Cameroon – Been There
Life starts and ends at the palace
“Clang! Clang!” King Fobuzie II strikes a gong as he speaks to his ancestors. “I’m telling them you are here,” he says. He is dressed in a long red dashiki and matching trousers.
Several pots in the spacious room hold the spirits of three previous kings and paraphernalia from past ceremonies, carved wooden stalls and an earlier ritual fire, surrounds us. We are inside Chomba village palace in the hilly Northwest Region of Cameroon, where I have come to explore the many ancient kingdoms, known as fondoms, each ruled by a fon (king). There are literally hundreds of fondoms spread across an area little larger than Vermont and each has an enormous palace full of splendid symbolic architecture and art, unique to this region. Every aspect of life starts and ends at the palace.
“These fondoms act like their own states,” says Romeo, my driver. “They could rule themselves, without any Government help, because they use their own complex system and customs.” The fon is supremely revered and his word is held higher than the law.
“It was a complete shock to me when I was chosen,” says the king. A fon is appointed by his predecessor, who selects one of his sons, although it is never the eldest. “No fon ever dies. He just 'gets missing’ and it is not until this happens that the heir is announced.” Within the fondoms, ancestor worship plays a big role. The ancestors are consulted before any important events, including the choice of the next fon. Witchcraft is strong in Cameroon and its power much feared. This whole realm is full of secrecy and mysticism. Around the palace there are many signs of it, with specific rooms for libations, sacrifices and a towering three-tiered black ancestor house in one of the courtyards.