6. The Fon's wards: From a file (NW 334) entitled: Marriage and Womanhood - Bum

There is unfortunately little in this enticingly titled file except complaints from the Fon and the Sawe Chief about the escape of some of their wives to Bamenda.

But worth recording is a case (1947) in which the Fon demands the custody of 8 children born to Tuma, first described as a 'half-brother', by a woman given to him without 'dowry payments'.

ADO Milne advises the Fon that he should, rather, sue for 'dowries on the children' since he cannot allow an action claiming custody. The SDO, however, thinks that the 'VH' would be better advised to sue Tuma for dowry on the wives rather than the children.

On 16.ii.48 "Chief Tuma", as he signs himself, writes that he cannot summon Tuma his 'son'. He married (i.e. gave a woman to) Tuma and therefore, according to custom, has

"full privilege over the children and properties of Tuma alive or dead. We do not marry women to a son with intent that if tomorrow he becomes strongheaded you will claim a refund of dowry. According to Bum native custom the chief gives out women to his sons free of charge as they are his subjects. And then as God wishes [he] is to enjoy [brideprice] from the children born of any of his sons. When a girl was born thereof was given to an ordinary townsman he pays dowry on behalf of such a girl to the Chief and not to the born father of that girl who is a son to the Chief as this Tuma is. [And he concludes] Tuma was born by one of my daughters called Njah who is living in my compound."

The A.D.O. again explains that children belong to their natural parents and cannot be pledged.

At a later date (12.x.50) the Fon complains that men married his daughters [i.e. wards in general] and he 'saw no dowry' and people now even 'refuse the Fon's right over illegitimate children'. He entreats the more for the restoration of his salary [which had been reduced] as he is a -

"needy old man. This ought to be time Government should take care of me so that I leave the world with cheerful heart and telling ancestors in the next world of the British good government and charity to the poor."

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

For further information contact Ian Fowler