan). The Fòn’s wives were openly hostile to Wanmabu because in their view Ŋgírì started the fight (“aa du fe? bo yo ke ven vindzeh vin aa?” – where are you going? didn’t you guys start this fight?). The Vikiynto’ went after Wanmabu with their clubs (mbangsi). Wanmabu ran for its dear life. Since Wanmabu knew the Ŋwéròŋ young men were after him and all his paths had been blocked he headed straight for the inner Court of the Palace (Taa Kibu). Unfortunately for Wanmabu the Fòn was not in. However, luckily for it the Nso’ people respect the Royal Stool (Kava) even more than they respect the King (Fòn). So, Wanmabu dove under the Kava, held it firmly with both hands and remained there. There was nothing the Ŋwéròŋ boys could do. They just stood there and waited because they knew Wanmabu would have to leave for the Ŋgírì compound at some point. The frustrated Ŋwéròŋ boys however did not wait quietly. They taunted Wanmabu with words like “kinga ke shiv vikiy ki mo ki ke ki pen shu. ver yi yen mo aa yi goh sar Kava” (cowardly women’s masquerade that wears lipstick makeup. we shall see how you will remain under the Royal Stool). Wanmabu held its ground and remained under the Kava, patiently waiting to be rescued.
Unbeknown to the Ŋwéròŋ fellows someone notified Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv and senior Ŋwéròŋ leaders about what was happening. When these elders got to the Palace all hell broke loose. In a matter of minutes a new set of about fifty (50) hooded Ŋwéròŋ (Vilumsi) came out with whips and dispersed the crowds from the Palace square including the Ŋwéròŋ boys who were in the inner Palace Court waiting for Wanmabu to leave the Kava. Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv and Faáy Faanjaŋ escorted Wanmabu back to the Ŋgírì compound. Yes, the grownups were around and calm returned to the Palace.
When things returned to normal on that day, half a dozen individuals were sent to the hospital. When the Fòn came back to the Palace and learned of the events that had occured, he was infuriated. He summoned both Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì to the Palace Court and imposed huge fines on them. Even Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv and Faáy Faanjaŋ were fined for their failure to prevent the incident and for the amount of time it took them to quell the mayhem. After the fines were paid some sanity returned to both Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì for at least two decades.
V-8. THE FELLING OF THE PALACE TREE
Even though things were quiet, the playboy Ŋgírì masquerade Wanmabu continued provoking Ŋwéròŋ cult members every time it came out to display. There was a huge tall tree in the middle of the Palace Square (Maandzә Ngay). Whenever Wanmabu came out, it would climb on this tree and spy on activities in the Ŋwéròŋ compound. Young Ŋwéròŋ boys used to retreat behind the safety of the Ŋwéròŋ walls and attempt to shoot Wanmabu down from the tree with their catapults, but this did not deter Wanmabu at all. The Ŋwéròŋ hierarchy complained to the Fòn who decided not to take any action in stopping Wanmabu. Ŋwéròŋ took matters into their own hands and applied a deadly chemical concoction to the tree in the dead of night. The beautiful tree died and to everyone’s sorrow lost its foliage and dried up. The Fòn had no choice but to cut it down, depriving Wanmabu of his favorite perch thus calming the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì fued for a few more years.
V-9. THE “MBOOR” LEAF PALAVER
In 1993 the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’ got a new young and vibrant King Fòn Sehm Mbiŋlo I (1993-Present). The Ŋgírì cult decided it was time to reassert their powers anew and in 1994/1995 after giving the new Fòn a two year reprieve, the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì truce was once again broken. This time around Ŋgírì’s Yeŋgírì cult decided that their members were going to wear the same regalia like Ŋwéròŋ’s Yeŋwéròŋ cult when their Yeŋgírì masquerade came out for public displays. They decided that Yeŋgírì cult members were going to wear “mboor” the plant leaf that Yeŋwéròŋ cult members adorned their headgear with. Now, in the unwritten constitution of the Nso’ dynasty it can be traced to as far back as 1727 (when the lost Prince Yiir was discovered by Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv and brought back to be made King) that it was agreed that only princes that were recognized as Kings and were allowed to sit on the throne were allowed to wear the “mboor” leaf in the company of the senior Yeŋwéròŋ cult members. No other prince (except the King) was allowed to adorn their head with this leaf. So if the Yeŋgírì cult decided that their members were going to wear the “mboor”, then any princes that were Yeŋgírì cult members that decided to wear the “mboor” leaf on their heads were surreptitiously trying to usurp the throne. In order to prevent an uprising, the Fòn stepped in and forbade his brother princes from wearing the “mboor” leaf. The Cameroons administration was asked to intervene and forbid any Yeŋgírì cult member from wearing the “mboor” leaf to ensure that peace reigned in Bui Division.
Ŋwéròŋ thought they had cornered the Yeŋgírì cult members, but they were wrong. A few plant leaves do look like the “mboor” leaf. One of them is the medicinal bean-seed-like plant called “shinjaang”. The Yeŋgírì cult members found solace in “shinjaang”. So, the next time the Yeŋgírì cult masquerade came out to display, the cult members adorned “shinjaang” leaves on their heads. Of course the Bui Divisional Administration was watching. Once they confronted the Ŋgírì folks the answer was simple (this one no be “mboor” sa, na “shinjaang” – this one is not the “mboor” leaf sir, this is a “shinjaang” leaf). The Bui Administration was furious because they could not differentiate “mboor” from “shinjaang”. In the Administration’s view if it looked like “mboor”, quacked like “mboor” and walked like “mboor”, it was “mboor”. So, the Bui Administration banned the Ŋgírì cult from adorning anything that looked like “mboor” on their heads. The new Fòn agreed with the administration and peace returned.
An elaborate ceremony was organized to celebrate what everybody thought was the end of the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì feud. The Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì Shigwàála’ masquerades actually came out together and embraced each other in public and everyone sang “hallelujah”. But unfortunately it was not meant to be. The Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì feud was just held in abeyance for another decade.
V-10. ŊGONNSO’ 2008 AND THE HOPEFUL FUTURE
A few minor incidents occurred (like the snatching of Kibaraŋko’s club (mbuh) by the Ŋgírì members or the confiscation of Wanmabu’s spears (kongsi) by the Ŋwéròŋ members or the Yeŋwéròŋ-Yeŋgírì-Kibaraŋko encounter during the burial of Shúufaáy Taaŋkùm in 2004). These were pretty minor and did not disturb public peace. In 2008 when Fòn Sehm Mbiŋlo I (1993-Present) decided to celebrate the Kingdom’s cultural week, the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì clash resurfaced during the ceremonial sacrifice in Kovvifәm. Ŋwéròŋ’s Kibaraŋko and Ŋgírì’s Wanmabu masquerades met face-to-face at the Kovvifәm public square but the confrontation was not as bad as the December 1976 Palace incident. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. However, this encounter was just a precursor. The worst was still to come.
During the closing ceremonies a few days later, Kibaraŋko and Wanmabu came face-to-face again at the Kimbo public square, half a mile north of the Palace. Sparks flew. The worst would have happened (and December 1976 would have been child’s play) were it not for the timely intervention of senior Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cult leaders. Kibaraŋko and Wanmabu postponed their deadly dance to the Palace square (Maandzә Ngay) 30 minutes later. It was amazing theatre. The King Fòn Sehm Mbiŋlo I (1993-Present) had to come out personally to quell the situation. The Fòn was livid. Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì were summoned to the Court and this time the fines and sanctions were draconian. Four senior Ŋwéròŋ members and three senior Ŋgírì members were banned from both cults and the Palace vicinity for life. The Nso’ community woke up and was aghast that popular figures like Sheèy Taafuh Tarzan of Taaŋkùm (Ŋgírì), retired officer Engelbert Mbulai (Ŋwéròŋ) and Paa Little Man (late) of Ve Baah Rong (Ŋwéròŋ ) had been rusticated from the palace for good.
If any lessons were learned here, it is hoped the Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì feud will finally come to an end. Fòn Sehm Mbiŋlo I (1993-Present) and Ŋwéròŋ were hash in the punishment they meted out to the agitators of the last incident, but it is hoped the punishment was enough to deter any future recurrence. The fact that this time around it was not only the Shigwàála’ she Ŋgírì and Shigwàála’ she Ŋwéròŋ masquerades but also Wanmabu and Kibaraŋko masquerades that came out to celebrate the end of Ŋwéròŋ-Ŋgírì hostilities is hopefully a sign that we have seen an end to this centuries old feud. Let peace reign.

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Shey Tatah Sevidzem

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Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 6)

If you missed part 1 to 3 you can get them part 1 here , part 2 here, part 3 here , part 4 here and part 5 here:

Nso culture

IV-6. CULT MEMBER ETHICAL CODE VIOLATIONS AND PUNISHMENT
Cult members by virtue of their power, influence and societal standing are expected to be epitomes of moral rectitude. Some of these members are actually so required by their occultist rules and regulations, especially given their positions within the Court. Compared to the rest of the public, cult members generally receive harsher punishment for the same crime because they should have known better. Cult members could even be expelled and rusticated from their cult groups (Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì) for the simplest of violations.
Cult members are seriously monitored for character deficiencies like adultery, public drunkenness, gossiping, irresponsibility towards their families and other misdemeanors that could easily lead to expulsion.
It is forbidden for a cult member (or anyone else for that matter) to covet the King’s wife, sit on the Royal throne, commit rape (especially that of a child), harm a pregnant woman, commit murder or commit any similar high crime for which they easily possessed the wherewithal to effect, thanks to the occultist weapons they handled by virture of their cult membership. The punishment for such high crimes by any cult member is generally a sentence to death, when non-cult members are exiled.
Crimes against pregnant women are generally so abhored that even the Kibaraŋko masquerade would stop and make way on approaching a pregnant woman. A pregnant woman also has the right to stop the carriers of the King’s wine (bom) and ask for a sip if she felt thirsty.
Sitting on the Royal throne is considered to be a very serious criminal offense. Punishment for a cult member who is a prince of the rank of Sheèy wo Ngang, Sheèy Wan Nto’ or above is a sentence to death because the culprit is assumed to be trying to usurp the throne. In 1910 Sheèy Wan Nto’ Mbinkar Mbiŋlo is said to have tried to usurp the throne from his uncle Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn I (1910-1947) and was sentenced to death, but he escaped with the help of Shúufaáy Sov and his clansmen (Visov). The Nso’ remained forever grateful to Visov because Sheèy Mbiŋlo later became Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) and is renowned to be the Father of Nso’ Development.
Another example of a prince who attempted to usurp the throne but was spared the death penalty was Sheèy Wan Nto’ Rәәvәy. In 1907 when young Sheèy Rәәvәy learned that the Germans had executed his father Fòn Sehm II (1875-1907) in Bamenda where he went to pay royalties to the German colonial administration, Sheèy Rәәvәy seized the throne and sat on it. Sheèy Rәәvәy was condemned to death but saved from death by his youthful ignorance and the fact that his mother was not of Mntaár origin so he really could not be King, making his usurpation of the throne an irrelvant act. Even though Sheèy Rәәvәy was spared from death, he still needed to be pardoned by his father the new King Fòn Mapri (1907-1910).

To pardon his nephew, Fòn Mapri (1907-1910) imposed that neither Sheèy Rәәvәy nor his immediate children could ever be elevated to a Faáyship or Shúufaáyship for fear that they might attempt usurping the throne again or they may declare themselves Fòn and form another Dynasty like Dom, Mbiame or Oku. Sheèy Rәәvәy protested this restriction saying that he had voluntarily relinquished the throne and that as a Sheèy Wan Nto’ his children were by right eligible for elevation to Faáy or Shúufaáy. The Fon stood firm on his decision but agreed that Sheèy Rәәvәy’s grand-son or great-grand-son could be elevated to Faáy or Shúufaáy.

To punish Sheèy Rәәvәy for protesting despite the fact that he was kind enough to pardon him for his crime, Fòn Mapri (1907-1910) threw a curse on Sheèy Rәәvәy. The Fòn told Sheèy Rәәvәy that he would never live to see his grand-children. It happened as was foretold, Sheèy Rәәvәy died in the 1920s. History however has a way of correcting for its wrongs. Recently in December 2010, Fòn Sehm Mbiŋlo I (1993-Present) elevated Dr. Willibroad Shasha (a grand-son of Sheèy Rәәvәy) to the rank of Shúufaáy Nso’Bahti. The new Shúufaáy Nso’Bahti returned to the United States of America to a thunderous welcome by many of his constituents.
Despite all these mishaps, cults and their members and Title Holders that walk their halls continue to thrive in the ever expanding and changing culture of the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’. Before we examine the effects of modernity and conclude this essay let us look at the history of the relationship between the cults, an aspect of the culture that has shaped its evolution more than anything else in this modern era of change.
V. HISTORY OF THE TUMULTUOUS RELATIONSHIPS BETWEEN THE CULTS
The Shiswaa and the Ŋwéròŋ cults have enjoyed a very deep and collaborative relationship perhaps because all members of the Shishwaa cult are also ranked among the most senior members of the Ŋwéròŋ cults. The relationship between the Shishwaa cult and the Ŋgírì cults has been cordial (but not deep) because the Shishwaa cult from time to time requires assistance from the Lords of Sacrifice (Vibay ve Dùy ve Ntaŋri) who are all senior Ŋgírì cults members.
The Taa-Mbàn cult compound is next door to the Ŋwéròŋ cults compound in the layout of the palace. Thanks to this proximity the Ŋwéròŋ and Taa-Mbàn cults enjoy a close relationship. Taa-Mbàn cult members because of the mortuary and divine services that they provide within the Palace, have also enjoyed close ties with the Ŋgírì elderly members among the Lords of Sacrifice (Vibay ve Dùy ve Ntaŋri).
The Taa-Mbàn cult and the Shiswaa cults share some annointing, emissary and protective services roles and because of this reason the members of the two cults have enjoyed a close and collaborative relationship over the centuries.
The Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults however have enjoyed a rocky relationship in the last century. As we noted earlier in the historical highlights above, the Ŋwéròŋ cults were re-introduced into Nso’ society sometime after 1450. From then till the late 1800s and early 1900s the Ŋwéròŋ cults reigned supreme in the land, and even usurped some of the fraternal duties that were supposed to be performed by the Ŋgírì cults as was the case in Rifem from where the Nso’ people came.

Shey Tatah Sevidzem (Wo Scandy)

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Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 5)

If you missed part 1 to 3 you can get them part 1 here , part 2 here, part 3 here and part 4 here:

Nso culture

IV-1. CULT INDUCTION AND INITIATION
As a general rule, all Ncheèlav including some Dùy and some Mntaár are members of the Ŋwéròŋ and all Dùy, some Mntaár and exceptionally some Ncheèlav are members of the Ŋgírì cults.
A young boy is generally introduced to the cults (taken to the cult compound for the first time) by the Shúufaáy, Faáy, Sheèy or a designated senior member of their clan, when they are old enough to be sworn to secrecy (about the ages of 6-10), at about the same time they are introduced to non-Palace family cults like Rum or Nsang.
The boys are often brought in when the cult orchestra is playing. Some frightening rituals are performed on them and a slimy liquid is poured over them in a series of incantations which are at times so mumbled that they are not decipherable. The older boys, who had already been introduced, then take their turn welcoming the new boys to the club with a little whipping, pinching or even rubbing with poison ivy (kimbin or even woondzә). This is meant to scare the living daylight out of the lad, to ensure that he never tells what ever he sees or hears in the cult compond because the consequences of telling will be worst than the poison ivy.
Generally this is an exciting and highly anticipated time for the young boy (at least it was for me), as the boys are tested by their female siblings and even their mothers and aunts when they come back home after their initiation, to see if they can really keep the secret. It was common for the inducted boys to shout “ee wiy yey” (lady beware) even to their mothers (pending a few conks on the head) to warn the female folks that they were now seers and keepers of the secrets of Rum, Ŋwéròŋ or Ŋgírì. Surprisingly there are actually no secrets to keep for the young inductee. The young initiate only has access to the general courts and halls of the cult compound. He cannot enter any of the cult houses until he is old enough to be fully initiated.
The process of full initiation into a particular cult is called “tang shiv” literally meaning counting the occultist spirits. Initiation even to the lowest ranking cult of Shiŋkaŋ rarely occurs before the teen years. The initiate is expected to bring jugs of palm wine, fowls, goats or even cows and some special accoutrements that vary from cult to cult. In the old days for example to tang Wanmabu required at least 2 goats, 2 fowls, 2 bundles of groundnut pudding (mboo), 2 jugs of palm wine and 2 large trays (djuy) of cooked corn fufu. Even though things may have changed nowadays, initiation still requires provision of some variation of these feasting elements.
After initiation the member is expected to get into apprenticeship and learn the occultism and medicines of the cult. After such training the member rises in rank by providing the things that are needed to rise from one rank to the next (palm wine, fowls, goats, etc.). Most cults have ranks that may go as low as 3 above the regular member or even 5 above the regular member. Rising from one rank to the other has its special requirements. Ranks also bring special admiration when the members escort their masquerades out for public display. In the case of popular cults like Wanmabu and Kibaraŋko, the rank determines the markings on a masquerade escort’s body (nche’ se ngang), who handles the masquerade’s cup (bar shiv), who handles the adorned spear (kilun or shinya’), who handles the special open gourd (kighin ke shiv) and who handles the masquerade’s bag (kibam ke shiv).

Irrespective of the number of ranks in the cult house, the highest level is always held by 7 members called “samba wir” (group of seven). These are the last custodians of the particular cult’s occultism and are only replaced upon death or serious incapacitation. Any member of the cult (without discrimination) can rise to the level of “samba wir” as long as they satisfy all the criteria set by the cult, abide by the rules, do their time and acquire the needed training, and provide all the necessary things to rise to the highest rank.
It is important to note here that membership in any of the cult houses could also be gained through inheritance upon the death of a father, uncle or even sibling who was a member. However, anyone who so inherits membership is expected to perform all the initiation rites and rise to a level as high as the individual they are replacing with time.
A member is expected to be initiated in all the cults from the lowest Shiŋkaŋ through Shigwàála’, Wanmabu, Kibaraŋko, before they can be inducted into the highest cults of Yeŋwéròŋ and Yeŋgírì. Since Yeŋwéròŋ and Yeŋgírì are the real custodians of the penultimate Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì occultism, medicines and other fetishes, initiation into these higher cults is really intricate. As we saw earlier someone can gain membership into Yeŋwéròŋ or Yeŋgírì by virtue of nomination by the Fòn who grants them the minimum title of Sheèy wo Ngang. Someone could also gain membership into Yeŋwéròŋ or Yeŋgírì by inheritance.
IV-2. INDUCTION INTO THE YEŊWÉRÒŊ CULT
Initiation into Yeŋwéròŋ often depended on whether the new member was a Ncheèlav, Dùy or Mntaár. Ŋwéròŋ created a simpler initiation process called “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ” (climbing into the Ŋwéròŋ store) for the Ncheèlav. Dùy and Mntaár members went through a more costy and very involved two step process of “tee shishur she Ŋwéròŋ” followed by “tang Ŋwéròŋ”.
The “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ” process required 2 bags of salt, 2 jugs of palm wine, 2 fowls and 2 large trays (djuy) of cooked corn fufu, with additional requirements on the day the member was being led to the store (kitav) to see the occultist sacraria and other medicines and fetishes of Yeŋwéròŋ.
By contrast the “te’ shishur she Ŋwéròŋ” is a much more expensive process. The initiate is given a list and he supplies everything in a minimum of threes, fives or sevens. It could be 3-5-or-7 goats, 3-5-or-7 fowls, 3-5-or-7 jugs of palm wine, 3-5-or-7 bags of salt, 3-5-or-7 trays of cooked corn fufu or even more. Additional things are demanded on the day the new member comes to see the Yeŋwéròŋ occult. After this process the member now has the rights of someone who has done the “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ”.
The “te’ shishur she Ŋwéròŋ” or “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ” is often followed by the initiation of the new member into the Manjoŋ war society called “Fhuum Mfuuh (Gham or Ba’)”. As a next step, the young men and boys often follow this with their own process called “Kingaah” which is a courtesy visit to the compound of the new member where they are entertained with a lot of food and drink.
After “te’ shishur she Ŋwéròŋ” or “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ” the member is expected to get into apprenticeship and learn the occultism and medicines of the Yeŋwéròŋ cult. After training the member rises in rank by providing whatever is needed to rise from one rank to the next (palm wine, fowls, goats, etc.). The highest level in Yeŋwéròŋ is held by 7 members called “samba wir” (group of seven). Getting to this level takes years of appreticeship and training that can only be shortened by a”tang Ŋwéròŋ”, an intricate process that is not meant for mare mortals.
The “tang Ŋwéròŋ” process goes beyond the occult to the realm of totems. It is a process that takes years and even decades to complete. It is such an expensive process that few people in living memory have been known to accomplish. The member who is doing the “tang Ŋwéròŋ” is asked to provide everything in 70s. It could be 70 goats, 70 fowls, 70 jugs of palm wine, 70 bags of salt, 70 trays of cooked corn fufu, cash for the Fòn (Kibam ke Fòn) and more. Around the early 1900s a Faáy Mbiiŋgiy is said to have practically bankrupted his family to do a “tang Ŋwéròŋ”. Of course the said Faáy Mbiiŋgiy decided that he now owned Ŋwéròŋ after his “tang Ŋwéròŋ” process was completed. His mates thought he was joking but he was not. After Faáy Mbiiŋgiy died it took some years for Ŋwéròŋ to extricate the Yeŋwéròŋ occult from under the late Faáy’s influence.
It should be noted that after the “tang Ŋwéròŋ”, the member is automatically admitted into the highest ranks of the Yeŋwéròŋ “samba wir” even if the member who is to be replaced is still alive. If there is no one among the “samba wir” who has completed the “tang Ŋwéròŋ”, the other members could even make him their overall leader and prime Lord of Yeŋwéròŋ, elevating him to the highest rank in the Ŋwéròŋ cults group.
IV-3. INDUCTION INTO THE YEŊGÍRÌ CULT
Initiation into Yeŋgírì cult is simplified for princes. A prince who is judged worthy of initiation does a “te’ shishur she Ŋgírì” which unlike the “te’ shishur she Ŋwéròŋ” or “ko’ kitav ke Ŋwéròŋ” is just a rudimentary process of initiation when it comes to princes. Non-princes do the real “te’ shishur she Ŋgírì” by providing 12 goats, 7 fowls, 12 calabashes of wine and 12 trays of cooked corn fufu. Upon completion of this process, the member then completes the training that permits them to rise in the Yeŋgírì cult up to the rank of “samba wir” or inner sanctum with rights and prerogatives that are reserved for such rank.
After the “te’ shishur she Ŋgírì” the new Yeŋgírì also does “Fhuum Mfuuh (Gham or Ba’)”. The young Ŋgírì men and boys then follow with their “Kingaah” process to the compound of the new member.
The “tang Ŋgírì” process is even more complex because in addition to providing all the items above for the first stage of “te’ shishur she Ŋgírì”, the member also provides a male attendant to the Palace court as well as a wife for the Fòn. In addition the member who is doing a “tang Ŋgírì” also provides a hefty bag of cash for the Fòn called “Kibam ke Fòn”.
IV-4. CULT MEMBERSHIP TRAINING AND RANKING
All the cults have a set of complex rules that their members must abide by. Any violation of these rules could cost them their membership in the cults. For this reason, all cults usually have a day of the 8-day Nso’ week (for example Kilovәy for the Wanmabu cult) when members meet to fraternize and learn the rules, regulations and ways of the cult. The members also learn how to handle the cult’s occultist spirits, fetishes and medicines in stages. In the old days, the training took time and it was only when one stage of training was completed before a member could move up in rank in the cult. It is for this reason that it took decades for anyone to rise to the level of “samba wir” in any cult or for lower cult members to be acceded membership in Yeŋwéròŋ or Yeŋgírì cults.
Poor training of cult members could lead to an inability to properly handle cult masquerades and their accompanying spirits and medicines during public displays. Such occurrences are said to have often angered departed senior members who could show their displeasure by deranging the masquerade or confusing their escorts. The Kibaraŋko debacle during the death celebration of Shúufaáy Sov in 1982 was cited as the case of a senior cult member expressing his displeasure with the cult even from the grave. Things got so bad that the deranged Kibaraŋko broke the huge Manjoŋ wine jar (kiing mfuuh). The most senior members of Ŋwéròŋ had to come out and lead Kibaraŋko back in chains after appeasing the late Shúufaáy and getting his permission to get Kibaraŋko under their control.

In 1972 during the death celebration of Fòn Sehm III (1947-1972) his successor Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983) noticed that cult member’s inadequate training was impeding their ability to control the masquerades and their accompanying occultism when they came out for public diplay. In a space of two days, 3 people died thanks to the inability of Wanmabu and Kibaraŋko cult escorts to control their masquerade’s occultist spirits and medicines during public dispay. The Fòn was infuriated by these deaths and warned both Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì that he would stop their displays if they proved themselves unable to control their masquerades free spirits. He followed through with a worst sanction. To the dismay and violent protestation of both Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cult members, Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983) banned the handling of any occultist spirits and medicines by all cults during public displays. “Keh fo len shiv goo ii koko” (from now on the occultist medicines shall remain in the cult house) the Fòn declared to the futile protestations of Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cult members. The Fòn’s order has remained in effect to this day, despite the fact that cult members often skirted around the Fòn’s edict when the cult went for a death celebration in a senior member’s compound where all of Ŋwéròŋ and/or Ŋgírì had an overnight stay.
IV-5. CULT MEMBER RESPONSIBILITIES
In general since cult members especially the senior ones are often also Title Holders (Sheèy wo Ngang, Faáy and Shúufaáy) they are expected to conduct themselves respectfully in public and to maintain a certain level of dignity and decorum. They are also looked upon as role models by society.
Cult members are expected to play the role of custodian of Nso’ culture and traditions. The cults are expected to educate their members on an ongoing basis so that they can know, understand and/or interpret every aspect of Nso’culture that relates to them correctly.
As cultural custodians of their institutions, cult members must ensure the preservation and the promotion of Nso’culture and the institutions to which they belong. They are also expected to provide moral and material support for the up-keep of their cults.
Cult members are expected to assist the Fòn and the overarching cult groups like Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì materially and financially in the performance of their duties as well as the preservation of the Nso’ culture.
Cult members are expected to fully participate and to provide leadership in public functions of all forms and to assist in religious ceremonies. They are also expected to provide leadership and financial support in community activities like the building of public halls, roads, bridges and markets.

Shey Tatah Sevidzem (Wo Scandy)

 

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Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 4)

If you missed part 1 to 3 you can get them part 1 here , part 2 here: and part 3 here

Nso culture

III-3. STRUCTURE OF THE ŊWÉRÒŊ CULTS

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The Ŋwéròŋ cults group has a huge fenced compound next to the inner and outer palace court yards. The Ŋwéròŋ compound is composed of many open courts, large halls and various multi-storey and basement apartments to house each of the cults. The compound is arranged in residential quarters each headed by a Sheèy who spends nine (now seven) years as a page of the Ŋwéròŋ cults and is assisted by various Nchiyselav (junior pages).
The Residential quarters are:
 Lav ye Ku-un (Senior House)
 Lav ye Teri (Junior House)
 Lav Ngaŋsi (Senior Escorts’ House)
When the Sheèys graduate after their years (7 or 9) of tutelage and apprenticeship they are ranked among the highest members of the Ŋwéròŋ cults group as a Tav Ŋwéròŋ, second only to the most senior Palace Stewards (Atárnto’).
The rest of the compound is divided into cult houses that may each have physical levels of initiation as deep as 3 or even 5.
Ŋwéròŋ has the following cult house:
 Shiŋkaŋ cult – All members
 Shigwàála’ cult – All members
 Kibaraŋko cult – Ŋwéròŋ wo Teri (Junior Ŋwéròŋ )
 Kingaayasi cult – Ŋwéròŋ wo Teri (Junior Ŋwéròŋ )
 Jwiŋwéròŋ cult – Ŋwéròŋ wo Teri (Junior Ŋwéròŋ )
 Yeŋwéròŋ cult – Ŋwéròŋ wo Ku-un (Senior Ŋwéròŋ )
Each cult has a distinctive masquerade that displays during funeral and other celebrations. The level of occultist knowledge and training, and the rules for initiation and promotion vary from cult to cult.
The highest cult and controller of all Ŋwéròŋ is Yeŋwéròŋ with the highest level of Ŋwéròŋ occultism called Ŋwéròŋ wo Wiy or Ŋwéròŋ Vitsée. All senior Ŋwéròŋ members (ngang se Ŋwéròŋ ) are members of the Yeŋwéròŋ cult, but not all of them see Ŋwéròŋ Vitsée. The members rank from the lowest to the highest members of the inner sanctum, the highest of whom are seven members called “samba wir” who control Ŋwéròŋ wo Wiy. Once a member has attained the highest rank, they are only replaced after death.
Member initiation is generally conducted from the lowest Shiŋkaŋ cult through Shigwàála’, Kibaraŋko, Kingaayasi, Jwiŋwéròŋ to the highest Yeŋwéròŋ cult. A member cannot be initiated fully into Yeŋwéròŋ when they have not fully completed initiation into the cults below. A Yeŋwéròŋ member may also choose to go to a lower cult like Kibaraŋko, in order to become a senior member (samba wir), but this is an uncommon occurrence because of the prestige and power that comes with Yeŋwéròŋ membership.
Ŋwéròŋ also has a distinctive music that is produced by a combination of many types of instruments. All cults have a special meeting day for member fraternization and training that may be different from the general Ŋwéròŋ meeting day of Ntaŋrin (one of the days of the Nso’ 8-day week). Outside of death celebrations Ŋwéròŋ music can be played on a special Ntaŋrin when all members (irrespective of cult) are gathered to fraternize, eat, drink and celebrate.

III-4. STRUCTURE OF THE ŊGÍRÌ CULTS

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The Ŋgírì cults group has a fenced compound next to the royal burial ground called Fәm. Like the Ŋwéròŋ compound, the Ŋgírì compound is composed of open courts, large halls and various multi-storey and basements apartments to house each of the many Ŋgírì cults. The compound is tended by a Senior Sheèy and a Junior Sheèy called Taafu (who both spend nine (now seven) years as pages of the Ŋgírì cults). The Ŋgírì compound is divided into cult houses that may each have physical levels of initiation and ranking as deep as 5.
When the Sheèy and Taafu graduate after their years (7 or 9) of tutelage and apprenticeship they are ranked among the highest members of the Ŋgírì cults as a Tav Ŋgírì, second only to the most senior Ŋgírì Lords (Vibay ve Dùy).
Ŋgírì has the following cults:
 Shiŋkaŋ cult
 Shigwàála’ cult
 Wanmabu cult
 Rifem cult
 Moo (Taa Maandzә) cult
 Shiŋwar Ndzә cult
 Nchiy Kibah cult
 Jwiŋgírì cult
 Moomvem (Mbiy a Bami) cult
 Yeŋgírì cult (Ŋgírì Vitsée)
 Subi (Kikum ke Ŋgírì) cult
Each cult has a distinctive masquerade that displays during funeral and other celebrations. In addition Ŋgírì has its distinctive Kikum cult called Subi (a gift from the Oku Fòndom) with a vast array of wooden masks for display during funeral celebrations and other occasions.
The highest cult and controller of all Ŋgírì is Yeŋgírì with the highest level of Ŋgírì occultism called Ŋgírì Vitsée. A Yeŋgírì member may also choose to go to a lower cult like Wanmabu, in order to become a senior member (samba wir), but this is a rare occurrence because of the prestige and power that comes with Yeŋgírì membership. The case of the late Sheèy Isaac Lukong (Sheèy Lukong Docta) is however notable. He chose to forgo Yeŋgírì for the lowest cult Shiŋkaŋ, where he rose to the highest rank that this lowest of cults ever bestowed on a member. To compensate for this choice to sink so low, Sheèy Lukong elected to become a high ranking member of the Ŋgírì cults in the Fòndoms of Mbiame, Oku, Ŋkar, Nsә’ and Kiluun; something that was quite remarkable for a Sheèy to accomplish (some say that is why he baptised himself shuSheèy).
In addition to Subi music, Ŋgírì also has a distinctive music that is produced by a set of varied instruments. All cults have a special meeting day for member fraternization and training that may be different from the general Ŋgírì meeting day of Rәәvәy (one of the days of the Nso’ 8-day week).
III-5. DIFFERENTIATING BETWEEN THE ŊWÉRÒŊ AND ŊGÍRÌ MASQUERADES
It is very easy to differentiate between some Ŋgírì and Ŋwéròŋ masquerades but others are rather difficult to discern. Kibaraŋko for example is this dreadfully ugly disproportionate beast with a huge head, while Wanmabu is a handsome looking agile and athletic space alien with red lips. The very tall, agile and feathered Kingayasi for example is a Ŋwéròŋ-only masquerade which is easy to discern. There are also other Ŋgírì-only masquerades like Moo (Taa Maandzә), Nchiy Kibah (Yeye Boy), Moomvem (Mbiy a Bami), Shingwar Ndzә and Rifem, that are easy to spot. Ŋgírì also has the flamboyant Subi cult (Kikum ke Ŋgírì) with its beautiful masked dancers that Ŋwéròŋ does not have.
Other shared masquerades are however pretty difficult to differentiate except when viewed with a trained eye. In general it is often easy to distinguish the masquerades from their hooded escorts (Vilumsi – sg. Kilumsi), The Ŋgírì Kilumsi is often more colorful and adorned with a few feathers, while the Ŋwéròŋ Kilumsi is often just plain looking with no spotted feathers.
Masquerades like Shiŋkaŋ (pl. Meŋkaŋ) are often easily discernible by their headgear and wear. The Ŋwéròŋ Shiŋkaŋ headgear is often more conservative and the Ŋgírì Shiŋkaŋ headgear more progressive. Ŋgírì Meŋkaŋ are also known to be more daring (especially during the Ŋgvәn funeral ceremonies) where some have been known to come out practically naked wearing just g-strings. The Meŋkaŋ are also often distinguished by their bags and their cups with the Ŋwéròŋ Shiŋkaŋ always carrying a distinctive Ŋwéròŋ bag and cup (bar Ŋwéròŋ).
The Shigwàála’ can be distinguished by the structure of their masks. The Ŋwéròŋ Shigwàála’ mask has very distinctive and human-like facial features with the mouth opening to the skies while the Ŋgírì Shigwàála’ has animal-like facial features with the mouth opening to the front.
The Jwiŋgírì and Jwiŋwéròŋ masquerades are rather similar in appearance with the sole difference that Jwiŋgírì has a royal (sometimes leopard) pelt around its waist line while the Jwiŋwéròŋ is controlled by two special cloth yarns that are tied around the loin and controlled by its attendants.
The Yeŋwéròŋ and Yeŋgírì masquerades are distinguished by their masks like the Shigwàála’. In addition the members of the Yeŋgírì and Yeŋwéròŋ convoys have distinguishing staff, the Ŋwéròŋ staff (mbang Ŋwéròŋ ) is a bamboo or wooden staff with distinctive alternating black rings painted on the upper extremity of the staff. The Ŋgírì staff (mbang Ŋgírì) is made of bamboo or wood with short wooden or bamboo blades inserted on the top-most part of the staff on both sides at a 180 degree angle. The Yeŋwéròŋ convoy at times also carries two wooden child effigies called Won Yenso’ or Won Yensa’ (children of Yenso’ or Yensa’) that signify the two sons of the founder of the Nso’ dynasty (Ŋgonnso’ or Yenso’).

III-6. COMMENT ON FEMALE-ONLY AND NON-PALACE CULTS
In this paper we have examined the four main male-only Palace cult groupings. We did not touch on female-only cult groups like Chong, Kor and Laalir (Lafelir). Even though non-Palace cults were not the object of this paper we would like to make a comment about these cults because some of them do have a direct impact on the Palace cults, and on the social, political and military activities of the Kingdom.
The Paramount Kingdom of Nso’ is organized into lineages made up of clans and sub-clans that are physically built around large communal settlements called compounds. A village may be made up of many compounds comprising various lineages and sub-lineages that may not necessarily be related. Some of the lineages joined the Nso’ as either junior Fòns or very powerful sub-lineage heads. Many of them came along with very powerful cults some of which were surrendered to the Palace and were integrated into the Palace cults, and some of which remained with the lineage.
Most lineage and sub-lineages that are headed by a Faáy or Shúufaáy will generally have a Rum, Nsang, Kikum (Kikum ke Vitsée), Shi-Kpù-Laa-Dzer, Ngang and other cults, or some combination of male-dominated cults. The Rum cult it must be said was a female-only cult that was abandoned in an unknown river when the women could no longer handle the Rum occultism (shiv se Rum), and the men picked it up downstream, rehabilitated it and then surprisingly banned the women from the Rum cult. The favorite Rum cult chant when it comes out at night is “ee wiy ya ki baa ndzee ey” (ladies beware of the madness curse) putting the ladies on guard to stay away.
Some clans and sub-clans have powerful cults (generally male/female) that they preserve to this day, as can be gleaned from the few examples below.
The Do’ Ruun clan in Kitiwum has a very powerful cult called Maakibu that has been a source of conflict between them and the Palace apparently because the Do’ Ruun clan was supposed to surrender the cult to the Palace (specifically to Ŋwéròŋ ) when they joined Nso’ but they refused to do so and have continued to harness the cult.
When the Taaŋkùm clan of Kimbo joined Nso’, they surrendered the Ŋwéròŋ cults to the Palace as we have seen above, but it is rumored that the original Taaŋkùm leader Shúufaáy Tsәmaloŋ kept some of the Ŋwéròŋ occult for his people. To this day, the Taaŋkùm people still claim the remnant cult that they call Laala (Vitsée).
The Sov clan in upper Dzәkwa is known to have produced some of the greatest warriors that Nso’ has ever known. When the Sov lineage joined Nso’, they came with a powerful warrior cult called Mentsәngoŋ, that was principally a chemical warfare outfit that was always dispatched to neutralize the enemy before the main army (Manjoŋ) arrived and decimated them. The Sov still keep their Mentsәngoŋ cult today, despite the difficulties encountered at times by the clan in controlling the Mentsәngoŋ occultist spirits (shiv se Mentsәngoŋ), difficulties that many observers attribute to lack of member training (as was customary) in the art of managing the very complex chemical concoctions of the cult.
IV. CULT MEMBERSHIP INITIATION AND RESPONSIBILITIES
The power and influence of a Man of Title depends on their initiation and their level of authority within the cults. It is also dependent on the amount of time spent by an initiate to ingrain the rules, occultism and/or medicines and chemicals (shiv) of the cults.

Many observers believe the recent weaknesses that are being noticed in the execution of certain cultural norms are thanks to the fact that many of the cults have either relaxed their membership rules or have not evolved them adequately to suit modern times. To understand this better we must examine what it takes to be initiated and to advance in rank within the Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults.

To be continued…

Shey Tatah Sevidzem (Wo Scandy)

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Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 3)

 

If you missed part 1 & 2 you can get them here and here:

Nso culture

III-1. FUNCTIONS OF THE CULTS
Over the last 600 years cults have enjoyed a lot of power and assumed numerous functions in the administrative, political, social and cultural life of the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’. With the advent of colonialism, independence and the birth of the new nation state of the Cameroons, the role of these cults have evolved. In this section we examine the roles, responsibilities and functions of these cults as they existed then and as they obtain now.

The main functions of the Taa-Mbàn cult are:
 Royal mortuary services
 Cleansing of lineage heads/compounds
 Inquisitions of suspected witchcraft
 Exorcism of evil spirits and other abominations
 Conduct of expiatory (atonement) sacrifices
The Taa-Mbàn cult members are often assisted in their duties by lower court servants (Vimbaa and Vitan ve Ŋwéròŋ).
The Shishwaa cult performs mainly the following functions:
 Protecting Nso’ institutions from destruction
 Acting as State peace envoys and ambassadors
 Conducting appeasement sacrifices to keep famine at bay
 Preparing the State for periods of drought, infestations and low harvest
 Interceding with the Gods to keep devastating natural disasters at bay.
In addition to the seven Atárnto’ who were automatic members of the Shishwaa cult, other prominent Ŋwéròŋ Lords like Faáy Kuykishwang, Faáy Liiwong and others have been appointed into the Shishwaa cult and co-opted by Ŋwéròŋ as Atárnto’ of the second category.
The Ŋgírì cults group as a primarily fraternal cult has pretty limited responsibilities but performs the following roles:
 Junior traditional administrators (whenever assigned)
 Royal mortuary services (Vibay ve Dùy ve Kpù)
 Royal/member funeral services and celebrations
 Conduct of general state sacrifices (Vibay ve Dùy ve Ntaŋri)
 Blessing of hunting expeditions (Vibay ve Dùy ve Ntaŋri)
 Royal Hair care and manicure services (Vibay ve Dùy )
As we shall see below Ŋgírì has not always been happy with this limited role in State government and this has led to various clashes with Ŋwéròŋ.
Since its re-introduction into Nso’ society, the Ŋwéròŋ cults group has played a co-equal role with the Fòn in the administration of the state. As the saying goes “dze wong Fòn wun Ŋwéròŋ ” (the State belongs to the Fòn and Ŋwéròŋ).
The Ŋwéròŋ group has played principally the following roles:
 Executive arm of State government
 Senior Court Stewards and Priest (Atárnto’ ve Samba)
 Guardians of the Royal household (Atárnto’ ve Samba)
 Royal mortuary services (Atárnto’ ve Samba)
 State regulatory officers (hooded Ŋwéròŋ (Vilumsi) as impartial state police)
 Royal messengers, envoys and emissaries
 Custodians of royal property (raffia palm bushes, kola nut trees, goats, chicken, etc.)

 Royal/member funeral services and celebrations
 Conductors of State Commerce and Trade
 Peace keeping and crime prevention
 Fire fighting and prevention
 State judiciary officers (with Vibay – State Councilors)
 Execution of death and other sentences
 Law enforcement officers (hooded Ŋwéròŋ (Vilumsi) as impartial state police)
 State sanitary inspectors
 Palace house keeping
 Management of palace reconstruction and maintenance repairs
 Managers of public works (road, bridge, public hall and other construction projects)
Over the years Ŋwéròŋ has done its best to keep this stranglehold on power to Ŋgírì’s detriment and with sometimes devastating consequences.
III-2. CHECKING THE FÒN’S POWERS
To the naïve observer, the Paramount Fòn of Nso’ appears to be the almighty Monarch whose word is law and whose decisions are final. That is how the Nso’ people would like the world to see their King, because the King is Nso’ and Nso’ is the King and the Nso’ think of themselves as the most powerful Kingdom of the Savannah grass fields. The reality is however different. As a wise people the Nso’ are painfully aware that power corrupts and that absolute power corrupts absolutely. For this reason, the Nso’ people in the last 600 years have put some real checks and balances on the power of the King, through the cults. The Taa-Mbàn and Ŋwéròŋ cults have the power to discipline the King for negligence of duty, autocratic behavior, recalcitrance or any other behavior unbecoming of a King. They may even judge, condemn and execute the King for treason or other serious high crimes and misdemeanors like extrajudicial murders, full incapacitation or complete dereliction of duty.
Ŋwéròŋ disciplines the Fòn through a process called “kur Fòn”, which literally means “tying the King”, but which in reality amounts to putting the Fòn under “House Arrest”. The King is not allowed to leave the Palace, and no one is allowed to visit him. The Palace is put on lockdown and only select Ŋwéròŋ pages (Nchiyselav) are allowed to enter or leave the Palace. No music or noise making is tolerated in the Palace or in the city within a certain perimeter from the Palace. Only Ŋwéròŋ is allowed to play some funeral and mournful music continuously until the situation is remedied. This continues for as long as it takes for the Fòn to repent, pay the stated fine and promise to act like a King deserving of Nso’ people going forward.
In recent years Fòns have been subjected to milder versions of this punishment, when they are summoned to the Ŋwéròŋ compound, put against the Ŋwéròŋ inner court wall, and literally scolded as if they were children.
Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1972-1983) is the only King in recent memory who was subjected to an actual “kur Fòn”, during the early part of his reign when he had serious disagreements with his senior wives. He humbled himself greatly after that punishment.
The Taa-Mbàn cult disciplines the Fòn through a protest called “sah kifu ke Mntaár” or “sah Mntaár” in short, which means “Mntaár leaf protest”. When the Mntaár landowners are dissatisfied with the way the state is being run or with some Palace edicts or with the Fòn’s negligence of certain atonement and appeasement rites, they show their protest by their leaders coming together and invading the Palace in the early hours of the morning armed with nothing but plant leaves (usually the kikeng leaf – dracaena peace plant) in their hands. They silently stand in the open Palace square (Maandzә Ngay) until the King
comes out and addresses their grievances to their satisfaction. The King’s reaction on such occasions is usually very swift because the Taa-Mbàn cult members are “owners of the earth” (Atar Nsai) who could easily invoke the spirits of the ancestors to smite the King. Fòn Mapri (1907-1910) and Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn I (1910-1947) are known to have endured this Mntaár protest during their reigns.
Cases where an actual King was judged, condemned and executed by Ŋwéròŋ and the Mntaár Lords are rare. Very often victims of such executions are ambitious princes who have attempted to usurp the throne. However in 1910 Fòn Mapri (1907-1910) was executed because he had ordered the extrajudicial killings of some princes who were his rivals for the throne and of Shúufaáy Taaŋkùm (Tsәmaloŋ) when he disagreed openly with him. Ŋwéròŋ and Mntaár ordered his execution and Fòn Mapri (1907-1910) was assassinated at Vikuùtsәn (near Sov) when he was on his way to pay royalties to the German colonial administration in Bamenda.

To be continued…

Shey Tatah Sevidzem (Wo Scandy)

 

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