Very early this morning, after sunrise, four shots were fired in our honour (as we were told later - we thought it was to summon chindas to work).
At about 8.30 a.m. we were taken round to the palace by the Fon. It was impossible at the time to take detailed notes and this is reconstructed from our scribbles and rough diagram. I made a larger diagrammatic sketch later. [See Diagram 1]
I start from our own quarters, 16A on my diagram, which consists of three rooms, the central one a sitting room, furnished with some European pieces, in a new block intended to house the Fon's visitors, in Rest House style. At one end there is a lobby with a door to the council chamber, tongalui, No. 6 on plan which faces onto the main palace square, wunoenjango, 17 on plan, with a dais and Fon's entrance at the rear. Beyond that are the Fon's own quarters (two or three large rooms (7), and two more rooms for visitors (16B), faced by a pit latrine and washing place, and adjacent to a food store.
At the back of tongalui and the Fon's quarters, is the Fon's sitting place and private audience chamber (5), more or less open to a courtyard corresponding to the Nso' taakibu'. We have come from there and the sitting order was as follows: at least for some of the time -
|* Waa Ba|
|Fon||* Ya Fughwa or Fuwa (or Njang)|
(We have left and so has the yaa and the men, now joined by the bard Wamachua, are drinking, and there is a good deal of hilarity and a drinking song.) Immediately opposite us is the large house (nsang) of the late Fon (4) with a damaged carved door surround. This has been set aside as our temporary kitchen. Formerly it was where Fon Sawe and Fon Saf, who are now sleeping in the new visitors' quarters to our right, at 16B, lodged. If we were not using it their attendants would be there. Opposite 5, a long stone building is in construction, the Fon's office, with two rooms, one for himself and one for his secretary (13). The public entry to the main inner court, with its lightning averter (2) is by a narrow passage to the left of 16A. The wives' village and the Fon's office are on a slightly higher level. Between 5 and the private court at 19, reminiscent of some of the kiroesi area in Nso', is a latticed passage. This court is where he can "converse in privacy" and contains a "room" - in fact a house - used by himself - which has a door for him to kwi'fon and also a passage to kwi'fon at the side. He sends orders to kwi'fon from here (3). The court is referred to as tenatok (does this just mean inner palace?). A doorway opposite the kwi'fon entry leads to a large courtyard (15) on to which some of the wives' houses front, on its left. On the right (7a), partly enclosing 19, was a large stone-paved house with an open raffia framework frontage, called nsang munggo koela' (i.e. stone-paved hall) where the Fon could sit with others - e.g. with Fon Mbot, the heads of "Nolli" (Nooni) towns - Fon Sawe could enter. He (the Fon) might also converse with his wives here. The stone paving was done in his father's time, early in it, with stones collected from the Kimbi river, by experts in this craft. On the walls facing the entrance were hung four very large bags containing his father's possessions. We were allowed to look into the tops - one contained a couple of soda siphons, another china plates and a china vegetable dish, used during feasts. There were also some iron-bound cabin trunks. The present Fon's saddle and bridle were hanging up.
When we got outside he presented us with a horsetail beaded switch, such as is used by princesses and senior wives when dancing, for ceremonial sweeping of the path before the Fon, or his bed. (It is, I think, called foesawas.)
This large courtyard is called wunawaso, said to 'mean' yard of female servants - the Fon says that chindas are "as wives".
At the far end (20) was a large, traditional (mud and thatch) building with smoke-blackened supports, divided into three, with grindstones on either side of the back door. The central space was where the late Fon often sat with his wives, and also ate - called Gha'atu', big roof. To the right is his sleeping room, to the left a room where some wives slept. Through the back door of (20) we descend into a small enclosed yard at a lower level, in which there are two houses facing one another, the one on the left for a 'female steward', and the one on the right for two wives who act as cooks - two in case one is "ill" (i.e. menstruating). They are selected by Ful and Ndifon in consultation with the Fon's senior wife. The Fon is thinking of rebuilding the whole area and altering it slightly. He says he eats only the produce of his own farms which lie on both sides of the palace: he does some work there himself - he has Bali maize (i.e. the improved variety), coffee, peppers, bananas, and tries out other crops.
We came back into the big courtyard of the young wives (15) and passed through the opening at one side of the late Fon's hall into a large courtyard where there were many more houses. The Fon says that formerly they were scattered at random, but he straightening them and "putting them into lines". A few were larger and of mud-block, the smaller wives' houses some 9-10' square. Towards the end of a row was a high stone-surrounded bed of Dracaena with a tall pole planted in it with a basket hanging from it containing lightning-averting medicine - lightning is a serious hazard here, says the Fon. At the end, past the office, level with (20) and (21), were over a dozen houses housing older wives and daughters of fons (14).
The Fon then said we could see the fum, saying that really he should strip and wear traditional garb. There is a range of houses and a fence concealing it with a door between two of them leading to the fum. Ful and Ndifon preceded us and when we eventually went through they were capless, stripped to the waist and barefooted. The fum (8) is a mud-block building with a blue-painted door. Inside, a single long room with two graves in it at one end, rather like flat tombstones, of built up mud, about 6'4" long. On one was a squared mound, of pillow shape, on the other a small, rounder mound, which reminded Phyllis of the skull-markers in the Oku fum. Both bosses were thickly covered with camwood: these were the graves of Tam and Kwangga. In between them, in the gloom, was a barrel-shaped carved stool, with a solid, rimmed, top and bottom, in an interlaced "nggam"(spider) design. It looked to be covered with a thin metal sheath, or tin-foil, but it was so heavily camwooded and it was so dark that it was impossible to see it clearly - next to it was a covered basket. (Phyllis took two photos but I doubt whether they will come out.) We spoke in whispers.
We then left, passing
through the women's quarters, which no men can enter other than royals or
chindas, and passed again into the outermost palace square (17) through a
passage used by most people. Going down into the palace square we came on
our right to a house with the doorway hung with alang
(raffia fronds) and with some animal skulls (a small deer of sorts)
affixed. This is nda' fumbain,
a hunting society. Next to it, giving on the square was an open carpentry
shop, with a working bench and tools hung up. The houses surrounding the
square were said to be mainly for chindas, princesses and visitors.
There is another 'lightning-averter' (isii
), and a rocky outcrop in the centre. But beyond nda' fumbain
and the carpenters' shop there is a smaller secluded court
- the 'court of the leopard' - which contains (9) the ntul
houses, and opposite it a house containing the graves of
Kwangga's sisters by the same mother, Nyia' and Fundo (22), who acted as
his "yaas". The nda' ntul is slightly larger
than other houses in this courtyard and has alang over the door.
Esther (the Fon's sister) stripped to the waist on entering, as would
others including the Fon on formal occasions. Inside left as you enter a
bench runs the length of the chamber. At the left back is a large black
wine pot stuck with fowl feathers, lidded by a tray made of raffia core.
There is a hearth in the centre. Ful sits at the top of the row nearest
the pot and behind it sit Nanambang and Esther - "only a princess can
sit by the pot and share out the wine". There are nine "full
members", all royal clan (Alung):
- Ndifon is a "floor member". The chiefs of Sawe and Mbamelo (Mbamlu) may enter.
Of the present "Yaas" one is Yaa Yu'fwa who was the first born daughter of Kwangga, said to be born at Mbirribo where Kwangga was staying before he succeeded - she has a different mother from the Fon. "Madam" Nanambang was born before any of the other titled princesses and is daughter's daughter of the original title-holder of the time of Yundi. They do not sacrifice at the graves of Kwangga's sisters, but when the Fon sacrifices in the fum they (princesses) may pour water and ask for blessing, and would also wash their eyes with it - i.e. on the two stones of Nyia and Fundo. Leopards are taken to this court for butchering.
Returning to the main square: immediately across the palace main square opposite the council chamber is nda' cong, where Nanambang and Yaa Yu'fwa, the leaders, stay (18). Next to it a 'rest house' for strangers and their attendants. Behind these is a small farmland and a patch of coffee, and beyond this Ful has a compound of six houses, but his farm compound is at Saf, in the farming area there also used by princes' wives, fons' wives (see later) and chindas - there are about thirty of the latter there under a headman, Ba. Princes can reside at the palace but are given a wife and farmland - his brothers help him to build, and all in return help the Fon with building and repairs, along with other people.
Across the square opposite nda' fumbain at (12) is nda' mfu' (? introduced in this form from Nso') which is in charge of Ndifon (alluded to as Ndi Fo-Ba in this context) assisted by a non-royal mfoomi, in Bum mfoghoem. Royals may become nggwang, but not mfoomi.
Nda' mfu' is an unmudded building with a side door for the chief officers. A little beyond and behind it to the east is a stone and pan N.A. Court, and further on the Court Clerk's quarters, and above Ful's compound, a few houses for Ndifon and others including chindas from farm areas. The whole palace square is called wulandjangu.
We now give a closer look to the range we are in (see Diagram 2).
In the Council Room, to'ngga'luwi (6), there is a concrete dais at 1 - on the raised facing side pairs of chevrons ^^ are incised. At 2 a door to a lobby with raffia fronds over it. It is the Fon's entrance, but can be used by Sawe and Saf. At 3 a plank bench for "njis"; at 4 "ordinary people" squatting; at 5, chairs for Sawe and Saf. A vestibule leads from the square into the Council Room and here visitors to council may eat, drink and "straighten dress". The door at the end of the passage is locked by one of the Fon's wives at sunset, about 7 p.m. At the opposite end is a store for wine and flour needed for immediate hospitality, next to (7) in Diagram 1.
The kwi'fon quarters, at (23) in Diagram 1, are surrounded by a high fence and one can detect in it a high building which, the Fon confirms, is built on a platform and is more or less in line with Gha'atu. A quick look at the outside suggests something like the Nso' 'house with three doors' behind the Fon's private room at (3), and another house near it. Beyond, at the far (east) end but inside the enclosure is nda'nggili for princes (agnates) and sisters' sons ("daughters' sons") under a senior prince who acts as ta-nggili: when we express surprise at its location we are told it is screened off from the kwi'fon yard proper. (But compare the situations in Tang, Mbot, Nso'). At the extreme east end too is a separated house for the langa society for princes, under Ful, which has "jujus", i.e. masks and costumes.
We now sit with the Fon, Ful, Ndifon, Yangsi, Nanambang, Yaa Yu'Fwa and are joined by others at (5) and we present a case of beer. (I think (5) is referred to as nsang-a-bota' but am not sure.)
First we ask for a list of quarters and quarterheads (abitek, S. bitek) who repair the palace. This is no doubt incomplete:
On Nggunakimbi side:
(Above list from Fon and Ndifon Bala in
The Hausa at Nggunabum have no "palace work" - i.e. thatching and repairing and making mats and lattices. Neither do the Fulani - "their work is to look after cattle".
We note that Yangsi is serving the drinks. Nanambang is served first after Ful is given his share, then Njito'. We have been joined by Tibong, in a fine yellow gown, and then Waa Ba (black and white gown). At this point Yangsi sits on the right of Ful and next to Nanambang.
The Fon says, on being asked, that he is junior to those present so he (Yangsi) does the serving. (I am reminded of the Junior Fellow's role in some Oxford colleges.)
We ask about the Fon's raffia plantations: they are at Saf in the care of the brothers and "nephews" of the Fon. They earn a little money by this, selling the surplus wine. Wine from there is usually brought in on a yiensa' (kwi'fon day), but really it may be brought whenever they have it.
They insist that nggili is "an old thing brought from Mbirribo". The ta'nggili is a Fon's son chosen when he is a boy in nggili by Ful, and serves three or four years before he comes out. He may be called shee as a term of respect, used for 'senior princes'. They insist that it is "an old Bum title", not imported. Ta'nggili corresponds to Babe in kwi'fon. The work of nggili is that when the Fon announces that something is to be done in the country, they will do it as a body. This is because cindas do not want princes to give orders to them, and princes do not want cindas to give orders to them.
If a prince breaks the law of nggili he would be fined there and would pay five goats (e.g. for breach of a public work order). If he breaches the law of the country he would still be tried first in nggili, but if he refused its punishment he would be tried by kwi'fon - Babe would bring the matter forward. Other senior chindas would judge him, and one or two men (chindas) would come out and tell him his fault, since no prince can enter kwi'fon. This is done publicly; Fon does not intervene.
(Phyllis asks if there are remembrancers or tally-sticks, this is misunderstood.)
"Bamboos" (sticks of raffia, alang) may be placed over a man's compound. If they are put, he must move from there, and leave the country, go elsewhere - to Kom, Funggom or Nso'. The Fon knows of the banishment. [This is done for witches in Wimbum now.]
If a crime is committed the matter is taken to ntul or kwi'fon depending on the offence. Offenders could be represented by a 'big man of the country' who would speak for him, apologize on his behalf, and bring him to pay the fine levied. It is when such a man refuses to pay that he is asked to leave the country. For example, if Yangsi committed an offence, Waa Ba could intercede on his behalf - he is a big man in Fonfuka - apologize for him and takes five goats up provided by Yangsi. If kwi'fon or ntul accepts the fine and the apology, Yangsi would go free.
(Phyllis asks what cases go to ntul.)
All cases involving the Fon's rights over 'lawful animals' go there - such as not presenting leopards or buffalos or deer. This is interference with the Fon's rights.
But adultery with a Fon's wife is judge by kwi'fon.
Cases of accidental blood-letting go before nda ntul, for example where blood is shed in the course of a fight or riot. The culprit must bring five goats, wine for the pot, and a fowl; the last is sacrificed by Njito' to bring peace. But deliberate murder is a different matter. In the past a man would be tied with ropes and sent to kwi'fon. Big men would have to "give evidence" on the matter to the Fon - that is, that he had been tried first in his quarter and sent, and that they had examined the case. No compensation was payable. Kwi'fon would kill the man, if the Fon agreed, since only he "could inflict capital punishment". But he could also say, "let the man go free". If ntul is trying a case, the Fon is not present. A report on the case is brought to him by Njito' - or Ful if Njito' happens to be absent. If kwi'fon is judging a case, Babe brings a report to the Fon. (We ask how one so young is charged with such responsibilities: the answer is that he may be about 25, and has servants.) The Fon repeats that he does not sit in judgement but has the final word.
(We pursue relations between nda ntul and kwi'fon, looking for "royal ineligibles" and sisters' sons.)
It now appears that all members of ntul except, that is, Nanambang, may enter "kwi'fon-a-Bum", its precincts that is, and that any big men who are commoners (acinawut) may enter, paying what they can afford, with the exception of what are referred to as 'sub-quarters', those allegedly conquered or subordinated - Mbamelo, Mbuk, Nggong, Nfat and Fiyo. Offences committed by "sub- chiefs" go to nda-ntul - [Can this be right?]
The Fon says nda-ntul is really a "Civil case" place dealing with accidents and pollution, and that kwi'fon deals with crimes and witchcraft (awvung), the latter dealt with by a sasswood (nyughuu) ordeal. Kwi'fon would say 'taste sasswood'. There is a special man, not in kwi'fon, who knows the leaf and comes with the medicine.
Who are the witches here? They say that women do more witchcraft than men because of marital jealousy. If a man especially favours one wife another may bewitch her. Men may also be witches, but it is not as in Banso' where brothers bewitch each other.
(Of the people present we learn that Wa'baa is a member of Kwi'fon-a-Bum. Most of the talking is being done by Ful and Njito': we return to nda ntul.
If a big man of nda ntul, one of the nine, dies while ntul is sitting (I don't understand this) they will arrange to bring out a son to succeed him - it is ntul not the family which chooses and the family cannot deny because it is ntul. The Fon will be there - they send two men to hold the successor, and bring him to nda ntul. The new man will bring two goats, a fowl and two drums of wine for ntul. He will be wearing only a long (loin ?) cloth. The Fon pours wine into his hands and he is rubbed with bundu by Njito'. (Njito' will take the drink and pour it into the Fon's cup, and the Fon then dispenses it into the heir's cup; this is the sign that the Fon accepts him.)
Then they tell the man the laws of ntul. If a bad sickness, smallpox, enters the country ntul is called quickly to trace the source of the sickness, e.g. if it came from Bikom: if so, then they put a prohibition on going there.
It is a 'law of ntul' that wherever you are you must put peace, and make things cool. Then you must come quickly when the Fon calls on you.
(Asked concerning sacrifices.)
The fowl sacrificed by Njito' and brought by the new heir is eaten by all the ntul people. One goat is for the ntul people, one for the Fon.
In the ntul house, before making any meeting, they will sacrifice a fowl. The Fon will name all the fons, call their names, and call Mbak-tu-fwa, the first fon. (I hear Mbak-tu-fwa this time.)
No sacrifices are made directly to God, Fiyen, in ntul, only prayers. Yes, any man may call on God saying "O 'Yen fu" - may God hear or see. The Fon says this - prays - and then sacrifices to the dead fons beginning with the first.
(What happens if a ntul member does a bad thing?)
If he does he must pay double the usual fine - ten goats. If contumacious he would be driven out of ntul, sent back to his compound, and another chosen in his place. If Nanambang errs another from the family would be chosen. (Reiterated that ntul people must be descendants of those who came from Mbirribo [but see later].)
(What happens if the Fon rules badly? Can ntul take action?)
Answer is at first that Ful, Njito' and Ndifon would advise him; but the Fon now gets up and picks a branch of nkeng (Dracaena) and shows it, and says:
If the Fon does not rule well, breaches the law and does not look after people - not only as regards ntul matters - but titled women, na'tum-a-conga, will go and cut nkeng and carry it in their hands. No man or boy may come near when cong is meeting. The big men of ntul would send to the "big women of the country", and these go and "cut nkeng" and come with it to the Fon, and "beg the King for peace". They say that they have heard from the big men that he is not ruling well - "So we come to ask why you are not ruling in your father's way." The Fon will know what they have come for and must speak to them gently.
Their action means that they have come to punish him, really, but not directly. They show leaves as a sign of peace. On that day the Fon must do what the people want and must apologize to the big men. He will have given the women bags of salt, 1-3 drums of oil, and goats. Then they will go to their husbands (the big men) and say "We have settled everything with the Fon. You had better go to him as quickly as possible"...
Yes, there is a na'tum-a-cong in every quarter of Bum. "Cong is the kwi'fon of women". The na'tum of the palace is head - the Fon and male members of cong may attend.
No, the Fon could never be killed or sent away. (Reiteration that only the Fon has right to order capital punishment.)
Yes, the "yaas" and senior wives can also remonstrate with the Fon, but in private.
No, ntul does not make new laws, because "ntul stands for tradition", "stands for welfare". It looks after birth of children, good hunting, and good farming. These things may be discussed in ntul. But the guinea-corn sacrifices are separate, done independently.
(Installation of Fon.)
If a Fon dies and the chosen Fon is away or not yet selected, "Njang" is put on the throne in the interim; she would be the Fon's own daughter. The identity of the heir is kept secret, no one is told except Njito', though nowadays the D.O. is told. In the Fon's own case (1954) D.O. Sprilyan was told. Only Ful and Njito' know the leaves which are infused into the wine at the installation - it is this juice which changes him from an ordinary man into a Fon. (Inference is that he becomes a seer ?) [See later.]
The three 'hands' of ntul are wan (children), she'yena (food farming) and nyamanggun (hunting animals).
Amongst those sitting with us were Tibong, described as a 'nobleman', but not one of the most important, and Kiyong, a munto', who has the langa title of Waamancua. He is a singer - asks people to listen - but cannot do so without the Fon's authority. He sings on important occasions. Mwanchum (Mwancum) was the title given to Ful by the late Fon - it signifies that he is a good drummer. Ndanggõ (? Ndanggong) is Nanambang's title, a female one. Yaa Yu'fwa has been given this title but has not paid much yet. Any new title-holder (e.g. in, nggili, langa, kwi'fon) must pay goats and wine to those who already have them. These are not hereditary. For example, at the time of the Mbangtshu there was a man who killed a 'red-faced man' and was given the title of Kitu'. His heir could be called 'son of Kitu'' but would not be given the title unless he performed a similar deed.
Yes, we shall be able to see langa - it is assembling: its music is (??) manggomlang. [We take photographs of the Fon in two gowns - one of claret-coloured velvet, another with beads sewn on all over it, one of him with Fon Sawe - he wouldn't be taken alone with Saf - and one of Tibong in his magnificent yellow gown.]
While waiting for langa to appear in the Council Chamber the Fon says it is his turn to ask questions and asks about relationships between fathers and son and mothers and children in England, wills, intestate succession, titles, taxation, and whether the country is (as he thinks) overpopulated.
Then langa came and danced - too dim for photographs. The orchestra consisted of two men with double gongs, one with a single gong - and a single-membrane pedestal drum (later beaten by Ful). Royal women - Nanambang in the lead - are dancing. Ful is singing for most of the time, Ndifon singing and dancing - the latter generally acknowledged as a superb dancer. At one point he and his son did a duo. Later the Fon, Ndifon and his son danced together.
Ndifon's songs, according to the Fon,
(1) "If I have no brother I must find a friend."
(2) Praise of the Fon.
(3) "I have lost a mother, and found another."
At one point Njang, Esther, Fuwa (the Fon's daughter) and another danced together; Njang is singing the Fon's praise names (see later at end). At one point they and Ndifon were given a beaded horsetail to dance with. The Fon himself danced twice and played a double gong. A group of his wives danced discreetly in a corner. After we had dashed Ful £1 the Fon insisted on Phyllis going with him to give beer to the orchestra, glassfuls poured into the mouth of each player except for Ful who had a whole bottle held to his mouth. Later, when the princesses were dancing charmingly, the Fon exclaimed, "I will give them £20". All we paupers could do was to give Njang 10 shillings.
Then Ndifon did a brilliant solo song and dance which so enchanted the Fon that he said, "I must give him a present", went out and came back with a yellow silk cloth and Toby jug. He covered Ndifon's head with the cloth and Ndifon danced with the jug which was filled with palm wine. (He kept the cloth, but the Toby jug was taken back into the palace.)
Two sets of Fon's wives danced in threes - the more graceful were asked to dance in front of us and rewarded. Then three young princes - brothers' sons of the Fon - performed. The Fon is in fact organizing competitive dancing. Towards the end he throws us both a horsetail switch and picks up one himself and we all danced in a group - to a good deal of cheering and horn blowing.
The Fon tells us that princesses are free to marry when they please or have children outside marriage - these belong to the Fon. Bride-price is not taken for these 'Fon's daughters' because 'he' gave no bride-price for their mothers. They could be given to any man irrespective of status, e.g. Chindas (but see later).
NB - that when the Fon and Fon Sawe address each other, they say "Kwi'fon Sawe" and "Kwi'fon-a-Bum" - a joke between them. They are clearly on excellent terms.
It is after 6 p.m. dusk: we retire after a brief chat in the audience room and heartfelt thanks for the reception given us.
E.M.C. has paced the palace proper, excluding kwi'fon (which the Fon excludes) and makes it c.119 paces E. to W. and 109 paces N. to S., excluding the outer palace.
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For further information contact Ian Fowler