LAGABUM - June 11th 1960

Fon Sawe and Fon SafWe started off at about 8.30 a.m. for Lagabum. The Fon had arranged carriers and had deputed Yangsi to accompany us. We stopped at Pastor Dom's to thank him and Daniel Bang for their kindness. The magnificent tie-tie bridge is not far from his house. He tells us that the Kumbi is impassable in the full rainy season and the tie-tie unusable as the approaches are flooded. We trot over one by one - the river below is going at a great pace towards the series of rapids and small falls further down. Climbing up on the flank of the hill opposite one can see a number of small settlements within a couple of miles of Fonfuka. The ascent, about 6½ miles, becomes rockier higher up and in some places one was in need of hands to pull oneself up. We stopped for a breather at about 1000 ft from the valley floor and shared out our kolas. Yangsi said they were not for the small boys - it is men who draw strength from them! The harder climb came next and I was pretty slow, with a pain in the chest from exertion - the rest were as nimble as chamois. A ring of trees hove into view and we suddenly reached a little plateau with a nice shady path between planted hedges of macrocarpa which led to the palace (ntok I think) which we reached in a few minutes and were greeted by Esther and three other women, and shown to our extremely comfortable quarters, the "Boys" being lodged in a good room lower down the range - everything spotless. After paying off the carriers we had a bath and changed out of our sweaty clothes and then Omer announced that the Fon would call. And he did, immaculate in a dark suit, to inquire how we had fared, and sipped a glass of sherry with us. We are to meet him later, he says, when we are unpacked and rested. His manners are exquisite.

Later we met in the Fon's sitting place in the inner court, an open nook surrounded by carved boards. With the Fon were Ndifon and Esther (his sister, we are told) - the three others are madams Nanambang, fairly elderly, Kicusi and Cioekoe, all introduced as his "sisters". He explains that they serve the Fon's strangers. But Nanambang holds a title, is a leader in ntul, and is present when sacrifices are performed but she does not go to the fum. Only the Fon and Ful go there - though Ndifon may enter. If Ful were to die, Ndifon could substitute for him. Members of the "royal family" could listen in the background. No cinda or tanto' goes to the fum.


If Fon Mbot sends someone here to make a sacrifice he does not enter the fum. But if Fon Mbot himself came he could do so, and did so when the late Fon of Bum died. But if Fon Bum goes to Mbot on a similar occasion he enters the fum there before Fon Mbot, because he is senior in rank. (Fon Sawe arrives, with Fon Saf.) We ask who came to mourn and with what when the late Fon of Bum died. Ndifon Bala answers. Mbot had already arrived - Fon interposes here that when Fon Bum (presumably the late) went to Mbot for the death of Mbunggwe he came back with a stool of his (? pokofono or pokotoko) so that when Fon Mbot comes here he can sit on it. (Continues now.) Iden (Din) was here, and Nkol. Jottin failed: when the Chief of Jottin (Kinenteng) died previously no report was sent here, so no report was sent to Jottin when the Fon's father died. Banso' came with manjong to the cry-die. Oku sent his njis and manjong. Bikom came with manjong. The Fon of Babungo came himself with manjong. Ndu came tardily - 3 months ago - with manjong. 'Tameken' (Tabeken, Tang-mbo) came with manjong.

Achan-Kom, sub-chief of Kom, came with kwi'fon. Others who sent kwi'fon came from Funggom side, namely Bafmen, Nyos, Fuwang, Mendaboeli, Koshin. Besinaku sent their ngwonji juju, a thing for princes. The Chief himself came from Modelle (Ide) with manjong. Aghoem sent manjong and We came with cong. Chunji (in Nchanti) came with manjong. Neither Bafut nor Bali came, nor did Misaje. Significance of kwifon or manjong: kwi'fon may not go to "enemy territory" or where they had warred on previous occasions. So Kom came with manjong and Achan, which had been part of Bum, with kwi'fon. A friendly group could send kwi'fon or 'mfu'. The Fon says the stool on which he was installed, and which came from Nggunabum is kept in the fum.

Both Fon Sawe and Fon Saf have kwi'fon, but none of the other chiefs have it because they could not keep it when conquered - "it is the power of the people".

Fon Sawe is asked where he came from by Phyllis and a son has to be got as intermediary and interpreter. (Note that the Fon of Bum ensures that he speaks for himself.) He starts by saying that he is permitted to wear leopard's teeth and is second to Fon Bum in rank. He sits above Fon Saf and to the left of Fon Bum. Sawe came from Oku out of the lake, Mawes; he came to Sawe-Bum. There were many left in Oku, but he won't say more "in case politics are made out of it". Fon Saf says he only knows what his father said, that his ancestor came from the Mbiribo pool and met the Saf up here, but his big men are not here so he cannot tell the story of Saf.


(We turn to recent relations with Kom.) All say that there was intermarriage, and that those who had married in Kom would act as intermediaries in peace negotiations. After the war over Achan was over, there was a marriage palaver - a Kom woman ran home - which had to be settled. Bikom was asked to send big men to come to Achan (Nchan) which was in the middle, at the boundary. This was in the time of Kwangga. Njito' went from here, also Yibuwa, a big cinda used in negotiations, and Dominejing. Bum brought a goat and Bikom brought a goat. Each brought a fowl. Dominejing, a close relative of the Fon, slaughtered the Bum goat and a Kom man (don't know his name) the Kom one. Both sides held the goat that was slaughtered by its donor. This took place in the ntul house at Achan. Then wine was poured into a big pot in ntul. They "reached a covenant" - mukan - never to war again. The two parties ate the goats. Men only were present. (We lose sight of the fowls.) The reason why Achan stayed with Kom later is that there was a period of starvation and they were getting their food from the Kom side, i.e. the good farmland was on the Kom side. So they wanted to stay with Kom. After that many daughters married Kom men and Fon Bikom sent a daughter to Bum, but she returned to Kom.

Achan at present "goes through the mother's side". Formerly there was matrilineal descent at Akun, Njul, and Buwabuwa, in Bum. In Saf "sons succeed".

We ask how good relations were established with Nso'. When Banso' was having a war with Iden one of the Nso' chindas was captured, and Iden sent him to Bum to be sold as a slave. Fon Bum released him, clothed him well, and sent him back to Nso'. Fon Nso' said he had believed he would never see his servant again, and that Nso' would have to live co-operatively with Bum. He sent a chinda, Biimbo', to Fon Bum to greet him with a goat and a basket of kola with a message: "I have kola nuts but no salt, kola nuts but no cloth." The salt came from the Hausa who brought it to Bum, who sold it on to Nkol where the market was established. Yes, they brought salt and "black" cloth got from the Hausa to Nkol where the Banso' people came to buy it. When? They think it must have been in Tam's time. No, there was no exchange of princesses, but Fon Bum has recently offered a princess to Nso'. But they could trade freely because there was peace between them.


The Fon says, "We had a man called Mbuli who acted as intermediary between the Hausa and Bum. He was a cinda at Fonfuka. The Hausa made a permanent settlement there in the time of Tam. But the first people who visited here to trade were Jikum (Jukun) and they came long before the Hausa. They moved in groups of three or four with carriers since these were troubled times, living in houses of trader-friends in Fonfuka. In the time of Tam a nobleman called Kitu was intermediary with the Jikum. They too brought salt and cloth and took kola nuts in exchange". The first Englishman in the north was at Ibbi. "Ten tusks" were sent to him, "Mr Hewby", at Ibbi. [This may be a backward reflection or conflation - Wallace opened up the RNC Ibbi Station in 1883 and was visited by "Bafum".] The Englishmen presented Fon Bum with two dane guns, two boxes of cloth, and two boxes of gunpowder. Those who went to Ibbi were Sala and Domfuwan, chindas, Tumabu, chinda, and Nji Banga, a Coe [see 8.6.63 and compare names of those who went to Bamenda to meet the Germans!] They stayed almost a year at Ibbi and Takum, and the Fon thought they would never come back. A second time five tusks were sent to "Hewby", but the Chief of Takum intercepted them and pretended that "Hewby" had gone. He promised to return the tusks but never did. They think this was early in Tam's reign.

We ask about directions of ivory trade. The reply is that if the Fon had tusks here he would send them as a gift to say, Nso', Kom or Mbot, and others and some gift, e.g. "a beautiful girl" would be returned in exchange. [That is, ivory was initially preferred for gift exchange.] Guns were obtained from Takum in exchange for kola.

Before cloth came in men wore gowns of beaten bark cloth called agum - so long ago they can't remember when. Asked about fates of slaves captured in war: If a captive was too stubborn to be kept as a slave locally he was sold to Takum for bags of salt. If a Bamum man was captured by Nso' he would be sent here. Then the Takum people came down to buy kola and slaves, and then the slave would be sent as a carrier and told he would get cloth at the end of the journey. He was in fact sold for one or two bags of salt - salt was rare then.

Dane guns came in the time of Tam (?). It was the Hausa who brought cowries from Takum. Babungo was making gongs and 'shovels' (hoes), and Bum gave salt for them. When going to Oku to trade, they would take oil from Fuwang to trade for Oku shovels, cutlasses, and kola nuts.


[The Fon is doing the interpreting, referring questions to Ful, Ndifon and Nanambang, and occasionally to Fon Sawe and Fon Saf.]

We break off. Later the Fon and Ndifon come over for drinks in our quarters. The Fon says that at his own installation Njito' puts a cap on him. This is supposedly the cap worn by the first ruler, not his father's cap. It is only worn at installation. He is then robed with a gown decorated with cowries and rubbed with "bundu" (camwood) - it is that which gives power. Then he is told by Njito' to keep peace, care for his people and not use "power" against his own people.

No earth is thrown at him, to give "power". It is bundu which gives it. [But see Pt. III.]

The power he has is to say, "let this lawbreaker be punished" and then kwi'fon will do it, but in the Fon's name. Also "everything" belongs to the Fon - e.g. if a tusk of a dead elephant is found in the bush. The Fon is asked not to hunt as he must care for people, so he is given a share of the game. Any man must report the presence of strangers to the Fon, who can authorize a Q.H. [Quarterhead) to give him land if that is what is wanted. The Q.H. must report on him, e.g. if he leaves. All sub-chiefs, except Sawe and Saf, must go through a gatekeeper, a cinda not a tanto'. All births and deaths had to be reported to the Fon so that he knows how many people he has. Yes, every quarter is responsible for a building in the palace, to thatch and rebuild - that is why Lagabum is so called - it is the centre and belongs to the people. If they failed to build, kwi'fon would then fine them five goats and they would have to build. The Q.H. would be held responsible for labour. Clearing roads is also a quarter responsibility.

If people go fishing, such as Mbamelo, they would dry fish and bring some to the palace. Hunters bring a share. Strangers and those in need have to be fed.

Yes, Munggong, Su, Nggunakimbi, etc. - each quarter - work the Fon's farm and plant maize. If there is hunger, the Fon would send for the Q.H. concerned and give him 5-10 baskets for his people. One single man can't work for the country as a whole. The Fon must see to the whole country and provide food where it is needed.

Yes, formerly there were iron-workers here making spears and cutlasses. In time of war they were brought to the palace, also guns and gunpowder by those who had them, so that they could be distributed to warriors.

Ndifon says that in the time of his father there were plenty of goats, fowls, wine here in the palace for the entertainment of strangers. People also brought firewood to the Fon [no regular system, it seems].


We ask about acisendasu. "The custom is that a prince made Fon cannot serve himself." "Everyone" is expected to offer the Fon servants or a son. Male children sent by big men would go to kwi'fon, then the babewho is head there would select some to be personal attendants on the Fon. They would be among the Fon's wives. They would be "trained in observation" and report to the Fon. Babe is the most important man in kwi'fon - the Fon gives orders to him and he sends out kwi'fon people to effect them. He has his eye on someone to replace him after five years or so. When he comes out he may be given a title such as Manggoe, Tongla' or Tanto' Wanke - these are titles given to people who have served in kwi'fon. Before he leaves, a compound is built for him and he is given a wife or wives by the Fon. If anything is to be discussed in the palace, they are among the big people (i.e. the ex-babes are). They would get out of people who come to the palace exactly what they have come for and then report to the Fon. "They are the Fon's intelligence system". "Kwi'fon has as many eyes as holes in a nkem."

Yes, the right to bags and cups is given by the Fon, involving the right to use a cup in the palace rather than taking wine in the hands from the Fon. Ndifon had to pay for his title with goats. Ful likewise on receiving the title of Mwancum, and Nanambang that of Nda'nggo. Payment is made to the Fon and other royals (NB: these are all "royal" titles). Other royals pay as Ndifon Bala has paid and he could compel others to pay for wearing a cap and bringing a cup and bag.

The Fon explains that if he can do so, he "has status". But Njito' has no need of this. He could even drive Ndifon out of the palace for misguiding the Fon, and he would have to go. The Fon explains: "Njito' stands for the people and stands between the people and the Fon."

In the evening Njang came into the courtyard, and danced in front of our lodging, and we went out to watch when we heard the women's voices, shrilling very sweetly. The "princesses" and perhaps some others danced in the centre, while five wives in chaplets danced in a row in a corner with great precision. The dance is led by the niafon Nanambang, a reserved and dignified woman - perhaps in late forties, with the munto' Esther in second place. I try to follow the steps where I stand, but they are complicated - a lot of small gliding steps with accurately placed feet. The instruments are 1) a single-ended standing drum played first by "Peter" (a prince) and then by Esther's son - different tones are clearly produced; 2) a small elbow-drum played by a woman in a regular off-beat; 3) an open-ended flute providing the basic rhythm; at times the drum was discoursing; 4) an open-ended shorter flute played into a long horn (antelope ?) producing a drone; 5) two basketwork rattles of mbatsha type, one playing a regular uu/uuu, and the other varying this. I recorded a bit, but I doubt whether the battered Steelman will produce more than a mush. They broke off for a moment to crowd round and greet us - and asked what our work was, disappointed, I fear, that we were not doctors or Elizabeth O'Kelly come with a corn-mill. They resumed when the Fon joined us. [I haven't recorded the amateur doctoring we did in Fonfuka with liquid paraffin and senna pods on constipated children.]

The Fon tells us that the words of the first song mean "The Fon is hated because he has confidence in Dr Endeley" - he takes this in good part - and the second, "The foundations of Bum were laid by our forefathers". The envoi, as they moved off to the sound of elephant horns, played by a wife and princess, was said to be 'a prayer'.

Their voices trailed away in the distance, and perhaps the Steelman will catch that effect, quite stunning with the sun low in the sky.

The Fon tells us that Nanambang "was on the throne" for two months while he was being recalled from his work at the Jos tin mines.

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