Fowler, I. 1997. 'Tribal and Palatine Arts of the Cameroon Grassfields: Elements for a 'Traditional' Regional Identity', in Contesting Art: Art, Politics and Identity in the Modern World, MacClancy, J. (ed.), p.78.
I take an example from the work of Alice Horner (1990). This example throws light on the way in which group membership and status is draped, literally and metaphorically, in the trappings of a marked traditionality.
She analyses the expressive use of the so-called 'traditional Bali gown' in the construction of a regional identity by an emerging new political anglophone elite in the 1950s. She points to the use of these gowns to establish the notion of a regional nobility and to express regional solidarity. Hence, the high visibility of these gowns in all kinds of ceremonial occasion served simultaneously to separate out a group from others while uniting members of the group together. This is illustrated by a highly memorable occasion in the 1950s when the young Queen Elizabeth II was presented to the House of Chiefs who along with the then new political elite were all kitted out in these striking gowns.
The Assumption of Tradition: Creating, Collecting, and Conserving Cultural Artifacts in the Cameroon Grassfields (West Africa), PhD University of California, 1990.
Royal Art of Cameroon, The Art of Bamenda-Tikar. Hanover, N.H: Dartmouth College. 1973.
Tardits, C. 1997 'Pursue to Attain: a Royal Religion', in African Crossroads: Intersections between History and Anthropology in Cameroon, Fowler, I. & Zeitlyn, D. (eds), 151-2.
Claud Tardits is a French anthropologist who has worked for many years studying the Bamum. The largest and most centralised of all Grassfields groups, the Bamum numbered c.60,000 at the start of the 20th century. Its ruler, Njoya, encouraged the development of palace arts and crafts and also devised a script in which he recorded the history and customs of the Bamum and their neighbours. He embraced Islam and built a mosque before turning to Christianity. Njoya died tragically in exile having fallen foul of the French colonial administration that took over following the expulsion of the Germans in the course of the 1st World War.
The extract below is taken from a paper in the book African Crossroads on the earlier episode of religous and cultural transformation.
Next we examine the regulation of access to the Palace graveyard and the burial sites of the lineages as well as to certain other sacred sites such as the 'house of the country'. Only the King, the counsellors of the kingdom, the great officers of the Palace who were of palatine origin and those twins who were responsible for guarding the site had access to the Palace graveyard. Access was strictly forbidden to the King's brothers, whatever titles they held, and to his sons. The same prohibition applied to agnates of the nzhi at lineage level. Breaches of this rule were punished by reduction to servitude.
The fear was that the kinsmen of the King, and lineage heads likewise, would take their place at sacrifice and appropriate their benefits. This concern implies that sacrifice was seen as a compelling act and that the notion of du ut des underlay beliefs.
What distinctions can we draw between Bum and Bamum in terms of rules of access to ancestral and other shrines? What are the implications?
"Les Bamiléké de l'Ouest Cameroun". Paris, 1960.
"Femmes à Crédit", in J. Pouillon and P. Maranda, Echanges et Communications. Paris, 1970.
"Le Peuplement du Rebord Occidental de l'Adamawa", in H. Deschamps, Histoire Générale de l'Afrique Noire. Paris, 1971.
"L'Implantation dans la region ouest". Communication faite au colloque du CNRS : Contribution de la recherche ethnologique à l'histoire des civilisations Camerounaises. Paris, 1973.
"Parenté et Pouvoir Politique chez les Bamoum (Cameroun)". L'Homme, 13, 1-2, 1973.
Le Royaume Bamoum. Thèse de Doctorate d'Etat. Université de Paris. 1977
For further information contact Ian Fowler