Descent, Clans and Territorial Organization

  in the Tikar Chiefdom of Ngambe, Cameroon


  David Price

  The chiefdom of Ngambe is one of the ten Tikar chiefdoms east of the Mbam and Mapé

Rivers, which form the eastern boundary of Bamum (see Map 1).  From the late 1840’s the

region south and east of the Mbam had become tributary to the Fulani-ruled lamidat of Tibati,

though not without rebellion.  When the forces of the Qute-Adamawa Expedition led by von

Kamptz reached Ngambe in 1899 it was under siege.  Franz Thorbecke, the first ethnographer

to visit the area, in 1907-8 and 1911-12, has left us a valuable account of its human geography,

material culture and recent history (1914, 1916 & 1919).  By 1975, when I started my

fieldwork, Ngambe had become the administrative centre of the District of Ngambé-Tikar

(population c. 5,000, area c.6,800 within the Cameroon Sub-Prefecture of Yoko, the

former centre of German colonial and subsequently French administration of the area.  I use the

term “Tikar” (locally Tigé, pl. Mètigè) in its now generally accepted sense, which excludes

those speakers of Grassfields Bantu languages to the west whose chiefly dynasties lay claim to

Tikar origin.

  The Tikar possess concepts of both patrilineal and matrilineal descent which they

express in terms of shared substances.  They account for these contrasting forms of continuity

by reference to the different physiological roles they ascribe to the sexes in procreation.

  When a woman becomes pregnant, the cessation of her menses is understood to mean

that that blood which would have otherwise been discharged from her body and the sperm

implanted within her have coalesced to produce the foetus.  Sperm is thought to grow, to

incorporate any further sperm deposited within her and to differentiate in the growing child into

its bone, teeth, marrow, brain and heart; and, eventually, in the case of a male, his bone will

produce sperm which will be transmitted to his offspring.  These material parts of the body

represent the identity apprehended between an individual, his siblings, his father’s father, and
so on: agnates are said to be, or to have, “one bone” (wa’ fhçwa’ fho), and non-agnates,

different bones.

  The other material parts of the body - the skin, blood, flesh and most of the organs - are

believed to derive directly from the mother’s menstrual blood.  Thus, those of a woman have a

common identity with those of her children, her daughters’ children, etc.  The actual idiom used

to express the relationship between uterine relatives is that they are, or they have, “one intestine”

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