The market is an institution that is of major interest to the economist and it is he who has studied it most intensively. However the social anthropologist and sociologist dare not ignore this institution and indeed can make major contributions to our understanding of the social function. The economist in investigating this subject is primarily concerned with factors of price, production, distribution and consumption of the articles found on sale in a market. The social anthropologist is also interested in these factors, but his main concern is with the role of the market in the total social structure, which includes both economic and non-economic factors. In this very brief essay we shall attempt to point out the social importance of the market among the Mambila people.
The Mambila speaking peoples live in the Southern part of Adamawa Province of the British Cameroons in West Africa. They number approximately 18,000 souls. In this essay we shall be dealing with the market to be found in a village called Warwar, inhabited exclusively by Mambila and with a population of just over 600. Warwar is divided into four hamlets. When the research was carried out, the village was four days walk away from the nearest motor-road and had had little contact with the outside world. It was largely a self-sufficient unit, producing almost all of its needs and growing no cash crop. The few outside luxuries such as cloth, sugar, salt, kerosene, matches and an occasional cigarette are obtained in the market. The people produce suitable substitutes for many of these articles, such as their own woven cloth which may be used to replace the imported variety, honey to replace sugar, etc., and hence are not dependent upon imports for survival. It is clear that should an embargo be placed on all goods coming in the standard of living of the people would be but little affected.
The market place is slightly apart from the residential area, and though encircled by land belonging to one of the hamlets, it is said to belong to the village as a unit. It covers an area of approximately 2,000 square meters. The four sides is the site of roofed shelters, each one belonging to one of the four hamlets. We shall see later that the fact that the markets is conceived of as being the property of the village as a whole and in fact symbolizing the village, is of great importance sociologically. A market is held every eight days.
On market days we find about fifteen to twenty women and a smaller number of men squatting on the ground selling food stuffs which they have themselved produced. Bananas, ground nuts, maize, red peppers, are those most commonly found. Hausa traders are frequent visitors selling those objects which have been listed above as coming into the village from the outside. The volume of trade carried out on any one day is very small, only rarely does the total amount of money changing hands exceed £1. The vast majority of villagers having brought produce to sell, return home with all that they have brought, unless gifts have been given to the ubiquitous small boys, no sale having been effected. If the sellers were exclusively economically oriented they would consider their day wasted, but of course they are not and henceforth do not. To understand the attraction of the market we must seek out its social function.
Of course the market is the place where one occasionally buys or sells some object, as well as being the shop window for admiring what comes in from the outside, but it is far more than this. Most persons coming to the market place have no intention of buying or selling. They come with the aim of seeing friends from both their own hamlet and from the other ones in the village as well as occasional visitors from neighbouring settlements. The market is one of the very few occasions on which residents from all four hamlets gather together in any number. This means that here one hears the news concerning all parts of the village. Animated groups of males and of females are seen discussing the latest events as well as relishing the choicest morsels of local gossip. The older males usually form a compact group under one of the four shelters and the most senior women occupy another one. The younger members of the group wander about in smaller groups, couples or alone. The market is one of the best occasions for arranging a rendezvous with one's girl friend, finding out where the next dance is to be held and chatting with one's age-mates. It also affords one an opportunity to show off some of one's newly acquired possessions. Men carry their best spears, women their new cloth or newest beads and buttons. In some cases this display may lead to what we might assume to be ridiculous situations, as for example the case of a man wandering about with a recently purchased kerosene lamp, even though he knew that he would be home before noon. But to ridicule such an action is to misunderstand it. The market is a recognised place for self-display and hence to show off ones most treasured articles.
The market also represents symbolically the whole village in more formal situations. Shortly after the marriage of a young couple, they come to the market together, and led by an elderly man with the proper "medicine" they circle the interior boundary of the market three times. Their guide constantly recites blessing and spells to both assure a fruitful marriage and as a protection against jealous witches. This rite accomplished those present congratulate the young couple, many of those having produce to sell giving them a portion as a free gift. Mothers bring recently born babies again to introduce them to the village as a whole. The market can then be treated as a concretization of the rather amorphous village structure.
There are strong ritual sanctions against shedding blood on the market place. It is therefore the ideal place for settling inter-village feuds and was often used for this purpose before the British came and enforced "Pax Brittanica".
Finally when the village elders have an important announcement to make affecting the whole village, they often choose the market place as the site in which to make it, since it will be heard by residents of all the various hamlets.
In this all too brief note I have attempted to point out some of the more important functions of the Mambila market. To ignore the non-economic factors would be to misunderstand some of the major functions of the institution.
The Mambila village is the largest political unit found in the Mambila structure. The smallest of these have a population of approximately 200, the largest include something over 2,000 persons. Warwar according to my census had 605 residents. Some villages, especially those on the boundary of the Mambila District as well as the District Headquarters include persons of non-Mambila origin such as Fulani, Hausa, Kaka and others but the majority are made up almost if not exclusively of Mambila. This is the case for Warwar, the only aliens being two women, the wives of Mambila males, one from the French Cameroons and the other a Kaka.
The village is a permanent settlement, whereas residents may for reasons to be discussed below move from one to another and also a man may if disatisfied with the location of his compound move another area of the village, the boundaries of the settlement are said to be fixed and imutable. Village boundaries are usually marked by rivers or streams, the crests of hills or other natural phenomena. These boundaries were agreed to long ago, in most cases having been demarcated by the elders of two villages who had been at war with one another in an attempt to promote peaceful relations. For example Warwar and its neighbour Vokude had been enemies for many years, raids and counter raids between the two being very frequent. About 80 years ago a resident of Vokude moved to Warwar to live with his mothers relatives. He was able to convince the inhabitants of the two settlements that they should live in peace one with the other and arranged a meeting between the elders of the two groups. At this meeting the boundaries between the two villages were marked out and rituals were performed to insure that if either side broke the agreement they would be punished by supernatural forces. Certain of the elders of Warwar entered into a blood brother relation with their counterparts from Vokude, these being held responsible for seeing to it that peace was maintained between the two groups. While disputes between members of the two villages have broken out since no inter-village fighting has occured due largely to the activities of the elders in maintaining the peace.
The fact that land is relatively plentiful and that the boundaries usually meet on relatively unproductive land, such as hill tops tend to reduce the possibility of disputes over land between villages. When the boundary is drawn through valuable valley bottom farm land then problems often do arise. During my stay a serious dispute arose between some of the residents of Warwar and Kara over a strip of farms. The land had in recent years been farmed by Warwar people and they claimed that it had always been theirs. The neighbouring village however insisted that the land had only been lent to those now farming it and that they wanted it back. The matter had previously been taken to the Touring Officer for judgement, the latter having roughly divided the land into two portions giving one part of Warwar and other to Kara. This solution pleased neither group and both brought up the question of his predecessor which so incensed the Warwar contingent that they threatened to make war on their neighbours. After a time tempers on both sides cooled and it is likely that nothing more was done until a new Administrator arrived and the case would be brought up again. Disputes of this kind are however rare and I was told that in the past fighting over land by neighbouring villages while not unknown was not common.
The village boundaries include not only the area in which the inhabitants live and farm, but also the hill sides, used for hunting. Warwar covers an area of between 15 and 20 square miles. Much of the land is of little use to the people, being steep slopes. Once a year towards the end of the dry season, the grass is burned and small game mainly rats and other rodents are hunted while escaping from the flames. The more valuable lands include the valley bottoms, flooded during the height of the rainy season on which the majority of the crops are grown as well as few hill tops where the majority of the Mambila have built their houses.
Before the period of European occupation the village was the largest political unit. Villages might form temporary alliances with one another, but this did not imply loss of sovereignty. Generally these were for defensive purposes and lasted only for short periods. On some occasions two villages might join together to attack a common enemy but again the alliance would be exist only for a short period.
Each village had its own "Ngwa" which in government reports has been translated as "chief" or "native chief" but is more accurately rendered as "chief priest:". The antiquity of this office is not very great, the Warwar Ngwa having been installed about 100 years ago. The paraphernalia and ritual associated with this office was obtained by the grandfather of the incumbent from a tribe off of the Mambila Plateau in what is now the French Cameroons. As far as one is able to judge today his role was almost entirely ritual that is to say he was expected to perform rites to assure good hunting and also to control the rivers and streams, that is to see to it that these did not overflow their banks at wrong times of the year and destroy growing crops or flood residential areas. During the performance of these rituals the Ngwa had the right to give orders and expect obedience but during ordinary times he enjoyed no special authority. Leopard skins, feathers from certain birds, and other special products of the chase should be given to him, and it was considered polite to give him a small part of ones crop, but this was not necessary in fact few did who were not either related to him or close neighbours. He neither settled disputes, promulgated laws nor did he play any role in war or peace making. There is evidence that his role was not very important in the maintenance of the village structure. In the past there were long periods during which no Ngwa held office, this most frequently occuring when the incumbent died and his son was to young to assume the office. There was of course no stated age at which a man would be eligible to become an "Ngwa" but usually they were given the office at the age of about forty or forty five. Apparently no difficulties arose during a long inter-regnum.
The village priest during the period of my field work was one of the two villagers with Leprosy. Because of this he played virtually no role in village affairs, did not perform the traditional ritual and wielded little influence. He had assumed office about five years before. He said that the people of the village had asked him to do this because the two previous years the river had overflowed its banks and caused some destructions, my other informants however claimed that he himself had suggested that now he had become of age to assume the duties and wished to assume the post. Since he was the oldest son of the ex priest, who had died a number of years before, they saw no objection to him so doing. It was not possible at this late date to obtain accurate information on the events leading up to the assumption of the role by the incumbent, but it seems very unlikely that it was the result of a mass demand. The Mambila are very averse to allowing any person, especially a youngish man to gain authority over them, and while it is recognised that the village priest has very little real power, nonetheless he is able to control the behaviour of others in certain limited contexts. If the ritual for which he is responsible was important in the past, which seems rather unlikely, it certainly is not so today, and therefore it is not very probable that public opinion would demand that the vacant office be filled.
The only occasion on which I saw the priest performing a function which had an effect on the village as a whole was when he made medicine to stop individuals taking their surplus crops outside of the village for sale on the days previous to the local market. That is to say he prayed to the ancestors in public, asking them to punish anyone who took goods for sale outside of the village on the two days preceeding the market and on market day itself. This action was ostensibly taken so that in Mambila terms the market would not be spoiled, that is that buyers would cease coming to the local market as they were able to satisfy their wants in other markets or have grain brought directly to them. However further investigation showed that this measure was resorted to in order to protect the rights of the senior persons, the aged were unable to carry heavy loads of grain over long distances and hence could not take their produce for sale elsewhere. They had to rely on the local outlet. They felt that the young were using unfair tactics by selling outside the village area and were particularly bitter about recent practice, that is of sellers taking their goods a mile or two outside the village on the main paths leading to the market and selling it there. Buyers of course preferred making there purchases there since it obviated the necessity of their carrying the foodstuffs such a long distance to their homes. Here is one more instance of the senior persons using their powers to maintain control over the younger members of the society. The chief priest was chosed to perform this role since he is said to "own" the market. This does not mean that he is able to control it in any way, keeping certain people out, fixing prices, collecting fees or anything of that sort, rather the market is in a special ritual relation with him. I was told that this came about because the market was originally located in the hamlet of the former priest and that he had assumed the responsibility of keeping the peace within its confines. The village ancestors were said to be opposed to any fighting going on in the market place and any one involved in shedding blood there would be severely sanctioned by them. The former Ngwa had taken it upon himself to inform the ancestors of events occuring in the market and to perform ritual
Village wide ritual is carried out at two fixed points in the Mambila calendar. After harvest the major ritual of the year is performed. In the first instance sacrifices to the ancestors are made on a hamlet wide basis, the following day