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Nso Titles in the Paramount Fondom of Nso (part 2) Shufai


Administratively the Shufai is the highest authority that is next in rank to the Fon. The Shufai belongs to the select council of “taakibu” advisors of the Fon.

The highest ranked Shufais are the original ten lords from Kov Vifem (Vibai ve Kov). They sit on stones (instead of stools) in the Fon’s court to signify their permanence as advisors to the Fon. All of the ten lords from Kov Vifem came as Fons between 1450 and 1800 and submitted their people and culture to be integrated into Nso.

Here below in order of rank are the  ten Vibai ve Kov Vifem (Vibai ve tiy se taakibu):

1. Shufai Ndzendzev (Duy)

2. Shufai Tankum (Duy)

3. Shufai Tsenla (Mtaar)

4. Shufai Do Run (Mtaar)

5. Shufai Do Ngwen (Mtaar)

6. Shufai Ndzendzev Tsen (Duy)

7. Shufai Yuuwar (Duy)

8. Shufai Shuv (Duy)

9. Shufai Lun (Duy)

10. Shufai Wainseeri wo Yer (Duy) <—- about to change

It should be noted here that in matters of state duties Yah Yefon (Fon’s mother – the queen mother or her  representative) is ranked third after Shufai Ndzendzev and Shufai Tankum.

Because of the pacts drawn at Kov Vifem before the palace was moved to Kimbo, it was very difficult  for any Fon to promote any Fai or newly arriving Fons to the rank of Kibai. The ten Shufais from Kov Vifem fought very hard to maintain their number at ten from 1825 when the palace moved to Kimbo until the reign of Ngah Bifon I (1910-1947).

Ngah Bifon I (1910-1947) insisted on increasing the council of advisors to include Fais with a broader view of the modern world that Christianity and European colonialism were bringing and to better advise the Fon on matters of Education, Trade, Commerce and Industry. Despite stiff resistance from the ten Vibai Ngah Bifon I (1910-1947) convinced Nwerong of the necessity to increase the number of “taakibu” councilors and in 1929 he elevated Fai Sov to the rank of Kibai.

This elevation angered the most senior Kibai (Shufai Ndzendzev) so much that a rift was created with the Fon. This rift ran for the next three decades and resulted in the Ndzendzev crisis of 1956/1957. Despite this, the1929 elevation of Fai Sov opened the door for the elevation of other Fais to the rank of Kibai.

Here in order of seniority (year of elevation) are the Shufais that were elevated by Ngah Bifon I (1910-1947), Sehm III (1947 – 1972), Ngah Bifon II (1972 –1983) and Ngah Bifon III (1983 – 1993).

1. Shufai Sov (Mtaar)

2. Shufai Nkavikeng (Duy)

3. Shufai Kuy Meliim (Mtaar)

4. Shufai Ngangndzen (Mtaar)

5. Shufai Nsaansa (Duy)

6. Shufai Mbisha (Duy)

7. Shufai Kuyla Yer (Mtaar)

8. Shufai Kii Kitiwum (Mtaar)

9. Shufai Rookov (Mtaar)

10.Shufai Nkim Vekovi (Mtaar)

There is a third category of Vibai that are all of the extended royal family (Duy). These Vibai are considered lower in rank to Fai Taawong and Yah Yeewong. They play the role of state councilors of sacrifice and are also prominently in charge of the Fon’s burial.

Here in order of seniority are the seven Vibay ve Kpu:

1 Shufai Bashwin (Duy)

2. Shufai Njavnyuy (Duy)

3. Shufai Ndzendzev Ntintin (Duy)

4. Shufai Dzem (Duy)

5. Shufai Bambuy (Duy)

6. Shufai Koongir (Duy)

7. Shufai Taaway (Duy)

Only an existing Faiship can be elevated to a Shufaiship. Neither the Fon nor Nwerong can create a new compound or lineage and immediately elevate it to a Shufaiship. The process is complicated and drawn. The Fon must not only obtain the consent of the other Vibai (willingly or by coercion), he must get the consent of both Nwerong and Ngiri who must admit the new Shufai as a “ngang” Ngiri and/or “ngang” Nwerong.

In addition to these impediments the Fon must also contend with the “parents” (extended family and lineage) of candidates for elevation to a Faiship or a Shufaiship or for a newly created Faiship. It is considered an affront on a lineage for the Fon or Nwerong to attempt to elevate a Faiship to a rank that will be considered higher than that of his fatherly lineage. This is largely due to the tacit agreement in Nso society that someone cannot inherit a Faiship or Shufaiship when his father is still alive. This would be interpreted as an attempt to kill the father. For this reason a new Faiship cannot be created or elevated  without authorization from the “father” Faiship to create the new “Kisher” (extention) of the family lineage.

This haggling with lineage heads on elevations and awards even occurs between the Fon and his own brothers of the extended royal  family (Duy). When the Fon attempted to replace Shufai Tsenla Yer with Shufai Bambuy in the rank of “Vibai ve Kpu”, he faced a revolt from almost half of the royal family despite the fact that Fai Bambuy was the descendant of a Fai Taawong. The Fon finally won the day with support from the senior Vibai and Shufai Tsenla Yer lost his position in the “Vibai ve Kpu” ranks, but retained his Shufaiship and in addition gained the title of Ngang Nwerong, a title which was not automatically granted to the “Vibai ve Kpu”.

As shown above Ngah Bifon I (1910-1947) defied all odds to elevate the Sov lineage to a Shufai. Other Fons following him encountered similar problems. When Fon Sehm III (1947-1972) attempted to create a new Faiship with Professor Nsokika Bernard Fonlon as head, Fonlon’s extended lineage of Jem objected. It took until Ngah Bifon II (1972 – 1983) to reward Fonlon with a Faiship (Fai Ntoondzev), after he and Nwerong convinced Jem that Fonlon was no longer their son but a symbol of Nso given his relations with the external world that permitted him to interact with big world leaders like the Canadian Prime-Minister and bring portable water to Kimbo. The pressure was too much for the Jem lineage to bear. They relented and Fonlon became Fai Ntoondzev.

Professor Bernard N Fonlon

A few years after the creation of the Ntoondzev Faiship, Ngah Bifon II (1972 -1983) attempted to elevate it to a Shufaiship but failed. This time the strong objections came from Nwerong who felt elevating a Nchelav Faiship to a Kibai would diminish the power of the Atarntohs in “taakibu”. It took until Ngah Bifon III (1983-1993) for Nwerong to be convinced that the same reasons that necessitated the elevation of Sov in 1929 could be equally compelling in the elevation of a Nchelav Fai to a Shufai. Nwerong accepted the argument and Ntoondzev was elevated to a Shufaiship a few years before Fonlon died in 1986.

Here  is the list of Shufais in the recent category discussed above:

1. Shufai Tsenla Yer (Duy)

2. Shufai Rookov Meluf (Mtaar)

3. Shufai Kiron (Mtaar)

4. Shufai Tsen Nkar (Duy)

5. Shufai Keeri (Mtaar)

6. Shufai Ntoondzev – Fonlon (Nchelav)

7. Shufai Kuyntoh Wonntoh (Duy)

8. Shufai Taankum Kuy (Duy)

Ntoondzev’s  elevation to Shufai opened the way for other Nchelav Faiships to be elevated to Shufaiships. The case of Shufai Langhee is notable  among Nchelav Shufaiships not only because Nwerong outwitted the Fon but because of the astonishing collaboration between Nwerong and Ngiri to achieve this.

Langhee was a Nwerong page who went through the traditional palace stewardship of nine (9) years. He graduated automatically as a Shey and started the Langhee lineage. When the original Shey Langhee died, the Langhee Sheyship was elevated to a Faiship and his son Professor Chem Langhee who succeeded him as the first Fai Langhee quickly rose in Nwerong ranks. He endeared himself to the extended royal family by marrying a princess. Fon Ngah Bifon III (1983 – 1993) whose daughter Fai Langhee married attempted unsuccessfully to elevate Fai Langhee to a Shufai after his success with Ntoondzev. The other Vibai strongly objected because in their eyes “Chem Langhee was no Fonlon”. However, an unusual collaboration of Ngiri and Nwerong convinced Fon Sehm Mbinglo I (1993 – Present) to elevate Langhee to a Shufai.

This unusual but welcomed collaboration of Nwerong and Ngiri was recently aired again when in 2003 Fon Sehm Mbinglo I (1993 – Present) saw the need for a Fai in the American diasporas and created Faa America Faiship. In 2004 when Fai Faa visited the palace with the Fon who was returning from medical treatment in the United States of America, both Nwerong and Ngiri wanted to have the charismatic Fai Faa America as a “ngang”. So, in a strange chain of events, they tricked both the Fon and Fai Faa to commit Fai Faa as both a Ngiri and a Nwerong member. The only way to resolve the issue was for Fai Faa America to be a “ngang” Ngiri and a “ngang” Nwerong. To do this, the Fon had to elevate the Faiship of Faa America to a Shufaiship. Negotiations for this elevation took two (2) years because of some resistance from the Vibai despite the fact that the Fon really had no choice when confronted with the Nwerong and Ngiri political chicanery. Shufai Faa America completed his en-stoolment and “kibunfon” as the newest Kibai in December 2006.

As we can see from above, the elevation of a Nchelav (commoner) to a Shufaiship is rare, but some have been elevated in recent times to increase the realm of the Fon’s councilors.

Here is a list of some recent Nchelav elevations to Shufai:

1. Shufai Kuy Ka (Nchelav)

2. Shufai Langhee (Nchelav)

3. Shufai Taashiv (Nchelav)

4. Shufai Kitav (Nchelav)

5. Shufai Faa America (Nchelav)

Elevation to the rank of Shufai is a very public event that involves the whole palace, Nwerong, Ngiri , Duy, Nchelav and the public. The preparations take time, the celebration is grand and the event is registered in public memory. The “kibunfon” of the new Shufai is memorable and is generally followed by a “tee shishur she Ngiri” or “tee shishur she Nwerong”,  a “fum mfuuh” and a grand “kitar yiy” for the family.

We shall in the next part examine the title of Fai which is next in rank to the Shufai, with some  Fais (especially Atarntohs) having functional and administrative ranks that are higher than some Shufais.

Shey Stephen Shemlon (PHD)

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Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Final :Part 10)

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 , part 7 here , part 8 here and part 9 here: This part ends with the references/bibliography of the whole paper.

In the days of old it took many years for a newly inducted member to learn the rules and regulations of the cult. The training on the handling of the cult medicines and fetishes took decades. It took serious training to rise from one rank to the next within the cult house. It took decades before one could become a “samba wir”. This training and tutelage should be re-instated in all cults. If a cult member is unwilling to go through the training they should not be allowed to rise in rank or come out as an escort for the cult masquerade (their financial wherewithal not withstanding). How can such a member who has not learned to manipulate the cult’s occultist spirits and medicines, stroke the totem in the cult masquerade in any public arena?
If the new members were to go through the mandatory training they may also come to realize that if they advance to certain ranks in some cults their diet may be restricted at certain times during some rituals. For examples some cults may restrict their members to weeks of only eating “vikuou, mbaar, shinyaa and ntee – cocoyams, cocoyam leaf soup, eggplant soup and groundnut soup”, no meat products or any starchy foods. Any member who is ready to endure this for the rest of their lives may then want to advance to the ranks of “samba wir”.
When some of these potential senior cult members learn through their training that if they rise to given ranks or assume certain totem stroking functions in either the Yeŋwéròŋ or Yeŋgírì cults for example, they may be forbidden from being buried in a coffin (even a bamboo one) because their spirits could no longer be allowed to be imprisoned (in a coffin), they will consult their families and their other gods before seeking senior ranks in either Yeŋwéròŋ or Yeŋgírì cults.
What is happening today is tantamount to someone coming to a University, registering for classes, paying all their tuition and fees, and refusing to attend classes, but insisting that they should be given the Masters Degree or PhD anyway because they just do not have the time to study and/or attend classes and that by-the-way they have already paid all their tuition. Any University worthy of their name will throw such a person out.
The University model should be adopted at the level of the cults. Anyone who is unwilling to go throw the mandatory training should be thrown out of the cult. This will make sure that new comers will take the time to learn to become worthy members as was the case in the old days. With such a requirement, if the Fòn proposes a title to a visitor who is unwilling or unable to spend the time to learn the roots of Nso’ culture, that visitor can refuse the title and the Fòn will be sympathetic to their decision.
In the old days cult membership and titles came with lifetime obligations. In 1970 a Sheèy wo Ngang Ŋwéròŋ or Sheèy wo Ngang Ŋgírì contributed an average of 200 FCFA (Two Hundred Francs CFA) on a monthly basis for the upkeep of the cults and other Palace institutions when all their donations throughout the year were averaged. If this amount is compounded as above, it comes to about 2,150 FCFA (Two Thousands One Hundred and Fifty Francs CFA) today. If the system required a Sheèy to contribute 2,000FCFA, every Faáy to contribute 3,000FCFA and every Shúufaáy to contribute 5,000FCFA on a monthly basis, enough would be generated for the upkeep of all cults, all Palace institutions and all lineage, clan and sub-clan compounds.
Again all heriditary Title Holders who need the help would be assisted by their families to meet this obligation, especially given that their compound would also be helped by this contribution.
Many would think deeply when a Titled cult membership is proposed to them and examine whether they can meet this monthly lifetime obligation before accepting. Those who can not keep this obligation will not accept the Titled cult membership.
We also posit that if current Title Holders were given the choice of keeping their titles and meeting up to the monthly obligations or giving up the titles, some will give up their Titles and allow themselves to be “washed” voluntarily. Those who choose to keep the titles and refuse to keep up with the monthly obligtions should be involuntarily “washed”.
We have proposed the re-introduction of various streams of income that used to get to the Palace in cash and in kind from various Men of Title. To manage these funds we propose the creation of an Ex-Officio Palace Advisory Board whose only role shall be financial oversight and related financial management. This Board will be responsible for setting up a Palace Office with a salaried Manager, Assistants and Secretaries to manage the streams of income enumerated herein and insure that they are disbursed and used efficiently.
The second role of the Advisory Board shall be to work with the Fòn, Vibay, Atárnto’, Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì, to set up permanent income generating streams to make sure that for the next 500 years, the Nso’ Palace institutions are as autonomous as those of successful Kingdoms like those of the United Kingdom and other European Kingdoms.
Such an Advisory Board should be elected from among current and committed Titled cult members (ladies included) and should be given a mandate to complete their task within a specified period of time.

It is our hope that this detailed analysis has provided a good insight into the inner working of the Nso’ Paramount Kingdom Palace and its institutions, the most important of which are male-dominated cults.
Hopefully our suggestions for the future will be followed so Nso’ culture can be modernized responsibly in a way that will ensure its survival for the next 500 years.
As time marches on, Nso’ culture will evolve. We pray that the Nso’ people should remain conservative and glued to their traditional norms as they advance and modernize their culture to suit the evolving times as their forefathers did for 600 years under circumstances that were more trying and more turbulent than the present.


VIII-1. “An introduction to Nso’ Culture”, Vol. I, by Faáy Woo Lii Wong (Joseph Lafon), 2001 VIII-2.”Introduction to Nso’ History”, by William Banboye, 2001
VIII-3. “The Ndzәәndzәv Dispute: From its beginning to its ending”, by Faáy Woo Lii Wong (Joseph Lafon), 1999
VIII-4. “Nso’ Historical Timeline: An Illustrated and Annotated History of the Paramount Tikar Kingdom (Fòndom) of Bui in Northwestern Cameroons”, by Sheèy Shiyghan Stephen Shemlon, PhD, (to be published).
VIII-5. “The Core Culture of Nso’”, by Paul N. Mzeka, 1980.
VIII-6. “Sov! Sov! Our Glorious Heritage”, by Rev. Fondzefee Charles Tangwa, 2008.
VIII-7. “Dr. Bernard Nsokika Fonlon: An Intellectual In Politics”, by Prof. Daniel Noni Lantum, 1992.
VIII-8. “Fon Nso’ Sehm Ataar (1947 – 1972): Father of Nso’ Development”, by Prof. Daniel Noni Lantum, 2000.
VIII-9. “Royal Succession In The African Kingdom Of Nso’: A Study In Oral Historiography”, by Bongfen Chem-Langhëë and Verkijika G. Fanso, 2008.
VIII-10. “A History Of The Church In Kumbo Diocese (1912-1988)”, by Joseph Lafon (Faáy Lii Wong), 1988. VIII-11. ” Ŋgonnso’ Cultural Festival 2010 Magazine”, by NSODA, 2010.

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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

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.
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

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.
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.
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”.
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.
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 3)


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

Nso culture

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.
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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