A summary background of the Kom kingdom and its history
The Kom kingdom is one of 250 indigenous ethnic groups or tribes of Cameroon, located in Boyo Division approximately, some 25kilometers, North of Bamenda town, and the North West Regional capital. It shares boundary with Bum to the North, Babanki to the South, Wum to the west, Nso and Oku to the east. The inhabitants of the Kom tribe traditionally speaks itanghi-Kom, meaning “the Kom language”, a non-written language though, in recent years, tremendous efforts have been made to codify the language thanks to the influence of Christianity and western missionaries.
The Kom kingdom is ruled by a Fon (King). The Fon (king) is the head of the Kom traditional government and is considered to be the secular and spiritual leader of the kingdom. Like most traditional societies in the North West Region of Cameroon, the Fon is officially addressed as “His Royal Highness”. The Fon has many wives, and many of the Fon’s wives have been inherited from his predecessors though it is difficult to determine the exact number of the Fon’s wives.
At the moment, Fon Vincent Yuh is the current Fon of Kom since 1995. The Kom kingdom is traditionally divided into 43 villages. These are the 43 villages that make up the Kom kingdom. On the other hand, the various villages are governed by the village heads either appointed by the Fon of Kom or through inheritance. Each of these villages is a self-governing community presided over by the village head and is assisted in his duties by the traditional village council of elders.
The Fon is the head of the Kom traditional institutions and he is assisted in his functions by the Kom kwifon, a highly respected cult believed to be very secretive in the Kom land. In the Kom kingdom, the task of governing is not only shared by the kwifon but there also exist a pool of diviners, priests, seers, and many cult practitioners that helps in the traditional administration of the Kom kingdom.
The Kom people and its culture
Culture is generally defined in terms of its language, customs, religious beliefs, cuisine, Music, farming, hunting, dance, social habits or social heritage, and ideas that are accepted within a given community or society. In the light of the above definition, the traditional Kom society is considered to be a literary community because of its very rich cultural heritage. The Afo-a-Kom story as it was reported by the Times Magazine (New York) in the late 1966 helped to put the Kom kingdom and its culture at the lamp light as an oral tradition with a rich cultural heritage.
According to Tosah, (2009), “the sum total of the various traditional practices of an entity constitutes its culture; (chighnii). These traditional practices are built into rites of passage which have to do with birth, marriage, title acquisition, succession, enthronement/dethronement not and never in Kom anyway and procedures and finally death. Culture/economic development can focus on the factors that relate to the actual acquisition of wealth or factors that relate to the wellbeing of a people”.
In spite of the social change which the Kom culture has experienced in recent years, and is still going through, the Kom tribe has continued to maintain its intimate relationship with its culture. The Kom oral tradition has remained in tack as part of the cultural heritage of the Kom land, thereby, making tremendous contribution to ceremonial and cultural festivals like the Kom cultural annual festival that takes place year and is hosted by the Fon of Kom in his palace at Laikom.
The Kom annual cultural festival is one of the biggest event that takes place in the Kom kingdom yearly. During this event, the people show case their culture to their Fon and the people from outside of the Kom community. The various dance groups led by the Njong Kom includes, the Chong society, Njangwain, njang-fubom, juju dance groups, the Kom royal dance and others. On the meal menu, there is the always the main food that is known all over the Kom land as Abain and Bas (corn-fufu and Vegetables), and khati-khati to help send the corn-fufu and vegetables fast down to the stomach.
- Njong- Kom: This is the military wing of the Kom kwifon, and it is displayed by the men who fires their various guns in the air as a show of force to the Kom king that they are ever ready for any eventuality. The Njong displace is one of the most important backbone of the Kom culture.
- Chong society: In the Kom kingdom, only very few people have acquired the Chong society after fulfilling a lot of conditions to meet the requirements. It is one of the most expensive titles to be held in the Kom kingdom. The owners of the various Chong dance groups in the Kom land are highly respected people because they have to endure a lot to be able qualify to own a Chong society in their respective compounds. Again, this society is mainly the men’s affairs though women do take part in the performance of the dance when it is performed at funeral celebrations.
- Njangwain: performed mostly by women, and sometimes joined the men in the dance is also an important piece of dance in the Kom kingdom. The songs performed during the performance of njangwain are memorized. It is this the concept of memorization that enables the Kom women particularly the (narrator or lead singer) that receives the songs from someone else, memorizes them, and then later passes on to the third party(the Kom audience). The ultimate objective of the njangwain songs and performance is to affirm faith in the Kom oral tradition. Njangwain is performed during traditional ceremonies like marriages, birth celebrations (born-house), and other cultural events like the Kom annual cultural festivals. The njangwain songs are full of Euphemism and symbolism. As Bole Butake puts it,
- The song or poem is the most or profuse form of emotive expression in African societies. The African manifests his feelings through an outburst of song when he loves and when he hates, when he works and when he plays, when he is at peace and when he fights, when a child is born and when death takes its toll, the song then is the lifetime of the African; and he learns the art of poetry because he is born, and bred in a society which recognizes that the poetic form is emotionally, most expressive of the human predicament (1978:138).
- Njang-fubom: This is a traditional dance that is done by both men and women for the purpose of entertainment and to promote the Kom culture.
- Juju dancing (masquerade): In the Kom kingdom, the Juju dance is the men’s activities and women can only take support the men in the dancing when the performance is going on. Women are not authorized to enter the juju houses because of the rituals that goes on in the juju society.
- The Kom royal dance: This particular dance in the past was reserved only for the princesses of the Kom kingdom but now our days, the dance is performed by the Kom people particularly the young women who are almost ready for marriage. The performance of Fimbang dance exposes the beauty of the Kom woman.
The Fon used this cultural event to encourage all the sons and daughter of the Kom land wherever they may be to promote and show case their culture to the world or people outside of the Kom community in order that they can see the beauty of the Kom culture.
In order to keep the Kom culture alive, His Royal Highness Fon Vincent Yuh 2nd has named Afo-A-Kom, USA as one of the villages in the Kom kingdom. This is a means to encourage all sons and daughters of the Kom land to promote their Culture which is a tool for development. Culture goes hand-in-hand with the development of a given community. The identity of the Kom people in the diaspora especially Europe (Germany), and the United States is the Kom culture when it is promoted.
Below is a report made available by Joshua Chiamba from a foreigner who witnessed the cultural festival at Laikom palace, and the report speaks volumes because it summarizes the activities that takes during the celebration of culture.
“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, 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”.
In conclusion, however, it can be safely assumed that the Kom oral traditional performance like its written counterparts broadens and deepens the knowledge of the Kom people on issues related to human affairs in the Kom kingdom thereby, making life more intelligible for the Kom child who shall henceforth take over the baton of command when this present generation shall be no more.
Butake, B. (January-June, 1978), Literature in oral tradition (Ngam Nos.3-4):136
Tosah, N. (2009), AfoaKom-USA National Convention, Houston, TX: Culture as a theme for economic development, Houston chapter.
Source: Time Magazine (New York)