I am proud to be a Bamoun!
This is what one could hear from young and old members of the Bamoun community during the week long celebrations of the 544th Nguon festival. These people were just thrilled at the display of art, culture and tradition which happens every two years in Foumban. The underlying reasons for this pride can be found if one went back in time, and narrated the origins of this people and their culture.
It all began in 1394
In the year 1394, a young Tikar prince named Nchare and two of his uncles, Morunta and Nguonso, left his Rifum country in the Mbam Valley. The three princes of Mbankim went in search of a kingdom of their own. When they reached the bank of Mape River, each decided to pursue his own path. Morunta and Nguonso went on to found the kingdoms of Nditam and Banso respectively.
Attracted by the rich soil of the highlands known as the Department of Noun, Nchare crossed the river with seven companions, namely: his half-brother, Nji Kumnjuo; a warrior and brother in law named Njianga; his nephew, Nchare Njiamfa; another warrior named Njianga, his friends Njimanka, Nji Monanka, and Nji Monshare. They went to Njimom Nchare’s village, where Njimon was King. The son of Princess Yen cleverly overthrew the king of this village and settled in as a leader. Amongst the Nguon hoaxers, Nchare Yen and his seven companions sat in the shadow of a Shea tree in the village of Njimom reflecting on their quest for power. While sitting on seven stones under this tree they gave birth to the concept of the Kingdom of Bamoun.
A harvest festival and intelligence agency
Over time, Nchare Yen befriended Mfo Mokup, the Chief of the neighboring village known as Mokup. Mfo Mokup had in his chiefdom a secret society called Nguon, which ensured the supply of food in his palace, and the equitable distribution of food across the chiefdom. Every year during the harvest period, the owners of Nguon roamed the village to ensure that villagers brought their harvest to the chief’s palace. Mfo Mokup redistributed products of the harvest to his subjects, ensuring that everyone had a bit of everything produced in the chiefdom. If there was a surplus, the surplus of the harvest was stored in an attic to be consumed during the dry season or during bad harvests. This gathering of villagers ended with a three days festive celebration during which everyone drank, ate and danced to their satisfaction. This harvest festival was known as the Nguon Festival.
Nchare adopted this governing method, and over time, the Nguon gradually became a secret society, thus playing a more crucial role in the survival of the Bamoun kingdom. During this time, the Nguon owners’ (e.g., leaders) role grew from just ensuring food supply to the palace to traveling throughout the region in order to gather information about the grievances of people and detect abuses committed in the name of the King. They had a responsibility to inform and advise the King and his ministers (now known as high ranked advisers or Nkom). The Nguon had become more of a secret police and intelligence service for the palace. During the harvest season, when villagers brought their products to the palace for redistribution, the owners of Nguon talked with counselors. The people, on their part, looked forward to the three days Nguon celebration.
Logically, the colonial administration did not appreciate this way of governing, which gave so much power to the traditional ruler. Thus the French colonial administration banned the Nguon in 1924 after deposing Sultan Njoya, and forced the King of the Bamoun into exile in 1931. The Nguon did not return in force until after independence, although the Bamoun resurrected it at the funeral of Sultan Njoya in 1933. Sultan Njimoluh Seidou, King Njoya’s successor, restored the Nguon later after the independence. The Nguon festival will become a purely cultural event and an opportunity for the Bamoun men and women to transmit their history, culture and traditions to their children. During this festival, many activities such as the triumphal march and entry into the Kingdom, food, fantasia parades and more abound. However, the pinnacle of the festivities is when the King is deposed, judged on his governance for the last two years and eventually reinstated.
Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, the current monarch, has modernized this festival, transforming it into an international event attended by tourists from all over the world. As he celebrates his 20 years of reign with his joyful subjects, Sultan Mbombo Njoya has masterfully revived one of the best traditional and cultural festivals in Africa. The Nguon is thus an event one should live, not told ■