Correspondence with H.H. the Fon of Bum - 1960-1962

In his first reply the Fon deals with "historical" questions derived from these sources (Pollock, Bridges and Jeffreys) in a letter dated 14.ix.60:


1) The Fon does not agree with the Fon of Mbot that the Mbirribo (or Mbirbo) people were in Bamenda - the N.W. Province - before the Tikar of Kimi came. [The feedback from administration sources and the 1953 Census ethnonyms seems clear.]

2) He agrees that Yundi reigned briefly ("2 years"), succeeded by his brother Wasa, who also reigned briefly, and that Tam, the chosen successor, 'ran to Bikom' and that Njang, princess, was on the throne for some time ("4 years") before Tam was brought back. [We suspect a confusion here between succeeded "to" and "by". See (4).]

3) The Fon is asked to comment on a statement ascribed to Fon Kwangga that a succession of deaths at Ngunabum as well as Kom raids had occasioned the move to Lagabum. He replied that it was both the deaths and "war troubles".

4) Why did Wasa succeed Yundi?
Because there was no son of age to succeed. Fon Tam was a son of Mbangakoe. Madam Nanambang is the great-granddaughter of Njang. (The reply makes Njang a sister of Mbangakoe.)
[For a resolution of the problem, see Part IV.]

5) He agrees that Mbemfafa was preceded by Kamato.

6) It is also 'correct' that Mbemfafa went to help Biim which was attacked by the Ju (Jeffreys has Jaw) from Nkol, but "found they spoke the same language as Ju and Kibo and subjected them".

7) The statements of the late Missom (to Jeffreys) that Mbemfafa also warred in Koshin, and Mbangakoe in Kwe are correct, and it is confirmed that Yundi was killed fighting the Biim.

8) It is correct that Kimbi, who was a son of Yundi "founded" Fonfuka, that Kibon, son of Mbangakoe founded Mulung, and Yai, another son of Mbangakoe, founded Nggonfesi.


9) It is correct that Mbuk, after having fled in earlier times, came back and joined Bum in Tam's reign. The founders of quarters were as follows:

Ngonefusi (see other spelling above) by Yai - also Saff
Nfat by Bangsi
Su-Bum by Jung - Kongha
Buwabuwa by Wamba-Namuam, son of Mbangakoe
Nggunakumbi by Kangheyi

The Fon also says that Gitan (Alung) settled at Buwabuwa (Buabua). [It looks as if these are settlements of Alung, rather than territorial wards under Abitek.]

10) As to formal seating arrangements for sub-chiefs visiting Lagabum:

"Sawe, Saf and Munggong have their proper seats. The rest had stones to sit on and now they have a bamboo bench. At the entry of Fon Bum all rise and clap while standing till the Fon resumes his seat and all then sit."

11) When the move to Lagabum took place: The decision to move to Lagabum was taken in Tam's regency. [Not clear whether during Njang's regency or Tam's reign.] The attack by Kom on Achain was because Kom wanted Bum to give to them too. [Give in or give tribute to Kom or claim Achain lands then within Bum?]

12) Did diviners choose the new site?
The reply is: "The Fon has his own diviners, at this time mostly commoners."



13) A question about beads and beadwork and their origins:
The name for small beads decorating sanga-langa
[beaded horsetails used in dances] is sudaiful-bang and ful-sawa are red and white beads. Blue are nyik. Black and white mixed, atam, semi-transparent white, yemba. All come from N. Nigeria. [This does not wholly agree with inquiries made by Mr J.E. Percival, Plebiscite Supervisory Officer, Wum, on early trade and trade goods.]
In the same letter the Fon replied to a number of checking questions only partly derived from administrative reports.

14) It is true that Njito' (Nditaw in reports) is a hereditary title and not a personal name. He can never be removed from office but only fined 5 goats. This has always been so.

15) The nine members of nda ntul cannot be removed from office. They are replaced by their families or yinda (heir). [i.e. Membership is seen as hereditary.] The nine, including the Fon, also served as justices when they sat in Kwi'fon to try serious cases tried by ntul. [I think this means those involving executive action falling outside the ntul sphere and referred toKwi'fon, and vice versa in some cases.] The term for murder is sa'gbaning [? rather illegible], for civil cases efu'. Offences against the earth are ijas. Fon Sawe and Fon Mbamlo enter nda ntul, the latter because he has nda ntul given him by the Alung.

16) Access to ntul: anyone [royal or notable] can enter nda ntul as a "floor member" and as such be present at sacrifices and trying cases, but they listen to the Nine and enter by offerings. A member is introduced by paying four live goats, one drum of wine, and two fowls. And [then] the Fon gives wine in his hands in the presence of the Nine. Members in turn provide wine, but if this is deficient the Fon makes it up.

17) "Fiyen [Divinity] is neither male nor female but a spirit and has no body and we cannot see him."


18) When, in a blood-shedding case, five live goats are given, there is no further sacrifice. The offence is both against the person and Fiyen.

19) Kwi'fon - the term. The term is due to a change of dialect [i.e. not called so in Mbot].

20) Kwi'fon - extent of jurisdiction. It looked after criminal cases when these were reported by Sawe and Saf. Their own Kwi'fon are for 'secret matters and peace'. Kwi'fon-a-Bum also used to seize debtors and put them in shackles of wood.

21) A sister's son (wanjamtu) of the Fon does not have to 'offer' as commoners do before entering Kwi'fon.

22) Only persons of Alung, Sawe and Saf descent could enter Kwi'fon and only cases concerning them are tried there. Quarters such as Nfat, Mbuk, Mbamlo, Fio and Munggong do not enter and have no part in it.

23) Office of Babe-Kwi'fon. The senior Chindas, with the Fon's authority, choose the babes. Titles like Mango and Tongla are given to Chindas coming out of Kwi'fon. [i.e. are not reserved to babes.]

24) Present duties of Nanambang - She still performs duties at the annual dance, in Nda-ntul, and at installation. [Our question had referred in particular to the cleansing of the Fon from pollution, which is not answered.]

25) Ibin - meaning. It means the necessary celebration performed when a notable, Fon, or royal has died and the family now wishes to celebrate their deaths. This is called ibin. Ibin is also the day on which the Fon assesses his people.

"On this day every notable comes along with their juju such as Menang, Njong, Mbanshua, Ilung, Bekong, Ajum, Kunkung, etc. He who fails will pay a fine of five goats."

Sacrifices are first performed in nda ntul and fum before ibin is announced.

The Fon gives food, drink and fowls - in groups. The societies come by quarters and are joined in the palace square, where ibin takes place. They can visit other places later.


26) Mabu - Kwa'la goes from quarter to quarter but never goes to Munggong, Fio, Nfat, Mbuk, Mbamlo, as they cannot see Kwi'fon. [Our question referred to the masked announcers' duties.]

27) Nggili and princes. The Ta-Nggili is chosen by Ful.

"A prince is not always the head of Fumbain - who gets no title except if he kills a leopard or bush cow in a hunting announced by Fumbain. The titles are respectively Kumbiu and Temfung."

28) Territorial organization. When a new Quarterhead (Bitek) is selected, his family bring him with offerings to the palace. The Fon gives him a cap and loincloth. "The Fon does advise him to look after his people."
Both Fon Sawe and Fon Saff (as written) nominate quarterheads and present them to the Fon. "They act as sub-chiefs always." [
In all ways ?]
"Fio, Munggong, Mbuk, Mbamlo, Nfat also have sub-chiefs who do the same work." [
I think this means they have quarterheads too.] "Each has a gate-keeper who knows their affairs. They go through a gate-keeper, called Chinatu. Sawe [and Saf mentioned earlier] and Mbamlo sit next to the Fon and the rest, Fio, Nfat, Munggong, and Mbuk sit at the extreme corner of the Fon's left." [But see (10) where the Chief of Munggong has his 'proper seat'.]

29) Tribute and gifts. During seedtime [harvest ?] gifts are given to the Fon. The Fon's farms were of maize and guinea-corn. They [the Fon's Farms] were always grouped together, even when the Fon was at Ngunabum. Saff area was chosen because the soil is rich and [it] contains palm raffia bushes.
Animals other than leopards: lions, elephants and boas [
pythons] were brought to the Fon too. The ivory was given to the Fon by right. The flesh of leopards was shared to all the male notables and the hunter. [Do we read 'at the palace'?]
The Fon got his camwood at Ngunamachang on the way to N. Nigeria. [
We omitted to identify this place.]


30) The Fon's installation and burial - the sequence.
People are chosen by the Fon to hear his Will. "If a Fon died in battle without leaving a Will all the family-royal will gather together and make selection of the clan male who will then rule all and is then directed to Njito who then shows the Fon to the public."
Only chindas are called to go and announce the death. [
I think this implies not maskers.]
The Fon selects the daughter who will hold the stool for the heir. [
This implies that she is pre-selected.]
"If the Fon's death is not announced for a long time the Kwi'fon works in the name of Babe, as he gives orders now."
The Fon is secluded in the palace between the time he is to be called Fon [
i.e. designated] and the time he is shown to the public. He is initiated into Kwi'fon. He stays three months in Kwi'fon.
All Bum comes round and sits in the big yard. Babe and Chindas, four behind [
him], stand in the middle and represent Kwi'fon and announce the death. [This was the reply to a question about 'showing the Fon to the people', which presumably follows.]
Preparation of the body - "When the Fon dies a certain leaf called olot [
cp. Nso' ror or lor] is tied round the neck and some is ground and rubbed all over the body to show that he was Fon, as he was rubbed with this leaf when he was made Fon. [|Perhaps Basella alba.] The shaping and lining of the grave - "It is dug in an oblong form. Far down is dug [a niche ?] 2 1/2 feet to prevent the soil from falling on the dead body. Native mats are put on the floor of the grave, a bark of a tree called agum [Ficus sp.] purely white, also put in the same way in the grave. Leopard's skins are put there too. A white piece of cloth is robed [wrapped] on the body and doma [tie-and-dye cloth], before the native clothes are put on. The Fon is now buried with the right hand upraised with a cord. It has no cup in the hand. [This replies to our question derived from Wimbum and Nso' analogies.] The grave is not opened again for any other purpose. This does not happen here but in Mbot." [This refers to the later opening of the grave in Mbot to see which way the body has fallen.]
Ful is the sacrificial priest in the fum representing the whole family. The head of the family is in charge always of the Fon's burial. Ful's father was brother to the late Fon Tam, by name Banya. Only Ful acts in the fum.
"Ndifon is a title given to a senior royal as it is in the case of Bala. The Fon delegated Ful to look after the graves sometimes [
some time ago] at Ngunabum. Ful is the great- grandchild of the late Fon Tam." [But see Pt IV, 12.iv.63. Ndifoba (Bala).]


31) Who may the Fon not marry?
"Marriage between the royal family is not forbidden." [
Presumably outside prescribed limits, with other Alung.] "Unmarried girls from all quarters who were of Bum were rubbed with camwood while still young and brought to the palace to be trained by the Fon's senior wives. This [both the levy and training ?] is done by the Fon's senior wives. [Cp. Nso' and other cases.]

32) Meaning of the term Coe (Che). It means all important men such as Njito', Ndifon and quarterheads. All come to the palace. Anybody can have a cup and bag in nda ntul provided he has paid four goats, etc. Part is given to the Fon. Something is paid before the title che is given.

33) Who may the Fon marry?
The Fon misunderstood this checking question designed like (31) to elucidate incest prohibitions, and the depth of the core lineage, to read it as to whom he could give out in marriage. He had some difficulty with English kinship terms but his answer can be summarized.]
The Fon can give in marriage all women who are descendants of Mbangakoe through either 'princes or princesses'. [
The royal genealogy undergoes some transformations later.]
We wrote again to the Fon at the end of 1961 and received a reply on 8th February 1962.

34) Permanent titles - There are no family [inherited] titles in Bum except the Fon and Njito'.

35) Terms for the Big Nine of Ntul. The word for them in Bum is Chesu Tutso [Coesu Tutso].


36) 'History of the Big Nine' We had asked the Fon about the earlier history of the Nine, sending him the names given by Fon Kwangga to a Divisional Officer in 1938. These were:

1) Ndito (Yangsi, personal name)
2) Ful Mbongkwia
3) Nggong-Mata of Lagabum
4) Bangsi 5) Njang [
equivalent to Madam Nanambang]
6) Wanjong of Nggen
7) Chiafon of Ngaa
8) Yam of Fonfuka
9) Wagom

The last four did not appear in our 1960 list.
In reply the Fon gives us a list of early holders of office.

1) Batifua [is this an early Fon, Mbaktefwa?]
2) Ndito
3) Wayikachu
4) Këna
5) Kwangga - all from Ngunabum.
6) Tabu
7) Tum
8) Wambamje, all from Nggen.
9) Tifa of Ijun, plus 'Madam Njang'.

[There are no names from Lagabum or Fonfuka, so perhaps this represents a Ngunabum reconstruction.]
Of the others, "when Wanjong [
listed by DOs in 1938 and 1942] died, his son Ngum took his place. [No. 4 on 1960 list.] When Chiafon died his son Cheng Nenge took his place. When Yam died, his son Yam took over, still very young. When Wagom died, Ngongha Kang took over. [No. 5 on 1960 list.]" [This leaves Kilesi and Tifa unaccounted for at this stage.]


37) Membership of Kwi'fon-a-Bum.
We explained to the Fon what had been said about it in Bridges' Intelligence Report and provided six names stated to be leading 'non-resident councillors' of Kwi'fon in 1933, and fifteen names provided by Fon Kwangga in 1938. In reply the Fon sent us a list of nineteen names with some comments. The ones which appear on the 1938 list are starred.]

* Missom from Kwoti, died, his son Chia Kun, took over
* Dom Nejeng from Kikangko
* Kuma Nga from Fonfuka
* Bangha from Nggoen
Kanghe from Ngunakimbi
Wango from Ngunakimbi, died, his son Nya took over
Ngoh Nedu from Ngen (Nggoen)
Kitu from Fonfuka
Yai from Ngonavisi (Nggunafoesi)
Njiforba (or Ndifon Bala) from Benekimbeyuendong
Lenga Nyi from Fonfuka
Kimbong from Ngen (Nggoen)
Kiyam from Fonfuka
Nkangha Tung from Buabua
Forchia from Ifun
Chia Nja from Lagabum
Mbanga from Lagabum
* Chu Muanyanga from Lagabum

[The Fon adds] "There is a name for the Inner Council which is Nda Chum .... There were five or more members. Missom chose the members. If a member committed a crime he was fined five goats, or fowls, but if he committed a serious crime he was dismissed. Seats in the inner council were not a family matter [not inherited]. If a man was to join it, the old councillors would ask him to bring goats or fowls and drink before admitting him."


38) The connection between the Big Nine and the Inner Kwi'fon - The Fon explains that the male members of nda ntul were called into nda chum to help in difficult matters. They went 'as listeners' by invitation. Ful was not excluded as a close royal. There was a 'chairman' former Missom.
The men on the 1938 list [
at (36)] who could 'see the things of Kwi'fon' were Njito' [Ndito'], Ful, Yangsi (the successor of Nggong-Mata), Wangjong (succeeded by Nggum) and Nggongha Kang (the successor of Wagom). They did not have to pay anything.

39) Military organization
We told the Fon that one D.O. had said that the asugwe (sing. gwe) were thirty warriors chosen for bravery. Another said that they wore black feathers and that they were all joined to Kwi'fon Council when war was being discussed. Was this true ?]
The Fon replies, "It is true, all of it". It is the same as the bagwe of Bali and the gwe of Nso'. There is no tradition that they were got from Bafut.
The asugwe were selected by Kwi'fon. No princes were asugwe. Their leaders were called Nesugwe (the mother of asugwe). It was not a hereditary office. Tanda Kichia was one such. They had their meeting in Kwi'fon compound.

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

For further information contact Ian Fowler