5. Correspondence with the Divisional Office

  1. The Fon-in-Council
  2. The composition of the Native Court.
  3. Miscellaneae


1. The Fon-in-Council

From File WDO 119 - Bum Intelligence Reports.

For a considerable time after the Bridges Report, 1933, the Fon of Bum remained a 'Sole Native Authority'; a Native Court had been established in 1927 of 6 members in addition to the Fon, listed by the then scribe (one Moka) as 'Mesom of Fonfuka' (Missom), Ngwi of Sawek (Fon Sawe), Yangsi of Sow (Njito'), Longfughang of Ngwenakimbi (Lengfughang of Nggunakimbi), Tenku of Ngong, and Kimbebena of Mbamlo. It appears from the warrant that 'Sow' was recorded there as Shu. From 1937 onwards and in the wake of the 'reorganization reports' then in vogue, the Resident began to press for a constituted Council. Various brief inquiries were made - not all filed, but action was delayed. Finally, in August 1941, D.O. Riley drew up proposals for a Council based on earlier reports and a list provided by the Fon in 1938, supposedly consisting of leading members of Ndatut and the Kwi'fon. This inner council was approved by the Resident and communicated to the Fon in March 1942. It drew the following response:

Bum Chief's Compound, 19 April, 1942. To D.O. Bamenda Division

With reference to Resident's copy of letter of 16th March 1942 we have all sit together today and our Scribe read the letter to us and we find that some of the people mentioned are Chindas who have no right to be in Ndantud, i.e. our council house, at all. The names of the various Ntud members in Bum area who should be the Council members are:
Lagabum Ntud - Nime [i.e. the recently installed Njito', son of Yangsi]
Ngong Mata
Njang woman
Nonga Kang [elsewhere Ndonga Kang]

(Not all stay in Lagabum, some stay in different quarters of Bum.) The Chief being the President.

Sawe and Su - Ngwi
Mbamlo - Kumbe-Bena
Nginda (Dom dead now)
Ngong - Tenku
Nbuk (sic) Bia
Nfat - Ngangte
Tum Nga

The following are not Ntud members but those [who] were to take to their quarters what Ntud has decided.

Buabua Fang
Ifun Mbon dead, now Mundi
Saff Chia dead, now Yamba
Ngunakimbe Wango
Fonfuka Mesom (Missom) Kimbi dead, now Diang Bong for Kumanga who died.
Ngin [Nggoen] Fonamom

We all the above people are present and are satisfied that these are the right Council members in Bum N.A. area according to our old law and custom. So we beg the Honourable the Senior Resident to change his letter and write a new letter containing the above names please.
I have the honour, etc.
Tum, Bum Chief.

After further delay the A.D.O. visited Lagabum at the end of 1943 and found the Fon unwell and in no mood to discuss constitutions.

Finally, early in 1944, D.O. Aston-Smith convened a meeting and wrote the following in the Council Minute Book -

There was unanimous agreement that the names given over [i.e. the list above] are proper members of the Council. Even those deleted from Page 1 of the Resident's list [presumably the 'chindas'] agree that they have no right to sit. Since this unanimity has survived the two years since the Chief's list was written, there is no reason for upsetting it until cause arises. The Council was told to consider itself constituted by the persons named on the Chief's list for the present.
Dr Jeffreys' notes show that the last word has not been said on the constitution of Bum. In the discussion today the participants made the definite statement that the Ntul status dominated that of Tse [Sic. Dr Jeffreys' term for coe; not all coesu are members of Ntul]. But whether the difference was one of degree or kind was not made clear.
Ngong of Saf [VH] was the only dissentient voice in the matter. He claimed to be a truer representative than Yang [sic. Yamba ? or Yang in Sawe/Su list ?]. He is a leper, however, and on hygienic grounds has been told that he must not sit again among the Council and court. The President states that Ngong is not Ntul. (dated 24.ii.44).....

In the list now copied into the Council Minute Book no distinction is made between 'proper' members and those who convey decisions (para 2 of Chief's letter of 1942). There are two changes. For Mbamlo Ngwa replaces Nginda and Fomamom, perhaps deceased, is replaced by Yong Ngumba. Otherwise it is identical with the Chief's list. Before returning to the Council we follow the Native Court in some respects, in order to exemplify some of the confusion in identification which could arise from variable naming (e.g. personal names, selector matronymics, alternative compound or quarter names and honorifics) as well as the deficiencies of the restricted English alphabet.



2. The composition of the Native Court.

Initially the court was to include the chiefs of Koshin and Fang, but this was soon abandoned. Up to the end of the 'thirties, it retained most of the ageing membership, save for additions representing Fonfuka, Mbuk and Mbamelo. Early in 1940, according to a note by the D.O. on the file (WDO 98, 23.1.40) the Court asked for 3 more members. Ngong Mata described as "QH Fonfuka, member of Ndatut and Nkwifon", Muang, QH of Nfat, said to be of Ndatut, and Mimbong (sic), QH of Fio, said to be of Ndatut. Fio [Shuo], he goes on is "a quarter with its own language, related to the Bongawm (Bonggom) people of Chup- Nsungli". A little later the Fon, via the Court Clerk (Mr Ndi) makes some corrections. Yangsi is at 'Melung' not at Shu. "Njinibong of Fio has changed his name to Ndimbong for it was written by mistake and the quarter miswritten Mbelo is Mbamlo." On 22.viii.40 a letter is addressed to the S.D.O. Bamenda in the following terms:

"We ask permission to put two people mentioned below as members of the court as they historically are also important. 1. Ful is member in Ndatut (Ndatut is where things are arranged), third to the Chief and he is the person to give intimation of anything if the important Tut people are down. He does this for he is representing his uncle Wayukitsu of Laabum []. He is also tax- collector in Laabum. 2. Ngong, VH Saff. As he represents his father who was the Chief of Saff he is also fit to be a member. Signed. Nwi [Ngwi] VH Sawe, Tenku VH Ngong, Mesom of Fonfuka, Kimbehena VH. Mbelo [evidently Kimbi-Bena, Chief of Mbamelo], Bia, VH Mbuk, Ngong-Mata of Fonfuka, Kimbe of Fonfuka, Mwang of Nfat, Njimbong of Fio, Tum, President."

Early in 1941 the Fon (or Court Clerk ?) reports that Yangsi of Mulong and Mwang of Nfat have died, and independently suggests two names, one on the grounds that 'Yangsi has no efficient child to succeed him'. The D.O., suspecting a quarrel, inquires further and later in the year formally asks for approval to appoint Nime, son of Yangsi, 'who is Nditaw', and Chia son of Mwang of Fio, 'who is a member of Ndatut'. He also notes that Pollock has recommended that "the Bum quarter of Sju, Shu or Ju [Su-Bum, or Shuo/Fio ?] should be represented. For some reason Yangsi was incorrectly set down as Shu - Shu a quarter of Bum, not Shu [Nsu] a quarter of Sawe. The court and people want Kimbe-Nabi [sic] to be appointed. [Which is done.]


In 1946 Mesom (Missom) and Ngong Mata had died and the successor of the second (Yangsi-Mata) was appointed to the Court'; Mesom's heir (Muchi) being 'not strong and old', was passed over.

In 1949 the Fon's very poor health called for a permanent president of the Court. Ful was appointed.

By July 1950 he was sitting with a Court composed of Ngwi (Nwi) Fon Sawe, 'Kinku' of Mbamlu [sub-chief], Yangsi-Mata, QH Fonfuka, "Nime of Mbum" [Njito], Kimbi-banya of Su, Taleh, a new member from Saf, and Madam "Nenembang", placed on the Court formally as a consequence of Dr Jeffreys earlier campaign to restore the public dignities of "Queen Mothers", though one can assume that she had always been present.

At this point a scribal error has evidently occurred in the list forwarded for the D.O.'s file - two names, Kimbi and Tenku, have been run together, as we shall see. In any event the members of the Court sit in rotation and the panel in May 1953 is reported as Ful, Tenku of Ngong, Ngwi [of Sawe], 'Neme' (Njito), Njikimbi, Yangsi (i.e. Yangsi-Mata of Fonfuka), Tale (Taleh) and 'Nenenbang'.

The puzzled D.O. writes to the Clerk to know if Kimbi-Banya is the same as Njikimbi and by what authority Tenku of Ngong is sitting (I.vi.53, File WDO 26).

The C.N.C. replies, with a list, and writes: 'If you scrutinize the list properly you will find Tenku of Ngong on it. Re the other NJI is his title of honour, BANYA is his father's name and KIMBI his surname [sic].'

But, replies the D.O., "Tenku is not listed as a Court Panel Member, but 'Kinku of Mbamlu' has been. How long has Tenku been functioning?"

The C.N.C. replies that Tenku has been functioning since the court was established. "Kinku of Mbamlu who has been approved as court member is known and called Kimbi of Mbamlu. If the D.O. calls him by name Kinku he will not answer".

The D.O., naturally puzzled, demands an interview with Tenku and gets into a further muddle. He writes: "Tenku revealed he is Kinku, No. 3 on the list of 6.vii.50, but he is Kinku of Ngong and not of Mbamlu. The QH of Mbamlu has never been a Court Member. This is confirmed by the Provincial Administration Messenger. The actual pronunciation of the name is Tenku not Kinku. The page of the 1950 list must be amended... Mbamlu should have read Ngong." (29.vii.53).

In fact the Sub-chief (not Quarterhead) of Mbamelo, Kimbi- Bena, was on the Court lists of 1928, 1935 and 1941. He is replaced on the list of tax-collectors in 1954/5 by one Behti, and has presumably died.

By 9.ii.55 the new Fon, John Yai, requests a warrant as permanent President of the Court 'as his late father was', which is granted.

But troubles mount and, finally, a dispute breaks out in 1959 between some members of the Court and the Court Clerk, and both the Fon and the Court Clerk appeal to the D.O. to intervene. The file ends with unresolved recriminations. We return to the Council.


3. Miscellaneae

Much of the File (WDO 339) deals with the reorganization of the Native Authority system and its intended transformation into elective Local Government in the wake of the change in Colonial Office policy, as set out in the famous Creech-Jones circular despatch of February 1947, in anticipation of rapid decolonization: the pace is set by S. Nigeria. But other issues are raised - community development roads, damage by Fulani-owned cattle, the unpopularity of the Cattle Control Assistant (eventually suspended), the need for a dispensary near at hand, and the appointment of tax collectors.

By 1950 it is clear that Fon Kwangga is too ill to preside and Ful takes over both the Presidency of the Council, as he already has that of the Court, on his behalf. This may help to explain the following note transmitted by the Council to the DO.

New Fon of Bum: The successor was ordained and placed on the throne on 12th February 1954. When we met on the 12th February we thought it wise to make the Ful of Bum make a certain vow of peace which would be maintained between the Fon and himself. The Ful of Bum then made his solemn statement as follows:

"The new Fon is my son. I confirm very heartily his appointment as Fon of Bum. I will surely maintain peace between himself and myself. In addition to this I wish the new Fon to regard me as his father. That is all I have to say."

By 1950 the Council included a substantial elected component and two statutory women members, Madam Nanambang, as might have been expected, and Mada Nana, a chong leader from Fonfuka.

But it was now a subordinate Council. The centre of gravity had, since 1952, moved to the Wum Federal Council.

Glossary Contents Working Notes
Sally Chilver's Field Diary Phyllis Kaberry Fieldnotes Published Account


For further information contact Ian Fowler