Titles and Cult Membership in Nso (Part 1)

MEN OF TITLE, POWER, INFLUENCE AND CULT MEMBERSHIP IN THE PARAMOUNT KINGDOM OF NSO’

Shey Stephen Shighan Shemlem PHD from S3 to S4 wrote a paper which i refer to as a compendium or a pamphlet on Men of title,Power, Influence & Cult Membership in the Great Paramount Kingdom of Nso in January 2011, posted on shundzev online forum precisely on the 31st of January. This was like a New year present to the Nso folks that year. This Paper covered close to 35 pages enough to be classified as a book.

A few years ago, following our debate on some of the Nso online groups and our culture, the classification and the misconception of the 7 and 10 Vibaays respectively, i thought that his works could be of immense assistance to many of us lovers of our roots to understand the rich and cherished culture the Nso kingdom us built upon.

Due to the many pages of the Material, i have decided to share them in parts maybe weekly to help grasp in detail and digest what he took pains to research and put on paper for posterity. This paper is therefore not my work but that if the person mentioned above.

Nso culture

I. INTRODUCTION

This treatise examines the structure, roles, membership and responsibilities of Regulatory and Fraternal male-only societies in the administrative, social and political life of the Paramount Kingdom (Fòndom) of Nso’ in the Savannah grass fields of North Western Cameroons.
The Paramount Kingdom of Nso’ (founded by Princess Ŋgonnso’ around 1387) is the largest and currently the premier Kingdom of the Tikar race in Sub-Saharan Africa. The Kingdom is made up of the four sister Kingdoms of Nso’, Mbiame, Oku and Dom, (with the overall Paramount King resident in the Fòndom of Nso’), and vassal states like Ŋkar, Nsә’, the Noni Fòndoms and other smaller Fòndoms.
In all, a total of 25 (twenty five) Fòndoms make up the Paramount Fòndom of Nso’, with a current total population estimated to surpass one million citizens within and outside of the territory of the Paramount Fòndom also called Bui Division, in the North West Region of the Cameroons. Of these 25 Kingdoms, 4 are direct descendants and/or offshoots of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty. The other remaining 21 were integrated either voluntarily or forcefully between 1400 and 1890.
Here is a full listing of the Kingdoms of the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’ with some annotated details:
Nso’ – Paramount – Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty (circa 1387)
Mbiame – Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty offshoot (circa 1575)
Oku – Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty offshot (circa 1652)
Ŋkar (intgrated circa 1820)
Nsә’ (integrated circa 1850)
Kiluun (integrated circa 1830)
Ndzәrәm (integrated circa 1875)
Ndzәrәm Ŋyam (integrated circa 1875)
Ndzәәn (integrated circa 1830)
Gwan – Kitiiwum (integrated circa 1820)
Roŋ – Taasai-Mbam (integrated circa 1410)
Nchokov – Ndzәnnso’ (integrated circa 1410)
Gashoŋ – Ndzәnnso’ (integrated circa 1400)
Yun Din – Upper Din (integrated circa 1860)
Fònto Din – Lower Din (of Nso’ Legend – integrated circa 1884)
Djotin Kinengti (integrated circa 1860)
Djotin Fònti (integrated circa 1860)
Dom – Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty offshoot (circa 1800)
Lassin (integrated circa 1860)
Ŋkor Korchi (integrated circa 1860)

Throughout this essay, the number seven (7) appears very prominently (and often) when discussing title and senior cult membership rankings. Since our research has not discovered any cultural, social or historical significance of the number 7 (samba) in the Nso’ Paramount Kingdom, we can only conjecture that since all decisions of either the councilors or cult leaders were made by majority consensus, the odd number 7 was chosen for the number of senior decision makers to prevent any possibility of deadlock in decision making.
We may appear vague in our analysis at times considering our hands may be tied and we are forbidden from exposing certain cult secrets, but we remain explicit enough for the reader to understand the points we are attempting to clarify. Some details may be shocking to the non-Nso’ observer but rest assured that some of what is said here was last practiced more than 100 years ago.
We start by examining the administrative setup of the Kingdom to understand the role of the Court Councilors (Vibay or aShúufaáy), the Court Stewards (Atárnto’), other Title Holders (aFaáy, aSheèy), and their membership in the cults. We further examine each of the cults in detail to elucidate what membership entails.
The responsibilities and societal expectations of Men of Title and guardians of the occult are higher than those of regular mortal men of the society, so we shall include a section on these societal obligations with explanations of the reasoning behind them.
A lot has been said about the degradation of Nso’ culture and we conclude this essay with some suggestions of a few remedies which from our point of view can modernize Nso’ culture while ensuring its survival for the next 500 years.
Please note that in this write-up, some of our Lamnso’ language forays may not be in strict conformity with the latest directives from the Nso’ Language Society. Despite the fact that we have tried our best to respect these directives and delayed the release of this paper to ensure conformity, we are painfully aware that some avid readers may still find issues of concern, so we sincerely crave your indulgence for these orthographic variations. You will also notice that we combine both British and American syntax (including Pidgin), something that may be considered sacrilegious by some English language aficionados.

II. TITLE HOLDERS AND CULTS
In this section we examine Title Holders by lineage in three categories:
  Dùy (Extended Royal Family)
  Ncheèlav (Commoners and Retainers)
  Mntaár (Visale – Free Commoners and Aboriginal Nso’ Landowners)
Title Holders belong to all three categories above and their ranks range from the highest Kibay (pl. Vibay) or Shúufaáy to the lowest Sheèy. The Title Holder’s membership in a cult is however not only determined by whether they are Dùy , Ncheèlav or Mntaár, but also by other intricate considerations.
The cults in the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’ are divided into four groups (two principal and two subsidiary cults):

o Ŋwéròŋ Cults:
 Principal cult grouping
 Regulatory in nature
 Members are mostly Ncheèlav with some Dùy and some Mntaár
 Has Masquerades
o Ŋgírì Cults:
 Principal cult grouping
 Fraternal in nature
 Members are mostly Dùy with some Mntaár and very few Ncheèlav
 Has Masquerades
o Taa-Mbàn Cult:
 Subsidiary cult
 Expiatory in nature
 Membership is exclusively Mntaár
 Has no Masquerades
o Shishwaa Cult:
 Subsidiary cult
 Interlocutory in nature
 Membership is exclusively Ncheèlav
 Has no Masquerades

We now examine each of the title groups and their cult membership with a view to understanding the power base of each cult as determined by membership.

II-1. SENIOR COURT COUNCILORS (VIBAY VÈ KOV)
The highest ranking administrative civilian authority or Title Holder next to the King (Fòn) in the Paramount Kingdom of Nso’, is the Court Councilor who is called a Kibay (pl. Vibay) or Shúufaáy (pl. aShúufaáy) . The highest ranked aShúufaáy are the original ten lords from Kovvifәm (Vibay vè Kov – Vibay ve tiy se taakibu) who came as Kings (Fòns) or senior princes between 1450 and 1800, and submitted their people and culture to be integrated into Nso’.
Here below in order of rank (numbers 1-10) and category are the ten Vibay ve Kov.
Dùy (The Seven Great Lords – Vibay ve Samba)
1. Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv (joined Nso’ as a Fòn)
2. Shúufaáy Taaŋkùm (joined Nso’ as a Fòn)
6. Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәvtsәn (senior Nso’ prince of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty)
7. Shúufaáy Yùúwar (senior Nso’ prince of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty)
8. Shúufaáy Shùv (senior Nso’ prince of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty)
9. Shúufaáy Lùn (joined Nso’ as a renegade Kiluun prince claiming Fònship)
10. Shúufaáy Waiŋsәәri wo Yer (senior Nso’ prince of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty)

Mntaár (The Three Aboriginal Great Lords – Vibay ve Vitaar ve Nso’ Mntaár)
3. Shúufaáy Tsenla’ (senior Nso’ prince of the Ŋgonnso’ Dynasty)
4. Shúufaáy Do’ Ruun (joined Nso’ as a Fòn)
5. Shúufaáy Do’ Ŋgvәn (joined Nso’ as a Fòn)
Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv and Shúufaáy Taaŋkùm automatically belong to both the Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults because they are respectively the Second and Third ranking civilian personalities in the land. Before their enstoolment (installation) a candidate for Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv or Shúufaáy Taaŋkùm (like the candidate for the Kingship – Fònship) because he is of the Dùy lineage, is generally a member of the Ŋgírì cults. Upon installation he automatically belongs to the Ŋwéròŋ cults pending performance of the initiation rites.
Shúufaáy Ndzәәndzәv Tsen, Shúufaáy Yùúwar, Shúufaáy Shùv, Shúufaáy Lùn and Shúufaáy Waiŋsәәri wo Yer are all members of the Ŋgírì cults by virtue of their belonging to the extended Royal family Dùy. Their membership in the Ŋwéròŋ cults even though guaranteed because they are Vibay is still a matter of negotiation. Upon completion of the negotiations (that may last years) they then become members of the Ŋwéròŋ cults pending performance of the initiation rites. Shúufaáy Lùn surprisingly appears to have some prerogatives with the Ŋwéròŋ cults that appear to place him in rank above the other four aShúufaáy listed above.
There have been a few instances when membership of one of the above in the Ŋwéròŋ cults was revoked (albeit temporarily). The latest case was Shúufaáy Yùúwar whose Ŋwéròŋ cults membership was revoked after he had a dispute with the King, Fòn Ŋgà’ Bì’ Fòn II (1983-1993). Shúufaáy Yùúwar was temporarily replaced in the Court by Shúufaáy Tsәn Ŋkar. The revocation of Ŋwéròŋ cults membership is said to have led to Shúufaáy Yùúwar’s untimely death.
The three Aboriginal Mntaár Lords (Shúufaáy Tsenla’, Shúufaáy Do’ Ruun and Shúufaáy Do’ Ŋgvәn) are neither members of the Ŋwéròŋ nor the Ŋgírì cults, even though the same is not necessarily true for other newly elevated Court Councilors who have been assigned to the Mntaár lineage. This non-belonging of the leading Mntaár Lords is an extension of the Kovvifәm Agreements of 1411 between Nso’ and the Visale (Mntaár) that balanced power between the three branches of the State: Ncheèlav (Regulatory), the Mntaár (Land Ownership) and the King with his Dùy Royal family (Administrative). It was agreed sometime after 1450 when the Ncheèlav acquired the Ŋwéròŋ cults, that making the Mntaár (represented now by their three Lords) part of the Ŋwéròŋ cults would give them too much power especially since they had also ascribed to themselves parental rights to the mothers of all future Kings. When Ŋgírì was introduced the same restrictions on the Mntaár Lords were extended to Ŋgírì.
This automatic exclusion of the highest ranking Mntaár Lords from the Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults has however produced some vexing disputes over the years when the Mntaár Lords have agitated and claimed the rights to have their own branches of the Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults. A few decades ago (1970s/1980s) this led to the Maakibu Masquerade Crisis that pitted Shúufaáy Do’ Ruun against Ŋwéròŋ and the Paramount King. The issue was peacefully resolved and Shúufaáy Do’ Ruun retained his Maakibu masquerade but with very high restrictions on where the masquerade could go and how its members could decorate themselves on Maakibu outings. Recently however the Do’ Ŋgvәn Crisis of 2010 did not end so well. When Shúufaáy Do’ Ŋgvәn decided to create his own Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults, the reaction from Ŋwéròŋ was swift. His compound was destroyed and he was forced to seek refuge with one of his children (sub-lineage Faáy) in Kikaikom. The Cameroon administration and the Paramount King of Nso’ are still investigating the incident.

The Three Aboriginal Lords are however members of the Taa-Mbàn cult. This is arguably a toothless cult with no masquerades, whose expiatory powers and influence have waned over the years. Since the conditions of 1411 have greatly evolved in the last 600 years it may be a good idea to revisit the Kovvifәm Agreements and allow the leading Three Aboriginal Mntaár Lords to belong to both Ŋwéròŋ and Ŋgírì cults as is the case with the other Seven Lords of the Court (Vibay ve Samba).
II-2. COURT STEWARDS (ATÁRNTO’)
The Ncheèlav Palace Stewards (Atárnto’) are part of the commoner/retainer class even though some of them actually came as Kings (Fòns) or senior princes. The most senior Stewards in the Court are the Seven Ŋwéròŋ Stewards (Atárnto’ ve Samba), listed below in order of seniority (1-7
1. Faáy Maàmo (joined Nso’ as a renegade Babessi prince claiming Fònship)
2. Faáy Faanjaŋ (came with Ŋgonnso’ from Rifem in 1387)
3. Faáy Mbiiŋgiy (original Mntaár who later absorbed renegade Mbisey and Kijem princes)
4. Faáy Kùynto’ Ncheèlav (former Palace retainer and Ŋwéròŋ page)
5. Faáy Kùynsә’ (renegade Mbiame prince with matrilinial ties to the Nsә’ Fòndom)
6. Faáy Tsәnkày (former Palace retainer with ties to the Ndzәәn Fòndom)
7. Faáy Nsәәnè (joined Nso’ as a renegade Mbiame prince claiming Fònship)
Since the Atárnto’ are the most senior members of the Ŋwéròŋ Regulatory Society (including the cults) they are forbidden from belonging to the Ŋgírì cults as part of the agreement that separates the Regulatory cults (Ŋwéròŋ ) from the Fraternal cults of the Royal Family (Ŋgírì). This separation can still be traced to the extensions of the Kovvifәm Agreements of 1411. However given a little unknown power of the Fòn that we shall examine below, some Atárnto’ have at times in history been appointed to play prominent roles in the Ŋgírì cults.
All Seven Ŋwéròŋ Stewards (Atárnto’ ve Samba) are also members of the all important interlocutory cult called Shishwaa.

To be continued

 

 

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