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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