Notes and questions on EMC Field Diary 2.vi.60
1. 'we were met by Pastor Dom and the Baptist School Teacher'
What is the significance of being met by the Pastor and the Teacher?
2.'under an umbrella, sitting on a folding garden chair over which a velvet cloth had been thrown.'...
'serving him wine from a calabash with a raffia-palm leaf stopper. A row of elderly men are sitting on stones opposite'
To what ends are these scenes variously constructed?
3. Phyllis asked him what struck him most during his visit to England for the 1958 Constitutional Conference.
What is the point of Phyllis' question?
4. 'the men carrying earth stood still while the Fon addressed them, thanking them for the work'
How does this episode express the adaptation of Fonship to contemporary colonial conditions?
5. 'the inner chamber is hung with blue white tie-and-dye cloth of the type called ndzoey njav in Nso'
What is implied here in terms of the status being given to the visiting anthropologists?
6. "history" ... "institutions".. his "noblemen"
Which of these terms is problematic? And for whom?
7. 'Here a man was playing and singing to a four-stringed lyre'
This paragraph evokes a sharp and concise ethnographic
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8. bringing with him his elderly "stepfather" (FB?) Ndifon Bala and we hear what he knows of traditions of origin (Cp. Pollock and Bridges).
'Traditions of origin' are key to understanding the
construction of identity in the colonial period.
What might they mean to different actors?
9. 'The Fon of Mbot cannot be enthroned, nor buried, without the presence of Fon Bum'
Note the seamless glide from traditions of origin to statements of ritual dependency.
10. 'not everyone may wear a cap. It is either an "inherited right", or a privilege given by the Fon'
Sumptuary rights to prestige adornments are here used to introduce a passage on rank and status within the chiefdom.
11. 'The Fon reminds us that Bum was the first place in Bamenda to which the Hausa came'
The Fon is making a claim for superior rank
of the chiefdom within the region on the basis of 19th century control
over external traders.
12.' The Fon says he has recently heard that the Wimbum people came from Tikari'
He is alluding to the idea of so-called
Tikar origins which spread through the anglophone Grassfields at this time
- i.e. shortly before reunification with French Cameroun. He passes over
it very quickly and then presents their own history ...
13. 'Zintgraff slept at Lagabum, with his dog'
Zintgraff was the first German explorer to reach the Grassfields and he later returned to set up the commercial vanguard of the German colonial project in 'Kamerun'. His arrival on the Grassfields scene brought the region into direct contact with non-African forces and ideas for the firs time. Similarly his first mention here by the Fon dramatically terminates the preceding narrative of dynastic time.
14. [We return to Mbaktefwa] One prince, son of Mbaktefwa (name forgotten) went on to Nggunabum
Who is it brings the conversation back to the local hierarchy of constituent elements and its expression in terms of dynastic time and relationships?
15. 'He thinks that the Baranyam or Fulani came in from the N.E. in the time of Digatita or Mwandum'
The question of the timing of raids into the Grassfields from the north has to do with getting an idea of the relative chronology of the dynastic events described here. The point being that it is possible using historical sources to date the raids.
16. They took - the Mbangtshu did - slaves and went north again.
The Grassfields were raided for slaves in the 19th century by mounted raiders from the north.
17. Mbangakoe was ruling when Nsanguf's head was taken i.e. 1885-8.'
Nsanguf ruled Bamum, the largest of the Grassfields chiefdoms, and was decapitated in battle against the Nso' shortly before the arrival of the first European, Zintgraff in 1889. Hence this is a chronological point of reference.
18. If true the Kamenda visit is not that of Glauning (1905) but a later one'
Further points of chronological reference are sought by linking local events in the early German colonial period to particular German colonial officers whose activities and travels are a matter of documentary record.
19. 'among them Amu'nggwa - a chinda who has served the Fon for long - an aged man. He has been given an ivory armlet and a gown with a red 'moon' on the back (cp. Bali) as a sign of favour'
The Fon has given these prestige adornment items in respect of palace service by the 'chinda' or retainer.
20. Also present some Fulani ardo'en, both Aku and Jafun, Fon Saf, Njito', some compound heads
This is a very cosmopolitan and public gathering. What are the implications for what is said or not said?
21. He says he makes a point of seeing all villages about three times a year - "goes on tour"
This is a conscious allusion to the style and process of colonial government.
22. "kwi'fon is government" and the important thing about it is "not the gong and instruments but that it governs".
Is the Fon simply offering a sophisticated western gloss on local custom or are the iron sacra really unimportant?
23. t'he cap worn by Ndifo Bala, a white tam-o'-shanter with hanging strings - rather like a string mop - is a sign of office, and a privilege.
Grassfields societies expressed hierarchy particularly through dress and adornment.
24. 'Phyllis asks the Fon what are the qualities of a Fon' ...
love and gentleness
prophesied the coming of the Europeans'
Read on and note what other qualities of a Fon are mentioned directly or indirectly. What kind of a thing is a Fon?
25. ...Yes, the "dowries" he gets on "royal women" he puts back into gowns and caps for his big men.
The Fon enjoyed extensive bridewealth rights over the marriages of his daughters and other marriage-wards. In this, as in much else the Fon was concerned with, he served to redistribute wealth and privilege within the community of the chiefdom.
For further information contact Ian Fowler