(The case of fons in multiparty politics)

By Tatah Mbuy

Part 1: Introduction.

Since 1992, Cameroon has been going through a very tedious political evolution; the ripple effects of which are felt at all levels of society. However, one area that has increasingly been bearing much of the brunt, is the consistent down-grading of our cultural patrimony. Culture defines a people, gives them identity and provides meaning for their existence. This is particularly true of the North West Region of Cameroon, but much more, among those tribes that claim Tikar origin.

In the last two decades, a lot of debris has been thrown into our cultural waters. In fact, we would need a whole thesis to identify, situate, analyze and evaluate all that has happened, curiously in full view, or even with the connivance of some of the best brains of the land. In majority of the cases, the protagonists hardly even realize the magnitude of their act; or if they do, one can only ascribe it to some other ulterior motive for which the gods are not to blame! A few events immediately leap to mind and deserve mention here.

In 1985 , three years after taking power, President Paul Biya visited Bamenda, declared it his second home and launched his political party – the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). Within that time the Fons of the then North West Province made him “Fon of Fons”, a title that has neither cultural precedence nor meaning. Among the Tikar, Fonship is hereditary and follows a very rigorous royal protocol that cannot be side-tracked without grave consequences. Furthermore, the fons themselves should have known better that no fon can create another fon. There are fon-makers who have that prerogative and who follow a very precise traditional ritual. In as much as this was not done, the acts of the fons remain culturally treasonable and invalid.

Since 1992, we have had numerous instances of Governors, Senior Divisional Officers and District Officers even, who have wanted to intrude or influence the choice of fons in some tribes. Some of these have even felt that, as government administrators, their powers superceded that of the fon in his fief. Hence we have noticed some administrators engaging in meaningless conflicts over authority. In majority of these cases, the said administrators can only be forgiven for their ignorance. A good number come from areas where the fonship does not exist in the way it does in the North West Region of Cameroon. Here the Fon is the paramount authority! If you doubt it, dig up the epic Sehm III of Nso' and he would probably fire several times with his legendary short gun before anyone has time to ask him to explain his anger. The authority of the fon is simply non-negotiable among the Tikar! Call it old fashion, but go first to Buckingham Palace and you will be given a good university degree for studying that monarchy!

Since the re-introduction of multi-party politics in contemporary Cameroon, we have witnessed weird situations where some Fons have, in the name of party adherence, been linked to the murder of their own subjects- in clumsy defiance of royal protocol and the ethics of the land. Today royal titles seem to be given at random for the show of any dollar or franc, even if in open contradiction of traditional rubric.

In July 2009, some fons of the North West Region made a strange journey to Yaounde to greet their son who was then appointed Prime Minister. Unfortunately, they met a son who knew his tradition well and they were harshly called to order. Most of them returned seemingly angry and disappointed, for an act for which they should have been sanctioned by the Nwerong or Kwifon.

Today, we have yet another unprecedented act - one of the most respectable fons in the country, certainly in the North West Region - His Royal Highness, the paramount Fon of Nso' is said to have been appointed as a member of the central committee of the CPDM. There have been diverse reactions and mix feelings, a clear indication that many of us are hardly aware of what is a actually at stake, and the implications for posterity.

This paper takes a decisively academic approach and will avoid all the political intrigues that seem obvious. We approach the situation from the perspective of urgent cultural anthropology. Our aim is to supply knowledge where there is need and to make a contribution to rescue a cultural institution that could be compromised to the detriment of all. We owe no grudge or bias against any party or persons. In fact, we would have written the same paper if the Fon were invited today to join the central committee of either SDF, CDU or whatever other party that exists. We write with a particular interest of the Nso' History Society in mind; one of its aims is to foster research and the preservation of our cultural heritage. We equally write on the eve of the Ngonso' Cultural Festival that is scheduled to take place in the coming months. If we hope to get the blessings of our ancestors at Kovvifem, then it is about time that we made an objective self-diagnosis.

Our approach will focus on four areas. First, we shall highlight the significance of the institution of Fon among the Tikar in general and the Nso' in particular. This should help those who act out of ignorance to be better informed and take responsibility for their choices.We shall then follow up with a second consideration of what multiparty democracy means in our specific geopolitical entity. This should give sufficient material for analysts to compare and contrast with the institution of Fon in Tikar country. All of this may sound nauseating to a person who has no feel for culture, or for one who believes in cultural relativism or who thinks that as the greatest receptacle, culture changes and in this case should change. Our third consideration will tackle such views by presenting an overview of the significance of culture to a people and their destiny. Finally, one can see a rather machiavellian tendency where the end seems to justify the means. We shall tackle this by taking a very existential approach to the situation as it has presented itself to us. All of this will provide us the opportunity to make a few suggestions before concluding our presentation.

We shall proceed piecemeal- we begin with this introduction, then on Saturday morning (29 October 2011), we shall post our part 2 which considers the institution of Fon among the Tikar; on Tuesday morning (1 November), we shall come in with part 3, then part 4 on Thursday 3 November. In this way we give time for people to digest the material and make relevant comments. SO DON'T GO AWAY

Nothing would be done at all, if a man waited until he could do it so well
that NO ONE would find fault with it. Bl. John Henry Newman, dixit Bernard Nso'kika Fonlon

Home Address
Tatah Humphrey Mbuy SD
Collegio Apostolico Leoniano 21,
Via Pompeo Magno 21,
00192, ROMA, Italia.
Tel. (0039) 06 32.80.21
Cell Phone: (0039)3312877620

1 comment:

  1. Greetings Fara
    I just wanted to say how much I valued Jude's comments on your paper. I will of course be replying myself in more detail shortly. I share the view that there are no tribes in Africa but there most certainly are ethnic groups and also Kingdoms. The Kingdoms of the Grassfields share many share linguistic and cultural traits with their neighbours and are generally composite in the make up of their populations - i.e. they include autocthonous elements, dynastic elements claiming Tikar origins and assimilated elements who have sought refuge from succession disputes, raids or whatever. Hence it is not entirely accurate to describe the Kingdoms of the Grassfields as ethnic groups. And there are further difficulties since not all Grassfields communities were kingdoms - not all had Fons. I would hesitate to make this point in a bar in Mbengwi or amongst the Moghamo for fear of causing a riot! At the end of the 19th century the Grassfields was culturally and socially diverse with different communities practicing matrilineal and patrilineal succession, some acephalous (Masquelier 1978; Dillon 1973 and 1990; Kopytoff 1981; Warnier 2007) and others with sacred Kings (or Fons) and yet others, such as the central Noni kingdoms, with a system of dual-Kingship (Chilver and Kaberry 1968). Settlement was in places highly compacted and elsewhere dispersed. Edwin Ardener (1967) linked common engagement in the colonial plantation economy at the coast to the adoption of similar cultural traits and forms of social and political organisation and the emergence of a distinctive Grassfields character. It is important, however, to stress that the Grassfields is not a homogeneous cultural and political region although it is increasingly and uncritically represented as such (Fowler 1997:66). The political forms and rich material culture of the Grassfields has gained increasing prestige within Cameroon. This trend has continued with the spread of Fonship, or Kingship, and its associated etiquette and paraphernalia to formerly acephalous groups beyond the Grassfields.
    Best wishes
    Ian Fowler