The arrival of the Fona’nguon, delegates of the Bamoun people and members of the Nguon secret society, marks the first of three days of traditional celebrations on Friday.
“Muhn kpâne, i yuen yuene kà”. This phrase in the Bamoun language is a warning: “He who tempts, will see”. Pronounced by the Fona’Nguon during their ritual entrance to the Palace of the Bamoun Kings in Foumban (Noun Department, Western Region, Cameroon), it underlines the mystical and mythical character of this ceremony which marks the beginning of the three days of traditional Nguon celebrations, from Friday to Sunday. Why a mystical and mythical character? Already, the Fona’Nguon, representatives of the Bamoun people, are initiates and members of the secret society of Nguon. Then, their arrival takes place in total darkness both in the Palace and its surroundings, and in great silence. Silence broken by a sound similar to that of a beetle that gave its name to the celebrations of the Bamoun culture and society, but also to the mysterious instrument played by the Fona’Nguon: the Nguon.
We remain in the mystical and mythical also because once the singular procession of the 99 Fona’Nguon enters the Palace, and even if the light returns and the festivities resume outside, no one can say exactly what the community delegates will do all night long, until the early hours of Saturday morning. However, at midnight they are joined by the Sultan King of Bamoun, the 100th Nfon’Nguon (singular of Fona’Nguon). This ritual ceremony has lasted for more than 600 years. And this longevity has finally let a few pieces of information slip through. For example, that the ritual entry of the Fona’Nguon is intended to prepare the King for the next part of the program.
Democracy, the foundation of Bamoun culture
Indeed, upstream of the traditional celebrations, there are the preparations for the rituals related to the sacred power of the Mfon, the King. The Fona’nguon are then sent by the great initiates, the Tita’nguon of whom they are messengers, to all the regions of the Bamoun kingdom, with two missions: to collect all the products of the traditional pharmacopoeia and especially to collect the grievances of the community. These therapeutic products will be brought to the Palace by the Fona’Nguon during the ritual entrance to the Palace, in bags carried in shoulder straps by these initiates.
As for the people’s grievances, they are submitted to the sovereign during the Yii Nkuu Mùtngu (or King’s judgment) ceremony on the Saturday when he descends from his throne and is momentarily stripped of his immunity, the time of the “trial” where his actions of the last two years are evaluated. This trial was brilliantly passed in 2018 by King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya. This is also the Nguon, an instance of interpellation of the monarch in his management of the city before the entire Bamoun community, in line with the values of African-style democracy advocated since 1394 by the founder of the kingdom, the very first Mfon Nchare Yen when, coming from Rifum in the Mbam Valley, he trod the land of Njimom with his seven companions.
For the Bamoun people, this democracy conveyed by the Nguon rituals can be applied to other Cameroonian cultures and beyond, and presents an important solution against the drift of power by rulers.