Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Kom Cultural Festival.(Njong)

One of the benefits of volunteering with RUDEC is that it brings you into direct contact with local people and their culture and customs. Volunteering is a great way to give something back to society whilst experiencing a different way of life and you will really begin to understand the country you are in, in much more depth than a regular “tourist” who just passes through places.

Last week, here in the ‘Kom’ region of Cameroon, we were lucky enough to experience a cultural highlight. Once a year on the 5th January the ‘Fon’ or Chief of the Kom people holds a gathering called Njong, high in the mountains, at his palace in Laikom. This is the time of year when Kom people, who historically come from this area of Cameroon and some who have relocated, come from all regions to pay their New Year respects to their Chief.

This is the ceremony where, traditionally, the people displayed their strength of arms, to show the Fon that they were ready to face any possible invasions in the coming year. Nowadays the threat of war has gone but the Kom people still hold tight to their traditions. So they bring their cutlasses and guns and demonstrate their power to all those gathered.

Some of us volunteers decided to make the trek up to Laikom to see the happenings! It was a beautiful but steep trek up the mountain, through open pastures, rocky fields, dense woodland and small streams. We hardly saw anyone on the walk up but when we reached the top we were greeted by hundreds of Cameroonians, all in their traditional colourful and elaborate Dallah costumes. It was a spectacular sight. Each group of men from different villages were in matching costumes and they took it in turns to go and make an offering to the Fon and then to demonstrate their weapons. There were a lot of guns fired into the air that day! A festival like this would never be possible in the western world and it took a while to get used to seeing everyone walking around with a shotgun!

It was interesting to see the different clothing style of the few Fulani people who were present, they are a neighbouring tribe, whose stature, complexion and features are quite distinct and also whose traditions and costumes vary greatly from their Kom neighbours.

Traditional food of foufou, which is the Cameroonian staple, made of maize flour and water, katikati, which is chicken and njemajema, being green vegetables, was served and then eaten with the hands. We attracted a lot of attention, with many people taking photos of us whilst we were eating. I guess it’s only fair, as we were taking pictures of them firing guns and wearing their costumes!! And in true Cameroon style there was beer available.

The Fon has many wives and dozens of children, each of his wives has her own house within the palace. When a Fon dies his brother takes his place and also inherits all his late brother’s wives. As we were the only “visitors” present, we were shown the palace, given palm wine to drink and were greeted by almost everyone we passed, so much hand shaking! This is one of the benefits of ‘living’ in a country rather than just travelling, really getting up close to a culture and interacting with the people.

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