III-3. STRUCTURE OF THE ŊWÉRÒŊ CULTS
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
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:
Moo (Taa Maandzә) cult
Shiŋwar Ndzә cult
Nchiy Kibah 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)