Cameroon – Been There

Life starts and ends at the palace

In the Northern Region of Cameroon, where this Enthronement Festival is being celebrated in Garoua, the fon is known as the Lamido but remains the spiritual head and chief judge of his people. While all the country's kings fall under the jurisdiction of the Cameroon Government, they have semi-autonomous power in the running of their kingdoms.

Photo by Yvan Travert / Getty Images

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.

Kate Eshelby
Kate Eshelby Travel Writer

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.

Chomba’s Fon Fobuzie II Martin Asanji took the throne in 1967 when he was still a teenager. Fons...

Chomba’s Fon Fobuzie II Martin Asanji took the throne in 1967 when he was still a teenager. Fons do not die but are said to have "disappeared" and it is a tradition for the entire Fondom to shave their heads in mourning when he does. Photo by Kate Eshelby

Kate Eshelby

Kate Eshelby

Chomba’s Fon Fobuzie II Martin Asanji took the throne in 1967 when he was still a teenager. Fons do not die but are said to have "disappeared" and it is a tradition for the entire Fondom to shave their heads in mourning when he does.