The People of Nso

        The Nso are a people of the Bamenda Grassfields in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. Their traditional language is Lamnso (language of Nso) and their capital is Kumbo. Both the people and the capital are sometimes referred to as Banso (people of Nso) – the addition of the Ba prefix is attributed to the Fulani conquerors in the 17th century; the prefix resonates in the names of towns around the area.

 

Government

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The Fon is the traditional ruler. He is both the head of the traditional government and the chief religious authority in charge of keeping the ancestors happy. The Fon is supported in his duties by the seven notables called Vibais. These Vibais are Shufais, whose positions are determined by rather intricate history. These include Shufai Ndzendzev, Tahnkum, Doh, Ruun, Tsenlah, Lun and Yuwar. Over the years other Shufais have been appointed by the Fon of Nso without any major political influence, but for the fact that they get a seat at the lower ends of the seating ranks in the palace. His power is kept in check by regulatory groups such as the “Ngwerong” (also “Nwerong”) which is in effect the security arm of the government and enforces decisions taken by the Fon. The Nwerong is solely responsible for enthronement of a new Fon. It is also responsible for replacing Fais and Shufais after the death of the incumbent. Members of the royal families (except the Fons) may not become members of the Nwerong. The “Ngiri” resembles the Nwerong, but is only for princes. New Fons are selected from a group of eligible princes by a system kept secret from those eligible, thus eliminating a possible source of corruption. The present Fon is Sehm Mbinglo I. Young and dynamic, he has reinforced traditional authority and the respect for human dignity despite the pressures of the modern world. The princes are called Wontho and regularly meet in the presence of the Fon to discuss family matters.

There are other Fons that generally act as advisers to the Fon of Nso. The existence of these Fons today signifies an evolution in the history of the Nso people. Most of them were ones leaders of independent tribes that through warfare or peaceful negotiations, or through share events of history came to subordinate the Fon of Nso. They are the only ones (along with foreign Fons) that are allowed to bring in their own seats (Kavahs) to the Nso Palace. These, inexhaustively, include the Fons of Oku, Mbiami, Nseh, Nkar, Gwan, Kiluun, Ngashong, Nshokov, Gwarkang, Taabah, etc. The Fons of Oku and Mbiami were once princes of Nso. All the Fons of Nso and Shufai Ndzendzev are members of both the Nwerong and the Ngiri.

Cap of the Nso people, beadwork on Raffia fiber (Linden-Museum, Stuttgart, Germany)

Nso society is divided into groups according to lineage. Each lineage group is led by a “Fai”. Tradition dictates that the hand of a Fai is not to be shaken. Fais can be recognized by their glass bead necklaces and fancy walking sticks. A Fai is instituted by a Fon. Other leaders are called Sheys, and are a level below the Fais.

Religion

Jujus, masked spirits, are an important part Nso culture. (The word “Juju” can also refer to some type of magic.) Jujus come out on important occasions. Ngwerong and Ngiri (the prince’s society) each have seven jujus, often seen passing by on the way to the death celebration of one of the society members. The passing by of a juju being led by its handlers and followed by children is quite the street performance. Other jujus include groups that dance to drums and xylophones.

Another traditional organization is “Mfu”, a warrior society. Each village has its own chapter with its own meeting house where the group gathers every eighth day (the traditional week). It is a place where men in the village can come to hear the latest news and where the village leaders can disseminate information or organize village work. Most Mfu houses are richly decorated with carved posts, both inside and outside. To enter the Mfu house, one must wear a hat and a cutlass, and one must bring a drinking cup to partake in the drinking of “Melu” (raffia palm wine). Each member of Mfu must take their turn supplying the group with palm wine. When a member has done an adequate job of “celebrating” Mfu, the drums will come out for dancing.

Phrases

  • Beri wo. Thank you. (Deutsch: Danke)
  • Wikijung. You are welcome.
  • A sahka? What news? (Greeting). (Deutsch: Wie Gehts?)
  • Sah ka yo dzə. No news (Reply) OR M bo sa. I am fine. (Deutsch: Gut)
  • yirannia. Good morning.
  • A sahka mbuni. How did you sleep?
  • Aresi nia. Good afternoon.
  • yi ginia. Good evening.
  • Buni kijung. Sleep well.
  • A ber ni kibveshi. Good bye until tomorrow.
  • Jemse jungsi. Sweet dreams.
  • Wuna wosa. And to you.
  • Nyuy sævi wo. God bless you (Greeting). (Deutsch: Gott segne dich)
  • Vishi vejungvi. Good luck.
  • Ghan kijung. Safe journey.
  • Fo mo. Give me. (Deutsch: Gib mir)
  • A du fe? Where are you going? (Deutsch: Wo gehen Sie hin?)
  • Yir yee dzə la? What is your name? (Deutsch: Wie heißen Sie?)
  • Yir yem dzə Luckong. My name is Luckong. (Deutsch: Meine Name ist Luckong)
  • A dzə wan la? Whose child are you? (Deutsch: Zu welchen Eltern gehören Sie?)
  • M dzə wan Emma. I am Emma’s child. (Deutsch: Ich bin das Kind von Emma)
  • Fon Nso dze la? Who is the Traditional ruler of Nso? (Deutsch: Wie heißt der Nso Oberhaupt?)
  • Jing yar mo. I am hungry.
  • Ki long ki yum mo. I am thirsty.
  • M kong wo. I love you.

Animal names

  • baar; leopard
  • jwi: dog
  • kan: monkey
  • kitam: elephant
  • bvèreh: lion
  • shishuiy: duica
  • bvey: goat

Other nouns

  • shuy: sun
  • midzev: water
  • ngwa: book
  • narnar: pineapple
  • lav: house
  • kitukelav: roof
  • nsaalav: floor
  • shulav: door
  • ntah: chair
  • gham: rug
  • nton: cooking pot
  • lang: plate
  • bar: glass

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