Location: Grasslands of central Cameroon
Population: n/a
Language: Macro-Bantu language
Neighbors: Mambila,Tikar, Wute, Widekum
Types of Art: Recognizing the importance of the skull, representations of the head are found in nearly all decorated utilitarian items. Masks used in initiation and for education purposes are common. Statuary often represents the Fon, and many types of beaded objects are related to his investiture.
History: The Cameroon Grasslands is a large cultural area, which is inhabited by a large number of related peoples. These peoples can be divided into three smaller subgroups: Bamilike, Bamum, and Bamenda Tikar. Within these complexes there are numerous smaller ethnic groups, which are loosely affiliated with one another and share many historical and political similarities while retaining separate identities. All members of this group originally came from an area to the north and migrated in various complex patterns throughout the last several centuries. Fulani traders moving steadily southwards into Cameroon in the 17th century forced the southern drift of most of the current residents. Many smaller groups combined, while other factions split away as a result of pressure from the invading Fulani.
Economy: People in the region played an important part in regional trade routes connecting with the seaport of Douala in the south and with Fulani and Hausa traders in the north. All of the people in this area are historically farmers who grow maize, yams, and peanuts as staple crops. They also raise some livestock, including chickens and goats which play an important role in daily sustenance. Women, who are believed to make the soil more fruitful, are responsible for the tasks of planting and harvesting the crops. Men are responsible for clearing the fields for planting and practice some nominal hunting. Specific economic enterprises are dictated by the specific microenvironments of individual ethnic groups.
Political Systems: All of the peoples who make up the Cameroon Grasslands culture area pay allegiance to the chief (Fon). Each village is governed by a leader who is selected by his predecessor and who is usually the head of the dominant lineage within that community. Each Fon is served by a council of elders who advise him on all important decisions and who also play an important role in the selection of the next Fon. Most chiefs serve for a lifetime, abdicating the throne or stool only when nearing death. Complex age-grade societies also help to structure the community. The Fon also oversees these secret societies.
Religion: The peoples of the Grasslands reserve the highest allegiance for their lineage ancestors. Ancestral spirits are embodied in the skulls of the deceased ancestors. The skulls are in the possession of the eldest living male in each lineage, and all members of an extended family recognize the same skulls as belonging to their group. When a family decides to relocate, a dwelling, which must be first purified by a diviner, is built to house the skulls in the new location. Although not all of the ancestral skulls are in the possession of a family, they are not forgotten. These spirits have nowhere to reside, though, and may as a result cause trouble for the family. To compensate when a man's skull is not preserved, a family member must undergo a ceremony involving pouring libations into the ground. Earth gathered from the site of that offering then comes to represent the skull of the deceased. Respect is also paid to female skulls, although detail about such practices is largely unrecorded.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,