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)