Cameroon / Cameroun: Country of Contrast
|Dispatch 5 - Jakiri|
Ndop‑Jakiri (45km, 27 mi) We visit the Babungo Palace, one of the
more interesting palaces in the area.
Once again, our schedule put us out on the road while the uniformed students were walking to school. The early starts are not accidental. It a nice time of day to travel and it tends to provide interesting glimpse into local life. When students are on the move there is a ribbon of color because they wear color coordinated uniforms. Blue shirts seemed to be the most popular color for uniforms, but some schools had pink, beige and yellow shirts.
Bicycling in Cameroon, greeting are the order of the day, all day, every day. It is fun to watch the younger students egging on their buddies to greet the strange looking foreigners. Then when a greeting comes back the spigot is open and everyone wants to be greeting. The sounds of greetings in the back travels forward faster than the bicycle and the students start turning to look, like a wave going down the side of the road. The frequency of greeting might raise to hundreds a minute. It may not be until the students are lined up for their morning assembly and later go into their classrooms than the roadside populations thins and a more manageable level of greeting resumes.
The most overwhelming experience of the day was visiting the museum and the palace of the Fon, or paramount chief, of Babungo. The Fon is the social, political, economic and ritual leader of his people. The current Fon, Ndofua Zofoa III, the 25th Fon of Babungo, was enthroned in 1999 (age ~25), after the death of his father. Unfortunately we didn't meet the Fon on our visit.
The Babungo have live in the Upper Nun Valley for centuries, but their museum and palace have only been open to visitors since 2006. The museum and palace are impressive both because of quality and quantity. It is amazing that the Fon was about to keep so much of the chieftaincy's art and ritual objects in their own collection while so much of the physical culture of Africa had been spirited off to high end commercial art galleries in Paris, London, Rome and New York. A small selection (several dozen out of several thousand pieces) of the most significant, highest quality pieced were are displayed in the museum (carved and beaded thrones, stools, staffs, musical instruments, jewelry, masks, containers, pipes, etc.) No photography is allowed in the museum so will have to either visit, image or buy the catalogue to appreciated that part of the collection. The quantity element can be viewed at the palace. In the court of the palace there are thousands of sculptures lining the walls -- literally stacked to the rafters, and hanging from them as well. Also impressive is the coverage of the art; every wall is decorated, every pillar and door frame carved. A lot of the work displayed royal symbols like the double gong, leopard, tortoise, lizard and two-headed snake.
The collection demonstrates the versatility and dynamics of African art. As new experiences and new materials were introduced into the society they were incorporated into the cultural realm. A couple of examples are statues of African men in Western dress, a chair that was carved after the Fon visited India that contains both African and Hindu elements and the beadwork that started to be applied to pieces after they became easily available through trade.
Our escort during our visit was the Fon's wife (the Queen) and her young daughter (far right in the picture to the left.) While we were there the mother of the Fon, Nchio (mother of the people), was also visiting. The Nchio is traditional one of the most important and powerful people in highly hierarchical Babungo society. She is responsible for the well-being of the people and sort of a chief-of-staff of the palace. Among her responsibilities are resolving minor disputes amongst the royal family, educating and training the king's new wives. The Queen was great about answering questions that were directed to her, but she otherwise wasn't forthcoming with information, not even with general overviews about where we were in the palace or what we were looking at.
Another powerful group in the palace hierarchy is the retainers to the Fon. They have there own traditional building on the grounds. As outsiders we were not allowed to approach it, but we were allowed to photograph the exterior.
The following block of photos are more views of the palace court:
At one point, on the rocky, potholed, dirt road, there was a sign for a "bump ahead" (left). We so few signs in general, it is a curiosity why this one has prevailed, and exactly which bump are they trying to alert us to.
More common than road signs, every village seems to have a sign for their local AIDS control committee. Our best understanding of the work of the local AIDS control committee is they sponsor programs. The programs seem to be speakers, theater or other presentations on health and the roll of the committee is to be the local host and help recruit an audience for the program.
The further away from Bamenda the less Western influence was visible along the side of the road. More house are made of clay walls and thatched roofs. It was also common to see people walking with traditional backpacks.. While they were reluctant to be photographed, we found some hanging along the road.
It is very common to see local produce for sale along the side of the road. This house was selling coco-yams, casava (manioc) and plantains. The buyers are generally in cars passing by, heading for the bigger towns.
We hadn't traveled very far at Babessi, but after the long visit at the Fon of Babungo's compound it was late morning so we were in need of nourishment again. As seems to generally be the case the choices at hand were more bars than restaurants. Bucking the trend we opted for sodas and food.
As is the case on the Ring Road, there was another hill in our future. It
was paved around the turn of the century, but even so it afforded an opportunity
for cross-training -- giving our walking muscles a bit of a workout in addition
to the bicycling muscles, which were certainly getting a workout. Walking
also gives you more time and opportunities to soak in the scenery and talk to
people along the road. This road has some very big views.
Linguistically we were in the Narrow Grassfields>Ring group most of the day. Around Ndop they speak Bamunka (Ring>North). In Babungo they speak Vengo (Ring>North). In Baba the root is a little different in that they speak Baba (Mbam-Nkam>Nun). In Babesi they speak Wushi (Ring>North). In Bamessing they speak Kenswei Nsei (Ring>North). And in Jakiri they speak Oku (Ring>Central) and Lamnso' (Ring>East). The interesting mystery of the assignment of these linguistic relationships is the oral history of the all the Ring languages trace their origins back to the Tikar, who moved south from north central Cameroon because of pressure from groups like the Fulani. The classification of Tikar is Bantoid>Southern>Tikar>Tikar, but the classification of the Ring languages is Bantoid>Southern>Wide Grassfields>Narrow Grassfields>Ring, which indicates that the split came before the establishment of Tikar. So it seems that either the linguist have something wrong or there is something skewed in the oral history.
The asphalt that was so delightful yesterday ended shortly outside of Ndop. It reappeared periodically until we reached Kumbo, mostly on the big hills, but never for as long as the stretch from Bamenda to Ndop and not even always for steep sections, which were deeply rutted when they were unpaved. It is tough to figure out exactly what the pattern was and what the criteria might be.
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