By Maggie Price Taylor, EdD, Family Historian and Genealogist
The Republic of Cameroon is found in Central West Africa, and it is called “Africa in Miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity. It is a unique country with about 250 ethnic groups with an endless array of cultures. Cameroon is richly endowed by nature with natural features of beaches, deserts, mountains, rain forests, and savannas. Geographically, the country is divided into 10 Regions wherein 57 percent of Cameroonians live in urban areas. A 2010 census indicates Cameroon’s population as 19.4 million. From Dec 26, 2013 – Jan 4 2014, a Historic Healing Journey by Roots to Glory Tours visited the Southwest, West, and Northwest regions of Cameroon for the group to develop a better understanding of key tribal cultures; as well as, to develop a deeper relationship with the Tikar and Bamileke people.
The journey began in Cameroon’s largest city, Douala, a regional and economic capital of Cameroon. A bustling city, Douala is the site of one of Cameroon’s International Airports and its main port of entry that handles about 95 percent of Cameroon’s shipping volumes. From Douala, the group traveled to Limbe, the Southwest Region of Cameroon, and lodged at the Savoy Palmz Hotel that is nestled near the slopes of the Mount Cameroon. Limbe, previously named “Victoria”, is an English speaking seaside city. Limbe’s motto is “The Town of Friendship”. In Limbe, the group visited the Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC), Cameroon’s second largest employer and major exporter. At the CDC, an estate manager demonstrated how rubber was made, beginning with the growing of plants in a nursery, draining sap from a tree, and processing the product for usage and export.
The CDC, not only produces and exports rubber, but also bananas, palm oil, coffee, and other products. Several CDC officials/staffers were present during the group tour: Hon. Efite Andre, CDC Head Office; Lyonga Mbake Samuel; Shiti Cletus, Estate Manager; Valeria Halimatou, Communication Assistant; and Claudine Mafani, Public Relations Assistant. After the tour, the CDC invited the group for a buffet lunch at the CDC Senior Club.
After touring Limbe, the group headed to the Western region of Cameroon to visit the historical town of Foumban which is part of the the Bamoun Kingdom as well as the seat of the Sultan of Bamoun. The Sultan’s Palace (one of a kind in Cameroon) was built in 1917, under King Njoya. After an extensive tour of the palace museum, the group met with Sultan Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, the 19th Sultan of Bamoun. (The sultan is a noble title and is the highest ranking cultural leader in Cameroon). Sultan Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya and his wife, Queen Jennifer James Mbombo Njoya, warmly greeted the group at the Palace, took pictures with us, honored the group with a formal buffet dinner, and an after dinner show of exemplary musicians and dancers. A previous traveler with the group, Dr. Lisa Aubrey, Associate Professor, African and African American Studies, Arizona State University, and her guests, joined the group for the dinner. The Tikar people are the major ethnic group in Bamoun.
In the Western region the group lodged at the noteworthy, “La Valle`e de Bana” Hotel, known as the LVB Hotel in the Bana Village. At the LVB, group members lodged in beautiful, deluxe Bungalows. At the LVB, the group met its proprietor, Cloris Tchokonie and his spouse, Anne Marie Tchokonie, along with Andre Eken, a Bamileke from Lanham, Maryland. Two DNA certified Bamileke Americans, Maggie Taylor and Merideth Williams joined three Bamileke Cameroonians in a picture from left to right: Maggie Taylor, Cloris Tchokonie, Merideth Williams, Andre Eken, and Anne Marie Tchokonie. The Bamilekes are very enterprising people, and they known to be excellent business men/women, professionals, and farmers, and have played and continue to play an important role in economic development in Cameroon. The latest census numbered Bamilekes as 3.5 million.
Initially, the group was welcomed to Bana in the home of Julienne Ayissi Ngono, a Supreme Court Justice, who represents Bana and the Bamileke people more generally. When the group arrived to the Bana Palace, they noticed at the top of the entrance angular figures representative of the Pyramids of Egypt. The group learned that the number of Pyramid figures displayed for Bamileke Kings’ homes represent the level of the King, and more pyramids represent a higher rank of the King. Migrating from Egypt to Cameroon, the Bamileke people are essentially Hebrew people who originated from Egypt. The Bamilekes believed that one day they would return to Egypt and wanted to retain their culture.
Following a tour of the Bana Palace, the group met with King Sikam Happi V, who welcomed the group, invited Ada Anagho Brown to speak, and each member of the group to introduce him or herself. At the end, King Sikam Happi V told the students that he was honored to have them as part of the audience, and others to tell their families and children about the Bana culture upon returning home. After the welcome celebration, King Sikam Happi graciously honored the group with a buffet luncheon, inviting Merideth Williams and Maggie Taylor to sit at the head table with him. After the meal, both Merideth and Maggie were given Bamileke family names, and adorned with Bamileke attire: a traditional garment made of Bamileke fabric, a hat, and a necklace of beads. The names given to Maggie and Merideth by the King honored former kings of Bana. Maggie was named “HALIEU” for the King who created the Village (the founder) of Bana; and Merideth was named “NKAKWA”, for the King who combated and ended slavery in the Kingdom of Bana. Before departing, the King presented gifts to each group member. In return, the group presented gifts to the King. Lastly, the King took pictures with groups and individuals as well.
Excited, the group traveled to Bamenda, the economic and political capital of the Northwest Province of Cameroon, commonly named the Grassfields highland. Bamenda is dominated by mountains and rolling, grass-covered hills and high plateaus. Bamenda is also the 4th largest city in Cameroon, and the centers of commerce, transportation, tourism, and learning. In Bamenda, the group lodged at the modern Mawa Hotel. Here, the group visited the powerful traditional Kingdom of Bafut under Fon Abumbi II. The Bafut Palace, (conical shaped with a thatch roof) is one of the largest traditional palaces in Cameroon. First the group saw a tribal dance where dancers wore animal head masks with feathery costumes (symbolism of strength). Then Fon of Bafut Abumbi II, is seen standing in front of the Bafut Palace with Ada Anagho Brown and her father, Colonel Hans Ako Anagho III, the Fon of Ngwo. Fon Abumbi II welcomed the group to the Palace; Ada spoke; and in the end, the King entertained questions from the group and answered each of them. The Tikar people are members of the Bafut tribe.
In Bamenda, the group also visited the Santa Catholic Primary School, a small school with 12 teachers. The head of the school was the Rev Father Dieudonne Ngenso, who was Bamileke and the children families as well. A student, Charles Ntah, and manager/teacher of classroom 6 Nganfor Nereus Amungwa, welcomed the group to the Santa School, where the students enthusiastically performed in song and dance, and passed out gifts to each group member. In return, the group left a monetary gift for the school.
The final village toured was the Ngwo Village in the Momo Division, where Chief Hans Ako Anagho the Fon of Ngwo, and retired Colonel lives and serves as a traditional ruler. Formerly, Fon Anagho served as military attaché for the Cameroon government
in Washington, DC. The group not only visited Fon Anagho’s home, but also his childhood’s and grandfather’s homes (still standing), and a primary school that elcomed the group with festive music and dance. The tour will undoubtedly be an unforgettable one.
On this historic journey were four previous travelers: William Glenn, a retired State of Michigan Psychologist Supervisor; his spouse, Merideth Williams, a Pediatric Physical Therapist in the Royal Oak Schools; Dr. Ysaye M. Barnwell, a musician, a vocalist, a recent retiree of “Sweet Honey and the Rock”, and a recent 2014 recipient of a “Choral Arts Humanitarian Award”; Dr. Maggie Taylor, a retired Administrator and College Business Professor, with her grandson, Gary Jordan, Jr. (a first time traveler); and Wanda Lockridge, Chairwoman/Executive Director, William O. Lockridge Community Foundation, Washington, DC, and Ada Anagho Brown, President of Roots to Gory Tours. The first time travelers with the group were: Dr. Roy Irons, Dentist, and his spouse, Judy Irons; Cynthia Bowie; Dorothy Williams, and son, Christopher; and Patricia Ann Waddell. In addition, Wanda Lockridge brought three Washington, DC public school students: Tresur Hawkins, Myniah Sweetney, and Terra Minor, who served as International Ambassadors.
The Healing Journey ended with a great farewell buffet luncheon in the Douala home of Nathan and Yolande` Elisa Simb, who graciously hosted last year’s “On My Way Home” Journey.
Dr. Maggie Taylor of Atlanta, GA, had longed to know the origin her ancestors. The opportunity came in 2004 when Dr. Rick Kittles of African Ancestry, Inc., traced her DNA connecting her ancestral roots to Cameroon. Maggie’s maternal origin is related to the Tikar tribe, and her paternal origin to the Bamileke. Marcus Garvey once said “A people without knowledge of their past history, origin and culture, is a like a tree without roots”. Maggie is proud of her heritage.