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Chapter Two

The Mambila Economy


Agriculture is of the utmost importance to the Mambila economy. The Mambila depend upon their farm plots not only for the major part of their sustenance but also for a cash income. Until last year, when coffee was introduced, they had no cash crop.

Livestock plays a very unimportant role in the economy. Most men own a dog or two, a small number of chickens and occasionally one or two goats. The majority of women also possess chickens but few own goats or dogs. Goats and dogs are rarely eaten. During my year's stay in the village, I believe that only one goat and two dogs were slaughtered for meat, and these on special occasions. Dogs are frequently used for hunting and the Mambila say that they are more useful for that purpose that they are for food. Goats are rare and hence too valuable to be eaten often. Chickens are more frequently killed but, again, mainly on ritual or other special occasions.

Chickens are sometimes sold in the village market but I have never seen either a goat or a dog for sale there. These latter sometimes change hands, usually not as a commercial transaction but rather as part of the traditional marriage payment or in compensation for damages.


The two staple crops cultivated by the Mambila are maize and guinea corn. Most of their cash income is derived from the sale of their surplus production of those two crops. Minor or secondary crops include: ground nuts, bananas, Bambara nuts, plantains, cassava, cocoa-yams, sweet potatoes, tobacco, native cotton, raffia palm trees, small red peppers, rizga [32] and agushi [33]. A plant of the Tophrosia species is planted on the plots which are to lie fallow for one or more years. The Mambila say that the Tephrosia enriches the soil and also provides fire-wood, which would otherwise be in very short supply in this almost treeless savannah. Irvine said of these plants: "They have deep root systems and are excellent soil improvers"[34].

In spite of the importance of agriculture to the Mambila, an encyclopaedic description of their farming practices will not be given for it would be irrelevant to our main thesis, which is Mambila social structure. But to ignore entirely the techniques would be an error since the demands placed upon the people by their system of agriculture help to explain the timing of their ritual season, etc. It also has played a role in determining the relations between the Nomadic Fulani and the Mambila. It is well-known that in many areas of West Africa the agricultural population is eager for the Fulani to bring their cattle onto the plots as soon as the harvest has been completed. They appreciate the fact that the droppings of the beasts will enrich their soil. This is not the case with the Mambila. Firstly, they do not know that manure enriches the soil, but there is a further reason why such a procedure, that is bringing cattle onto the plots, would not be possible without altering their traditional agricultural practices: at the same time as the guinea corn is planted so is also the Tophrosia mentioned above. By the time the guinea-corn is harvested, the Tophrosia plants are about one to two feet high; if cattle then came onto the plots, these would be destroyed. This would result not only in the loss of firewood but also in the loss of the benefit that these plants bring to the soil. For some time the Government was unaware of this practice and, when the Mambila complained that cattle had come onto their fallow land, the administrators did not see that any harm had been done, and gave the complainants no satisfaction.

Briefly, the Mambila farming practices are as follows: a plot is planted with maize, guinea corn, agushi and Tophrosia for one year. In Warwar and some of the other villages, it is then allowed to lie fallow, carrying only Tophrosia the succeeding year. After this year of fallowing, it is again put back into production. In other words, plots carry crops on alternate years. In some villages the fields are allowed to lie fallow for two years. My informants in Warwar said that they did not follow the latter practice for, in two years, more weeds and elephant grass would grow on the plots, thus making the task of clearing more difficult. In theory, the cycle of fallow and carrying crops continues indefinitely but the Mambila say that some plots "tire" more quickly than others and these, after a few years, must be allowed a longer period of rest than the usual one year. Smaller plots are cleared and planted with secondary crops such as cocoa-yams, ground nuts etc. As a rule, these plots are abandoned after one or two years of continuous use, and not turned to again for many years. Tophrosia is not planted on this type of plot.

The complete cycle of agricultural labour is shown on Table I. Here I wish to describe briefly the two periods in which the most concentrated labour is performed. The first one is from the end of February to the end of March. At the beginning of this period, the little rainy season starts: that is there are a few days of rain, the first rains of the year, to be broken by almost a full month of dry weather. The first rains are eagerly awaited as they soften the soil, so that clearing the plots that are to be used for the planting of primary crops is simplified. As soon as these rains have fallen, the Mambila turn out en masse to begin clearing their plots, burning the woods and grass and hoeing up the ridges. The burning must be done before the main rains begin or the grass will be humid and difficult to burn. The Mambila say that the maize should also be planted before the rains come because, if put into the humid soils, the seeds are likely to rot before germinating. Therefore the amount of work to be done during this time is great. All of the able-bodied residents of the village work on the plots and the village is deserted during the greater part of the day.

The second period of intensive labour is July. Not only must the guinea corn be planted during this month but also the maize harvested. The Mambila say that the Guinea corn must be planted as quickly as possible. Also the maize is now ripe and must not be allowed to stand or it will spoil. Again, we find that almost the entire population spends from morning to evening on the farms. It is during these two periods of concentrated effort that many work bees are held. These will discussed later.

During the period in which the most energy is expended, the amount of food consumed is at a high level due to the frequent corn-beer parties that are given to reward those who have participated in work bees. The Mambila are fortunate that they are able to grow enough food to guarantee themselves against periods of famine toward the end of the agricultural year.


February Clearing plots for maize planting
March Clearing continues
  Plots fired
  Hoeing ridges
  Maize planted
April No major works
  Plant cocoa-yams
May Weeding maize plots
  Planting agushi on maize plots
  Broadening of ridges in which maize is planted
June Clearing small plots for ground nuts, Bambara nuts and rizga. Planting of above.
July Plant guinea corn and Tephrosia on plots already carrying maize.
  Harvest first maize
  Weed cocoa-yam plots
August Harvest bulk of maize
  Cocoa-yams harvested
  Very little work towards the end of the month
September Very little work
  Some weeding and harvesting of ground nuts and agushi
October Very little work
  Some weeding and guarding of ripening guinea corn against birds.
November Guarding guinea corn against birds
December Harvest guinea corn
  Harvest ground nuts, Bambera nuts and risga
January Harvesting of above crops continues.

As we can see from Table I, there are almost constant demands on the labour force of the village but not only are these demands less pressing during the other periods of the year, but also the amount of energy required to complete the necessary tasks is lower. No work diaries were kept but I believe that a fairly accurate estimate of man hours spent in agricultural labour may be made. During the periods of most intensive labour the average man and woman spends about 10 - 12 hours a day working on their farms, for nine days out of ten. The tenth day of the ten-day week is market day and work with a hoe is ritually prohibited. During the rest of the year, the average man spends from 5 to 6 hours, seven days a week, on his plots and women 7 to 8 hours for the same number of days. The day before and the day after market day are normally not devoted to agricultural work, unless tasks are pressing. On these two days, people devote themselves to repairing their houses, craftwork, preparing corn-beer and the numerous other tasks which the Mambila find to occupy their time when not working on their plots. Visiting and resting are other popular occupations on these two days.

Division of Labour and Disposal of Crops in the Context of the Household

Before relating how the various tasks are allocated between the sexes, it will be necessary to describe the household which is the primary producing unit.

The Mambila have no term that is equivalent to our term "household", a domestic unit. The word for house, mim, may also be used to refer to persons living in a house, and it is only through the context in which the word is used that one can tell whether the structure itself is meant or the inhabitants of the structure. Occasionally, one hears a term which is equivalent to "the people of X's house" (nor-a-min-a "X") X may be either a man or a woman. If a man has only one wife, hence only one house, the man's name if more likely to be used. However, should a man have two or more wives, the name of the wife of the house will be used to avoid possible misunderstandings. It should be said here that a man will have a separate house for each of his wives. The term household will be used to refer to a group made of a man, his wife, their offspring living with them and other children who are permanent residents of the house.

The average size of the household is 3.5 persons; the range is from 2 - 8. It is not uncommon to find children of one or both of the spouses by a previous marriage, or children related to one of the spouses by a more distant tie, included in the household unit. Of the 89 children, that is girls and boys under the age of 18, living in Mdiel - one of the four hamlets of Warwar - 52 live with both parents, 25 with one parent only and 12 with neither parent. Young children (up to 6 years of age) of a dissolved marriage are more likely to be found living with their mother than their father. As children are usually weaned at the age of 3.5 to 4 years, if another child is not born to their parents in the interim, the need for the presence of their mother is greater than that of their father. Those children who are not of the elementary family by birth are treated in the same way as the offspring of the adults of the household.

As mentioned above, the household is the primary producing unit. The husband allots plots of farm-land to his wife and to his sons and daughters when the latter reach the age of 12 or thereabouts. The system of land tenure will be discussed in a separate section.

The crops harvested from the individual plots, that is those allotted by the husband to his wife, sons and daughters, and those kept by himself, are individually owned. The crops from the wife's plot are in principle hers to dispose of, within certain limits, as she sees fit. The same applies to the harvests gathered from the plots of the husband and children. A woman is, however, expected to keep enough of her crop to make the most substantial contribution to the family food supply. She may sell what she does not expect to require for this purpose. Should she on occasion sell too much, she may ask her husband for a larger contribution than is normal, from his own stores, and no negative sanctions are brought to bear. Should she frequently dispose of too much of her crop, she may be made the butt of satire. Her co-wives will jeer at her, and her husband will show his displeasure by telling persons in the compound and in neighbouring compounds that his wife is a bad manager. During social gatherings, songs relating to the misdeeds of the wife may be sung by her neighbours. There is so much emphasis placed on having plenty of food available that women, though tempted to sell as much as possible of their crop, do not often risk running short and thereby being overtly dependent on their husband's stock.

With her earnings from the sale of surplus, a wife will buy cloth and palm-oil for herself and the household, and corn-beer for herself and friends when it is available in the village.

The husband sells a larger proportion of his harvest than does his wife. The proceeds are used to pay tax, buy cloth for himself, his wife and adolescent children, to buy salt, meat, sometimes palm oil for his household, corn beer and kela for himself and friends, and chickens for sacrifices if otherwise unobtainable. Though women sometimes buy salt, it is as a rule the husband's responsibility to supply the family with this necessity. Meat, which is considered to be a luxury, is almost invariably bought by the husband or, at least, with his funds. A good husband is said to be one who buys cloth for his wife. Though women buy it for themselves, they will say that it is better if their husband gives it to them as a gift. Most men buy their wives at least one length of material a year. A man will keep a portion of his harvest to contribute to the household's food supply. The amount kept is dependent upon the size of his wife's crop. If he knows that hers has been small, he will keep a larger proportion than usual, realising that it will be needed for the family's consumption.

The boys who have been given plots of land to farm sell most of their harvest, unless the crops gathered by their parents is so small that a large contribution will be needed from their own supplies. Roughly speaking, it is usual for an unmarried male to give about a third of his crop to the woman, usually his mother, who does the cooking for the household of which he is a member. The rest he will sell. The proceeds from the sale are spent on cloth and jewellery for himself and his fiancee, gifts to his fiancee's mother, corn beer, chickens and kids. The latter are purchased with the intention of either selling them later, in order to raise bridewealth, or of giving them to the parents of his bridge at some future date. Unmarried girls also sell the majority of their crops and usually spend their earnings on trinkets and cloth for themselves. Their normal contribution to the family larder is also about one third of their harvest.

Men normally take the portion of the crop which they wish to sell to the market. Those who reside in Warwar will, if they are strong enough, carry their surplus to Gembu, about a 2 hours' walk, where prices are higher due to the fact that there is a fairly large settled-Fulani and Hausa population who do not grow enough food stuffs for their own needs. Those who are unable to carry heavy loads will sell their surplus in the local market.

Women , as a rule, convert their surplus into beer which is sold in the village, but a few take a portion of their harvest to the market, some going to Gembu, others only to the local market. Men may also have a part of their surplus converted into beer for sale in the village. Brewing for sale is not done so frequently by men as by women, the men saying that, if they ask a woman to grind either corn or guinea corn into flour - which must be done before being converted to beer - they must give a large share of the proceeds to the woman who has done the work for them. This applies even if the woman who has done the grinding is the man's wife.

A wife is usually allotted a larger area for farming by the husband than he keeps for his own use. The wife will be given about 65% of the total land farmed by the household in any one year. Children are given plots of their own at the age of about 12. At first, these are very small, but as the child's strength and ability increase, he will be given large plots by his father or the head of the household in which he lives. By the time a young man has arrived at a marriageable age, he will be cultivating plots as large as those worked by the average married male. Girls, before marriage, farm smaller plots of their own than do boys of a comparable age for they are expected to help their mothers more than is the case for young married men.

The most time-consuming and arduous tasks in farming are clearing, planting, wooding and harvesting. For all but weeding, the household frequently works as a unit on the plots of the husband and wife. but not of the children. Work-bees are frequently organised for the most arduous task of all, namely clearing. A man usually invites residents of the hamlet in which he lives to help in this type of work, though selected individuals residing outside the hamlet may also be invited. Sons-in-law and fiancés of daughters of the household may be asked to help. Those who offer such help are rewarded with corn beer. It may be added here that persons are not invited to co-operate in this labour on the basis of kinship, but rather on that of neighbourhood. When help is not obtained from outside, the household will work together in clearing. It is perhaps more common for the work to begin on the plots allotted to the wife, but this is by no means always the case. The husband and wife, as well as the children living in the house will turn out for clearing the adults' plots. After both the husband's and wife's plots have been cleared, the children are at liberty to work on their own farms. Very infrequently are they helped by their parents; rather groups of children of the same sex are informally organised to help each other on their respective plots.

Weeding is considered to be women's work. They do most of the weeding on both their plots and those of their husbands. Men may help their wives with this work, but through 'kindness', as they say. Women rarely organise large scale work-bees for this task though it not uncommon to see groups of perhaps 2 or 3 adult married women from the same or a neighbouring compound working on one plot together. For this co-operation corn beer is usually not given, the assistance being repaid in kind at an early date.

Planting is most commonly done by the household as a whole and husband, wife and children work in turn on the plots of the adult members of the household. Work-bees are rarely organised.

Harvesting, again, is usually done by the entire household and all the members play a part, even the very young children. It is the most pleasant of all the tasks; not only is the work easy but also the rewards for previous effort are now at hand. The major labour of the year is over and the period of celebration, feasts and dances is near.

As we have seen, the household usually works as an independent unit in the activities listed above. For any task, work-bees may be organised but this is done only for clearing. Clearing must be done quickly as it is best accomplished between the fall of the first rains and before the arrival of the heavy downpours. The first rains, soften up the soil so that the task is made easier. However, as the grasses, woods etc., are burnt, they must be allowed to dry for a time after being hoed up and, if the heavy rains come before they are burnt, this may become difficult. Therefore, a man will organise a work-bee to complete this essential task as soon as possible. More work is accomplished for man-hour in work-bees than in the case of individuals working on their own. The reason for the added productivity is that when persons are working in a group, they wish to show to the others what good workers they are. Therefore the organisation of work-bees does not increase the size of the available labour force but it does increase its productivity. Usually for the other tasks enumerated above, there is no pressure of time. If members of the household are ill or enfeebled by old age, they may call in a working party. Sometimes such parties are organised not so much because labour is needed for the work at hand but rather because the household head wishes to give a corn beer party. People, then, come to help him with the agricultural tasks of the moment and are in turn rewarded with corn beer. It would take us too far afield at this stage if we were to begin a discussion of the reasons why a man should want to give a corn beer party without gaining adequate compensation in labour.

Each member of the household may have his own granary, and usually the husband and the wife each have one or more. The children of the group who are old enough to have their own plots more commonly store their personal crops above the ceiling, under the thatch of the living house.

As we have seen, the crops grown on the plots of both the husband and wife are the result of the physical effort of all of the members of the household. We have also seen that a member has the right of disposal over the produce of his or her plots, though these rights are in fact limited by the responsibility that he or she has towards the feeding of the household unit.

Other Duties of Women

A woman is expected to cook one main meal daily. If asked to describe a bad wife, a male will often say that such a wife is one who does not cook daily. When we describe how a meal is consumed and the importance of sharing, we shall see that a man may lose prestige if his wife frequently fails to perform such a task. In this case, it will be said either that he is too mean to want to share his food with kin and neighbours, or that he has not enough food to do so, even if he wished.

The women as a rule spend more time in farm work that do the men. One reason for this is that they are primarily responsible for the weeding not only of their own plots, but also those of their husbands. The cultivation of secondary crops such as cassava, ground-nuts, carrots, rizga, etc., is mainly in the hands of the women. The men help in the clearing of the plots but the rest of the work is normally done by the women.

The collection of firewood, a very time-consuming task, is also allocated to women. Men may help but women are primarily responsible for the household having an adequate supply of this material. Sweeping out the house and compound yard, washing out the receptacles in which food is eaten or stored, are other household tasks which fall to them. Water is usually brought to the compound by children; if none are available for this task the women are expected to do it.

A good wife should bear children as well as caring for them. In collecting marriage histories, one is struck by the fact that childless marriages are much more frequently broken than fruitful ones. A husband is expected to impregnate his wife; a sterile man has difficulty in keeping a wife. Women frequently leave their husbands after 2 or 3 years if no child is born to them. If a man realises that two of his wives do not get along and that one must be divorced, he will normally divorce the one that has borne him no children.

A wife must show no favouritism between her own children and others living in her house. It does seem to be the case that a woman does not differentiate in outward behaviour between her own children and the others who are said to be her responsibility by virtue of their living in her house.

Other Duties of Married Males

A man is expected to see to it that his wife's house is kept in good repair and that the roof is adequately thatched. He is expected to - or rather one might say was expected to - supply game for the household. In recent years, game has become increasingly scarce and little is killed.

One of the husband's most important duties is to maintain satisfactory relations between the household and the supernatural. If a man's wife or children become ill, he must see to it that the proper "medicines" are made so that they will be cured. He must also see that the necessary farm magic to ensure the fertility of the fields is performed. I might mention here that women have certain medicines, but I have no idea in what contexts they are used and whether they are important in relation to the household or not. These medicines are kept secret from the men, and therefore were never divulged to me.

Children's Duties

A child is expected to obey his parents and/or guardians and to perform whatever task is assigned to him to the best of his ability. Children are expected to keep the household supplied with water. They must also see to it that the chickens are brought into the houses when night falls. A child of six years or more will be expected to take care of any younger children in the household or compound. Finally, children are kept busy frightening birds away from the crops when they are nearly ripe.

Division of labour between the sexes does not become operative in relation to children until they have reached the age of 10 or 11. Until then, both boys and girls spend most of their time with their mother, helping her with her work. The daughters play a progressively more important role in the work allocated to women after they reach puberty.


Task Men Women Children
FARMING: Maize & Guinea corn only      
Clearing plots 60% 30% 10%
Hoeing ridges 60% 30 10
Planting 60 30 10
Weeding 10 70 20
Broadening ridges 30 60 10
Frightening birds away from ripening crops - - 100
Harvesting 40 40 20
FARMING: Secondary crops      
Clearing plots 35 45 20
Making ridges 20 60 20
Planting 5 75 20
Weeding - 75 25
Harvesting - 75 25
Grinding - 75 25
Preparation of condiments - 85 15
Cooking - 90 10
Water Carrying 60 10 30
Grinding - 75 25
Cooking 100 (1) -
Carrying water to compound 5 35 60
Bringing firewood 5 75 20
Cleaning inside of house - 75 25
Cleaning compound 25 65 10
Bringing water 5 70 25
Mixing water with clay 40 40 20
Making walls 60 30 10
Cutting grass for roof 10 70 20
Task Men Women Children
Thatching 90 - 10
Basketry 5[35] 80 15
Smithing 95 - 5[36]
Spinning and Weaving 100 [37] -
Pottery making 10 80 10
Feeding chickens 10 60 30
Bringing chickens into house at night 5 5 90
Keeping goats away from farms 35 35 30
Tying goats up on safe place at night 5 5 90
FISHING 40 40 20
HUNTING 70 - 30[38]
In the local market 30 70 -
In markets of neighbouring villages 80 20 -
Long distance trading expeditions 100 - -

Table II shows how the majority of the most time consuming tasks are allocated between the sexes and between adults and children. As most chores may be performed by persons of either sex, estimates on the amount of time spent in the total task by persons in the 3 categories have been made. These estimates are based on careful observation but are doubtless not entirely accurate since the Mambila could not be persuaded to keep work diaries.

Not all of the various categories of work done by Mambila have been listed, as such a list would require more space that its importance would warrant. All religious activities have been omitted for little is known of womens' ritual practices and time devoted to them.

The important conclusion to be drawn from the chart is that men and women work together in most tasks, few being reserved for one sex. Some jobs are believe to be best performed by one of the two sexes, but, if necessary, a member of the opposite sex will help. Only a very few chores are the exclusive preserve of one sex. My informants said that there were not ritual prohibitions on persons of the other sex performing the majority of these chores, but that it was ignorance of the techniques that stopped them from so doing. Ritual prohibitions only affect few tasks. Children are usually allocated the simple and physically less demanding chores.

Division of Labour in Handicrafts

In the village of Warwar there are, with one exception, no full-time specialists. The exception is a man who maintains himself by petty trading[39]. All other able-bodied persons in the village spend the greater part of their working hours on the farm. The crafts practised in the village, such as smithing, pottery-making, basketry and weaving are arts not known to all. Those who have acquired the requisite skill profit financially from their knowledge, but their total income from these sources are small. It was impossible to keep budgets, but a reasonable estimate would be that a smith might earn 5 shillings a year from his trade, a weaver a little more and a potter somewhat less. Some medicine men earn small amounts, but probably less than do artisans.

Whereas in agriculture there is no strict division of labour in terms of sex, we find that in the realm of handicrafts certain tasks may only be performed by men and others by women.

All tasks connected with the manufacture of native cloth are allocated to men only they pick the cotton, clean and spin and finally weave it into cloth. The resulting strips are sewn into loin cloths by men. Once the loin cloth is made, the women dye it red in a liquid of ground-camwood (provided by men) and palm-oil.

Smithing is done only by men. Women may help by operating the bellows.

Most mats are made by men. Women sometimes make the small mats on which food is eaten, though as a rule these, too, are made by men.

The making of baskets is said to be women's work, but some of the large carrying baskets have four shoulder straps which can only be made by men. Net and string makers are exclusively male, while potters may be of either sex. Finally, all wooden objects such as pipe-stems, spear handles, statuettes, masks etc., are carved by men alone.

Land Tenure

In a community where the members are entirely dependent upon agriculture for their livelihood and where there is pressure on the land, one expects to find that the rights of individual members to specific plots of land are strictly defined. In Warwar all of the able-bodied, with one exception (a petty trader), gain their sustenance by farming, but as there is no shortage of arable plots the pattern of land tenure is less formalised and rigid. That is to say the rights that any individual has vis-à-vis other members of the group to a plot of land are not always strictly defined.

In the discussion of land tenure which is to follow, I shall use the term "occupier" to refer to persons or to the husbands of women who enjoy usufructuary rights to land. The term "owner" will be used to refer to the person or groups of persons who have the right to alienate that land. In the opinion of some of my informants, the occupier and owner are usually the same person while other disagree with this statement, as we shall see later.

The only communal property are the paths, sacred graves and dancing areas outside the groves. Paths within a hamlet may be said to belong to the hamlet as a whole, since no individual or group of individuals other than the hamlet may prohibit their use as a thoroughfare. The paths leading from one hamlet to another in the same village may best be thought of as village property. The sacred groves and dancing areas belong to those persons who have traditional right to use them. That is the grove in Ndiel belongs to the hamlet of Ndiel and Tigul who go there for the performance of important rites. That of Tiket belongs to the whole village, as during the period of village-wide ritual, the entire male population of the village will repair there. I am not certain whether the people of Ndiel and Tigul could prohibit those of Tiket and Tscharl from visiting the sacred grave located in Ndiel, but I do not that for the people of Tiket to prohibit access to their grove to those of Ndiel, or any of the other hamlets in Warwar, would be tantamount to an act of war.

All land, except that falling into the categories mentioned above, is said to belong to either one person or a group of persons. There is no difference of opinions as to how the so-called hunting land is held. This area includes mainly the hillsides surrounding the village and other land which is unsuitable for intensive farming. Though an informant will give the name of an individual if asked who owns such land, all agree that the said owner is acting as trustee for the Man of which he is a member[40]. The most senior male member of the kindred is normally the person acting as trustee, though in some cases he delegates this role to another senior male of the kindred. The trustee does not have the right to alienate hunting land without the consent of other senior men of the kindred. To my knowledge, such alienation has never taken place. The trustee, whom we shall call the occupier, must give his consent before the hunting areas can be fired for hunting. After the area has been burnt, the game caught, a portion must be given to him. The occupier is the only person who has the right to claim a portion of the kill, irrespective of his participation in the hunt. If game is caught by means other than burning the area, the occupier has no claim to a share.

The consent of the occupier should be obtained before any crops are planted on the hunting areas. Normally, such areas are not used for farming but secondary crops may, under certain conditions, be planted there. Though permission must be asked, it should be automatically granted.

As house-sites and farm plots are held in the same way they will be treated together. In any case the two categories are not exclusive since what has been used as house-site may at a later time be turned into a farm plot, and vice versa.

Other than what has been called communal land, there is not a square foot of land within the village boundary which does not have an occupier. As the village boundaries abut on those of neighbouring villages, and other villages are said to have the same system of land tenure, it is probable that in the area in which the Mambila-speaking people live there is no unclaimed land. All of my informants but one agreed that the occupier of a plot of land could not be deprived of his holding. As long as he is a resident in the village, his claim to the land is unchallenged.

One elderly man, the head of a local kindred, said that this was not so as the head of the Nan could take away any plot occupied by a member of his kindred. Other informants heard him expressing this view and, when I later checked with them, they said that it was not true. The confusion probably lies in the fact that a kindred head might ask a man to allow another member of the kindred to use land, to which he had claims, and the person so asked would in all probability not refuse, unless he needed the plot himself. We shall see below how this transfer takes place.

I believe that it is safe to say that the individual villager's rights to the land he occupies cannot be alienated without his consent by a third party, though much pressure may be brought to obtain his agreement to transfer his claim to another person.

We shall postpone the discussion of the transferring of land during the life of the occupier until we discuss land transfers in general, but it is necessary here to say something about inheritance of land. Most of the present day occupier of land have inherited their plots either from their fathers, mothers' brothers or deceased head of the compound in which they were brought up and live. At a man's death the land which he occupies will be divided between his sons and any sisters' sons who reside with him. The sons or sisters' sons with the greatest needs, that is those who occupy the least land/or have the largest families will be given the largest part of the estate. The Mambila say that daughters also may inherit land but, in fact, they rarely do. Marriage being virilocal, it is rare for a daughter to live in the hamlet of her father and thus to use land inherited from him. But if she divorces her husband and returns, when home she may claim land for plots from her father or brothers. I did not ask whether women could alienate such land, but it is doubtful that they would have this right.

Should a man have no sons or sisters' sons or other category of younger dependants living in his compound, then the land that he occupied will in all probability be divided among the members of his kindred who are lacking in land. If no one needs it, the occupier will be the deceased's nearest male cognate living in the village. If there are conflicting claims to a man's estate the senior men of the kindred will decide whose claim is the best.

If the deceased's sons are not old enough to use the land profitably, a member of the deceased's kindred will hold it in trust for them. The trustee is also the person who will be the guardian of the children. Ideally it should be their father's brother. He may use the land, but should not alienate it. If, however, the children's mother takes them away with her, and they do not return upon reaching adulthood, the trustee will then be able to treat the land as his own: that is, he becomes the exclusive owner of the land. What normally happens in these cases is that the land may be given to others to work and, if the sons later return, they will not claim their father's land but will be given other plots sufficient for their needs.

Absentee occupancy of land is possible. If a man occupies land and decides to leave the village, he does not lose all claims to his land unless he gives it to someone to use. As long as no one wishes to use his abandoned land it may be said to be owned by him. However should another wish to farm on it, the absentee occupier could not refuse him. In theory the absentee, if he returns, might reclaim the land from the new user; but in fact it would be the height of bad manners to do so. The new farmer in reality becomes an occupier of the land, and the absentee loses all claims to it.

Compounds are inherited in a different manner from farm sites. If the head of a compound dies, the next head is the oldest living male inhabitant, irrespective of his kinship affiliation to the defunct. I know of several cases in which the headship of a compound when to either a non-kinsman or a distant kinsman of the deceased, when adult sons of the latter were living in the compound. The only criteria for inheritance in this case are seniority and, of course residence. Absentee headship or ownership of compounds is not possible. Compounds are never sold.

Before going on to discuss how land may be alienated, a very brief statement of the Mambila attitude towards land must be made. A basic postulate of the Mambila thinking is that no man should occupy more than land than he needs, if others in the community are short. Further, admission into the community guarantees access to sufficient land. No man would think of refusing a neighbour the use of a plot or plots if he has a surplus and the neighbour not enough. If one were to ask a Mambila what "not enough" in this context means, he would say that a man had not enough land if he had not as much as he and his household wishes and were able to cultivate. The only sanction that would be brought to bear on a person who refused, when able to help a neighbour in this way, would be that of ridicule. As there were no cases of refusal during my stay, I never say the sanction come into play. I have been told that there has never been need to punish a person for this "misdeed" since it has never been committed. There is no reason why such a situation should arise, as there is no value placed on unused land, and there is no danger of running short for, if one's needs increase, land will be forthcoming from fellow kinsmen or neighbours. How a man may get additional land when the need arises will next be discussed.

Land Transfers

Land changes hands easily though perhaps not very frequently in Warwar. There is little formality in the process. If a resident of a hamlet needs more than he controls, he will either go to one of his senior kinsmen, or to a member of his kindred who is known to have a surplus, and as they say "beg it from him". The man with the surplus has a right to refuse, but would not do so unless he has an acceptable reason, such as that he plans to use it in the near future and that he has no in fact any surplus. However, such refusals are practically unknown, as a man would not "beg" a plot from another unless he were fairly certain that he had a surplus. If the man asked agrees, he takes the other to the plot, shows him the boundaries and tell him to use it. Sometimes these transactions are treated as loans, that is the man asking for the plot says that he wants it for only a certain number of harvests, but usually the time is not fixed. In the latter case, it may be looked upon as a permanent alienation, even though some informants say that the original occupier had the right to ask for the return of the plot. However, all of my informants agreed that this would be a very bad thing to do and, should the original given run short at some future date, he should 'beg' land from someone else rather than ask for what had been his plot to be returned to him.

No compensation is paid to the original occupier at the time of the transfer nor at any other time. My informants said that the new owner would make corn beer for the other, but this in fact means no more than that the new owner will give corn beer parties, like everyone else in the village, and that the man who gave him the plot will attend. All Mambila are expected to give such parties and all hamlet member may attend them. There is no specific obligation placed on a man to make corn beer for one who has given him land.

If none of a man's kindred has a surplus (this would rarely be the case) he would turn either to the senior male member of his own local kindred and tell him of his mood or else go himself directly to a member of the other kindred in the hamlet who was known to have a surplus and beg a plot from him. It is here that the distinction between occupier and owner becomes important, and had best be discussed. One of my informants said that the occupier was always the owner and could alienate his land to whomever he saw fit. Other informants said that this was not the case, and that the consent of the senior male members of the kindred must be obtained before land could be transferred to a person not a member of the local kindred. All agreed that land could be transferred within the kindred without asking such consent. There was a tendency for the older members of the population to hold to the second view, and the younger to the first, though this was not always the case. I have records of land being transferred to persons outside of the kindred both with and without such consent. No sanctions were brought to bear upon the person who alienated his land without previous consent.

I believe that the best explanation for the fact that these two differences of opinion exist is that the problem is not a very important one. Certainly not because land is not of the utmost importance to the Mambila, but rather because there is so much land available to them.

They can afford to give some of it away, with no danger to themselves or their kindred. We shall see later that land sales did at one time take place but no longer do so. Therefore land has no monetary value and the productive capacity of unused land is wasted. Even though the senior males may feel that allowing it to escape from the control of the kindred without their consent may be an error, it is not a very serious one. The question of whether to ask the consent of the seniors is in any case academic. The seniors, like the occupier of surplus land, would be jeered at if they refused to allow the transfer of the property, unless they had a very good reason for so doing. An example of an acceptable reason would be that one of the kindred ran short and needed the plot.

To revert now to our hypothetical case of a man asking for land outside of his kindred: if the request is granted no gifts are given or expected, and the new occupier's claim to the land in the future is the same as the case described above when a man took over land from a member of his own local kindred.

If a stranger, that is a man with no kin in the hamlet, comes to settle, the fact that he is accepted implies that he will be given plots of land to work. The person with whom he settles, that is his guardian until he gets known in the community and builds his own compound, will see to it that he is given enough land. If the guardian does not have enough of his own, he will obtain it by means of the methods outlined above. If, at some future date, the immigrant leaves the community, the land reverts to the guardian or the guardian's kindred, in case of the latter's decease. This holds true even if some of the plots were obtained from outside the kindred.

Finally, it is rare but not unknown for a resident of one hamlet to give land to a resident of another, if the latter is in need. Cases of this type are few since a man in need would exhaust the possibilities of getting more land from residents of his own hamlet before trying outside. Conditions under which the land is transferred are the same if both parties are from different hamlets as they would be if they lived together in one.

A summary of the main features of land tenure may now be made. Land, in spite of its importance to the economy, it almost a free good. The occupier has exclusive rights of occupation, but may be asked to cede his rights and, unless he has good reasons not to, will be expected to do so. The Man are the first group responsible for seeing to it that its members have sufficient land but, if they are unable to supply the need, the other kindred of the hamlet will be called upon for help. There is a difference of opinion on the rights of either the Man head, or the kindred as a whole, to the land of any of its members. The kindred has residuary rights over the land of its members, that is, if a member leaves the village, the kindred may claim the use of his land and may exorcise the claim without his consent. The occupier may alienate his land without the consent of his kindred, and though the elders may not approve of such a course of action, they have no sanctions to punish the offender. The village as a whole is felt to be responsible for seeing to it that all of the villagers have enough land. Finally, land is transferred freely, the new occupier having no obligations to the donor. Such transfers are permanent unless they were originally made for a limtited period.

Land Sales

Land Sales took place in the past, but were ritually prohibited about 10 years ago. The reason given for this prohibition was that, if strangers to the village bought land and at a future date left the village, the land that they had purchased could not be put to use. I suspect that this is not the real reason for the new ruling since none of the plots which had been sold is today not in cultivation because of the owner's absence. All of the land sales that I recorded were either between ancestors of present residents or else between the residents themselves. It is equally doubtful whether, even if the purchaser were to leave the community, his land would be kept unused. I can give no reason for the instigation of the prohibition, unless it be that the elders feared that, if sales were continued, what little ultimate control they - as elders - had over land would disappear. This is a mere hypothesis and no evidence is available to support it.

In some of the cases of land sales, the sale was carried out with the consent of the owner's kindred, and in others, without it. Of ten recorded cases, two sellers consulted their kindred, were refused consent, and sold in spite of the prohibition. One did not consult anyone, and seven were granted permission to sell by the kindred.

It would appear from the little information available that the price of land decreased through time. The earliest recorded prices paid for land were either a slave or a goat. The last purchaser obtained his plot for 2 hoes and 2 shillings. The plots sold were roughly of equivalent size and quality. Admittedly it is rather hazardous to postulate a decrease in land value on so few cases, but in view of the fact that land was scarcer in the past than it is today, it is probable that this was the case. In the past, when warfare on the plateau was endemic, it was dangerous for an individual to cultivate plots far from the settlements therefore many fertile areas were not cultivated and land was relatively scarce. Since warfare has been prohibited persons may till plots further afield and land is plentiful.

Trade and Market

The market in Warwar is a relatively modern institution, in all probability having been held for the first time not more than a hundred years ago. Some of my oldest informants told me that when they were young the market was now, much smaller and less formal than it is today. It is probable that what has been said above would apply to the markets in all Mambila villages. Each of the villages which I visited had their own market place and, of course, a market day on which work with a hoe is prohibited.

In Warwar the market is said to be "owned" by the chief priest, though he derives no material benefit from such "ownership". By "ownership" is meant that the priest is responsible for its smooth operation and is able to make rules regulating the behaviour of the villagers in the market. For example, the predecessor of the incumbent of today performed a rite which would assure that anyone fighting in the market would be punished by automatic supernatural sanctions. If a fight were to break out, bystanders should do their best to stop it. Later the belligerents would have to perform a propitiatory rite in the presence of the chief priest in order to be safe from supernatural punishment. While in the village, I was able to observe how new rules regulating market activities were enacted. Some of the younger men and women had acquired the habit of taking what they wished to sell a mile or two out on the paths leading to the market place, thus being in an advantageous position to sell to the Fulani. The buyer would not have to go all the way into the village to make his purchases. The older persons complained that being feeble they were unable to carry their loads so far and thus were losing sales. The chief priest then decided to make a rule that no villager should take food out of the village for the purpose of selling it on market day. A rite was performed to assure that anyone breaking this rule would be made ill by the ancestors. Only confession and the performance of a propitiatory rite would cure the illness. I do not know whether the markets in the other villages are said to be "owned" by the chief priest or not.

Markets usually last from about ten to one o'clock. By eleven, when the activity on the market place has reached its height, there will be about 20 Warwar women and 10 men from the village with things to sell. Some one or two Warwar young men may be hawking salt, sugar, Kola nuts, or palm oil which they have bought on trading expeditions to Bamonda Province. A few Fulani women, normally two or three, have milk and butter for sale. The Mausa traders living on the Mambila Plateau go from market to market with a small stock of beads, mirrors, knives, patent medicines, cigarettes and other things which the Mambila buy. Cloth is not always available in the market and at rather infrequent intervals a trader from the south will spend a few weeks on the plateau visiting the smaller markets with cloth to sell. When his stock is depleted he will disappear and cloth will no longer be available except at the larger markets, for perhaps a month or two. In Combu, Mbamga and some other large markets there are traders with cloth as well as other commodities of European manufacture such as shoes, tailored shirts and shorts, enamelled pots and pans etc., present on every market day.

The customers of the Warwar Mambila are the Fulani and the labourers on the Mission station. As all of the Mambila grow enough food for their own needs, they rarely buy any in the market. In the numerous visits that I made to the market in Warwar, I only once saw a Mambila buying grain. The buyer told me that she had lost a large part of her crop when the river over-flowed its banks and therefore had to make good the loss by purchasing additional amounts. I should add here that if an individual suffers from the loss of a part or his entire crop and is in need, neighbours will contribute freely from their own stocks to make up his deficiency, without expecting payment in return.

One rarely sees articles manufactured by the Mambila for sale in the market. Pots are sometimes brought and sold to Fulani women. I have only infrequently seen baskets, spears, pipes and other artefacts for sale. About every second or third market a man or woman may bring one or more chickens. These are rarely sold because the asking price is higher than the potential customers are willing to pay. Only twice during my stay was there beer for sale in the market place. In both cases it was brought by unmarried girls who had made it from their surplus maize. There is no rule against selling beer in the market but, as it can be sold equally well in the hamlets, people do not bother bringing any to market.

Only rarely do Mambila from other villages come to Warwar market to trade. Some come at this time to see friends or relatives. Mbango, Gombu and some other large markets attract sellers from many of the neighbouring Mambila communities as the villages house a fairly large number of alien settlers, who for one reason or another do not grow enough food for themselves, and thus afford a ready market for persons with provisions to sell.

I was unable to discover the total amount of money changing hands on any one market day in Warwar but I would estimate the average amount to be about one pound. At Gembu, Mbanga and other large markets the total is much greater.

The market is important to the Mambila from a strictly economic point of view for it is one of the most frequently used means by which surplus stock of food are turned into cash. This does not exhaust its functions. The role that it plays in maintaining cohesion in the village is very important. People from the four hamlets tend as a general rule not to interact very frequently with residents of hamlets other than their own except on market day. On this day, men and women come from all parts of the village and congregate on the market place. People who would not be likely to meet in other circumstances take the opportunity to exchange gossip and news. Most of those attending come with no intention of either buying or selling but with the aim of seeing their friends living in hamlets other than their own. To have already said that there are normally about 30 persons from the village selling; perhaps another 5 or 10 have come with the hope of finding something to buy such as a new cloth, a string of beads, etc.; spectators, numbering often a hundred or more, come from strictly social purposes. The old men have a tendency to sit in one corner opposite to the one occupied by the senior women. Young men and women wander about the market chatting. If one were to ask married Mambila where they first saw their spouses, the answer would almost always be "in a market". It is said to be the favour to place for the making of assignations.

After high noon, there is a tendency for persons attending the market to drift away. Few head directly for their home, but rather they repair with their friends to Ndiel, the nearest hamlet, where beer is available. On every market day there are at least four Ndiel compounds in which beer has been made for sale. At these beer sales are to be found residents from all four hamlets, persons of both sexes and of all ages. The latest news is discussed and problems affecting the village are thrashed out. It is at these gatherings that village wide public opinion is formed, being one of the few occasions on which a large number of persons from the entire village are brought together in one place. When all of the beer in the hamlet has been drunk, there is a general exodus to another hamlet in which beer is also available. The majority of the people will go to Tiket. There, more beer is drunk. If the supply is not great enough to cope with the demand, the next stopping place is the hamlet of Tscharl. Few go to Tigul as it is situated on the far boundary of the village and is said to be too far from Tiket and Tscharl. Ndiel is in the happy position of being between the market and both Tiket and Tscharl and therefore is a favourite stopping off place for residents of these hamlets on their way home. Its favourable position is reflected by the fact that beer is more expensive there than in any other hamlets. All of Warwar beer is sold at a standard price: a penny a cup; but, because of the differential demand, the size of the cups vary. The Ndiel sellers give the smallest cups, followed by Tiket, Tscharl and finally Tigul. On the rare occasions that residents of the daughter settlement of Tiket make corn beer to sell, they depend upon giving the largest cups of all in order to attract customers. The amount given for a penny there is slightly more than double the amount sold at that price in Ndiel. Tigul cups contain approximately 75% more than Nidel cups, Tscharl 50% more and Tiket a mere 25% more. Knowing that the Mambila fondness for beer, and the scarcity of cash, one might have expected the majority of the people to go first where the most beverage could be obtained with the smallest outlay, but this is not the case. The fact that more people are available to drink and have social intercourse within Ndiol than in the other villages seems to compensate them for the added expense of drinking there. The saving of energy derived from drinking in the nearest place rather than making a long detour to assuage one's thirst probably plays a minor role in making Ndiel the most popular hamlet in which to drink beer on market day.

The Mambila frequently say that market day is a day in which to see friends. It so happened that once or twice I will ill on this day and therefore unable to attend either the market or any of the beer sales. Large numbers of acquaintances from hamlets other than my own came to my house to visit me, as they said that it was a bad thing not to see me on this day.

In the previous discussion, we have described the economic function of the market and have shown how it stimulates interaction between all of the residents of a village by bringing them together at fixed and frequent intervals. By increasing interaction, the market doubtless also increases the feeling of community within the group. The market has one further function which, though less important than the two mentioned above, should not be overlooked on certain occasions the market is thought of as symbolically representing the whole village. For example, parents, after the birth of a child, must be introduced once more into the community; for ten days after the baby is born the mother is confined to her house; on the first local market day after this ten-day period has elapsed, she and her husband must go to the market place. One of the senior men, having the proper "medicine" will take them both by the hand and lead them to the centre of the market where the three will walk around in a circle three times. The "medicine" man will say: "This woman has borne a child, the man is the father". "May the child be well, the parents be well and bear male children." This is repeated three times. When this rite has been completed all taboos which follow the birth of a child are removed and the parents are once more fully fledged members of the community.

Rehfisch Thesis - 2 DEC 1996

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