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Rehfisch Thesis


The material for this thesis was obtained during the course of a year's field work among the Mambila-speaking peoples of Adamawa Province, Northern British Cameroons. I arrived in the Mambila District on January 9th, 1953 and left it on January 16th, 1954. The research was financed partly by a Wenner-Gren Foundation Pre-Doctoral Fellowship and partly by the award of a Field Research Assistantship of University College, London.

My original aim was to spend the first few months in one village to learn the language and make a preliminary analysis of the social structure. The remainder of the time was to be spent amassing comparative data in other Mambila village. This proved to be impossible for two main reasons; the problem of establishing rapport and language difficulties.

The establishment and maintenance of good rapport was not easy. The Mambila were very suspicious of my motive, first identifying me as a Government agent whose aim was to discover if it would be possible to increase the tax rate. Late on, some believed that I was working for the Baptist Mission and had come to take their young children away from them in order to send them to the Baptist School of Bamenda Province. Through a stroke of good fortune I was able to overcome their suspicion and show in a concrete manner that I was "on their side". From this time onwards, they realised that it was an advantage to have me in the village, and therefore become more cooperative. Nonetheless it was necessary for me to tread warily at all times to maintain the confidence once established.

The language posed problems for two main reasons. Firstly, few Mambila speak English, and the best of them speak it so badly that it takes some time before one is able to understand more than the ordinary greetings when spoken by them. The majority of the English-speaking Mambila live in the village of Warwar. The reason is that in 1937-8 the Cameroons Baptist Mission built their one and only station on the Mambila Plateau in this village. Several of the villagers had worked for the missionaries at various times and had picked up a smattering of English in so doing. The presence of a few members of the tribe having even a rudimentary knowledge of the English language did, in no small measure, increase the rapidity with which information could be obtained, not only about the language but also about the culture and social structure. It is for this reason that Warwar was chosen as the village in which most of my research would be carried to.

The other problem posed by the language results from the great difference in dialects spoken in the various villages. Having learnt the Warwar dialect reasonably well, I was still unable to understand more than a few odd words when persons from other villages were speaking in their local dialect.

Warwar was selected as the village in which to begin my investigation primarily, as was mentioned earlier, because there were more English-speaking Mambila there than in any other settlement. The population of this village, according to my census, totalled 605. The Government census gives a population of 2,389 for Warwar[1], but includes not only Nomadic Fulani, temporarily residing in the hills around the village at the time the census was taken, but also other small villages in the vicinity, which the Mambila themselves do not consider to be a part of Warwar. These are not included in my census.

Warwar, like all Mambila villages, is subdivided into a number of hamlets. In the case of this settlement the hamlets number four. Other villages that I visited included as many as eight hamlets. Three of the four hamlets in Warwar were comparatively compact settlements. The centre of each was either a sacred grove or a communal dancing arena. The compounds were for the most part built on ridges not far from these foci of hamlet activity. The fourth hamlet followed a rather different pattern: the majority of compounds were near the sacred grove, but a few compounds have been built about 4 miles away so that the inhabitants could be nearer the plots which they cultivated. The hamlets varied in size from one having 196 inhabitants to one with only 94 residents. I do not wish at this stage further to describe the settlement pattern, as this will be discussed in greater detail in the body of the thesis.

I believe that Warwar is a fairly typical Mambila village. The fact that a Mission station has been built within its boundaries has doubtless meant that the inhabitants have been subjected to more European influence than has been the case in some of the other villages. However many villagers formerly exclusively Mambila have seen the arrival of alien settlers: Hausa, Fulani, Kaka and members of other tribes. Where these have come in fairly large numbers they have perhaps brought about more drastic changes in the local structure than has the presence of a missionary and his wife living on the outer boundary of Warwar. Not having studied a village with a heterogeneous population, it is only possible to state this as an untested hypothesis.

For the reasons given earlier it was deemed advisable to devote most of the time in the field to the study of one village. Brief visits were made to neighbouring settlements such as Mbamga, gembu (the District headquarters), Kabri, Bang and others. Time as too short to allow for a study of the structure of these villages to be attempted. As the bulk of the data for this thesis was obtained in Warwar only, it may not be strictly applicable to other Mambila villages, but it is probable that the broad outline of the structure would be similar to that found in the majority of Mambila settlements in Adamawa Province. Mambila structure appears to be relatively homogeneous.

No techniques other than those normally used by social anthropologists were resorted to. My information was largely derived from interviews and observation, with cross-checking whenever possible. I never became so fluent in the language that I could feel comfortable without an interpreter by my side. The usual difficulties arose from the use of such an agent, but as my understanding of the language improved these were largely overcome, and the material derived from interviews became richer and more meaningful. In the beginning it was necessary to rely on a mere handful of informants as the majority of the village if not actively hostile were at least un-cooperative. They would either tell me nothing or else untruths. Later I was able to use almost the entire male population of the village as informants. At the very end I heard many of the locals criticizing those who would not help me with my work. The use of a large body of informants is useful not only because it allows one more checks, but also the Mambila seem to tire very rapidly of being questioned and it was found to be a good plan not to question any but the rare individual for more than fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.

Attempts were made to elicit information from some members of the female population but with little success. Attempts in this direction were soon abandoned. Much that is concerned with women's activities, beliefs and attitudes remains unknown to me.

Before concluding with these few remarks on the methods used, I should like to say that no individual was ever paid for information. My interpreter who was one of the most frequently used informants, though not the best, was paid a salary for the work which he performed for me such as interpreting, acting as steward, etc... but never for giving information.

Finally, before entering into the body of the thesis, I wish to say that, though the Mambila were often exasperating and infuriating, I developed a real affection for the majority of those with whom I had frequent contact. The Mambila are fine, intelligent people living in difficult times and faced with grave problems. It is to be hoped that those who are responsible for the area will lend them all of the help ad sympathy possible.

Rehfisch Thesis - 2 DEC 1996

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