1.'and shared out our kolas. Yangsi said they were not for the small boys - it is men who draw strength from them!

Where else might you encounter something by this name (or something very similar) and what is the link?

2. 'shown to our extremely comfortable quarters, the "Boys" being lodged in a good room lower down the range'

At every point hierarchy is established.

3. 'the Fon would call. And he did, immaculate in a dark suit'

In this instance the Fon is wearing suitably sober European attire and so stresses his modernity. Remember he has been to London and met the Queen! But in more local contexts it was the practice for members of the post-colonial new Elite to wear traditional dress as a marker of that elite status embedded in tradition.

4. 'his "sisters". He explains that they serve the Fon's strangers.

Although the chiefdoms of the Grassfields presented a uniform face to the outside world they were in fact highly composite in terms of the origins of the constituent population. The Fon was the main conduit for assimilating strangers into the chiefdom.

5. 'but she does not go to the fum. Only the Fon and Ful go there - though Ndifon may enter.

Physical access to the royal tombs implies access also to the ancestral powers of creation and destruction that they contain. Hence it is always a key issue in Grassfields chiefdoms who has this right and who does not.

6. But if Fon Bum goes to Mbot on a similar occasion he enters the fum there before Fon Mbot'

Here we see that patterns of access to ancestral powers, as a marker of rank in the local hierarchy, extend also to relations between heads of communities. Indeed since all this is tied to access to tombs located in particular chiefdoms we see that local and regional hierarchies are inextricably interconnected.

What implications might follow from this for a 'traditional' village-based anthropological study?

7. We ask who came to mourn and with what when the late Fon of Bum died.

The question moves us from what is supposed to happen to what actually did occur on the last occasion of the death of the Fon of Bum. The following passage gives us a snapshot in time of Bum's position in the regional hierarchy. Who came or did not come and what was brought are highly significant.

Why did Kom bring Manjong?

8. Both Fon Sawe and Fon Saf have kwi'fon'

What kind of political unit (sub-chiefdom or..) is represented here?

9. 'he is permitted to wear leopard's teeth and is second to Fon Bum in rank. He sits above Fon Saf and to the left of Fon Bum'

This depiction of hierarchy suggests a formal rigidity which may conceal a more fluid and openly negotiated pattern of hierarchy. Who says what, to whom, in whose presence are key questions to ask in these situations.

10. Sawe came from Oku out of the lake, Mawes; he came to Sawe-Bum.

Lake Mawes is a volcanic crater lake in the chiefdom of Oku. It is the subject of a myth of dispersal also involving Oku. Kijem, Nturr, and Babungo elements, i.e. Ring language groups.

11. There were many left in Oku, but he won't say more "in case politics are made out of it"

There was a major flow of population between chiefdoms in the pre-colonial and colonial periods. Since taxes were levied on the basis of numbers of adult males population movement often led to conflict over tax payments.

12. Fon Saf says he only knows what his father said, that his ancestor came from the Mbiribo pool'

Mbiribo is another mythic centre of dispersal but this time linked to the Mbam-Nkam language group.

13. (We turn to recent relations with Kom.)

Kom undertook a period of expansion under Fon Yu (c.1860-1912) which brought it into conflict with surrounding groups such as Bum.

14. They "reached a covenant" - mukan - never to war again'

Such peace pacts between Grassfields chiefdoms were common and, in the pre-colonial period, involved the sacrifice and burial of slaves.

15. Achan at present "goes through the mother's side". Formerly there was matrilineal descent at Akun, Njul, and Buwabuwa, in Bum. In Saf "sons succeed".

Matrilineal and patrilineal communities co-exist in this northern area of the Grassfields. Kom was the largest matrilineal chiefdom albeit with an apparently patrilineal founding dynasty. Chiefdoms neighbouring Kom to the north exhibited a mix of patrilineal and matrilineal practices. The case of Bum suggests a change from matriliny to patriliny albeit piecemeal and perhaps linked to conflict over the exchange of women in marriage between communities.

16. 'to greet him with a goat and a basket of kola with a message: "I have kola nuts but no salt, kola nuts but no cloth.

Bum played a major role in regional trade at the end of the 19th century. It was an entrepot for goods, especially cloth and salt, coming down from the North and local Grassfields commodities, e.g. kola and slaves, moving in the opposite direction. It was a valuable trade partner to the large and powerful Nso' chiefdom.

17. But the first people who visited here to trade were Jiku (Jukun)'

The Jukun people and their kingdom called Kororofa was located in the Benue valley to the north-west of the Grassfields. It appears that Bum was able to maintain its pivotal role in trade between the Grassfields and the north even when that trade shifted from Jukun to Hausa centres.

18. The first Englishman in the north was at Ibbi'

There were a few early British trade and military contacts with the northern Grassfields.

19. 'if the Fon had tusks here he would send them as a gift to say, Nso', Kom or Mbot, and others and some gift, e.g. "a beautiful girl" would be returned in exchange'

Gift exchange between Fons involved prestige items including ivory, fine cloth and beads, guns, gun-powder, iron sacra and slaves. The circulation and redistribution of these items established and expressed rank and hierarchy between Fons ( and by extension chiefdoms) as well as within each particular community.

20. If a Bamum man was captured by Nso' he would be sent here'

It is characteristic of the slave trade here in the Grassfields that individual slaves, not locally assimilable, were traded out at the furthest point possible from their point of acquisition.

21. It was the Hausa who brought cowries'

Cowries, brass rings, beads and hoe-blanks were all employed as forms of currency in various overlapping parts of the Grassfields in the 19th century. At this time there was a clear pattern of trade and production. At the centre high value low volume items, e.g. hoes, were produced and traded against high volume bulk commodities, especially palm oil, produced on the margins. Here we see that Bum ties up a series of trade links - oil for ironware and kola, kola for cowries and salt, etc. - to its greater profit.

22. The Fon says that at his own installation'

Here the Fon offers a brief account of some elements of his installation.

What are some of the difficulties that lie with this kind of ethnographic material - i.e. oral accounts of past major ritual events?

23. The power he has is to'

The powers and duties of the Fon are effected through Kwi'fon and the local ward or quarter heads.

24. they would dry fish and bring some to the palace. Hunters bring a share. Strangers and those in need have to be fed.

The palace is a centre for the redistribution of all kinds of kinds of resources.

25. If there is hunger, the Fon would send for the Q.H. concerned and give him 5-10 baskets for his people.

The palace serves as a safety store for food stocks and other essential items.

26. Ndifon says that in the time of his father there were plenty of goats, fowls, wine here in the palace'

A hearty flow of materials into and out of the palace was indicative of the vitality of the life of the Chiefdom and its Fon.

27. Male children sent by big men would go to kwi'fon'

Recruitment of young males to palace retainerdom through the agency of the palace-based commoner regulatory association (in this case kwi'fon) was common in the Grassfields.

28. If anything is to be discussed in the palace, they are among the big people

Hence retainerdom offered a channel for social advancement through achievement in palace service.

29. Yes, the right to bags and cups is given by the Fon,

The items and tokens of prestige must be sought from the Fon in return for the render of services or gifts.

30. 'disappointed, I fear, that we were not doctors or Elizabeth O'Kelly come with a corn-mill.

Corn-mills were to become as important for bringing women together as they were for relieving the drudgery associated with the mortar and pestle.

31.The Fon tells us that the words of the first song mean "The Fon is hated because he has confidence in Dr Endeley"

We see here that the women's group, Njang, freely offers a political critique of the Fon's current political stance in their song. Neither the women nor the Fons of the Grassfields were ever apolitical.

32. The Fon tells us that Nanambang "was on the throne" for two months while he was being recalled from his work at the Jos tin mines.

Far from women being apolitical we see here that Nanambang actually played a regency role in the course of the succession of the Fon.

For further information contact Ian Fowler