By: Ernest Sumelong
The Northwest Region of Cameroon is well known for its rich culture and touristic endowments. The grassfield people (people from the Northwest Region) take much pride in their fons and their palaces, their traditional rites, the rhythms of their drums and dance, their colorful regalia, and their sacred shrines and jujus. This has made the Northwest stand out as a cultural hub in a country described as Africa in miniature. Many tourists that flood Cameroon to enjoy the country’s richness, journey to the Northwest to relish its rich cultural variety.
One of the most endearing attractions of this Region, apart from the Leila festival and the Mankon palace dance, is the Afo Akom annual dance that takes place every December in the palace of the Fon of Kom in Boyo Division. This festival is very similar to the Dualas’ Ngondo and the Bamouns’ Nguon festival. The event, which lasts two days, features traditional rites and cultural dances of the Kom people. Not only does it bring together sons and daughters of the 43 villages that make up Kom, but it increasingly attracts Northwesterners in general and, increasingly, Cameroonians at large and foreigners. It is the time of the year that Kom sons and daughters throughout the country and in the Diaspora come home for the special dance.
The Afo Akom dance owes its origin to the famous carved wooden statue of the Kom people which was stolen and sold to America and later returned to Cameroon.
Besides the dance that is named after it, the Afo Akom has become one of the most revered artifacts of the Northwest.
The Afo Akom, the legendary sacred art work of the Kom people, was stolen from the Kom palace in Laikom and sold to an American Arts dealer in 1966. It was discovered and returned to Cameroon in 1973 after intense diplomatic negotiations. The return of the Afo Akom back to Cameroon in 1973 was greeted with such celebration and respect reserved only for king. Men, women and children, according to the New York Times and Times Magazine reports, line the streets with leaves and palm fronds, sing songs to welcome Afo Akom.
The Afo Akom, which till date has remained an important emblem of Kom, is stored with other sacred Kom artifacts at the Royal compound in Laikom.
In Kom dialect, Afo Akom means something that belongs to Kom. Afo Akom is a symbol of continuity, solidarity and social stability; it is a symbol of love, hospitality and generosity; it is a symbol of unity, diversity and tolerance; and of justice and sovereignty.
The Afo Akom is a royal figure holding a baton in front of the chest, standing behind the throne and supported by buffalo heads. The male figure depicts the royal family. Afo Akom is a portrait of Fon Yuh, mother of the queen, a royal wife, and a child and two court attendants.
According to Kom archival sources, the statue was made at about 1865 by Fon Yuh, the 7th ruler of Kom. Afo Akom was stolen to New York City in 1966, discovered and returned to Kom seven years later after intense diplomatic maneuverings. The incident brought Kom to international prominence and since its return to Cameroon it is used annually by Kom inhabitants, for ceremonial purposes.
The Fon of Kom can only see the statue once during his reign – this is during his coronation. After that he can no longer see the totem. It is considered as the embodiment of his powers. However, he can see it as many times as possible before he is made fon.
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