Fon Peter Yai entering royal tomb 1999
Eleven Bum Fons have ruled and died since the Bum left Mbilimbot. The genealogy of the Bum Fondom has been rendered differently by different inquirers. Some trace the genealogy right back to Meniku as the first Fon, while others go only as far back as Mbaktefwa, the first Fon of Alung and the first man to unite all the villages around Bum. He led the Alung out of Mbilimbot and made lots of conquests over smaller villages and earned from them "the right to put his foot on a leopard skin". When he died, he was buried in Ngunabum, the first location of the Bum palace.
The second Fon was the son of Mbaktefwa who was called Digatita and he. was succeeded by Mwandum. in turn succeeded by Kamato. Mbemfafa, Kamato's son, took over on the death of his father, and is said to have come to the help of Blim when she was attacked by Ju from Nkol. The next Fon, towards the end of the 18th century, was Mbangakwo. He reigned for a long rime and was said to be a peaceful ruler. During his reign Kom started its attacks on Bum, and so did Mbangshu. It is also alleged that he moved palace. Among his sons were Tam, Kibon who founded Mulung and Yai who founded Ngonafesi. Yundi succeeded as Fon, but had a brief reign of two years only. He was killed in Blim while fighting on the Nkambe boundary. Yundi was succeeded by his brother Wasa who reigned for four years and died.
After Wasa, different versions of the successor Tam are told. Some say he was a child and so could not be put to rule, others say he ran away and settled in Bikom. so Njang the daughter of Mbemfafa, was made recent (Yaa) . She kept custody of the throne until Tam the rightful successor came. Further wars with the Fulani and the Kom, the subjection of Mungong and the arrival and settlement of Mbuk are ascribed to the reign of Tam. It is said that Zintgraff, the German explorer, slept in Lakabum with his dogs for two days during the time of Tam, who had transferred the palace from Ngunabum to Lakabum. Tam is reputed for having protected smaller villages against bigger ones, Kom in particular. For example, when Fungom attacked Fwang, he sent people to help Fwang against Fungom. Although his rule was generally one of resistance against external aggression, he, most diplomatically, opted for peace rather than fight the Germans in their village to village conquest, and for that he was given a "Union Jack" for submission. During his reign, Bum created a good relationship with the Nso and they could trade freely and in peace. The Hausas settled permanently in Bum during his reign. He was said to be very welcoming and hospitable to strangers, and that is why he presented the first English man, "Mr Hewby" at Ibbi with "Ten tusks" and in return the white man gave him two dane guns, two boxes of cloth and two boxes of gun powder. Massive deaths and hunger at Ngunabum caused by war, made Tam to vacate the throne. He died between 1905 and 1908.
Kwanga (Tum) took over from Tam. According to Fr. Johannes Ernonts, Kwanga was very friendly, had a pleasant appearance and was of refined aristocratic bearing. He spoke fluent pidgin so that one could converse with him without an interpreter. He understood the priest's plans for a school and education and was ready to give some boys for the mission school in Nso, while at the same time begging the priest to build a school in Bum soon; so that the whole ethnic group could take part in modern advances. Father Emonts thought of him as "a fine Chief with a European rathet than an African look", and confesses that he had not expected to meet such a kind and hospitable chief "in this rocky wilderness". Under Kwanga Bum gained control over Achan. He sought employment for his son John Yai as provincial messenger at Bamenda. He presided over the meetings of the Native Court created in 1927 under the British administration, and formed the council members in the Bum Native authority area according to the old laws and customs of the people. He suffered from poor health around 1949. Much later, he was taken ill again and had a chest complaint (suffering from incipient heart failure). He died in the comfortable hands of the Chiefs of Nyos, Fungom and Sawi, and was, after a brief regency of two months, succeeded by his son, John Yai, who reigned from February 12th 1954 to May 1997.
This section examines the institutions through which Bum is administered: Kwefon, Kouk, Fon, Tuut, Lords or Notables and Village Heads.
'Before the arrival of European authority the Bum clan formed a powerful, self-contained and independent kingdom, with a complete social structure and an effective system of administration, fully competent to safeguard its own interests and to oppose any interference from without' (Pollock 1927: 44).
2.2.1 KWEFON
Beben Njifobah of Fonfuka commented on Kwefon and its relationship with the Fon thus:
The powers of the Kwefon emanate from the Fon, and the powers of Fon come from the Kwefon. This unity can be illustrated by my hand: The thumb and the fingers both form the hand, but the thumb is the coordinator of all four fingers. The Fon is the thumb and along with others form the Kwefon. The fingers stand for other people. The thumb can do nothing without the fingers and vice versa. Just as without the thumb, the fingers cannot grip something firmly, so too can the people be ineffective without the Fon (interviewed 4th of April 1984).
There are four Kwefonsu in Bum: At Saaff, Sawi, Kaakie and Lakabum. The one in Lakabum is the head of them all.
The Lakabum Kwefon has seven notables who help in the administration of the land. According to Bridges:
the Kwefon made laws and enforced them; it executed the orders of Ndatut; supervised wars and made peace, attended the burials of important people, celebraqted the birth of children and generally supervised and controlled the executive side of the administration. Nkwefon, like Ndatut, must also plead for the prosperity of the whole tribe, but only once a year (Bridges 1933: 15).
When a notable has a message from the Kwefon for his people, he assembles the latter in the market place. In his hands are a broom and a kgheng (Dracaena deisteliana). The Bum treat the kgheng as a symbol of law, justice and authority. The notable speaks to the assembly about the good and the bad; always beginning his message as follows:
Let the bad year and evil go down south. Let only the good, the child, food and the animal of the field come home to Bum. Evil comes from the south. Let Bum sleep well and in peace; using food and animal to feed the child. Let every Bum man wash the evil off him to the south where it comes from.
The kgheng is a plant associated with royalty; it is respected because it is sacred. It is also known as authority, justice and law (sak). If the kgheng is attached to a calabash of wine, it signifies that the Fon alone can authorise the wine to be drunk. One must stand by and respectfully stoop for the carrier of any such calabash of wine to pass
The Kwefon sends the notable to his people, and the people in turn send the notable to the former.
The notable acts like the ear and eye of the kwefon amongst the people, and vice versa. A notable is expected to report to the kwefon, all the troublemakers of his area. The latter looks into all cases brought before it, and punishes the guilty. It rewards the guiltless by rubbing them with camwood. The kwefon is very much against evil, it is concerned with good. Thus it urges sorcerers to abandon their evil practices, so that they may contribute in building up the population. The Kwefon judges (sak) against the bad and in favour of the good. It is concerned with meting out justice.
In the past the Kwefon used the Mabuh to execute culprits. Those found guilty of murder or making love to a queen were killed. On the other hand, it rewarded those who did great deeds (warriors, Asugwe, distinguished hunters, and others). If it punished by death or banishment, it is not because the Kwefon was bad. Rather it is because its duty is to protect the people against evil and injustice.
Only men are allowed to become members of the Kwefon society. Men alone can get into its lodge (sg: benaKwefona = compound of Kwefon). Women are forbidden to see it, or to get into its lodge. On the contrary, they are expected to lock themselves in when the Kwefon is "Reddening" (baangha). (That is, when its instruments are being sounded by the men). The Kwefon has no medicine. Its instruments, which Pollock describes as "crude' consist of a pan on which are attached some gongs and flat pieces of metal. These instruments are played during its monthly meetings. Playing them was a very demanding exercise; they weighed very much, and the performer had to carry them on his back, and jerked his body to make them rattle. Still, according to Pollock, if these gongs were played, it could be for no other reason than to 'terrorise' the women and uninitiated (Pollock 1927: 30).
Though this society seeks membership only among the men, not every man has access, nor is entrance free for those who are eligible. In Bum the fondoms of Mungong, Mbuk and Mbamlu have no Kwefon. There is also the strange case of Kaakie, where there is one without a Fon at its head. No man from a Fondom without a Kwefon, can be allowed to enter into its lodge. But where there is one, all males are eligible for initiation into its society, and can enter the lodge and take part in activities. But the initiation fee is very heavy. Bridges states the fee to be "five goats and some palm wine" and remarks that the Kwefon is "essentially a society for well-to-dos, for, however intelligent a man may be, he is not allowed to become a member unless he is willing to pay the full fee in due course." (Bridges 1933: 15). The first thing an initiate is warned against is confiding in, and discussing important matter with women.
The person who takes care of the lodge is called Babe. To be appointed to occupy this function, the candidate must be a very intelligent young boy, whose father is widely respected for his possession of wisdom. He is forbidden from the company of women, and must conceal his face from the public gaze. He would be severely flogged if he should fail in any of his duties. Bridges says that the Babe is a great man and must prove his worth by performing his function with impartiality. He earns a reward when his term of office comes to a successful end.
The Kwefon has the kuok as its dog. Also at its service are the Mabuh and the nengkang. However; while we are going to treat the kuok next, we do not think that the latter two need any independent treatment. What we would do is to incorporate them with our major topics, as the opportunities crop up.
2.2.2 KUOK
Kuok (pl. Kuoksu) is called the Kwefon's dog. Its head is made up of a basket (kaa) covered with human hair, and sometimes the hair of a horse. It is tied with two long cords (sg. jeng - p1. jengtu). Its agents also carry a calabash of medicine (ghenakuoka). To become a member, a man is expected to make payments to the kuok by bringing such items as goats and fowls. But one must have already engendered a child, to be qualified for initiation. The cords of kuok are two: The female and the male. The female is the one on the left, and the male is the one on the right. When one's first child is a girl at the time of one's initiation, one is initiated to hold only the cord on the left. But if the first child is a boy, the initiate would be permitted to hold the cord on the right only. In the case where he has engendered both a boy and a girl, the initiate can hold both the male and the female cords. A woman is forbidden to enter the kuok lodge (sg. ndahkuok = house of kuok - p1. Ndahsukuoksu). If she stubbornly goes there however, and eats the kuok food, she would develop a swollen stomach (sg. laakuoku = stomach of kuok - pl. laamukuoknu); and might even die as a result.
Kuok works on medicine - herbs fetched, ground and mixed together. This medicine is sometimes called "bad thing" (shiebe). When it is being fetched, whatever grass a woman cuts and hands to a man, becomes medicine. In the calabash are three different types of medicine: the male, the neutral and the female. The first is to render the kuok very strong, the second to keep its strength moderate, while the third is to calm it down. When the kuok is out of male control, and is going wild in the bush, a woman can use her head pad (kanti = what she uses to carry her basket to and from the farm daily) to calm (chit) it. Once the kuok is rendered impotent by the head pad, the woman then picks up its left cord and leads it back home to the men. A man who throws the head pad at the kuok would not calm it as well. In fact, it is held that the latter would instead make the man sterile or crippled, if he attempted to do that. Moreover, a man is forbidden to touch the woman's head pad.
When its notable dies, the kuok goes to his compound and destroys places until his sons entertain it. If one succeeds to his father's position, and refuses to make payments to kuok even though qualified, it could attack the person for failing to pay his father's debts. A person who refuses to entertain it at his father's death, is summoned to appear before the court. Whoever has not yet made payments to kuok remains uninitiated (mbughg - cannot enter its lodge or eat its food). Even the Fon is treated in this way until he formally becomes a member.
Every one runs away at the sight of kuok. Some, like the Fon, run away to show respect and honour; others run away because it looks very fearful; and a third group runs away because they want to avoid becoming members. Its agents (sg. nganhgakuok - p1. ngangsukuokso) would stop members of the third group who are ripe enough to make payments, and would force them to do so. Their fathers ate and fed them through kuok, why should they (the children) run away from it?
Kuok works entirely on medicine, not clairvoyance. Apart from its calabash and other medicine applied on the stomach to make it swell, there are two amulets inside kuok's big head. Whoever attempts to put the latter to the test, would suffer from epilepsy and leprosy.
Kuok is present wherever there is a Kwefon. Thus, there is one at Saaff, Sawi, Kaakie (or Laamase), and Lakabum. It is absent from Mbuk, Mungong and Mbamlu. These three Fondoms, which lack both institutions, along with the clans of Faath and Fwio, are believed to have been captured in warfare by the Bum from Mbilimbot. These are therefore known as War Captives (p1. Tumungumu tribes captured in war). No man from any of these captured clans is permitted to make payments or enter the kuok lodge. The kuok can go to Sawi and Saaff, but never to Kaakie where there is no Fon. On the contrary, all Kwefonsu and kuoksu go to Lakabum.
Kuok is present wherever there is a Kwefon. Thus, there is one at Saaff, Sawi, Kaakie (or Laamase), and Lakabum. It is absent from Mbuk, Mungong and Mbamlu. These three Fondoms, which lack both institutions, along with the clans of Faath and Fwio, are believed to have been captured in warfare by the Bum from Mbilimbot. These are therefore known as War Captives (p1. Tumungumu tribes captured in war). No man from any of these captured clans is permitted to make payments or enter the kuok lodge. The kuok can go to Sawi and Saaff, but never to Kaakie where there is no Fon. On the contrary, all Kwefonsu and kuoksu go to Lakabum.
A notable who belongs to one lodge can take part in the activities of another kuok. But to become a senior member in a particular lodge, one must provide the items which would permit him to obtain the strongest medicine (mgwuk). It is one that can qualify him to eat the fowl behind the kuok pot (Nguiituk = fowl of tuk).
2.2.3 FON
If the Kwefon is the entire hand, the Fon is the thumb that controls the hand. He is the custodian of the Kwefon, kuok and Tuut. In Bum, there are three Fons with Kwefon and there are three without it. The Fon of Bum (who lives at Lakabum palace) is the biggest of them all. If the Fons themsclves formed another hand, he would rightly be described as the thumb. He is the overall ''Head''.
Oral and written history say that the Lakabum fondom came from Mbilimbot. The original Mbilimbot descendants are called Alung. Their first Fon (Mbaktefwa) to settle here is said to have fought and subdued all those he met; thus becoming their king. As the Bum aptly say: "The head of a single household cannot speak without weighing his words in the compound with many households; he risks paying severely for his words." For he would be beaten in a fight because his people are not many.
The Fon of Bum administers the land with the assistance of the chiefs (sg. fen = chief - pl. fentu), the Lords (sg. nji subchief - pl. njitoh), and the village heads (sg. beitek = head or itek - pl. beiteka). They use the broom and kgheng (Dracaena deisteliana) to drive their message through. The Fon is expected to consult with all these subordinates before taking any decision. There is nothing he can do alone, or rather, there is nothing he should do alone. All of them have to cooperate like the finger and thumb of the hand.
Fon of Bum with recently enthroned Chief of Jul, Ardo Bobo and Ardo Sarli of Bum
A good Fon is a wise man or a sly one, and a bad Fon is a sorcerer or a villain. However, the Fon must look carefully among his children to choose his successor. He chooses the prince who is obedient, law abiding, honest and intelligent. No prince with a dubious character can be chosen to assume the fondom. Though all these criteria are prescribed, the Bum have no standard procedure of finding out before hand whether a candidate's clairvoyance is constructive or destructive. His actual goodness or badness is determined only in the course of his reign. The Fon's choice of a candidate has to be revealed to the two kingmakers who keep it as a top secret. Normally, he discusses many possibilities with them before making his final choice. The saying goes that 'only a bad Fon thinks that he can rule alone".
A Fon who is either a wise man or a sly man is beneficial to his people; he is then upheld because his clairvoyance is not of the destructive kind. But there is no fear that an innocent Fon (the medium) can be attacked by sorcerers and villains. This is because, immediately a medium is enthroned Fon, all the witchdoctors of the land come and "cook" him in their medicines. All types of medicine is made on him and around the palace.
When the Fon has indicated his successor to the two kingmakers, he might send this chosen one away to a foreign land. The heir might stay out until his father's death, then he is fetched for. During the reign of Fon Kwanga. the two kingmakers were Chauhe and Njitoh. The latter is also an original lord. In the past, the successor was first taken to the Kwefon lodge for a period of over five months. Today, he stays there for barely a month because modernity wants that the people should be presented with their new leader after the shortest possible time. After this period at the Kwefon lodge, the successor is taken to the Tuut lodge where he is made up (i.e. dressed up as wont). Then he is presented to all the people assembled in the courtyard. Immediately after the presentation, there is gun firing, eating, drinking and dancing. The entire atmosphere is that of rejoicing.
Chilver and Kabbery (1968: 86) state that amongst all the chiefs of Bum, that of Sawi "stands in a special relation to the Fon of Bum as trusted adviser and witness of his installation". The chief of Sawi might stand in special relation as a "trusted adviser" but as witness of the Fon of Bum's installation, the chief of Sawi's stand is in no way special because every other chief is equally free to witness the installation ceremony. The chiefs of Mungong, Mbuk and Mbamlu may not be allowed to enter the Kwefon lodge, but they are not denied entrance into the Tuut lodge where the actual installation begins. Furthermore, though all chiefs are free, and in fact, invited to witness the ceremony in the Tuut lodge, none of them participates actively. This is understood because, according to the Bum, it is impossible for a Fon to be the kingmaker of another. No Fon can ever enthrone another; each fondom, no matter how small, has its own kingmakers that are recognised by the people.
The Fon is expected to govern according to the law of the land, and the law of the land is in the interest of the people. He goes into the Efum (the house in which dead Fons are buried) to speak and pour libation. There he evokes his predecessors to give him their support because he wants to follow in their footsteps in executing the task they bestowed on him.
In the Fon's service are two types of messengers: The nangkang, whom Bridges (1933: 15) describes as "the funny man, who steals your property while he is making you laugh", is sent only on very weighty errands like: going to fetch someone accused of sorcery, ral-lying people for communal labour and so on. The nangkang carries a bamboo stick which he might throw at those who mock at or attempt to run away from him. The retainer on the other hand runs the day errands for the Fon, both in and out of the palace. In the past there were many retainers. Today, there hardly seems to be as many as two present. Even the nangkangsu rarely appear.
In conclusion, the Fon has to be treated with utmost respect. There are many special ways of addressing, calling, or answering him. He is a sacred person and must be treated in that light. Tuut comes next in our series of examinations.
2.2.4 THE POT-OF-THE-LAND (TUUT) kghengilaki - 'The Pot of the Land'
The Tuut is a big pot in the palace. It is placed at the centre of the lodge of the pot (sg. ndahtuut house of tuut - pl. ndahsutuutsu). This pot is known as "The Pot-of-the-Land" (sg. kghengiylaki = pot of ylak - pl. kghengaylaka). It is rubbed all over with medicine. Raphia wine is poured into the pot; the elderly or important members of tuut who are called "Notables of the Pot" (sg. cheghatuut = notable of tuut - pl. cheghsutuutsu), sip the wine that is poured into the pot. The notable who takes the initiative at the lodge of the pot is a Lord titles Njitoh. Njitoh, the Fon, and the notable who sits over the wine which he distributes to the other notables, are the only notables of the pot with some special functions. Njitoh for example opens the deliberations, and closes them along with the Fon who gives the final word. It is perhaps of some importance to note that where a Kwefon exists, these Notables of the pot are the very individuals who make up the Kwefon Notables. The Pot is concerned with the administration of the land. It is also a rain making body.
Tuut is also concerned with harmony, peace and the welfare of the people. The Bum consider the use of iron polluting, as against wood or bare hands.
There is a Pot-of-the-land in all the three fondoms who have Kwefon as an institution: Lakabum, Sawi and Saaff. The tuut is equally found in the three other fondoms where Kwefon is absent: Mbuk, Mungong and Mbamlu.
The pot-of-the-land at Mbamlu was acquired as a reward from Lakabum (for having brought peace to the land during the reign of Fon Mbem). The pot in Mbuk came from Kwosheen with whom Mbuk has much in common. As for the pot at Mungong, not only do the people ignore its origin, but also, many people outside Mungong are unaware of its existence. However, the Bum are unanimous in thinking that the last three fondoms originally ignored Tuut as an institution. But according to Beben Khena of Bahli:
Tuut is something of a very long time ago. It is like a mother; while Kwefon is like a father. Before the Kwefon undertakes a trip, there is first of all a meeting at the lodge of the pot by the notables that help govern the land. If there is any issue or situation that threatens the harmony and peace of the land, the notables and Fon meet in the Lodge of the Pot. Here the Fon speaks and wine is poured on the floor. This reassures the peace and welfare of the land. The Bum people had Tuut as far back as Mbot, from whence they came, (interviewed 7th April. 1984).
Under normal circumstances, the lodge of the pot meets thrice a year to discuss harvest, population and hunting However, an extraordinary meeting might be summoned to look into a sudden misfortune like: an epidemic, famine or locust attack.
When an issue is successfully settled, the most senior notable Lord Njito, and the Fon use the kgheng to chase away the evil. The kgheng is then thrown away and the people all go home, hopeful and satisfied.
We have decided to treat these three concepts together, because we think it more comprehensive dealing with them in this way.
Amongst the Bum the title 'notable' is a very broad term. It refers to any elderly man who has succeeded to the head of a large compound. He is a compound head (beben) because he controls a large compound. But this does not mean that all componud heads are notables. the village head and Lord are both ecmpound heads and notables. But they are also more than that. The Lord is second to the chief. But in his relationship with his Fon, the Lord is closest to the latter. In the Bum context, the Lord is a Subchief. There is therefore the Fon, Chief, Lord, Village head, Compound head. We must distinguish between the Lord and the Fon's Aide (Tantoh = closest to the Fon). The Fon's Aide is resident closest to the palace. His functions are to admit and discharge the Fon's visitors. Nobody can hope to see the Fon without passing through the Tantoh. There are two types of Lords in Bum today: The original Lords who are three in number: Njitoh of Mulung, Njibong of Fwio and Njimbamlu of Mbamlu. The princes that were made Lords are two in number: Njifobah and Njikimbi. Njiwanang and Njikumbu are two individuals also made Lords. Both the princes and these last two individuals form the class of Lords referred to as "created". The "original lords" are those whose lordship is an age old institution.
The original Lord pulls more weight and his word counts more to the Fon.
As stated before, the village head controls a village of people that look up to him for direction. The Lord is also head of a group of people, but his sphere of influence is broader than that of a village head. In the quoted passage that follows, what is said could be true of a village head as well as a Lord. Both the Lord and village head are regarded as the Kwefon's "eye and ear" among the people. They are expected to report to it any serious disharmony in their areas of jurisdiction. They are in perpetual consultation with the Kwefon whose custodian is the Fon. The Kwefon must be in accordance before they can effect any decision to punish a sorcerer by banishment or death. In fact, it is the Kwefon that decides how to punish culprits. The Lord and village heads are highly dependent on the wise men for purging the society of evil. In the following passage, Teacher Bang of Mulung summarizes what the Bum consider the Lord or the Village head to be:
The power of the beitek comes from his people. He can do nothing alone even if he is a clairvoyant. He needs the support of his people. Whether an innocent or a clairvoyant, the Village head or Lord should work hand in hand with his subjects. The innocent for instance is not going to be an inefficient leader because he is innocent. Even though he is innocent, he has wise men under him that "see" and inform him on what line of action to take. So that when he stands up to speak, he speaks in the name of his people and not in his powers as an individual. His people send him to the Kwefon. In a village like this, the power of someone is judged from his rank in the society. If you are a clairvoyant, but not a compound head, you would not be regarded as powerful in the society. Whereas an innocent who is a compound head will be considered powerful and capable of assisting the beitek who is the person most endowed with authority. Even the power of the village head is given by his society, and not got from his clairvoyance. The wise men are under the village head as soldiers. They see and alert him. As for the sorcerers and villains who think they can disturb the peace of the village under the beitek, even God Himself can punish them (interviewed 4th April, 1984).
The Bum find a lot of similarities between their institutions and form of government, and the institutions and government of the Cameroon state. Informants are unanimous that "Kwefon" is like the "government" or the "Law" of the Cameroon State. The Fon is likened to the "president" of the Cameroon state. Just as the president cannot (rather, should not) ignore the government and law by taking things into his hands and making personal decisions, so, too, the Fon should not ignore the Kwefon which stands for everybody in Bum. Furthermore, the kuok is likened to the "policeman" or the "Gendarme". It is believed to be as necessary to Kwefon and Fon, as the police force and army are necessary to the Government and President. Many other similarities exist, but this is out of the scope of this presentation. A Bum aware of this great similarity might refer to the President of the Cameroon Republic as the Fon of Cameroon (Fena Cameroon). Though he might also expect the presidency to be hereditary; and passed down from father to son. Which is precisely where the Bum fondom and the Cameroon State differ; in their sources of Legitimacy.

This page was created by Ian Fowler