Traditions of Migration, Settlement and State-formation

The oral traditions we collected or checked do not help us, except in the case of relatively recent movements and invasions, to account for the present distribution of languages and dialects. These traditions are not usually concerned with the origins of peoples but with dynasties, chiefdoms, offices and institutions. They do, it is true, supply supporting evidence for the mixed composition of the politico-social units in being when the Germans began to administer the area in 1902. They may take us back, when king-lists are supported by the concrete evidence of royal burials, to the seventeenth century or even earlier. But if they can give us some relative time-depths for the establishment of chiefly lines in particular places, they do not usually tell us about the length of settlement of the peoples composing the chiefdoms. We can in some cases, by reference to the traditions of particular clans, suggest the stages by which the present composition of chiefdoms or villages was reached. But it is not necessarily true that long genealogies or well-filled burial sites imply a greater age of settlement for one population than for another. The recall of royal or clan-head genealogies is affected by internal factors, such as the nature of political segmentation and mortuary cults, and by external factors such as invasions



Bum deserves special mention, despite its small population (c.5,000 in 1953), because of its important economic role in the nineteenth century.* According to Bum traditions, supported by those of Mbot, a Mbot prince and his companions led their followers down the present western borders of Nso', allegedly leaving settlers in the Noni villages of Nkor, Jottin-Noni and Din, and finally settling on land given them by the Sawe chief near the north-eastern border of Kom, making their first capital at Ngunabum. The other chiefdoms in what was later to become the Bum state were of diverse origin: some from Oku, some from Kom and having matrilineal descent, and some from the north-speaking languages belonging to what we have called the Misaje group. The language of Bum peoples appears to be and is claimed to be almost identical with that of Kom. There is a king-list of 10. Local tradition supported by collateral evidence from Kom points to Bum being raided by mounted bowmen in the time of its second ruler, but it was not attacked again until the Fulani raids of c.1870 when Ngunabum was devastated and the prince Tam, who became Chief after an interregnum, established a new capital on a rocky hilltop at Lagabum, overlooking the new village settlement of Fonfukka to the north. Later Fonfukka became a kola entrepôt connected with the major entrepôt of Takum. By this time also the 'royal' group, the Alung, had become the dominant dynasty in the area partly by conquest and partly by offering protection to smaller groups to the west in the Fungom area. Tam was able to send small bands of dane-gunners to Fang which was in danger of attack from Mmeng. It was also able to resist attempts at conquest by the expanding state of Kom, with whom it had formerly had ties of intermarriage and trade. Apart from one disastrous expedition against the Misaje villages of Bem and Kibo, Bum was content after its first period of expansion to exploit its place on the trade route, its sole economic advantage in view of the poverty of its own resources. It had treaties of friendship with Nso' and its western neighbours; and maintained close ritual connections with its parent dynasty of Mbot. When Zintgraff passed through in the dry season at the end of 1889, he noted that the people of Bum were not surprised by the arrival of strangers and were ready to trade. Moseley, who visited Bum in 1898, remarked on the prosperity of Bum in contrast to surrounding chiefdoms and says that the introductions supplied by the Fon of Bum (Tam) served him well in Mmeng and Isu (Bafum Katse). Bum traditions refer to links with the Benue valley traders, both Jukun and Hausa, and to the entry from that direction of Jukun cloth, salt and guns. There are people alive today who remember the despatch of a Bum trading delegation to the Royal Niger Company's factory at Ibi on the Benue. The political and religious institutions of the Alung paramountcy are similar to those of its neighbours in the Fungom area. Kom and Bum differ mainly in the importance accorded to royals in the manning of state and ritual offices.

* See L.H. Moseley, "Regions of the Benue", Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1899.

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