Hunting is part ritual and part sport among the Mambila and is very popular. It is governed by strict rules. The hunting period is the dry season. When the time has come the diviners and soothsayers will fix the right day for the 'opening of the season'. They will then inform the chief Priest who will make a general proclamation. Everyone will get ready for the day, and each will go separately to the soothsayers to find out what success he will have. If all the soothsayers agree in their prognostications, and forbid a man to go, he must obey them. At the same time the priests will be making many kinds of medicines. The soothsayer must pick out the steadiest and most level-headed young man in the village. He will receive the 'medicine spear' from the Chief Priest. The night before hunting none who is going out should sleep with his wife. It is said to be 'unfair' to do so.
On the day, the boy with the medicine spear must lead the way, with the priests. He must not turn, or look back, or speak with anyone except the priests. The first animal they meet, he must aim his spear and throw it before anyone else does. It is no matter whether he misses or not, but no one must shoot until he has done so. After he has played his part everyone has the right to spear any animals he may come across, and the boy with the medicine spear may then speak to anyone. If these rules are correctly carried out, the hunting will be successful and they will kill many animals, and no harm will come to them.
There are two kinds of hunting; one day expeditions and expeditions lasting a week or more. The most important animals that one may kill are buffalo, elephant, lion, wild pig and python. If one kills any of these one makes a great name for oneself.
This is how the kills are shared out. The man who first wounds the animal and draws blood, even if it is only a small scratch, is the owner. The carcass will be cut in half lengthways after the head is taken off. The owner gets the head, and the ## right hand side, together with the liver, kidneys and heart. The second person to obtain a hit will get the neck or left shoulder. The third person gets the intestine or legs. If there were dogs, they would get their share in the same way. The owner may give little bits of meat to any of his elder relatives who may have been present. The head, kidneys and heart can only be cooked in the medicine pot outside the compound. The family divide this and not all can eat of it. The women may not touch it, and only the male children. The night following the day on which these parts are cooked must not be spent away from the village. If one of the family does this he must bring one chicken to cook in the medicine pot to bring back the good luck. While they are cooking in the medicine place the family may not talk with anyone who is not concerned in the business. And the meat cooked can only be eaten there. The bones of any animal killed must be broken up with stones. It is believed that if this is not done, the killer will never hit another animal again.
Apart from the portions cooked in the medicine place, the remainder is to be divided amongst the owner's kindred. The second and third men distribute a little to their relatives if they wish.
Some animals and birds, if killed, must not be carved up until they have been brought before the village chief. [Note: This is xxxxx the official Village Head appointed by the N.A. and agreed on by the village to deal with the Europeans, etc. Each large unit in Mambila has its own chief, chosen by the elders, whom they honour and respect more than the official head. These people know all kinds of medicine and magic and are regarded by the people as semi-divine. It is believed that what they say will surely happen.] These special beasts are leopard, guinea-fowl, lion, viper, crown-bird and cockatoo. If any of these are killed they must be brought before the real village chief. However young it may be, the iller must collect the elders and approach the chief with it. It will then be carved and the greater part cooked and eaten by the elders and priests only, and the chief. Only the elders and priests, young or old, eat the meat of leopard, cockatoo and viper. Young boys and girls do not eat leopard, for they believe that people turn into leopards; so they are warned not to eat. But the elders do not mind.
When a cockatoo is killed and brought before the chief, the head is cut off, the red feathers pulled out and kept. These are very important. They are a badge of courage. Whoever has committed some outstanding deed of valour will be given one of these feathers to stick in his hair or in his beard. If you killed a man in battle you would be given one of these feathers. In olden days the warriors, and now the leopard killers get them. The possessor of one is universally regarded as a brave man. In the case of young men who have one of the feathers, they will not wear it every day. But on every important occasion and feast day they must appear with them among the elders.
The man who kills a leopard will be greatly honoured by the elders. The dead leopard will be brought into the chief's compound. All the elders and young men of the village will come with it, and while they are coming war songs will be sung: they may come with shields on their arms and with spears. The man who killed the leopard sits by the chief and in front of them the leopard is laid. It is then flayed and carved up. The head is reserved for the chief and the meat will be boiled off it leaving the skull bare. The meat will be shared amongst the elders, and some of the outstanding of the old women. The chief and priests share the long hairs of the whiskers; and the heart, kidneys and liver are reserved for them. The skin always used to remain the property of the chief in the old days before they began to be sold for money. Even today no one other than a chief has the right to wear a leopard skin. Anyone who does has to pay a forfeit of a goat and a dog to the chief, to 'xxxxx him up' as they say.
[In addition to the red feather that brave men stick in their hair, they may also wear porcupine quills.]
After this, the chief priest finishes off the feast with a special medicine making. Then the wrestling song will be led off by him or the chief. The drums will be beaten while they sing, and wrestling will be going on. When they have finished, everyone looks for his xxxxx.