- By Randy Joe Sa’ah
- BBC News, Bamenda
For the people of Mankon, in the grass fields of northwest Cameroon, their king – known as fon or fo – never dies. It simply disappears.
Regional Governor Adolphe Lele therefore drew the ire of the Mankon people when he broke a taboo by announcing the death of 97-year-old Fon Angwafor III at the end of last month.
“The fon is the guardian of all the lands of Mankon. He is the very source of our cultural spring. He is the fountain of our spirituality. He is the bridge between past, present and future,” says the lawyer Joseph Fru Awah, a notable Mankon.
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Ascended to the throne in 1959, Fon Angwafor III was the first monarch to receive a Western education. He went to school at a time when royal children were kept out of classrooms to protect them from what was considered a commoner affair.
He continued his studies by obtaining a diploma of agro-technician in a country where agriculture is part of the daily life of many people.
Like all Mankon monarchs, he was polygamous and, in keeping with tradition, the number of his wives has never been revealed. But to say he had a dozen would be a conservative estimate. He is also believed to have dozens of children.
Fon Angwafor III was frequently called King Solomon the Wise by his subjects.
“He always looked like a teacher. Each time I met him, I left with food for thought and a lot of humor”, testifies Eveline Fung, who met the king on many occasions.
But he had his share of criticism. When colonial rule ended in the 1960s, he was one of the architects of the unification of English- and French-controlled territories in what is now Cameroon.
Mankon is one of the largest kingdoms in English-speaking Cameroon, where hundreds of thousands of people live.
Some of those who advocate secession from Anglophone Cameroon have never forgiven Fon Angwafor III for supporting unification.
Rarely for a monarch, he also served in Parliament, making history as Cameroon’s first – and only – independent MP from 1962 to 1988.
In 1990, he became the national vice-president of the ruling party under Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon. He remained in this position until his “disappearance”.
His critics believe that as a monarch he should not have engaged in partisan politics. But he defended his decision, insisting that he was “the father of all” and that his involvement in politics was aimed at advancing the development of communities.
Forbidden to shed tears
It took three long weeks for the Kwifor, the secret supreme council of Makon kingmakers, to officially declare the king “disappeared”.
Until then, people were whispering phrases like ‘there’s smoke in the palace’, and even refusing to say their monarch had ‘disappeared’ – despite having already been ‘buried’ in an unknown holy place public.
The Mankon consider it taboo to say that their king has been buried.
Once the announcement of his “disappearance” was made on May 29, the men did not wear caps and the women did not cultivate as a sign of respect for the monarch.
The mourning culminated on June 7 when tens of thousands of people marched to the tercentenary royal palace in Bamenda, a city of 500,000 people and the heart of the Mankon.
But no one shed a tear. It is an abomination to mourn a missing fon.
Pebbles thrown at the new king
Both women and men were dressed in skirts made from dried banana or bamboo stalks.
Their upper bodies were bare except for the women who wore black bras.
Flanked by members of the Kwifor, the new king – son of Fon Angwafor III – entered the palace courtyard barefoot and bare-chested, with only a white cloth around his waist.
The crowd gently throws pebbles and small stones, grass and leaves at him, in a symbolic ritual to show that this is the last time a commoner will hurt or disrespect him.
As pebbles were thrown at him, he ran away towards the palace while his subjects made their way to the nearby streams to wash themselves of the ashes with which they had covered themselves.
They then donned their finest traditional attire, including handmade colorful dresses and headpieces, before returning to the royal court.
It was a time of joy and celebration to mark the “reincarnation” of the departed fon into his successor.
“He, Fon Angwafor III, reigns, then he disappears, as if to retire and rejuvenate, then he reappears with renewed verve and flame to rekindle the ever-burning flame of the Mankon Nation,” explains the Secretary General of the Mankon Traditional Council , Ntomnifor Richard Fru.
And so it was that Angwafor John Asaah, chosen by the “disappeared” king as his heir, walked out of the palace.
Dressed in a reddish loincloth, he was hoisted by the Kwikfor onto an intricately carved stool to signify that he had been “enthroned”.
The crowd exploded with joy in Palace Square when, for the first time, the Kwifor declared their new names: Fo Fru Asa-ah Ndefru Angwafor IV.
“Who would want to miss an event that took 63 years to happen?”, explains Adeline Nguti, who went to the palace to attend this historic event.
“The next event might not happen in my lifetime.”
His twin sister Irene adds: “We are all here to welcome our new king in strict accordance with tradition. This is what our culture demands. I hope the new fon will be a great guardian of our tradition, just like his father.”
But one ritual was missing: the celebratory shots of the Mankon men, with their shotguns. The government banned firearms – normally fired during cultural ceremonies – some time ago due to the insurgency led by armed groups calling for secession from Anglophone Cameroon.
It was a poignant reminder of the conflict that has plagued the region since 2017. Many hope the new king will help bring peace.
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The nation that believes its king never dies – BBC News BBC Homepage
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