Chapter I


BEFORE we examine the economy of Bamenda and its bearing on the position of women, a somewhat detailed account of the history, ethnic character and distribution of the peoples is necessary since very little information has been published. The total population of the Province as given in the Annual Report for 948 is 301,000; but this is estimated from figures for adult taxable males, the last census having been taken in 1931. The people are negroid, with possibly a northern strain in some of the Tikar tribes. They vary considerably in physique; but, in general, those of the uplands appear to be taller, wirier, and of better build than those of the forest, where malaria, filaria, yaws, goitre and elephantiasis are prevalent.1

Apart from the analysis of the Nkom language by the Rev. Father Bruens,2 very little linguistic research has been done in Bamenda. The Basel Mission has translated the New Testament into Bali, and the Roman Catholic Mission has made some study of the language of Nsaw and produced a catechism in Nkom. The languages of Bamenda have hitherto been classified as Benue-Cross River (or semi-Bantu) and the Tikar placed in the Bafumbum-Bansaw group. But, in a recent set of articles dealing with a reclassification of West African languages,3 Greenberg has suggested that Bali, Bafut and Ndob (and presumably this would be extended to the dialects spoken by other Tikar peoples in Bamenda) are Bantu. But a definitive classification must wait on further research, as well as the publication of the results of the linguistic field survey of the northern Bantu Borderland now being carried out from the French Cameroons.

Until 1949, Bamenda was organized into 23 Native Authority Areas (see map in Appendix), but these did not in all cases coincide with ethnic boundaries. In Fungom, for example, there are a number of villages which differ in dialect, culture and provenance, - some deriving from the French Cameroons, some from the Benue Province. In the Ndop N.A. there are 12 small chiefdoms which neither linguistically nor culturally form a homogeneous unit, though 10 of them point to Ndobo in the French Cameroons as the centre

1 As far as I am aware there are no anthropometric data for the British Cameroons. Dr. Olivier has made a preliminary survey of the principal tribes of the Southern French Cameroons, and he includes a very small sample of 21 men and 13 women from the Tikar at Fumban. Vide, "Documents anthropométriques pour servir à l'étude des principales populations du Sud-Cameroun," - Bulletin de la Société d'Etudes Camerounaises, 1946, Nos. 15-16, p. 64.

2 A. Bruens, "The Structure of Nkom and its relations to Bantu and Sudanic", Anthropos, Band XXXVI1-XL, 1942-45.
3 Joseph H. Greenberg, "Studies in African Linguistic Classification. 1. The Niger-Congo Family," South Western Journal of Anthropology, vol5, No. 2, 1949, pp. 5-7. Greenberg has classified the West Sudanic nucleus, the Benue-Cross River, the languages in the British Cameroons, as well as some to the east, as Niger-Congo. Within this family he has tentatively distinguished 15 genetic sub-families; and to one of these-the Central Branch-the languageof Bamenda belong. This group includes, among others, the Cross-River languages, Munshi, Mbarike (Zumper), Jukun-Kyentu-Nidu, Bitare, Tigong, Batu, Ndoro, Bantu (Bafut, Ndob, Bamun, Bali, Banyen, Banyang, Ngami), and Mambila. In Bamenda, the Mbembe of the north appear to have linguistic affiliations with the Tigong; the Aghem claim to have migrated from Munshi; Badji (or Badjong-Pai) in Fungom is said to be of Zumper origin; while the Widekum may be affiliated with the Banyang in Mamfe.


from which they emigrated. In Nsungli,1 where there were the three Native Authorities of War, Tang and Wiya, the position is more complicated since the villages which belong to any one of these units do not occupy a continuous stretch of territory, but are interdigitated among villages belonging to the other two sub-tribes.

Some of the administrative units in the northern and western forests (as in Mbembe, Ngie, Meta and Esimbi) reflect to a much greater extent similarities of dialect and custom; but, while there is some consciousness of a common cultural heritage, the people themselves have never recognized a central political authority. It is perhaps only in Nsaw, Kom, Bum and Bali, where strong consolidated kingdoms had been created prior to the arrival of Europeans, that the existing Native Authorities corresponded, fairly closely to the traditional system of organization.

Following upon the proposals made in 1948 by the Administration, 22 out of 23 of the Native Authorities agreed to federate into four groups, each with its own central treasury and council.2 Bali remained outside this reorganization since none of the Authorities could be persuaded to become members of a group in which it was included. Traditional hostility dies hard: the people have not yet forgotten that in the last century Bali conquered villages in the south and south-west, exacted tribute, and, under the Germans, received recognition as a suzerain power. They are fearful of domination: as one ruler phrased it - "if you federate with Bali, you might just as well cut your own throat!" Such an attitude is no doubt unduly apprehensive today, but the appointment of the Føn of Bali as a member of the Eastern House of Assembly in 1946 has, if anything, reinforced it.

So far we have discussed the relation between administrative units and ethnic grouping, and attention has been directed to those differences of dialect and custom which are stressed by the people themselves. But, if traditions of migration and broader linguistic and cultural similarities are adopted as criteria, the peoples of Bamenda fall within five main groups:

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