NGUON FESTIVAL 2014 – 545TH EDITION – FOUMBAN CAMEROON
BY ADA ANAGHO BROWN – PRESIDENT – ROOTS TO GLORY TOURS
It was a crisp clear November afternoon as a group of African Americans who traced their DNA to the Tikar tribe descended in Foumban, Cameroon for the 545th edition of the Nguon festival. The Nguon festival is a biennial festival originally a harvest celebration. During more than five centuries Nguon celebrations took place during the harvest period, which are usually in late July or early August. This tradition was adopted by Nchare, the founder of the Bamoum dynasty.
Thousands of participants from around Cameroon and abroad waited with baited breath at the palace for the arrival of the Sultan of Bamoun and his guests. This weeklong celebration is recognized by UNESCO as a historic event which merits preservation.
The Nguon festival is an incredible representation of culture, tradition, history, music and dance. It can be described as going to Mecca if your heritage is Tikar. There is no greater feeling as you sit and watch the Sultan of Bamoun and the King from Chad and the King from Benin and many others showcase true African monarchy. The feeling of exhilaration when the trumpets would announce the arrival of yet another King is unmatched.
The diaspora members traveled from France the USA, England, Germany, Italy, Spain other foreign lands to attend this festival. There were traditional leaders from the Bafia, Banso, Maroua, Chad, Garoua, Benin, Douala and many more. There were foreign governments whose embassy staff attended including the Embassies of the USA, Israel, Turkey, Italy, Spain, France and Germany. Representing the Cameroonian government were Ministers of Culture, Agriculture, Finance and much more.
On the first day of the celebration, Bamoun students were presented with certificates of achievement. The top student was honored when the Sultan of Bamoun personally presented him his award. His family could barely contain their joy at the honor.
Throughout the event, the Sultan was presented with gifts and goodwill messages from groups from all over the world.
The highlight for the American delegation was the naming ceremony. The visiting American ladies were given names of former Queen mothers. It was a touching ceremony were Americans from Pennsylvania, California, Texas, New York and Illinois where personally welcomed with their new names by the Sultan of Bamoun.
The Nku Metgu event is an event which the King is judged by the Bamoun Secret Society. It is one of the most important events of this festival as it is the day that the Sultan abdicates his throne. In the Bamoun culture, every two years, the Sultan must give up his throne and become a man and take critique from the Secret Society. The Secret Society is approximately 400 strong. It is an honor to be a member of the Secret Society as it is the only group allowed to judge and replace the King if necessary. Membership to the Secret Society is hereditary.
The Secret Society members make the journey to the Palace under the cover of darkness to arrive at the Palace where they discuss their grievances with the Sultan before the official Nku Metgu ceremony. It is said that when the secret society travels to the palace, only men are allowed to witness their travels. They often turn the lights out blanketing the city in darkness to allow the society to walk freely.
During the Nku Metgu (Judgement for the King) ceremony, the King sits on his throne at the beginning of the ceremony (this is the only time other than his coronation that the King sits on his throne, when not in use, the throne is on display at the museum located in the palace) when the Secret Society enters the event, the King is forced by tradition to stand and be judged as a man by his people.
This year the King was fined due to the abuse of power and authority by his inner circle and his children. He was reminded that now that Bamoun girls are attending school and receiving the same educational opportunities as boys, they will need similar work opportunities upon graduation. He was strongly told that now that he was a Senator, he should not sit back and cross his arms and legs, he should continue to help with progress in Cameroon.
In the end, the Secret Society felt that the Sultan should remain the leader of the Bamoun people for an additional 2 years and that the issues and grievances they had were primarily directly at the Bamoun people and not the Sultan.
On the final day of the Ngoun festival there was a re-enactment of when the Bamoun warriors returned from war. Every citizen of the Bamoun kingdom and friends of Bamoun dressed in their best warrior outfits. It was the most colorful display of costumes and headgear. There was war paint drawn on faces, headgear with skulls attached etc. (warriors often brought back the skulls of their enemies as well as their jaw bones to show their power)
The day began at 4:00am with the beating of the large war drum. It is said that when the Bamoun people were at war, the Big Drum would beat continuously until the warriors returned from war (now that the Bamoun people are at peace, they hold leaves as a symbol of the peace they have enjoyed for years). The King and his “army” walked from the entrance of the city to the festival grounds which cover several miles. Accompanying the King are the wounded warriors on wooden stretchers, the victorious warriors and the prisoners. When the group arrived to the festival grounds, the crowd cheered and welcomed the victorious King back home. The atmosphere was festival with dancing and music. The King presented his “spoils” of war to the public.
As the dust settled on the festival and the participants headed home, the King met with the group of Americans. He made a point to remind the group that they were now his Ambassadors and they should continue to tell the story of the Bamoun people to all who would listen. He expressed his desire for the group to return in 2016 so that they could continue the legacy and take their rightful place with their Bamoun family.
The next Nguon festival will be in December 2016 in Foumban, Cameroon.