Bamileke people

"Bazu" redirects here. For the Romanian aviator, see Constantin Cantacuzino.
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Bamileke dancers in Batié, West Province

The Bamileke is a folk whose native ancestral area is in the western highlands of Cameroon's West Province, west of the Noun River and southeast of the Bamboutos Mountains and in the Moungo region of the Littoral, Southwest, and Centre Provinces. They are a part of the Semi-Bantu (or Grassfields Bantu) ethnic groups. The Bamileke are regrouped under several groups, each under the guidance of a chief or fon. Nonetheless, all of these groups have the same ancestors and thus share the same history, culture, and languages. The Bamileke have a population of over 3,500,000 individuals. They speak a number of related languages from the Bantoid branch of the Niger–Congo language family. These languages are closely related, however, and some classifications identify a Bamileke dialect continuum with seventeen or more dialects.

Contents

Organization

The Bamileke are organized under several chiefdom (or fondom). Of these, the fondoms of Bafang, Bafoussam, Bandjoun, Bangangté, Bawaju, Dschang, and Mbouda are the most prominent. The Bamileke also share much history and culture with the neighbouring fondoms of the Northwest province and notably the Lebialem region of the Southwest province, but the groups have been divided since their territories were split between the French and English in colonial times.

Languages

Following Ethnologue classification, we can identify 11 different languages or dialects:

Variants of Ghomala' are spoken in most of the Mifi, Koung-Khi, Hauts-Plateaux departments, the eastern Menoua, and portions of Bamboutos, by 260,000 people (1982, SIL). The main fondoms are Baham, Bafoussam, Bamendjou, Bandjoun.

Towards southwest is spoken Fe'fe' in the Upper Nkam division. The main towns include Bafang, Baku, and Kékem.

Nda'nda' occupy the western third of the Ndé division. The major settlement is at Bazou.

Yemba is spoken by 300,000 or more people in 1992. Their lands span most of the Menoua division to the west of the Bandjoun, with their capital at Dschang. Fokoué is another major settlement.

Medumba is spoken in most of the Ndé division, by 210,000 people in 1991, with major settlements at Bangangte and Tonga.

Mengaka, Ngiemboon, Ngomba and Ngombale are spoken in Mbouda.

Kwa is spoken between the Ndé and the Littoral province, Ngwe around Fontem in the Southwest province.

However, the findings of research by Dieudonné Toukam (2008; 2010) enable us to understand that many mistakes and preconceptions were made on the classification of the Grassfields languages and dialects, because the history –and especially the remote history– of the people concerned remained unknown. The history of the Bamileke (the main people of the Grassfields region, though a few ethnic groups historically or culturally related to them also exist in the same area) needs to be taken into account when studying the languages of this region. Otherwise, any research would be an unsuccessful scientific attempt.

For instance, contrary to common belief, the Bamileke are not Bantus that migrated from northeast to southwest some 20,000 to 30,000 years ago, then scattered Central Africa and settled in Cameroon some 5000 to 7000 years ago. The Benue-Congo language (from the proto Niger-Congo language (some 30 to 40,000 years ago) did not give rise to Bamileke languages, together with Yoruba, Igala, Edo, etc. Not at all! Dieudonné Toukam (2010) discovered that a group of Baladi Egyptians migrated from the Nile Region in the 9th century, two centuries after the Baladi culture and language were being banned by the new Egyptian Authorities on grounds that M. Gadalla (1999; 2002) explains very well. This group of Baladis became the Bamileke people. Indeed, when making a comparative study of the Baladis and Bamileke (to ascertain some oral-tradition facts), D. Toukam (2010) found that the Baladi heritage is still abundant in the Bamileke civilization so far. The said group of Baladis went down along the Nile River, crossed the Ouaddai and Kanem Bornu kingdoms (Sudanese region) as well as the Lac Chad region to reach the later-called Adamawa. They then went down to the Adamawa region to settle in the Tikar area.

Important notes on Bamileke languages, by Dieudonné Toukam:

a) The single Bamileke language spoken until the 14th century split into Bamileke- Bafoussam and Bamun.

b) Bamun succeeded in reunifying while Bamileke-Bafoussam split into nearly 200 dialects and subdialects over centuries.

c) Research by Toukam (2010: 15) showed that the break of an open contact between the Bamileke of the British Cameroon and their brothers of the French Cameroon for over 40 years (1919-61) helped widen the linguistic differences between the English-speaking Bamileke (North-West and part of South-West) and the French-speaking Bamileke (West). This probably made researchers of Anglophone Cameroon languages ignore that the Bamileke had been divided when Cameroon was being shared between the UK and France –under the auspices of the League of Nations in 1919–, and that the Bamileke languages had to be studied in a holistic manner.

d) For the purpose of research, the Bamileke languages/dialects of the French-speaking Grassfields region (West Cameroon), all stemming from the Bamileke-Bafoussam language, are being divided into five linguistic groups/subgroups, namely Ghomala’, Medumba, Yemba, Ngomba’a and Fe-fee. Complying also with the administrative division of the West region, these linguistic groups are not dialects or languages spoken by people, except Medumba. They are just identification names for research, which is being wrongly taken by some non-Bamileke linguistics and Bamileke linguists nurturing some ideologies. For instance, Ghomala’ is being assimilated to Bandjoun or Ghomala-Bandjoun, which is nothing but a dialect/subdialect from Bamileke- Bafoussam which is spoken in Bandjoun, a small village situated at 6 km from Bafoussam city (the third city of Cameroon). Bandjoun, which was founded by a Bafoussam prince in the late 16th century, has been always planning to linguistically dominate Bafoussam and lead the Grand Mifi Division (Mifi, Nkoung-Khi and Upper- Plateaux), with the assistance of its powerful economic élite. An objective researcher should therefore know that a daughter language (Ghomala’-Bandjoun) can never overcome a mother language (Bamileke-Bafoussam), unless the latter is dead.

History

Main source: “Histoire et anthropologie du peuple bamiléké” (Paris: l’Harmattan, 2010, 242p.), by Dieudonné Toukam.ISBN : 978-2-296-11827-0

The Bamileke are the native people three regions of Cameroon, namely West, North-West and South-West. Though greater part of this people are from the West region, it is estimated that over the 1/3 of Bamileke are from the English speaking regions, the majority of which are from the North-West region (there are over 82 Bamileke villages in this region). The Grassfields area therefore encompasses the West and North-West and small part of the South-West region of Cameroon. Apart from the Bamileke, there are other tribes that are historically more or less linked to the Bamileke, whether by blood or through certain cultural intercourse (D. Toukam, “Histoire et anthropologie du peuple bamiléké”, p. 15).

The Bamileke speak a semi-Bantu language and are related to Bantu peoples. Historically, the Bamun and the Bamileke were united. The founder of this group (Nchare) was the younger brother of the founder of Bafoussam.


German administration

Germany gained control of "Kamerun" in 1884.

The Germans first applied the term "Bamileke" to the people as administrative shorthand for the people of the region.

French administration and post-independence

The Bamileke are very dynamic and have a great sense of entrepreneurship. Thus, they can be found in almost all provinces of Cameroon and in the world, mainly as business owner.

In 1955, the colonial French power banned the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) political party, which was claiming the independence of Cameroon. Following that, the French started an offensive against UPC militants. Part of the attacks were done in the West province, region of the Bamileke (Some people considered those attacks as a genocide, given the high number of people killed. (See. Génocide bamiléké)

Lifestyle and settlement patterns

Political structure and agriculture

Statue of a chief at Bana.

The Bamileke's settlements follow a well organized and structured pattern. Houses of family members are often group together, often surrounded by small fields. Men typically clear the fields, but it is largely women who work them. Most work is done with tools such as machetes and hoes. Staple crops include cocoyams[disambiguation needed ], groundnuts, maize, and taro.

Bamileke settlement are organized as Chiefdoms. The chief, or fon or fong is considered as the spiritual, political, judicial and military leader. The Chief is also considered as the 'Father' of the Chiefdom. He thus has great respect from the population. The successor of the 'Father' is chosen among his children. The successor's identity is typically kept secret until the fon's death.

The fon has typically 9 ministers and several other advisers and councils. The ministers are in charged of the crowning of the new fon. The council of ministers, also known as the Council of Notables is called Kamveu. In addition, a "queen mother" or mafo was an important figure for some fons in the past. Below the fon and his advisers lie a number of ward heads, each responsible for a particular portion of the village. Some Bamileke groups also recognise sub-chiefs, or fonte.

Economic activities

Hut at the chefferie of Bana.

The Bamileke are renowned for their skilled craftsmen and great sense of business. Their artwork is highly praised, though since the colonial period, many traditional arts and crafts have been abandoned. Bamileke are particularly celebrated carvers in wood, ivory, and horn. Chief's compounds are notable for their intricately carved doorframes and columns.

Traditional homes are constructed by first erecting a raffia-pole frame into four square walls. Builders then stuff the resulting holes with grass and cover the whole building with mud. The thatched roof is typically shaped into a tall cone. Nowadays, however, this type of construction is mostly reserved for barns, storage buildings, and gathering places for various traditional secret societies. Instead, modern Bamileke homes are made of bricks of either sun-dried mud or of concrete. Roofs are of metal sheeting.

Bamileke have some of Cameroon's most prominent entrepreneurs. Bamileke are also found in all other professional areas as artisans, farmers, traders, and skilled professionals. They thus play an important role in the economic development of Cameroon.

Religious beliefs

During the colonial period, parts of the Bamileke adopted Christianism. Some of them practice Islam toward the border with the Adamawa Tikar and the Bamun. The Bamileke have worn elephant mask for dance ceremonies or funerals.[citation needed]

Succession and kinship patterns

The Bamileke trace ancestry, inheritance and succession through the male line, and children belong to the fondom of their father. After a man's death, all of his possessions typically go to a single, male heir. Polygamy (more specifically, polygyny) is practiced, and some important individuals may have literally hundreds of wives. Marriages typically involve a bride price to be paid to the bride's family.

References

  • Toukam, Dieudonné (2010), Histoire et anthropologie du peuple bamiléké, Paris: l’Harmattan, 2010, 242p.
  • Toukam, Dieudonné (2008), Parlons bamiléké. Langue et culture de Bafoussam, Paris: L'Harmattan, 255p.
  • Fanso, V.G. (1989) Cameroon History for Secondary Schools and Colleges, Vol. 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Nineteenth Century. Hong Kong: Macmillan Education Ltd, 1989.
  • Neba, Aaron, Ph.D. (1999) Modern Geography of the Republic of Cameroon, 3rd ed. Bamenda: Neba Publishers, 1999.
  • Ngoh, Victor Julius (1996) History of Cameroon Since 1800. Limbé: Presbook, 1996.

Further reading

  • Knöpfli, Hans (1997—2002) Crafts and Technologies: Some Traditional Craftsmen and Women of the Western Grassfields of Cameroon. 4 vols. Basel, Switzerland: Basel Mission.

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