17 September 2016

Mankon and Bamendjinda

Mankon palace entrance.

[Continuing our March travels in Cameroon's Northwest and West regions.]

About half of Bamenda is traditionally part of the Mankon fondom or kingdom. Its seat is about 5 kms north of downtown Bamenda. When we made a visit there we discovered that the palace curator was out, but George was happy to show us around.

George in an inner courtyard.
George led us past the court, where small civil disputes are adjudicated by the Fon and his advisors. As with many Northwestern fondoms, the Achum is the building where the most important ceremonies take place and only select community members may enter.

Achum antechamber/courtyard. Note that this Achum
has a "monitor" on top.

George also took us to visit the Mankon palace's museum, which houses a large amount of artifacts from the fondom's history. These included panels on Mankon's colonial experience (unlike some kingdoms, Mankon opposed the Germans, which led to disputes with neighbouring communities), weapons and armor of Mankon and German forces, as well as a range of ceremonial items whose precise meaning and/or use I have forgotten over the last several months.

A favorite item was the “gossip bag.” This large grass/raffia-woven bag was given to someone who spread a rumor. They were then to pass it on to the person who shared the gossip with them, until the bag made its way to the source of the slander. The originator of the gossip was then punished for their crime.

Bamenda is in a valley and the main road into town is equipped
with a runaway vehicle bay. Complimentary use!
The next day we travelled east to the West Region of Cameroon. The region, with assistance from an Italian NGO, has put together La Route des Chefferies with information on the various chiefdoms you can visit in the region.

To allow us to make a few stops along the way, we commandeered a minibus that plies the route between Bamenda and Foumban. Our Avenir Voyages driver, Ahidjo, was a nice, quiet man, and I think he enjoyed the pit stops.

Our vehicle in the Bamendjinda museum courtyard.
We first went to the museum in Bamendjinda. This museum is notable for its focus on slavery – both domestic and international. With the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the museum discussed the role of westerners and the local collaboration that allowed it to take place.

When we first arrived the museum was closed, but a small boy was sent to fetch a young woman who is one of the present chief's wives and a curator of the museum. She had been busy working in her fields (maize and beans?) but was a convivial host. We were joined by Elianne, a Cameroonian woman living in France who was researching tourism promotion in Bamileke areas of West Region as part of her doctoral studies.

The savannah buffalo is a potent symbol for the
chieftancy of Bamendjinda.

Portrait of a Bamendjinda chief.
The museum noted the differences between the form of slavery in the region and the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Slaves in this area were generally prisoners of war, debtors, criminals and could generally earn back their freedom. They also reportedly lived under less violent and dangerous treatment than slaves in the Americas and the Caribbean.

Clay skull used for burial of a family member lost to slavery. The people in this area believed that it was necessary to bury a deceased relative's head after they died; during the slave trade they created clay skulls so that their relatives could rest in peace.

Bamendjinda, located on a dirt road off the main Bamenda-Bafoussam road, didn't seem to get many visitors. It's a shame as its particular emphasis on slavery does not appear to be something that is widely discussed in Cameroon (the Case des Tempetes “amusement ride” at the Musee Maritime doesn't add much to the conversation).

Entrance to the Bamendjinda Community Museum.

The museum also featured a couple of interesting artifacts, including one on public urination and luck. According to our guide, the carving denoted the fact that seeing a member of the opposite sex urinating is good luck whereas coming across a member of the same sex is bad luck. Suffice it to say that women in Cameroon have a surplus of good luck, while men are unlucky.

(Rare) good luck for men.

Totems of the Bamendjinda chefferie include
the tortoise, spider, and chameleon.

Another advantage of renting a whole minibus (Elianne joined us for the ride to Bafoussam) was that we were able to stop and visit the Chutes de Metchié, a waterfall just off the road. It's considered a sacred place, so there were a number of chicken baskets that once contained birds that were offered up.

Chutes de Metchié / Metchié Falls.

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