MAMBILA Information

Location: Northwestern Cameroon, eastern Nigeria
Population: 25,000
Language: Mambila (Macro-Bantu
Neighbors: Kaka, Tikong, Bafum
Types of Art: Wooden statues are carved to represent the ancestors, and masks that are worn on the top of the head are carved for use in initiation. Most of these are characterized by red ocher paint that is applied with white chalk on a soot blackened background.
History: Linguistic evidence indicates that Mambila ancestors were members of the original Bantu linguistic split that occurred approximately 2,000 years ago. It is also probable, given the close similarities between languages spoken in the immediate area of northern Cameroon and adjacent Nigeria, that the split occurred in this very region. Descendants of the Bantu have expanded across Africa to the eastern coast and south to the Cape in the years since that split occurred. The Mambila themselves moved slightly southwards as a result of Fulani pressure from the North in the 17th and 18th centuries.
Economy: The central location of the Mambila has allowed them to incorporate food stuffs from all over the world into their agricultural products. The primary cereal crops include sorghum, rice, and millet. They also grow bananas, yams, maize, manioc, peppers, peanuts, sweet potatoes, and tobacco. They acquired the practice of milking cattle from the Fulani and also use manure from the cattle as fertilizer. Goats, chickens, dogs, and sheep are raised for meat. Some hunting and fishing is done, but neither contribute significantly to the daily economy. Both men and women are involved in farming.
Political Systems: Political authority within individual communities is invested in a hereditary headman, who is assisted in his duties by a council of elders. The Bamilike are matrilineal to a higher degree than most of their neighbors. Children become the property of the woman's family and are often cared for and adopted by the mother's brother. There are also secret masking societies, which contribute to community social order through initiation and public education.
Religion: Most of the people in this region have been influenced to some degree by the Moslem Fulani, and the Mambila are no exception. They have not forgotten their practice of commemorating and remembering the ancestors through sculpture and prayer. Both Moslem and Mambila religions exist side by side, each one serving its own purpose.
Credit: McIntyre, L. Lee and Christopher D. Roy. 'Art and Life in Africa Online.' 1998: The Art and Life in Africa Project,