The Bakweri (or Kwe) are ancient fierce fighters, traditionally spiritual, customs-abiding and agriculturalist Mokwe-speaking people of Bantu origins who live on the steep but fertile slopes of the Cameroon Mountain (Mt Fako) in the Republic of Cameroon. They are closely related to Cameroon’s coastal peoples (the Sawa), particularly the Duala and Isubu.
The Bakweri live primarily in over 100 villages east and southeast of Mount Cameroon with Buea as their main population centre. Bakweri settlements largely lie in the mountain’s foothills and continue up its slopes as high as 12,000 metres. They have further villages along the Mungo River and the creeks that feed into it. The town of Limbe is a mixture of Bakweri, Duala, and other ethnic groups.
The Bakweri who are aboriginal Bantu people originated from Mboko, the area southwest of Mount Cameroon and migrated to their present home east of the mountain in the mid-18th century. They also trace their ancestry to Mokuri or Mokule, a brother of the Duala’s forebear Ewale, who migrated to the Mount Cameroon area for hunting.
According to Edwin Ardener (in Nigeria No. 60, pp. 31-8, 1959) They are quiet and reserved and are not widely known outside the Southern Cameroons despite the fact that both the Premier of the Southern Cameroons, Dr. E. M. L. Endeley, and the capital, Buea, are The Bakweri are primarily concentrated in Cameroon’s Southwest Province.” Dr. E. M. L. Endeley was the first Prime Minister of the British Southern Cameroons from 1954–1959. He led other Southern Cameroonian parliamentarians to seccede from the Nigerian Eastern House of Assembly in 1954.
Historically the Bakweri are territorial people and fierce fighters who have always defended their rights, land and culture against the successive colonising powers of Germany and Britain.
It must be noted that the Bakweri people were one of the African people to resist the spoliation of their lands by German imperialists.
They are known to have mounted a fierce anti-German campaign led by their fearless leader, Chief Kuva Likenye of Buea, particularly around the slopes of Mount Fako, and successfully inflicted a humiliating defeat on the Germans at Buea in 1891; the first ever German military loss on the African continent, which led to a complete reappraisal of German colonial/military policy on the continent, and, unfortunately, laid the basis for the brutal campaign to annihilate the Bakweri. The Bakweri were one of the few groups in all of German Africa that were thoroughly and systematically suppressed by the Germans. That they even survived to tell the story is a testimony to their resilience and tenacity in the face of adversity.
The Bakweri are known in Cameroon for their traditional wrestling (Wesuwa), which encompasses all the qualities the Bakweri have inherited from their ancestors: physical endurance, agility, fierce fighting techniques, and a great sense of competition. Wesuwa is taken very seriously by all the members of the community and the most interesting thing is that women takes part in this wrestling contest long before . In the past wrestling used to be an important way of determining leadership in the villages; it even resulted in a war between two villages in 1891, when people from Ghango burnt down the village of Molonde in revenge for the death of their best wrestlers.
Bakweri women engaged in fierce wrestling combat
Before the beginning of colonial conquest in the early 1880s, the Bakweri constituted a very fragmentary society dominated by an egalitarian ideology– it is not even certain that there was ever a real chieftaincy position at the village level. Ardener however emphasizes that there was a strong tendency among the Bakweri to accumulate wealth, particularly, goats, pigs and short cows. It was through accumulation that individuals increased their prestige in the villages.
Although the Bakweri are now completely modernised, some have even converted to Christianity, they are still attached to their ancestral traditions and have retained their ancient tribal organisation. Each Bakweri village is headed by a chief and his tribal council who are central to all cultural events. The Bakweri take pride in celebrating their cultural heritage during events such as the Race of Hope, when they perform secret rituals to bless the mountain.
The symbol of the Bakweri people is the elephant or Njoku. To say that the Bakweri have a mascot, which happens to be the elephant, would be an understatement. Indeed, the reverse is true. For the Bakweri, the elephant, a denizen of the rain forests of the slopes of Mount Fako, is not just a mascot. It is a cultural symbol, a mystical, spiritual co-creature. To the Bakweri, the Balondo and the Bomboko, people can, and do become elephants, and elephants can and do become people. The attributes of the elephant or Njoku are part and parcel of the psyche of the Bakweri people. The creature’s sheer strength, size, loyalty to its (family) troupe, its calm, yet unpredictable temperament, proud indifference, and graceful demeanor are, to the Bakweri, the picture of physical and psychic behavioral perfection. It is therefore no surprise that the Bakweri, have a secret society that venerates, imitates and personifies the attributes of the elephant. Indeed, those who belong to the Maalé, the secret elephant society, swear by nothing other than Loxodonta Africana (the African elephant.)
The Bakweri lives in traditional “mat house” or ndaw’a ngonja. These days, most whakpe new construction consists of modern buildings with cement blocks and corrugated aluminium roofs. Construction of ndaw’a ngonja is now a dying art.
The Bakweri`s Mount Fako (Cameroon) is a unique Ecotourism Site. This lovely volcanic mountain welcomes visitors immediately they arrive Buea. It stands majestically along the background of Buea Town. The Mountain spreads from Bomboko to Bakweri of Buea and down to the Limbe Beach. It is 4100 metres in height. A visit to Mount Cameroon is always an exciting experience both in the rainy and dry seasons.
Capital Residence of Bakweri town of Buea, Cameroon
The Bakweri are primarily concentrated in Cameroon’s Southwest Province. They live in over 100 villages east and southeast of Mount Cameroon with Buea their main population centre. Bakweri settlements largely lie in the mountain’s foothills and continue up its slopes as high as 12,000 metres. They have further villages along the Mungo River and the creeks that feed into it. The town of Limbe is a mixture of Bakweri, Duala, and other ethnic groups.
There is an ongoing dispute between the Bakweri Land Claims Committee (BLCC) and the government of Cameroon regarding the disposition of Bakweri Lands formerly used by the Germans as plantations and now managed by the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC)’
Buea from the foot of Mount Cameroon
Terrain of the land: Their population is much greater than 16,000. Before the German conquest of 1894, they were living in scattered settlements around the southern slopes of Mount Cameroon. There are very few mountains in West Africa, and none is as high as this (more than 13,000 feet). It is also unusual that it stands right on the coast, descending through a maze of foothill to the sea.
University of Buea, Cameroon
At four degrees North of the equator, it is not high enough for permanent snow. Instead, winds loaded with moisture from 4,000 miles of Atlantic level precipitate copious rains, and swathe the slopes in mist and drizzle for many months of the year. Inside the clouded summit is an active volcano from which new craters burst out every few decades.
Ekom fall in Mount Cameroon, Buea
The rain and he volcanic soil have made the the mountain area one of the most fertile in Africa, and the forest covers the mountain up to 6,000 feet. The Bakweri lived ( and live ) in the thickest concentration in a belt of villages between 1,500 and 3,000 feet above the sea level, but the they occupied the whole base of the mountain below this very thinly, as far as the sea level.
Climate: The Bakweri are weather forecasters, and it is believed that they possess scientist who are able to alter the climate at will, for example, during special occasions, or the coming of high personality. Generally, the area is cover with mist and drizzle, and several copious rains through out the year due to the presence of the Atlantic ocean.
This region is having the equatorial maritime climate with temperature above 25%c which is very heavy with very high atmospheric humidity throughout the year. It is made up of elements of the three different tropical climate regimes which are equatorial with rainfall throughout the year, seasonal comprising of two seasons in a year that is the dry and wet and finally monsoon with great contrast between the seasons. The climate of this region is strongly affected by its altitude. The temperature is moderated by breeze from the Atlantic Ocean.
Soil and Vegetation: The topography of this region is flat. It is composed of rudiments brought from the interior and also volcanic soil gotten from the weathered rocks during the eruption of mount Cameroon. The plantations that are located closer to the mountain benefits from the weathered basalt or lava and those beside the mangrove, the soil is lateritic. Further away from the north eastern parts of mount Fako, the soil is loamy and sandy.
The vegetation of this region is the forest types which have almost disappeared due to the exploitation by people for the cultivation of food crops and construction of houses for settlement, living only the swampy and less accessible areas.
Due to the equatorial maritime climate, and the high fertility of the soil, the Bakweri people are good agriculturalists, and their main source of income is from agriculture. They grow crops like cocoyams, and maize. Since the climate can sometimes be very harsh, the Bakweri people wear long sleeve shirts, and thick pullovers and sweaters during almost the entire period of the year. Since they grow crops like cocoyams, their main diet is based on cocoyam.
Their main dish is the kwakoko, and they have many other dishes, which get their spices from the high fertility of the soil. Also, due to the very low temperatures which are very frequent, the Bakweri donot have a lot of social activities like swimming, or playing tennis, but they have activities like mountain race which occurs in February, where places are warmer. Also, the Bakweri have restricted their dressing to “rapa”(loins), and shirts for the men, and also a loin or “rapa” for the women. For the men, this dressing can sometimes be accompanied by special hat,and a tie.
The Bakweri speak Mokpwe, a tongue that is closely related to Bakole and Wumboko. Mokpwe is part of the family of Duala languages in the Bantu group of the Niger–Congo language phylum. Neighbouring peoples often utilise Mokpwe as a trade language, due largely to the spread of the tongue by early missionaries. This is particularly true among the Isubu, many of whom are bilingual in Duala or Mokpwe.
In addition, individuals who have attended school or lived in an urban centre usually speak Pidgin English or standard English. A growing number of the Bakweri today grow up with Pidgin as a more widely spoken language. The Bakweri also used a drum language to convey news from clan to clan, and they also utilized a horn language peculiar to them.
The Mokpe Alphabet is similar to that of English with the exception of three strange characters, which will be brought to you later. There are 21 consonants and 7 vowels. Here below is the Mokpe alphabet.
a mb ch nd e є
f gb i j nj ŋ k
kp l m mgb mw n ny
o c (reversed c or open O)
s t u v w y
The 21 consonants have the same sounds as in English, but four of them pose a problem of pronunciation to young speakers and writers of the Mokpe language.
They are f, s, v and w. Follow the description below very carefully.
In English the letter ‘f’ is a labio-dental fricative that is you use the lips and teeth to produce this sound, In Mokpe it is a bilabial fricative where you use both lips there by producing a sound as if you were blowing out a candle.
Practise sounding it several times.
Ff Ff Ff Ff
To produce the Mokpe ‘s’ place the tip of tongue on the hard palate and let out the slowly producing a soft hissing sound, close the English ‘s’
Ss Ss Ss Ss Ss
‘v’ is produced using both lips, instead of placing the bottom lip on the Teeth as case in English. The letter ‘w’ is the same as in English, rounding both lips. Practise these two sounds and discover the difference.
Vv Vv Vv Vv
Ww Ww Ww Ww
Read the Following words aloud
Fáo – knife
fátâ – pluck
fimbâ – throw
fendâ – close
Sâ – dance
Sia – iron
Siaô – redants
Sosa – wash
valána – women
vána – children
vakpe – Bakweri
Veloma – scoldings
Velimo – spirits
waná – mouth
ewóka – compound
wana – You will fight
wotéá – begin
PRONUNCIATION OF NEW CHARACTERS
є as in p penny, lend, empty
ŋ as in hang, language, hungry
c (reversed c or open O) as in war, law, lawn
History and The Origin of the Bakweri People
The Bakwerians are from the lower Bomboko behind Mount Fako. They were mostly fishermen, who settled along the coast, farmers, and hunters who settled beside the mountain. Most of the Bakweri villages claimed to have been founded from a group of villages which lies in a belt between 650m and 1000m up mount Cameroon.
The origin of the Bakweri settlement could be attributed to two separate traditions. Firstly, the tradition of the Buea group stated that a certain Eye Njie used to come from Bomboko to hunt on the Eastward side of the mountain with a friend Nakande. Nakande used to hunt near the site of present day Wonakanda while Eye moved on to a river near the present day Buea. When they brought in their wives, other friends and relatives from Womboko joined them and they opened gardens. Another tradition affirmed that ManyangMasonje left Isongo and Bakingili where he settled around Bimbia where he had many catches in “ISU” meaning the end of my journey. Nakande from Bomboko settled in Bonakanda which was called Ligbea which meant a place for good farming. He was a farmer.
Bakwer secret society dancer
However, although hunting was the primary motive behind the Bomboko migration, fertility of the soil on the slopes of mount Cameroon was equally a firm factor. While the men were engaged in hunting, the women farmed the land and subsequently, other migrants from Bomboko established Bakweri villages which were named after their founders. Although there is some view that the true Bakweri are the people of Buea and its surrounding villages, other groups classified under Bakweri included Bomboko, the area which the Bakweri are said to have originated and Wovea. The Bakweri are found on the eastern and south eastern slopes of the mountain, coastal Bomboko on the south-east coast, the inland Bomboko on the North-west of the Bakweri and Isuwu and Wovea are on the southern coast of the Fako Division.
The Isuwu are also believed to have originated from Bomboko. Isuwu was also known as Bimbia named after MbibiMbela who was the chief of the area in the last quarter of the 19th century. According to another source, their ancestors came from Bankingili and womana. The wovea claimed to have originated from Fernando Po who settled in the islands of Ambas Bay. All the above was due to the potential of the area like fertile soil and hunting facilities. This same fertile soil also attracted the Europeans into the area since their motive was centered on economic. Although these groups lived closer to each other, and practiced the same culture, they were independent from each other. The German successful attacks on the Bakweri could be attributed to this division. If the Bakweri were united, then their final defeat by the Germans during the Bakweri resistance under the leadership of KuvaLikenya could have failed and even if not the alienation policy might have adopted a different shape, thus the loose political and social ties amongst the Bakweri worked in favor of the Germans.
The Bakweri belong to the most north-western branch of the Bantu speaking people inhabiting central and southern Africa. To be certain about the date the Bakweri reached their present site, it was around 1750 as confirmed by genealogical evidence that it was the time they arrived one of their earliest settlement, Buea. Other sources asserted that the population pressure which affected Nigeria drove the Bakweri from their habitation near Lake Barombi in Kumba to the mount Fako area.
The economy included agriculture, animal husbandry, hunting , fishing and food gathering. The different methods applied to agriculture included the slash and burn. Most people practiced subsistence farming which included careful land management techniques like intensive farming because the land of the mountain slopes were very fertile. Generally, tools use include digging sticks, hoes, and matches. Fire was also used to clear the bush. Sometimes, fences were constructed to guard against animal incursion and destruction. Before formal agriculture, the early people practiced fishing, hunting and food gatherings. They used spears, clubs and other implements to hunt game in the mountain, forest and slopes.
The presence of plantations brought in a change in economy and commerce as the traditional commerce which was characterized by trade by batter came to an end. The market economy was introduced in which every transaction was in terms of German mark. Before the introduction of plantation agriculture, the natives were involved in subsistence agriculture in which food crops such as cocoyam, plantains, beans, maize and yams were grown. The introduction of plantations led the natives to undertake cash crop production in crops like cocoa, palm products and coffee for export. With the introduction of cash crops it led to the creation of Botanical garden in Victoria by Governor Von Soden who was charged with the research plants suitable for the plantations. Dr Preuss was the principal officer in charge of the Garden. This research centre controlled other stations in the interior. Over a thousand different plants were tested soil studies carried out and meteorological information tabulated. Investigations in this garden included the control of cocoa diseases? It was these botanical gardens that gave inspiration to the creation of the Cameroon Development Corporation the research centre at Ekona and many other government research stations in Cameroon.
In spite of the above mentioned advantaged that the plantations brought into the Bakweri land, it was certain that it equally brought some setbacks which could be examined in different perspective.
Dr Emil Mandoa, Bakweri tribe`s man
Source of income: They practice mixed farming and they hunt. Crops mostly cultivated are cocoyam, palm fruit but they mostly live on cocoyams. They sell the excess of their production. Through the rearing of animal. Those who possessed many animals where consider as rich. They reared animals like pigs and bush cows, but they do not rear nor eat sheep. Between 1850 and 1890, the Bakweri became rich in other ways. By trading food stuffs to the coast, and blocking the way of expedition into the interior, they had acquired considerable trade goods. Servants where taken inside the tribe, they were not payed but had free food.
Leveling mechanisms: In the Bakweri soceity, there is no particular form of of leveling mechanism. Everybody owns his/her farm, and everybody minds his or her business. The only situatin where sharing is needed is during the period of rituals, where every individual must give a share of his pig to every one who comes across his/her.
Buea Market, Cameroon
Sexual Division of Labour and The Mokpe (Bakweri) Woman and her Role in the Mokpe Traditional Society
There is a sexual division of labour (SDL) in bakweri in which there is the delegation of different tasks between men and women. Among food foragers, men and women target different types of food and share them with each other for a mutual or familial benefit. In some villages, men and women eat slightly different foods, and in some other, men and women routinely share the same food.
Bakweri woman of Buea heating the leaf before using it to wrap food
According to Catherine L. L. Musoko “In spite of being relegated to the background, the traditional Bakweri woman nonetheless wielded lots of power behind the scenes, and greatly influenced decisions related to the running of the clan.
Traditional Bakweri society was matrilineal in structure. This was seen in the Ewong’a Yowo and Ewong’a Mokossa (“medicine bench”) which was shared exclusively by the sons and daughters of the same mothers, and never of the same fathers. The patrilineal relationship was, however, strongly upheld as far as settlement of property, the burial of the deceased, the selection of a permanent abode for the family, or the taking of a wife were concerned.
Bakweri women Washing clothes in the catchment area of Bonduma in Buea.
Thus, the children of a son (whose wife naturally came from a different mother-clan) could not share in the ceremonies of the medicine man of the Ewong’a Yowo, whose duty was to ensure the well-being and continuity of the mother-clan. So, people who shared the Jongo or “pot” were bound together by an unalterable and undivided kinship, and they stood by each other through thick and thin. Matrilineal kinship was for ever!
The Mokpe Woman and the Health of the Family: The Mokpe woman was, directly or indirectly, the custodian of the family health. This was manifested from the moment she became pregnant. She had to nurture the yet unborn child by taking part in all the traditional pre-natal rituals – the Masongis, the native herbs that serve as enema; the food to eat or not to eat; the places to go; the time to be or not to be intimate with her husband, etc. If she missed out on any of these rituals and something went wrong with the baby, the blame would be wholly hers and her mother-clan. No one else took responsibility.
The Mokpe Woman and her Spouse: In traditional Bakweri society, women were chosen as future spouses when they were still children, and in some cases, even before they were born. However, once the marriage had taken place and the husband did not live up to expectations, the woman was free to divorce him. This was done irrespective of the opinion of the woman’s male relatives, including that of her own father.
All that was required of woman was that she did not involve her father in the “dowry-refund” predicament, and that she was quickly picked up by another husband either through an intermediary or at the Chief’s residence, where such marriage deals were generally reported. In this case the woman was a free hand – she could even choose her husband by following the age old custom of boldly going to the goat house (Lièfe) of the man of her choice and slaughtering the biggest nanny goat by wounding or cutting its neck or head. The would-be husband deemed this a sign of honor and accepted the hand of the woman with joy. Of course, a woman taking such a step knew her own assets – elements such as her beauty or reputation for hard work put her in good stead.
The Mokpe woman as a nursing mother was expected to curb her sexual appetite so as to safeguard the life and health of her baby. Hence, during this period, she was constantly warned; “don’t look that way”, meaning she had to allow for a few marital escapades by her husband.
Nonetheless, the traditional Bakweri woman was by no means a yes-sir woman. She took her rightful place in deciding which other woman her husband wished to take, and sometimes even choose such a “mbanyi” herself.
A husband’s prosperity was also intricately linked to the influence of his wife or wives. The wives tended his pigs, goats, cattle, looked after his mawus, arable land, so no one could trespass or exceed them, etc.
Mokpe women were and still are the animators of the social life of their people. They feature prominently in engagements, weddings, and other events such as the election of a new Chief, the celebration of a “fombo”, or successes in court cases.
Female dances include the Ambassi and the Maninga, which are especially for the youths; and the Lingombi, the Mundame, the Wokeka and the Veleke that are preformed by both men and women.
The Masua Cult It was a cult that brought together women of high repute in the community, particularly those who had successfully gone through the kpave or sasswood ordeal. These women formed a society of desirables and men vied for their hand.
On the whole, Bakweri women led and influenced all areas of community life, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. They still do.
The bakweri s are an example of a segmentary society. They are grouped in societies of villages where each family maintains its independence. They bakweri live in a small clusters of ten to twenty house and settlement pattern was imposed on them by the Germans. The Germans herded the Bakweri people into the peripheries when they expropriated the land for plantation. The village head has only limited authority. They village has a council of elders which helps the chief in regulating the affairs of they village. The most prominent families in Bakweri tribal history are Wonya Likenye Endeley of buea and the family of Mangaa William of the Victoria ( today called Limbe). The Bakweri political organisations was divided into different classes.
It was composed of a man and his wife (wives) his children and relatives with blood ties. The family unit served as the base of political institution in the Bakweri society. The father was the head and has as obligations to preside over family affairs. At the level of the extended family the head was the oldest man who was believed to have a lot of experience in wordily matters. He was automatically considered patriarch of the tribe. He had as function to perform ancestral sacrifices and chair family gatherings. These decisions were not autocratic especially due to the fact that he had to consult some elderly people in the family lineage before taking decisions on matters of paramount importance. Consequently, the eldest people in the Bakweri community earned much admiration and respect from the younger generations due to the fact that they performed the mediatory role between the ancestors and the world of the living. In the same line of thought, age was considered as the only criteria which enabled people in the Bakweri society to commune with the ancestors and decode ancestral messages. In order words, age was the main criteria required to climb the mantle of power.
The Village Administration
At this level of the community, the villages were autonomous from one another consisting of family compounds separated from one another by a fence called “NgaoMboa”. The village political leaders had a similar source of powers as those at the family level. The variation here was among the family of the village founder that a leader was chosen. Consequently, the family of the village founder was automatically considered the royal family.
Traditional Leader of Muea, Buea, H.R.H. Chief David Ikome Molinge
This was how the Likenya family came to prominence in Buea as they were linked to Eeye Tama Lifenje, the first persons to settle in Buea. At the level of village administration, the chief did not execute this heavy task alone. He was assisted by a village council which had effective powers over the village. It was an ill-defined body with no precise number of members. The decisions of the council were made public by the village councils spoke man “Sango Mboa” and the members of the village council were elders called “Vanbaki”. The organizational chart of the Bakweri society was a triangular machinery which revolved around the family at the base, with the village council and the chief at the top. Thus the Bakweri whose territorial limits were governed by fixed and permanents institutions were a state- like society. These organs, oriented political and social life and organized the society in the face of external aggression.
This Likenye chiefly line of Buea trace their pridigree from1884 down to the present day as in the chart below:
Law and Social Control
It is handled by the chief or the quarter head, you are first taken to the quarter head when you don’t respect the law, if not satisfied with that judgment you are taken to the chief where you are judge by notables. Land dispute, fighting taking property that doesn’t belong to you, you are taken to the quarter head. Concerning sanctions the chief or elders decide or how you are to be punished. If you are guilty of serious crimes like incest, and trahison, you are exiled to Limbe.
The Bakweri society just like most tribal system in the forest zone was organized in peculiar manner which was in accordance with their own perception of life. The social structure shall be examined from the point class stratification.
The traditional African societies in general had a peculiar way of organizing themselves. The Bakweri people were no exception to this rule. They were stratified under three distinct groups notably strangers, natives and slaves. Natives of the Bakweri ethnic group were called “Wopnja”. They were those believed to have blood ties with ancestral world of the clan.
This class of people were privilege to participate in restraint secret societies and other affairs concerning the Bakweri man and his territory. Next to this group with respect to hierarchy was the strangers called “wajili”. This was attributed to foreign settlers in the land considered as Bakweri territory with no blood relationship with the ancestors of the Bakweri people. Finally, were the slaves called “Wokomi” which was the last group and was situated at the bottom of the social table.They consisted of people who co-habited with Bakweri people but had lesser privileges. They settled on Bakweri soil as a result of the fact that they were either bought from neighboring tribes or caught as war captives.
Marriage and family life
Dating rituals: It is the father who looks for the wife. The Bakweri people are not usually allow to date. It is the father of the boy or girl who look for a partner for their son/daughter.
The bakweri are not normally supposed to have sex before marriage. It is only when all the bride price has being paid, that the bride is taken to the grooms room, they have sex. On this night, a white bed sheet is spread on the bed, for the couple to have sex on it. Since the bride has to be a virgin, she must bleed on the bed sheet, and that will prove to the groom’s family that the bride was a good one.
Marriage patterns: The Bakweri have traditionally practised polygamy, although with Christianisation, this custom has become extremely rare. In the traditional Bakweri society, women are chosen as future spouses when they are still children, and in some cases, even before they were born. The father or relative of the woman have been paid a dowry, thus the woman is considered as a property to the husband and his family. Upon the husband’s death, the eldest surviving brother inherits the wife. A husband’s prosperity was also intricately linked to the influence of his wife or wives. The wives tended his pigs, goats, cattle, arable land, so no one could trespass or exceed them, etc. The Bakweri are very exogamous when it comes to marriage. They respect their blood lineage, therefore they do not marry with people from the same village. They do not practice incest. Incest is even considered as a taboo, and serious practice needs to be practice to purify the family name. They marry from very far area, or distances, but nowadays, some people marry in close area, and endogamy is now becoming common among the Bakweri.In the bakweri, marriage is a marriage between a clan, and family and not between individuals. The idea is that the bride price is actually never fully paid, because if it is completely paid, it will be like the girl has been sold, and no one in the family or clan will be able to get marry with someone in that tribe again, it is more like an agreement, and the bride price is to intensify the marriage relationship.
Marriage rituals and practices: It is the father who pays the dawry, because the young man is not working and the father is supposed to own goods therefore he is the one who pays. After fulfilling the requirement it is the man who decides on when to take the wife. The day of that occasion you bring the big and the girls family will access you on what to pay. The father of the girl will start the biting on the price of the dowry from 1 million, until the two families reach at 500000FCFA, which is usually the lowest amount they can accept. Sometimes, the two families may come come to a compromise and ask the groom to give what he has. If you don’t kill the pig you are not fully married, the Bakweri don’t usually issued marriage certificate. After paying part of the dowry, that is when you are officially married. On the marriage day, the girls family brings the bride to the mans family. The ceremony is celebrated, on after the ceremony, the bride and the grooms family prepares a nice bed with a white bed sheet on which the bride is expected to bleed, as a sign of her virginity. If the woman bleeds on the sheet, then she is a good bride, if not, she might be disregarded by her groom and the groom’s family.
Bakweri Cultural/Traditional Wedding
According to Mola Mbua Ndoko the formal procedure of acquiring a wife as was prescribed by Bakweri elders more than 200 years ago involves three phases:
1. The approval of the parents, particularly the mothers of the spouses-elect.
2. Sealing of the marriage contract (efeyo).
3. The wedding.
Phase One: The Engagement (Ewanda)
A female baby was engaged even when she was still in her mother’s womb. It was an oral contract between good friends. The contract was regularized in due course at the appropriate time. The process of deciding that an engagement (Ewanda) can now take place is slow since the families concerned need time to quietly investigate each another. Matters to be investigated include: fertility, history of diseases peculiar with certain families, practices of evil witchcraft such as nyongo.
When the parents of a boy or a boy himself are interested in marrying a girl, the father of the boy sends an emissary to communicate his intention to the parents of the girl. The emissary would usually be a close member of the family: an aunt, an uncle, or a cousin to the boy. Even when the parents of the girl consider a request as irresistible their reply would normally take a form like this:
“Thank you. We too will give the matter due consideration”.
You have flattered us (e-jeni isofe vato).
Give us time to consider your request”.
After one or two months the emissary would return to the parents of the girl to find out their reaction. If the family of the girl accepts the proposal their reply would take a form like this:
“yaa ! inyo ndi joo-ngo”.
“We are here waiting and looking forward to your further reaction to the situation”.
As recent as 60-70 years ago an engagement (ewanda) was a purely private ceremony involving about ten persons, four to five representatives of the boy intending to marry and about five representatives of the girl to be married. Representatives were normally close members of the families concerned: the parents of the boy and the girl, aunts, uncles, maternal nieces. Ewanda takes place at the residence of the parents of the girl. Ewanda is an oral contract where the representatives of the boy confirm their intention to have their boy married to the girl concerned. The family of the boy normally presents an ewanda gift to the girl. If the girl is too shy to meet the representatives of the bridegroom elect, the girl’s mother would receive the gift on behalf of her daughter.
After an engagement ceremony has taken place the parents of the boy may commence to pay dowry in installments to the parents of the girl. The first parent to receive the first installment of dowry must be the mother of the girl. Reason. It has been realized that a marriage that takes place in defiance of disapproval of the mother of the girl or the mother of the boy is generally doomed to failure. The first installment of dowry that the mother of the girl receives is a young female smooth looking goat that has not started to deliver. Acceptance of the goat by a mother is a further stamp of approval of the marriage by the mother.
Phase Two: Sealing of the marriage contract (efeyo)
Efeyo is a public ceremony. There are two types of efeyo, namely “efeyo yi itote”, and efeyo ya mwese.
(i). Efeyo yi Itote –An all night ceremony in which formal assessment and reconciliation of dowry that the father of the bride to be has so far received. More dowry installments may still be paid during the efeyo ceremony. The end of an efeyo is the formal sealing of a marriage contract. A marriage contract is sealed with the formal sharing of a ngowa ye efeyo to all male witnesses to an efeyo ceremony. The ngowa is expected to meet conventional requirements. The ngowa must be either a female or a castrated ngowa a maata.
Efeyo contracts used to be oral. In a case where there is a written contract the signatories to the contract would normally be the parents of the spouses-elect. Marriage contracts are traditionally and culturally affairs reserved for handling by the parents of the spouses-elect.
Note: Dowry received by the mother is a private affair. It is not a public ceremony. The dowry used to be about one quarter of the dowry that the father to the girl receives.
At the successful conclusion of an efeyo the girl/woman to be married virtually becomes the wife-elect of his boy/man.
Efeyo yi Itote takes place at the premises of the father of the bridegroom to be. Before commencement of business the guests, that is, the father of the girl to be married and his entourage have to be entertained with a middle size ngowa and other rich food and a reasonable quantity of palm wine. The ngowa must first of all be shown to an accredited representative of the father of the girl to be married before cooking starts. The representative has authority to either accept the ngowa or reject it if the ngowa falls short of conventional requirements. The father of the girl to be married may similarly reject the ngowa ye efeyo if the ngowa does not meet normal standards.
e-ngowa ye efeyo is shared into three lots.
1. Lot one goes to the father of the girl to be married and his family. Tradition requires that the chest of the ngowa should be given to the maternal uncle of the girl to be married.
2. Lot two goes to the father of the bridegroom-elect and members of his entourage
3. Lot three is reserved for all male witnesses to the ceremony.
Business commences soon after nightfall. It is a slow all night affair, punctuated intermittently with rich bombastic cultural pronouncements relevant to efeyo. The pronouncements are normally made by representatives of the father of the bridegroom-elect and the father of the girl to be married. No one is in a hurry. It is an occasion to boast with exaggerations and to demonstrate how the immediate male family members of the spouses-elect are well versed with cultural splendours in efeyo and marriage affairs in general.
Dowry is in the form of goats. The father of the girl to be married may request as many as one thousand (ikoli) goats or more. Tradition does not allow that complete dowry be paid on the day of the efeyo. The balance of dowry may be paid in installments in due course. Taking advantage of this situation the father of the bridegroom to be after consultation with members of his entourage finally boastfully accepts any number of goats that his friend requires. At that juncture the most important phase in the ceremony is the presentation, the acceptance, the slaughter and the sharing of e-ngowa ye efeyo. A marriage contract, oral or written, is sealed with the slaughter and sharing of e-ngowa ye efeyo.
The sharing of e-ngowa ye efeyo is assigned to someone who knows to whom special parts of the ngowa must go. For instance, the intestine of the ngowa is an automatic extra share that goes to the father of the bridegroom elect. There is no status known as “gate crasher” in the matter of having a share of e-ngowa ye efeyo. Every male witness (teenage, adult. elderly) to an efeyo has a traditional/cultural right to a formal share of the ngowa. Women are not expected to participate in the long all night cultural efeyo ceremony. Not being active participants or active witnesses to the ceremony women are not entitled to formal shares of e-ngowa ye efeyo. Women however have an understandable right to “taste” the food before it is served to the father of the bride elect and his entourage.
Phase Three – The wedding
Before the wedding takes place, the parents of the bridegroom-elect will first of all present another smooth looking female goat that has not yet started to deliver to the mother of the bride-elect. The goat is known as “e-mboli etimba we ewongo”: Literally, the goat that is expected to use or lie/sleep on the sofa (ewongo) on which the bride-elect used to sleep.
The Wedding: Abduction or formal.
(a) Abduction. The father of the bride-elect is expected to give her daughter substantial wedding gifts. When the father is unable to, or is reluctant to make the gifts or when he fails on successive occasions to respect dates fixed for the wedding it is a diplomatic signal to the family of the bridegroom-elect that they may abduct the bride-elect. Since by tradition a bride-elect is virtually a wife after an efeyo abduction is permissible.
(b) A formal wedding. The Bride is escorted to her matrimonial home by an entourage of about five to seven duly accredited, respected and successfully married women, accompanied by two or three strong men to carry the Bride on their shoulders when the Bride and her entourage are about to enter the village of the Bridegroom. A bride is expected to travel in the night. Trekking to her matrimonial home therefore commences soon after nightfall.
One of the wedding gifts that a father is expected to give to her daughter is a good looking mwaaka mo mboli (a castrated goat or a female goat). Fat from the belly of the goat is rubbed on the hair of the bride, while the meat of the goat forms part of the boiled food that the bride takes with her to her matrimonial home.
As soon as trekking begins the entourage starts to sing at the top of their voices “moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee ! The singing is formal notice to the village community that the Bride is departing. Singing commences again whenever the Bride and her entourage are passing through a village. Then comes the pomp and circumstance of the formal entry of the Bride and her entourage into the village of the Bridegroom. The Bride now firmly carried high on the shoulders of one of the men in the entourage is decorated and redecorated with fanciful head ties wrapped on her arms and her head. She would normally wear a full-length kaava. The entourage then intensifies singing of the classical wedding song:
“Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee (hurrah, behold the Bride is coming).
Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee.
o-maasa Moombi mo Ngondo, mo-ma ja (Bridegroom ! The teenage Bride you have been yearning for has now come).
Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee.
Responding in joyful mood, the village community of the Bridegroom joins in singing at the top of their voices: “Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee”, and then gracefully escorts the Bride and her entourage in pomp and circumstance into the compound of the father of the Bridegroom. The mother of the Bridegroom waiting at the main door of the house receives the Bride with an embrace and then hands to the Bride a walking stick and a female chicken that has not yet started to deliver. The feathers of the chicken must be void of sharp contrasting colours such as black spots on white background (matono ma wuva).
The Bride’s entourage is lavishly entertained with a rich variety of food. The Bride sits close to the Bridegroom. She may not eat out of shyness. The next phase of the ceremony is a litany of advice in the form of “don’ts”. This process is known as “lifema la Moombi”.
“Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee”,
Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee;
“omasa Moombi mo Ngondo, mo-ma ja
You have been yearning for a teenage Bride.
Here she is.
Moombi wee. wee ! Moombi wee” !
“Moombi wee, wee ! Moombi wee.
osi taata Munyango, Moombi wee, wee ! Mombi wee”.
Bride, don’t treat your husband with contempt. Moombi wee, wee, Moombi wee.
Don’t starve your husband. Moombi wee, wee, Moombi wee.
Don’t despise members of the family of your husband. Moombi wee, wee.
Moombi wee”, and so on.
Members of the Bride’s entourage return to their respective homes next morning after breakfast. The father of the Bridegroom hands each member of the entourage an appreciation gift known as “mofaki”
Honeymoon. The length of the honeymoon is determined by circumstances. During that period the newly married girl is not expected to carry out formal domestic activities, such as cooking, fetching of water from the spring, or going to the farm to harvest food. Volunteer female members of the husband’s family carry out the cooking and other domestic services.
The end of the honeymoon is marked by the preparation of a formal meal by the newly married girl. She would normally be assisted in cooking by members of her family (mother, aunt, sister, niece) and the mother and aunts and sisters of her spouse. A component part of the meal is nguma ngowa, that is, the meat of a young pig provided by the family of the newly married young man. The pig must be either female or castrated.
Efeyo ya Mwese
In the event of a divorced woman remarrying, her new husband refunds to the former husband dowry that was paid in respect of the woman. The ceremony takes place either at the hall of a village traditional council or at a customary court.
Bakweri people performing traditional dance at wedding
Inheritance or kinship patterns
Bakweri inheritance is patrilineal; upon the father’s death, his property is inherited by his eldest son. Inheritance also depends on the behavior of the children. If a child is a chief or is very stubborn or is noted for a very bad character like arrogance to the elders, or disregard to the tradition, the father can decide to give his inheritance to the brother.
Also, if the father dies when the children are still very young, the inheritance can be transfered to a family member who is trust worthy. Also een the next of king doesn’t necessarily means that all the property belongs to you, you are the one to control the property. If you are not from the royal family you cannot be made a king. King makers are people who come from the chief family. Notables and are the people who decides on the next king after the initial king has made his will. Furthermore, we call “Manawondja”, when a woman is not married and have attained an age when she can no more get married then she can have a voice in the family.
In the Bakweri soceity, many families are monogamous, and therefore there is no conjugal household from within the family. Furthermore, the Bakwerians spend a lot of time at home with their children, and the family is the main unit of production, therefore, there is no particular houshold pattern within the Bakweri soceity.
Bakweris, like many other tribes in the Federal Republic of Cameroon have no unjust idea of the Deity. This is clear from the words that they use in describing Him. They ascribe to God the attributes of omniscience, omnipotence, and invisibility. They call Him the Protector, Maeke ; the Creator of all things, Iwonde ; the Guardian and Keeper of all things, Motateli ; the Law-Giver, the Governor, the Source of the Word, Ovase or Lova.
These significant appellations are not just used in religious ceremonies. They are part and parcel of every-day language, as for instance, in the common exchange of greetings. Among Bakweris, when one is asked “how are you,” w’a okaneya, it is not uncommon for the inquirer to receive the answer: “N’eki Maeke”, I give thanks to the Protector. So deep is their belief in the omniscience and omnipotence of the Supreme Being that one has to understand the thought patterns of the Bakweris to appreciate the part that religious mysticism plays in their day to day affairs.
Bakweri Cosmology: Bakweri cosmology splits the world into two orders of being, Vaenya and Vawoo. Literally, these words mean respectively, the living and the dead. But in a wider sense,
Vaenya, the living, is used to embrace all physical or material things. All things that belong to the Vaenya order can be perceived by anyone ; they occupy definite locations in space. It is interesting, however, that Bakweris do not include air in this category.
Air is generally looked upon as a transitory element that forms a bridge between the order of Vaenya and that of Vawoo : that this element shares many characteristics of things in both orders did not escape the Bakweris in their cosmological speculations. For indeed there is a school of thought which believes that air, at least its fundamental life-giving element, pervades the entire universe. That element is believed to be the essential composition of the entities that belong to the Vawoo order. This concept, it should be noted, is not far removed from the Western theory of “Ether of space” nor is it very different from what Yogis call “Prana”.
The Vawoo order embraces all the invisible forces of nature. This includes the spirits of the dead and a large array of forces that have always puzzled human intelligence. While the Bakweris do not make watertight definitions and descriptions of the characteristics of elements in the Vawoo order, they do believe that the order exists and have thus devised methods by which contacts can be made and by which the forces of that order can be directed to, and manipulated for, man’s benefit.
Mention has been made above of the belief that air forms a bridge between the two orders. It has also been stated that a certain indefinable element in air pervades the entire universe. This life-giving and life-sustaining element, Bakweris call Muulu. Muulu is needed by things in both orders and in man it is life itself ; it is the godliness in him and it gives him his individuality. Man is believed to need Muulu throughout his earthly existence and because of its imperishable and indestructible nature, when Muulu departs from man, and he attains the state that is called Kpeli or death, Muulu continues.
The Human Spirit After Death: Bakweris believe that Muulu, the life-giving force of Elinge or soul affects man throughout his earthly existence in a number of ways. But this influence upon man cannot be described as control. It falls short of that. Nor can it be equated with what some western philosophers describe as “dualistic interventionism” ; for this latter concept has a number of assumptions which would appear to the Bakweris as illogical, untenable or even pragmatic.
Upon death Muulu or Elinge is believed to linger around for three days during which it bids farewell to all with whom the deceased had been acquainted in his earthly existence. This is why on the third day after death it is the custom to organize a small feast known as Sassa. The feast serves to bid farewell to the deceased. In feasting, partakers are expected to throw pieces of food around. These are eaten up by domestic animals and birds that may be present and through them the deceased participates in the feasting.
This form of participation is easily understandable and should occasion no surprise. In the transition that is called Kpeli or death, the spiritual essence departs from the body and becomes one with the life-giving force, Muulu, that permeates the entire universe – which includes men, animals, and birds. Consequently, the deceased is believed to participate in the feasting through men, animals, and birds present. But his farewell feast does not imply that no further contact can be made with departed ones. Bakweris have a number of names for the Deity. One of these is Ovase which means the Source of the Word. If readers may permit a little diversion into its etymology, Ovase is a noun coined out of the Bakweri verb l’ova, meaning to speak, to say.
The Power of the Word: It is significant that this Bakweri concept of God as the word through which and by which all things are made and unmade tallies with the Christian version of it as
expressed in the Fourth Gospel – the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to St. John. The Prologue of this Gospel begins as follows : “In the beginning was the Word ; and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
The belief in the Word, the belief in the magic power of the Word is so deeply embedded in the minds of the Bakweris that foreigners who have not been initiated into their philosophy and cosmological concepts are often at a loss at understanding even the simplest of the numerous practices that make up Bakweri religious mysticism. Most of these practices have received violent denunciations of Westerners and more particularly, Western Missionaries who share with their colonialist brethren the built in conviction that they represent a “superior culture.” The natural corollary of this baseless conviction has been disrespect for all things Cameroonian and, by extension, all things African.
Bakweris know that man is unique because of his power over the Word. By this power, man is able to call forth and guide the life force. This is the meaning of life, this is existence : to receive the word ; to invoke it ; to share it with other beings, living and dead, human or divine.
Diverse are the uses to which the power of the Word can be put. The businessman discovers that he is unsuccessful and he decides to use the power of the Word to change his fortune. He obtains a bottle of wine and goes to the grave of an ancestor, pours the wine and asks for God’s blessing through his ancestor in order that his fortune may change. Parents decide to give their daughter in marriage and they pour some wine or water, as the case may be, at the door of their house and in doing so, they conjure up the blessings of their ancestors in order that the marriage may be successful.
The Nganga or healer, whom all foreigners call “witch doctor” spits upon his herbs and by the power of the Word conjures up the blessings of the Supreme Being through the invocation of his ancestors in order that the herbs may effect a cure – and they do! Those who point a mocking finger at the so-called “witch doctor” could have done the same to Christ were they present when He cured the man born blind by spitting on the ground, making clay with the spittle, and spreading the clay over the man’s eyes before commanding him to go and wash in the pool of Siloe, John IX : 1-7. Yet this is exactly what Christians are doing to-day.
Young men respect elders ; they give alms to the poor and indulge in all sorts of “good works” for which they receive in return a payment in the words : “lova a o namise” which mean, may God bless you. And they are satisfied and believe that through the power of the Word they will receive the blessings of God. These are some of the positive uses of the power of the Word and the way that the Bakweris use and appreciate it in their day to day affairs. Of course, many other examples can be given but have been omitted because of space considerations.
The Word and Sorcery: But the power of the Word is like a two-edged sword. It can be used for good and for evil, for boon and for bane. This is where cursing and other witchological practices
come in. Sorcery, the ability to turn life’s vital forces to evil ends, is known to use among other things, the power of the Word. One of the commonest uses of this power is by cursing. Cursing is done in two ways : first, the sorcerer may use actual words or, secondly, he may use a concatenation of ceremonies, including awesome incantations convert this image into a powerful weapon of destruction. This technique is generally known as “the power of the doll.”
We shall not go into any detail on the uses of the power of the Word in the dark underside of Bakweri mysticism. That is outside the orbit of this article ; but suffice to say that even the most Christo-centric of westerners who has lived among the Bakweris for any length of time knows that what is referred to as sorcery, witchcraft, voodoo or nyongo really “works”. It would be just as foolish to dismiss these things as superstitions simply because the natives offer no scientific explanations for them as it would be to say that the law of gravity did not exist before Newton discovered it.
Bakweri elders Slaughtering a pig for a ritual during the installation of Paul Mokako Gobina as
Traditional Ruler Of Wondongo Village, Buea.
Yet, this is exactly the problem that anyone who seeks to understand the natives must face. Understanding cannot come when the inquirer has the built-in-feeling that he represents a “superior culture” ; for, the very idea of a superior culture is ridiculous. Any attempt at comparative evaluation of cultures presupposes an ethnocentric perspective. And those who frown upon and use derogatory epithets to describe such practices as libation ought to realise that cultural relativism stipulates, among other things, that all cultures must be viewed as adequate and meaningful adjustments which people have made to the imperatives of living.
There are definitely some Cameroonians, and Africans for that matter, who are so plagued by the alien mentality they have acquired in the course of their sojourn in distant lands that they would prefer not to discuss these practices at all. But in this our age when it rests upon our shoulders to dovetail what is good in our society with the good things that we have learnt from our colonial masters, we cannot afford to be apathetic or ashamed to examine all aspects of our national life in order to select the best from it.
Christianity: The Bakweri have been largely Christianised since the 1970s. Evangelical denominations dominate, particularly the Baptist church. Christianity plays an important role in Bakweri regions, where music played over the radio is as likely to be the latest from Nigerian gospel singer Agatha Moses as it is the latest hit by a Nigerian music star.
Presby Church Buea
The Bakweri still practice arts and crafts handed down for generations. The Bakweri are known to be skilled weavers of hats and shirts, for example. They also construct armoires, chairs, and tables.
Bakweri dances serve a number of purposes. The Bakweri Male Dance, for example, demonstrates the performers’ virility. Other dances are purely for enjoyment, such as the maringa and the ashiko, which arose in the 1930s, and the makossa and ambasse bey dances that accompany those musical styles.
The greatest venue for Bakweri music and dance are the two major festivals that take place each year in December. The Ngondo is a traditional festival of the Duala, although today all of Cameroon’s coastal Sawa peoples are invited to participate. It originated as a means of training Duala children the skills of warfare. Now, however, the main focus is on communicating with the ancestors and asking them for guidance and protection for the future. The festivities also include armed combat, beauty pageants, pirogue races, and traditional wrestling.
The Mpo’o brings together the Bakoko, Bakweri, and Limba at Edéa. The festival commemorates the ancestors and allows the participants to consider the problems facing the groups and humanity as a whole. Lively music, dancing, theatre, and recitals accompany the celebration.
Bakweri Traditional Attire
The traditional attire of the Bakweri is similar to that of most, if not all, the coastal ethnic groups of Cameroon such as the Duala. It consists of the Sanja for the men and the Kabba for women. While the exact origin of this attire is unknown, we can assume that it appeared with the advent of European traders on the Cameroon coast who exchanged loin clothes for food stuffs
At the turn of the 19th century, Carl Bender noted that: “In towns near the coast, where European traders offer their wares in exchange for cocoa beans, kernels and palm oil, the loin cloth, or lapalap, a piece of colored punt or sateen about two yards long, is coming more and more into use”. According to Bender, the Bakweri did in fact have a traditional attire that was worn before the arrival of Europeans.
According to Daniel Matute: “The Bakweri man in the village dresses in a long waist cloth called Sanja tied round the waist with two overlapping edges by the sides called masu’u topped by a long sleeve shirt, preferably white, with a head tie or scarf around the neck. Usually a hat may be worn if the man so desires. The Sanja is stitched according to the size of the individual but usually three fathoms is a good sized Sanja. Some men would prefer a coat to go along with the attire.”
With regards to women, Matute states that: “A typical traditional attire worn by the Bakweri women is a voluminous, clocked dress popularly known as “Kabba”. This attire goes with a head tie to match with the dress. The women are highly respected for their high standard of dress making. Exposure of the feminine legs by wearing bikinis or a pair of shorts is highly discouraged.”
According to Bender: “The original native dress is a very simple affair… It consists of a small apron made of fibre or grass and is girded about the loins. A still more simple dress is worn by women and girls only – a braided fibre belt about three inches wide.”
The official dish of the Bakweri is Kwakoko and Mosaka (Palm nut) soup. Apart from that the Bakweri have a number of other traditional dishes that they have made their own by cooking or spicing them up with the leaves, seeds and other elements from the lush vegetation of the Mount Fako region. Here is a list of some of those spices:
Manjuweli: The leaf of a small plant of the same family as “Mbongo” and “Indoko ja mokpe”:(alligator pepper). Used mostly in Mosaka especilly in those days when the mosaka was generally cooked with “ekosel’a ngoa”(young pig) the leaf is haversted and washed, and wrapped around the pieces of meat or fish to be used in the “Mosaka”.
Eseke-seke: it is obtained from a tree in the forest(not sure how to describe the tree)fresh, and then dried before consumption. The quantitiy to use is a matter of individual taste. It is used mostly in pepper soup, kwalala, mosaka, and Ngonya wembe.
Jowe(Black Pepper): Also obtained from a forest tree.(little green and red seeds) that turn black after the drying process. Used in pepper soup, kwalala, ngonya wembe and for spicing of roasted meats and fish.
Njangasanga: Also obtained from a very huge forest tree. the tree bears pods that contain the njangasanga seeds. The pods are harvested whe mature, and cracked open to extract the seeds which are than sun-dreid. Does well in warm climates. Most of it comes from Muyuka, and Manyu division, but it is also said that there is one huge tree somewhere in Bonankanda. Used in pepper soup, Kwalala, Ngonya wembe, spicing of meats and fish for roasting.(also in left over mosaka to be eaten with wolanga.) It is also used together with jowe and ngaikai in a dish called “Liphele”.(Fish spiced and wrapped in plantain leaves and cooked over hot coals)
Ngai-kai: Also harvested from a forest tree. It almost looks like what we called “cashew” back home. It is cracked open and the seed inside is the Ngaikai, which is either sun dried or smoke-dried before consumption. The following are not used as spices by the Bakweri , they are used by the Bakweri for different ailments.
Masephu: A simple plant found in most peoples yards. the leaves are washed and the juice squeezed out of them using water. It is used for simple stomach aches. Also included in the concoction of other leaves, plants and barks of trees that are steamed and used for “li-tumba”(a person suffering from malaria is sat infront of this steaming pot underneath a cover ) and allowed to sweat off the fever . when the water cools down in it then used as an enema as well. It is also said that having this plant in the compound drives away evil spirits.
Mbongo: Seeds obtained from a plant of the same species as alligator pepper.The bakweri will ground or even chew it, and mix it in “manyanga”(palm kernel oil). it is the applied all over the body of a child with a high fever to prevent convulsions. It is also the main spice in “mbongo-chobi” dish of the Bassa of Cameroon.
Bakweri have a famous game for children called Kweti. It is a game that is played during the rainy season by the fireside. This game emphasizes the importance of naming one’s relatives and it emphasizes the importance of memory and quick thinking; The winner has to be very smart in verbal expression, physical dexterity and also to have a sharp memory.
Usually, children play this game using wood ash (liwu) and a rock (liyE) or charcoal (findi). While sitting by the kitchen board (ewongo) or chair (konda), someone would say, (joke kweti) lets play kweti. Then members of the family would play by selecting the first person who would get a small pebble and hide it behind his or her back and show both hands to another play and say “ (Mame ne) what is this, the responder would choose and say I take this hand and I throw away this hand and then name a relative. (mamene kweti, mame ne joli, na wowene, nafakene mola Esombi). If the player does not name a relative very fast, the other player would hit the spice basket that hangs above the fire play (mokove) and say (et]]ng] ). And the player would have to forfeit their turn to the other player who hit the spice basket and said et]]ng]. If the player called the name of a relative in time, he/she would dip their fore finger in wood ash and put a point on the their leg to indicate a point. Then the game continues until the people agree to count the dots on their legs. The person with the largest amount of wood ash dots on their legs wins.
One special sporting event, the Bakweri Traditional Wrestling, encompasses all the qualities the Bakweri have inherited from their ancestors: physical endurance, agility, fierce fighting techniques, and a great sense of competition.
Wrestling is known as wesuwa and it’s taken very seriously by all the members of the community. In the past wrestling used to be an important way of determining leadership in the villages; it even resulted in a war between two villages in 1891, when people from Ghango burnt down the village of Molonde in revenge for the death of their best wrestlers. Fortunately, this behaviour now a thing of the past. Today, wrestling is a friendly competition drawing a huge crowd from all over the region. Every Sunday for eight weeks in February and March every village gathers their best wrestlers in a major contest to see who has the best fighters with athletes showing off their fighting prowess. Each village is the host of the wrestling for one day.
Although Bakweri wrestling is a traditional form of fighting, it has similarities with WWF wrestling. A match between two villages starts with all the contestants, who wear skimpy sarongs, meeting in the middle of the large expanse of grass which forms the wrestling pitch. The wrestlers tease each others by making gestures of threat and then challenge each others into a nail-biting fight. A contestant wins a bout by throwing his opponent on his back or by taking him down and then either rolling him on his back or forcing him flat on this stomach. To set the atmosphere, drummers on an elevated stage beat intricate rhythms on large log drums throughout the match while the crowds roar and shout encouragement to the wrestlers. The setting is magnificent; the villages are surrounded by dense and lush vegetation with Mount Cameroon towering in the background over the wrestling field and glimpses of the ocean can be seen on the horizon.
The contest culminates with the announcement of the year’s champion wrestler who is then carried among the spectators to loud acclaim accompanied by tradition songs and dances performed by the cheerleaders – the elder tribeswomen.
Funeral Rites (Life After Death)
As soon as a spouse dies the survivor is stripped of all clothing and then clad in barkcloth (enjinja) while round the head are tied some leaves of the lisafo plant from which are suspended some seeds of the malaguetta pepper (Aframomum melegueta). The mourner must now also carry a small knife. These protect the mourner from the spirit of the deceased which for the next three days is believed to haunt the house where he died. The person whose duty it is to see that the mourner is then properly protected against the deceased is one who has already been a widower or widow, according to the sex of the mourner.
The corpse if that of a man, is washed by male relatives; if that of a woman, by females, and prepared for burial. While the corpse is being buried in the house, in accordance with Bakweri custom, the mourner is taken to the back of the house and kneel on one knee. With the left hand the left ear is closed while the right hand holds the knife, and some lisafo fronds.
If the mourner is a widower, a substitute wife, if he had only one wife, is then brought to him with whom to have sexual intercourse while he calls out words of power to avoid being haunted by the spirit of his deceased wife. In the case of a widow a substitute husband is provided. Thereafter the widow has to refrain from any sexual intercourse until she has been purified. Any male who is found to have had sexual intercourse with her before she has been purified is said to “whitened her”, or has taken away the spirit of the deceased from her. If the seducer is not a member of the deceased’s family he would be heavily fined for this premature purification of the widow. Widows should even refrain from shaking hands with men until after their final purification.
If a widow is suspected of having been unfaithful to her husband during his life-time, his relatives will call in a medicine man who has reached the rank of a Mbwaya. This man will now put the woman to the njembu test. He will gather the following herbs, ngeny, motimbilimbi which is the long fruit of the Kigelia tree, and an oil palm branch. These items are placed on the ground and on top of them a gun or a horn is placed. Then the Mbwaya will conjure the widow to repeat the following words after him: I am leaping over this njembu three times as a woman who knew no other man than my husband and if I tell a lie may njembu destroy me. It is believed that any widow who told a lie, that is, did not reveal the name of any paramour, would thereafter shortly sicken and die. Any man then named by the widow as a paramour and who would thus have been in enemity with the deceased and might be regarded as responsible for his death was made to pay the deceased’s family a heavy fine in goats.
The corpse is usually buried in a shaft and alcove grave. The body being placed in the alcove and the alcove walled off from the shaft so that when the grave is filled in earth does not touch the body.
After the burial of the corpse the mourner has, until purified, to sleep on the ground, or on the bark of a tree over which some dry plantain leaves have been spread. A good fire is kept burning in the hut and, where the mourner is a widow, she ceases to cook and some other woman cooks for her. Only small quantities of food are eaten for the first three days; some mourners even fast for the entire three days. During this period the last meal of the day must be eaten before dark and when lying down for the night the mourner must chew a few grains of malaguetta pepper and, spitting them out, must say: We part to-day, let me never more dream of you.
The mourner, while in mourning, is not supposed to venture out of the house after dark because it is believed that the spirit of the deceased will beset him or her. The Bakweri believe that the spirit of the deceased will try to have sexual intercourse with its living partner and thus spirit away that partner.
As illustrating this belief, Mr. Wolatae mentioned that some time ago a certain Bakweri died and was buried. His widow grieved deeply and sorely over his death. Some months later, while she was working in the farm given to her by her dead husband, he suddenly appeared before her. She became speechless and unable to move. He said to her: I have seen and heard how bitterly you are weeping and lamenting for me day and night. Your great grief gives me no opportunity to forget you and rest. I also have been seeking an opportunity to meet you and now we are here together.
He then lay with the woman who returned home stricken dumb. As is always the case with persons who see or meet a spirit, this widow fell ill. A medicine man was called in. He treated her so that at last she recovered her speech and was able to tell all that befell her on the farm. A few days later she died. [In amplification of the treatment given to persons afflicted by the supernatural Mr.
Wolatae supplied the following information: If anyone meets a spirit and returns home dumb or in a fainting condition then one should immediately tie round that person’s forehead a fern frond…This treatment will enable the person to talk and tell what was seen or to explain the cause of his condition. If, on the other hand, a person falls ill because of black magic or of witchcraft then a band of white cloth must be tied round the forehead. If no such white cloth is available then the stem of the njesenge plant, a type of fern, must be used instead. The sick person afflicted by black magic or witchcraft will rave like a mad person and reveal everything in his talking. To treat this sick person, an animal is taken and sacrificed. Pigs and cows, for this purpose are not regarded as suitable sacrificial animals. The animal is then killed and its blood is smeared on the patient’s body while the following words are chanted by the medicine man: “Oh, animal, die so that the son of man may live.” After this chant by the medicine man the patient, to ensure a complete cure, is told what food is forbidden to him for the rest of his life and on the ninth day after the sacrifice of the animal, which is the day for the final cure of the patient’s illness, he must then vow to abstain from this forbidden food, whatever it is, for the rest of his life. If he does not he will fall again under the spell of the black magic or witchcraft.]
Post Burial Rites: From the first cockcrow after the burial until the sun rises, the mourner, especially if a widow, must be heard lamenting loudly. If the deceased is an important man all his female relatives and the other women of his village are expected to spend the whole morning in
lamentations. This lamenting might last for a month or more.
The morning after the burial sees a little food, palm wine, and, if the deceased were a snuff taker, a little snuff placed on the grave. Fresh food and wine and snuff are thereafter placed on the grave each morning for a week, livua, which among the Bakweri consists of nine days. During this livua all members of the deceased’s family assemble at this time at the grave to sing, dance, eat and chant the praises of the deceased.
On the second day after the burial the relatives go to the farms of the deceased to collect food for the next day’s feast. After gathering the necessary food, part of the deceased’s farm is destroyed as being his share. The part so destroyed is called vesasale. In the evening of this second day the villagers gather to honour the memory of the deceased by dancing and singing his praises, by reciting ancient tales and stories with proverbial meanings and by playing musical instruments.
The third day is the one on which the Bakweri believe that the spirit of the deceased leaves the hut where the body is buried and proceeds to the spirit world as a molimo. This day is called sasa day in Bakweri. On this day, the mourner is led off into the bush where a fire is kindled with the refuse from oil palm nuts and in it the dry plantain leaves of the bedding and the barkcloth worn are burnt. Then the mourner’s body is washed with metatoani or the juice from the stems of plantains. The process is known as the first purification and frees the mourner from the spirit as an elinge hovering around the hut of the deceased, but not from the spirit as a molimo in the spirit world. For this reason the mourner must continue to chew and spit out the seeds of the malaguetta while still uttering words of power and must wear mourning costume until the final purification ceremony marking the end of the mourning takes place.
The mourner must also continue to wear the lisafo frontlet and the use of the oil palm nut pericarp fibre in kindling a fire are regarded as affording powerful magical protection against machinations of the spirit of the deceased.
After the initial purification the mourner is now dressed in the proper mourning dress which is always black in colour. Women in addition wear black fire bangles, necklaces and anklets and rub their bodies over with black sooty oil. This mourning accoutrement is worn until the final purification. The children and grandchildren of the deceased’s family are taken in hand by a man
who himself has lost both parents. He takes them outside a corner of the deceased’s house. There he makes them sit in a circle. In their midst is placed a bowl of food from the feast prepared for the wake. From this bowl he selects a piece of meat and some food and knots them up in a strip of black mourning cloth called itinge. This knotted cloth is then worn as a necklace by each child or grandchild during the protracted mourning period.
If the deceased was a member of the Mbwaya society, his wives and relatives remained in a state of mourning for seven months. If the deceased was a rich man, well advanced in years, a member of the Mbwaya and possessor of many wives and children, then the mourning period was extended to nine months. If the deceased was a man of noble birth or kondange and also a member of Mbwaya, the mourning period was extended to twelve or thirteen months. If, on the other hand, the deceased was just an ordinary man, then the mourning period would be but five months. Mourners do not cut, comb or dress their hair until the final purification.
If however, while thus habited in the mourning apparel the mourner happens to kill a snake called fe, phe or pe the mourning period ends immediately and the mourning costume and all that went with it may be discarded. Some people, in memory of the dead man, would refuse for the rest of their lives to partake of certain foods. For example, if the deceased was a great hunter who used to bring back much meat, then on his death his mother or some member of the family might thereafter abstain from the flesh of a certain antelope or animal; or if the deceased were a good palm wine tapper, his mother or sister might then for the rest of their lives refrain from drinking palm wine.
To die while in a state of mourning is considered to be a grave misfortune. The Bakweri believe that, if a person dies while mourning, that person will continue for ever after in that miserable state in the spirit world.
The nursing mother is exempt from mourning. If a woman’s daughter dies in childbirth and the baby survives, then the daughter’s mother is given certain medicines to drink to stimulate the flow of milk in her breasts so that she can nourish the motherless baby. Such a grandmother does not go into mourning for her dead daughter.
The Funeral Feast: The wake or funeral feast for the deceased is called sasa and is celebrated as
follows. First comes the moanda nyo or paying for the good deeds of the deceased. If the deceased be a wife then all the children, slaves and the other members of the family who were under her control and care, including all her in-laws, have to make offerings in recognition of all the good work and loving kindness she bestowed on them while she was alive. In the old days it was customary to offer fowls, shells, ika and other gifts. To-day people give money varying in amount from one penny to one shilling .
[On this Bakweri word, ika Mr. Wolatae wrote that its meaning in the days of their ancestors is now not known. Whether ika meant the iron money of the Grassland peoples or the mukoko of the Duala is not clear. The name mikoko for the iron bars that were anciently used as money still persists in the marriage ceremony where the cattle paid as dowry are still reckoned in mikoko. Mr. Wolatae then illustrated the present day use of this word ika in Bakweri language: should a creditor meet his debtor who say owes him ten shillings and the debtor is unable to repay the loan, then, when making another promise to pay what he owes, those persons present will ask the debtor “to cut and give half an ika” before the new promise can be considered. Hence the debtor will have to pay at once a shilling, say, to his creditor, but this payment of the shilling still leaves the original debt of ten shilling un-reduced. Hence the saying that the debtor has cut or given half an ika, that is,
These gifts are then shared by the co-wives and relatives of the deceased to the exclusion of course of those who made the offerings. These offerings are regarded as a legacy left by the deceased. If the deceased be a married man, then all the wives and women of his brothers pay the moanda nyo. Then the people of the village and relatives from afar assemble at the deceased’s place. They bring food offerings such as goats, pigs, sheep cattle. Such animals for the feast are called moleli. Each animal as it is killed is divided into three parts. One part goes to the owner of the animal; one part is cooked for the feast and the third part is given to the spectators.
Each bereaved spouse has, by custom, to provide a special animal for the funeral feast. This animal is called ngo a itoto or ngo a veese which means ‘a pig of bones’ or ‘a pig of burnt sacrifice’. This expression refers to all the meat brought home by the husband and eaten by the wives. Each widow is now called upon to provide an animal in recognition of all the good food his dead wife cooked for him. The women now start cooking foods that specially delighted the deceased. The flesh is cooked separately and all food of its kind is placed in its own bowls. The foods are not mixed.
Those participating in the funeral feast must eat the food prepared for them away from the deceased’s house and out in the bush in a specially prepared palace there to meet with the molimo or spirits of the dead. When the feast is ready the men pick up the various bowls of food, palm wine and snuff, and follow the leader. He carries a matchet in one hand and a blazing fire brand in the other. This brand must be kept burning at the site of kindling a fire with it. In the prepared clearing the funeral feasters sit down together and start to eat the foods prepared, eating one bowl after another. From each bowl a morsel of food must be thrown on the ground as an offering to the spirit of the dead. A little food is left in each bowl for the spirit of the deceased who is then requested to share it with the other spirits that he meets in the land of the dead. This food left in the bush clearing is for dogs and pigs to eat.
Should this food not be touched by these animals it is then believed that the spirit of the deceased is angry and has not attended his funeral feast, nor partaken of the food prepared and offered to him. If after this food has remained untouched for a day or two some greedy animal willfully consumes these rejected offerings one can hear the animal squealing and yelping as though being beaten. But if one approaches, one can see nothing that is beating the squealing animal and so one believes it is the offended spirit of the deceased doing so.
Food acceptable to the spirits will be freely and gently eaten by dogs or pigs because the spirits eat or take only the ‘whiff’ of each morsel of food. After the feast is over, the feasters are summoned back to the house of the deceased by the beat of a wooden gong. Thereupon each person plucks a leaf from a bush and puts the leaf into his mouth. The leader then with his matchet in his hand, leads the procession silently back. No one is supposed to talk or to look back till the house of the
deceased is reached. As they arrive a gun is fired to announce their safe return. The feasters then take the leaves from their mouths and throw them on to the roof of the deceased’s house.
Final Purification: The bereaved spouse has so far not partaken of the feast and now one who is
already a bereaved spouse proceeds to bless the portion allotted to the bereaved spouse. This officiant begins by uttering good words of comfort both to the living spouse and to the spirit of the dead one. But before this exhortation is uttered the living spouse has to reward the officiator. If the living spouse is a woman, she hands over a fowl, chillies, salt or anything else available. If the bereaved spouse is a man, he pays more heavily. After his payment the bereaved spouse’s hands are purified by being washed by the officiator in the juice of a plantain stem; at the same time a purification prayer is said. Not until this part of the funeral ceremony is complete may the bereaved spouse and the children be given any of the funeral feast. In the case of the bereaved spouse the food is passed in through the partially closed door of the house.
When the mourning period is over all the mourners assemble in a house while outside a fire is kindled with oil plan nut fibre. This fire will consume all the mourning apparel worn by the mourners. Their hair is shaved off and they are washed in the juice of plantain stems and may then wear ordinary clothes and resume their ordinary way of life.
Efasa Moto, the God of Mount Fako
By Wose Yangange Martin
According to Wose Yangange Martin, “Efasa-Moto is the folkloric god of the Fako Mountain. It is believed that he controls the entire “hill” from the West Coast to the border with Balondo land to the north east coast, and towards Meme Division.
According to Bakweri oral tradition, Efasa-Moto is the male component of the Liengu la Mwanja or the legendary “Mammy Water.” It is said that after an agreement between the two, Efasa-Moto chose to live in the mountain and while the Liengu la Mwanja remained at sea.
It has been suggested that during the October 1992 eruption of the Fako Mountain, the path of the impressive lava flow towards the Atlantic Ocean was specifically chosen by Efasa-Moto as an act of bonding and solidarity with his wife, Liengu la Mwanja, the sea mermaid.
It is believed that Efasa-Moto and Liengu la Mwanja are the greatest spiritual figures that the earth has ever known. Physically, Efasa-Moto’s is described as being divided vertically from top to bottom in a strange mixture of half human and half stone, and yet shaped in the form of a man giving a complete picture of a goat standing on its hind legs.
Liengu la Mwanja on the other hand is a beautiful looking woman with an oval-shaped face, an enchanting smile with a love gap-tooth, overflowing hair of dark wool resembling a beautiful Indian lady with high and well curved hips.
Efasa-Moto lives in the mountain alone. He maintains a rich healthy sugar cane plantation. His visitors can eat the sugar cane on the spot but cannot carry any away. It is said that the sugar cane is has an unforgettable sweetness.
Efasa-Moto is also said to be the mountain’s spiritual protector. In times of old, albinos were abandoned on the mountain as offerings of appeasement to the mountain god so that he could continue to bless the inhabitants at the foot of the mountain.
Some elders say Efasa-Moto helped the Bakweri defeat the Germans in the Battle of Bokwango of 1891. The elders add that the Bakweri eventually lost the war because they betrayed Efasa-Moto’s trust.
Efasa-Moto is reportedly a harmless creature, but it is believed that if anyone carries some evil charm or amulets to the mountain, that the person will not return alive. The case of a Nigerian athlete who collapsed at Hut II during the 1986 mountain race and later died when he returned home is cited as a recent example. It is believed the athlete died because he carried some evil medicine on his person during the race.
In recent times, there has been a growing belief that because Efasa-Moto is an impartial and humble creature, he prevent past winners of the Guinness Mount Cameroon race from winning again if they boast of having conquered the mountain. With Efasa-Moto the mountain is unconquerable.
Some people lend credence to this belief by citing the case of the humble Reverend Father Walter Stifter who won the race three successive times. At times, he even preferred to give his prize to the runner-up.
The greed, pride and self-righteousness of the Bakweri is said to have alienated them from the Efasa-Moto. Modern-day hunters still believe in the existence of Efasa-Moto the mountain caretaker. They believe that the bond between the Bakweri and their benefactor god could be re-established if the former undergo intense ritualistic cleansing.”
Witchcraft in Contemporary Bakweri Society
by Rosemary Ekosso
The belief in witchcraft or liemba is very common among the Bakweri. It considered to be the art of influencing the lives of other people by occult means. Such influence is usually malevolent and affects a person’s spirit, and through that, his mind and body. Alternatively, it is benevolent, but requires the harnessing of such powerful and potentially ungovernable forces that its practice is shunned by many people. In the Western world, people who practise witchcraft can be referred to either as Wicca (male witches) and Wicce (female witches), or wizards and witches, also respectively male and female practitioners of witchcraft. For our purposes we shall use the latter terminology. Witchcraft shall be considered here to be good or bad witchcraft, depending on whether ‘black magic’ or ‘white magic’ is used. Among the Bakweri, bad magic is what is known as liemba. Good magic is often just called.
The practice of witchcraft seems to be intimately linked to the use of plants, which are used in combination with rituals to seek to achieve the desired effect.
A person who practises malevolent witchcraft among the Bakweri is called a mot’a liemba: a witch or a wizard. Witchcraft is practised by persons of both sexes and all ages. It is not clear whether any one sex is preponderantly active in witchcraft, but the general belief is that men are more proficient in witchcraft than women. Witchcraft can be passed on to offspring by either parent or to other persons, be they blood relations or not, by initiation. Initiation may be voluntary or involuntary.
Contrary to Western witches, who often worship goddesses like Hecate, Diana, Isis, Artemis, etc. and have declared their leanings in myriad publications, it is not known whether the Bakweri witches and wizards actually worship a deity, or whether they draw their power from any determined preternatural source. However, popular wisdom has it that witches and wizards are the servants of unknown spirits.
Because witchcraft is shrouded in secrecy, its classification according to forms is problematic. However, there is believed to be one form of witchcraft called nyongo. Nyongo consists in causing people to die, and subsequently taking them to another world where they work as slaves to amass wealth for the nyongo man or woman. The rapid and unexplained amassment of wealth by any person is usually taken as a sign that this person has joined the nyongo. The nyongo is believed to be a secret society where people of like mind come together to organise the enslavement of others for personal gain.
Nyongo people are believed to be completely ruthless in their choice of victims, often choosing spouses, siblings, parents and offspring. When a victim of the nyongo is to be enslaved, he is first caused to die. There is some debate about whether victims actually die or are drugged to simulate death, and their senseless bodies secretly recovered by the nyongo people for their own ends. Whatever the case, it would seem that the enslaved spirit or body is then transported to a place in a world similar to the one we know, though in another dimension, and put to work at menial tasks on farms, etc. to earn money for his/her master/mistress. There have been reports of people escaping this enslavement and returning to the land where they lived, but it is said of these escapees that they are unable to relate in any detail what they have experienced, and some of them are either struck with dumbness or madness by their erstwhile captors to prevent them from revealing the secrets of the cult.