E.M. Chilver

Bedford College, University of London


T H E critical introduction to Elizabeth Dunstan’s interesting Ngwé text[1] makes little use of the contemporary German official and autobiographical printed sources, notably the Kolonialblatt, and Mitteilungen aus den deutschen Schutzgebieten, to give them their short titles. The first contains official reports on the death of Gustav Conrau and the main punitive expeditions which followed it, the second some of Conrau’s exploration reports, including his brief accounts of the Bangwa and their immediate neighbours.[2]

Gustav Conrau explored the north-west hinterland of Kamerun as an agent of the firm of Jantzen and Thormählen, and he was leader, after the death of Nehber in the Bande war of 1891, of the Kamerun Hinterland Handels-Expedition. At the time of his death he had been appointed as an officer of the concession company, the Gesellschaft Nordwest-Kamerun. It is likely that he first encountered settlements of the Bangwa, frequenters of the Tali market, in August 1897, when he explored to the east of the more usual routes from the eastern Banyang country to Bali:
[3] at the time he was manager of the Jantzen and Thormählen factory at Mundame, at the navigable limit of the Mungo river. In the previous year Esser, Zintgraff and Hoesch had broken through again to Bali to conclude a labour-providing agreement with its chief, Galega I,[4] on behalf of the Victoria plantation company (W.A.P.V.) then in process of formation. The north-west hinterland was increasingly viewed from the coast as a labour reservoir rather than as an outlet for trade-goods or as a producer of raw materials.

Conrau died in December, 1899. According to the Governors official report Conrau had “some months before” brought down fifty labourers from Fontem to work for the Victoria plantation company. He had been despatched by Governor von Puttkamer to the relief of von Queis in Rio del Rey and had inquired into the circumstances of his death. In November 1899, he went back
1 “A Bangwa Account of early Encounters with the German Colonial Administration", Journal of the Historical Society of Nigeria, Vol. III, No. 2, 1965. pp. 403-13.
2 E.g. “Über das Gebiet zwischen Mundame und Baliburg", Bd. 7, 1894, “Einige Beiträge über die Völker zwischen Mpundu und Bali". Bd. ll, 1898; “Im Lande der Bangwa”, Bd. 12, 1899.
3 Kolonialblatt, 1898. Bd. 9, p. 464.
4 The expedition is fully described by Max Esser: An der Westküsre Afrikas, Leipzig, 1898, pp. 101-157.


to Fontem to collect the possessions he had left in the Fon’s care and to recruit more labourers. He had on December 11th despatched a letter, received on December 24th, explaining that rumours had reached Bangwa that labourers sent to the coast died there, and that he was being held as a hostage by the Fon against their return: twenty armed police were sent up to release him.[1] A relief expedition under Lt. von Krosigk was despatched on December 26th and reached Johann-Albrechtshöhe on December 30th, 1899. Von Krosigk had heard rumours of Conrau’s death en route and then received from Conrau’s ‘boy’ William, who had been entrusted with the letter of December 11th, a circumstantial account of Conrau’s alleged murder. William claimed that he had returned to Fontem to find Conrau’s hut empty, but had witnessed an attack on Conrau from a hiding-place fifty paces distant from the scene. A letter from Conrau’s Vai hunter Robert had also been received stating that Conrau had shot himself in the course of an attempt to escape.

On February 8th, 1900, a larger expedition under Hptm. von Besser left Kamerun (Duala): it consisted of the Yaunde company of the Schutztruppe, three officers, a doctor, three European corporals and 300 porters. It reached the realm of the Defang of Tali on February 25th. Messages were sent to the Fon of Fontem summoning him to appear, with no result. Von Besser’s force then advanced on Fontem and was fiercely opposed from behind stone and timber barricades, a feature, together with booby-traps, of the Bangwa defence. Fontem was entered and found empty; von Besser returned to Tali on March 4th. On March 9th he received an overture from the Fon through a Bali intermediary, a man, here called Nanji, formerly in Zintgraff’s and later in Conrau’s service. Von Besser also reported that the villages of Takua and Kabo had been Fontem’s allies and that the Fontem people and their Fon were hiding in the bush south of Fontem. Further approaches led to nothing. Nanji vanished and the Fon remained at large. Von Besser, who was also instructed to deal with other troubles in the Upper Cross area, reported that his force was inadequate to deal with the Bangwa and that a military post between Johann-Albrechtshöhe and Bali was needed to keep them in order and secure the route to Bali.

On October 13th, 1900 Lt. Strümpell took over the station at Johann-Albrechtshöhe with a European N.C.O. and twenty soldiers, with instructions to maintain pressure on the peoples punished by von Besser. On October l7th he received a message asking for peace from the Fon accompanied by some of Conrau’s belongings as tokens of goodwill. On November 12th, Strümpell

1 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 11, pp. 188, & 208. The mortality among Bangwa labourers is referred to in a letter from L. Bernegau: Kolonialblatt, Bd. 11, pp. 244-245. Von Puttkamer in his memoirs, Gouverneursjahre in Kamerun, 1912, pp. 206-207, writes that he had received a pencilled note from Conrau, by the hand of one of his Vai servants, on December 25th: “Conrau, who was travelling and collecting in Bangwaland, had fallen out with his hosts, was caught and held prisoner in a hut". Courau asked that no soldiers should be sent to release him, as this would be fatal. Von Puttkamer nevertheless sent a police patrol without uniforms under an experienced African corporal with instructions to approach the area carefully in the hope of assisting him in his escape. Possibly von Krosigk joined them en route, when they had already received news of Conrau’s death.
2 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 11, pp. 242, 459-460, 539-540. The losses sustained by von Bessers force are also referred to in von Puttkamer’s Gouverneursjahre, p. 222.


called on the Fon (there is no mention of fierce opposition) and received a promise of ‘war damages’ and the return of Conrau’s possessions. The Fon denied his guilt and explained the circumstances of Conrau’s death as follows. Conrad had been his blood-brother and as such had been entrusted with taking labourers to the coast. The Fon himself thought there was much to be gained for his country by trade with the coast. When Conrau returned without the labourers the Fon had been concerned for them and asked where they were. On hearing that they had not yet completed their service he had asked Conrau to write and recall them, and the letter was taken by the Vai ‘boy’ William, while Conrau remained at Fontem, though not as a prisoner. Conrau’s Bali servant, however, told Conrad that his death was plotted by the Fon and urged him to flee, and Conrau did so on the following night. He came upon a party of Bangwa returning to Fontem from Kokobuma and the Bali servant thinking that they were a party of Bangwa in pursuit shot at them, accidentally wounding Conrau in the foot. When this news reached the Fon he sent a party to fetch Conrau. When they came into view Conrau fired nine shots with his Mauser, turning the last on himself. The Bali servant was killed.[1]

This report did not deflect plans to secure the military road, bring the Bangwa to order, and establish military posts. On April 1st, 1901, a military post was established at Tinto.
[2] On April 24th, Strümpell set out with two European corporals and fifty soldiers for Banti and Bali to enforce law and order along the route, and a patrol was left to occupy the new military post at Tinto.[3] The expedition prepared the way for the arrival of a much larger force under the Schutztruppe commander von Pavel.

Von Pavell’s force reached Tinto on November 5th 1901. Two companies were detached to encircle and crush the Bangwa, the first was to march via Foto and the second (with seven horses, a machine-gun and 700 porters) was to march via Tali to Fontem. Von Pavel himself accompanied the second company, which, after storming well-constructed barricades from the Bago river crossing onwards, reached Fontem on November 11th, the second company, after meeting some resistance, lost its way and only reached Fontem on the 13th. The Fontem people and their allies had retreated eastwards and four patrols were sent in pursuit of them, achieving little except the capture of some prisoners and much booty. Von Pavel, who considered that the Fon’s influence could be of use to the government, left a message with one of the Fon’s wives that the Fon himself should come to Tinto to sue for peace, and returned to Tinto on November 25th to prepare for the march to Bali.

The Tinto post, now reinforced was to be moved east to a new site, Fontemdorf. On April 4th 1903, Hptm. Langheld reached Tinto and went from thence to Fontemdorf on April 6th, here his messenger had managed to assemble twenty-three chiefs who had admitted defeat and paid most of the war damages
1 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 11, p, 874: Bd. 12, p. 314.
2 Von Puttkamer, Gouverneursjahre, p. 234.
3 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 12, p. 521 .
4 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 12, p. 906, Bd. 13, pp. 90-91.


demanded of them. Absent from the assembly were Fontem, and five sub-chiefs of Foreke Cha-Cha. The chief of Fontem was declared destooled and price of 200 marks was put on his head while the chief of Foreke Cha-Cha was to remain a prisoner until his war damages were paid and his sub-chiefs presented themselves. A site for the station at Fontemdorf, with adjoining farmland, was declared forfeit to the administration. Bangwaland was divided into two parts for administrative purposes, one under the ‘Fotabongi’ chief and one under ‘Djutti’ (presumably the Nchuti of Cadman’s Assessment Report), here described as brother to Fontem. A strong patrol under Lt. Rausch, later promoted and placed in charge of Chang (Dschang) Station, was left behind to exact war damages in labour, guns and ivory, to ensure the maintenance of the routes opened by the expedition and to establish new ones.

There are no further reports of punitive measures against the Bangwa recorded in the Kolonialblatt till 1911. The Bangwa remained quiet during the Anyang rebellion of 1904, and in 1905 the Fontemdorf garrison (of five officers and 100 men) took part in punitive actions against the Mbo. Between 1907 and 1910 the adjoining Bamileke districts were brought to order and an enlarged military station was established at Chang (Dschang).

On May l7th, 1911 a report from Chang (Dschang) Station states that a Bangwa man from Foreke Cha-Cha named Abasi (presumably the Abachi of the Fons text) had informed the administration at Ossidinge that the old chief
of Fontem was still alive. Abasi was sent to Chang (Dschang) and on May 28th the Station Commander, guided by Abasi, set off for Fontem, which was found to be deserted. Three Model 71 guns, a number of bush guns, a chest with caps fitting Model 71 and 88 guns and a Mauser pistol - all presumed to be Conrau’s property - were found. The acting Fon, the old chief’s son, was sent for and told that unless his father, whose life was assured, presented himself all the acting Fon’s councillors would be imprisoned. On May 29th the old chief presented himself, was taken into custody and marched to Chang (Dschang) on May 30th. The charges against him fill the gap in the printed record.

The chief of Fontem was charged with (
i) depriving Conrau of his freedom and causing him to commit suicide, (ii) tough resistance to the expeditions of von Besser in 1900, and of von Pavel in 1901, followed by his betrayal of his agreement of peace by fierce attacks against a column led by Lt. von Gellhorn (von Pavell’s adjutant) sent to conduct negotiations, followed by a war, lasting five months, waged against an expedition led by Lt. Schlosser, during which he had put about the rumour of his death and sent his son to sue for peace. No reprisals were taken against the son, and the old chief was exiled to Garua (Garoua).[2]
1 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 14, pp. 391-392; and Wilhelm Langheld: Zwanzig Jahre in deutschen Kolonien, 1909, pp. 325-327. Mr R. T. Brain informs me that ‘Djutti' is the present-day Nkweta, the Fon’s brother and second-in-command with whom he ‘shares the inheritance’. This particular Nkweta lived till about 1950 and played an important part in Bangwa political life. The corresponding Bali term is nköti, 'Fotabongi is presumably Fotabong I, one of the three chiefs of that name.
2 Kolonialblatt, Bd. 22, pp. 582-583; see also Eugen Kirch, Stamunliste der Offiziere, Sanitätsoffiziere, und oberen Beamten der Schutztruppe für Kamerun, 1906. The service records of von Gellhorn and Schlosser show campaigns against the Bangwa in 1902/1903.


A comparison between the official reports printed in the Kolonialblatt and the Fon’s text published by Miss Dunstan shows the merits and defects of contemporary oral tradition. The Fon’s text is excellent on motive, personalities and the detail of salient events involving Bangwa political values. But it cannot be used to date the events described. The major punitive expeditions against Fontem occupied some three wearying years, not nine, though no doubt they were followed by the harassments of labour recruitment, road work and provisioning. Fon Asunganyi was in hiding for eight, not twelve, years.

The identification of Tanjok or Manjikwara with Gustav Conrau in this context is certain. Whether the similar sounding Manjikwali (‘Hoe-the-Road’) of Bali tradition is also Conrad is less certain: he is described as clearing the route between Mundame and Bali and active in trade in and around Tinto after the departure of Zintgraff’s official expedition (January 1893) and before the arrival of von Pavel’s force (December 1901). At all events many Bali are said to have “followed Manjikwali”.
[1] Conrau visited Bali in 1893: the only other visits to Bali described in official or geographical journals before 1901 are those of Esser’s expedition (1896) and Ramsay's (1900).[2]

The ‘Bali’ interpreter who was with Manjikwara and who figures in the Fon’s account may represent a role rather than a person. The German account of von Besser’s negotiations mentions another Bali interpreter besides ‘Nanji’.
It is hard to avoid concluding that some part in the relations between the Germans and the Bangwa was played by a famous Bali interpreter, Ndanji. Ndanji, properly Jegut Jela of the Chamba Peli clan of Bali-Nyonga, obtained
his name by virtue of his leadership in the
ndanji lodge set up by the future Fonyonga II (the Tita Mbo of Zintgraff’s Nord-Kamerun) who succeed in 1901. He is credited with the introduction of a regulatory society, nggumba, from Bangwa, from whence he is said to have brought the chants and gong-set.[3]
1 Information (1963) from Franz Soppo Geka, who knew Zintgraff as a boy. The Bali not only sent regular trading expeditions to the Mundame factory but entered into the service of the station at Johann-Albrechtshöhe, established in 1896 near present-day Kumba. Esser’s expedition was met at Mundame by an escort of 150 Bali sent by Fon Galega I, an indication of the speed at which news travelled along the ‘Bali Road’.
2 Conrau was not the first European to trade in the Tinto area. In 1891/2 the Jantzen and Thormählen trading-expedition, from its base at Mundame had established outposts at Ikiliwindi, Nguti, and at Miyimbi, the last near the Zintgraff expedition’s staging-post at Tinto. Miyimbi was under a European, Caulwell, with Vai assistants (cf. G. Böckner: “Streifzüge in Kamerun”, Kolonialzeitung, 1893, Bd. 3, pp. 35-37, Bd. 6, pp. 74-75, and Kolonialblatt, Bd. 4, 1893, p. 33ff: Report by Rittm. von Stetten). These outposts appear to have been unoccupied in 1895, none are listed in the Kolonial-Handbuch of 1896 (ed. Fitzner, p. 144ff). The establishment of a military post at Tinto appears to have been followed by the opening of trade-counters by the Gesellschaft Nord-West Kamerun and John Holt and Co.
3 Information from Fagaako IV Kedinga, head of the Peli clan and heir of Ndanji, his elder brother Francis Muka’, Pinyi Fokum Tim Mufud IV, palace steward, and from Njibongtu and other officers of the nggumba society in 1963. In a letter to the ethnographer Bernhard Ankermann dated 22nd November, 1910, the Basel missionary Adolf Vielhauer wrote from Bali: “Der nggumba in Bali stammt aus Fontem. Als der mubang (welcher, weisz ich nicht) dort krieg führte, gingen die Bali dorthin und holten den nggumba dort”. (ed. Baumann and Vajda “Ankermann’s völkerkundliche Aufzeichnungen”. Baessler-Archiv, NF. Bd. 7, 1959, p. 276). “[The nggumba in Bali derives from Fontem. When the mubang (European) (which of them I do not know) was waging war there, the Bali went thither and acquired the nggumba there.] According to Bali informants (1963) the nggumba introduced from Bangwa was grafted on to an older ordeal lodge, Nda-nggu.


During his service as a Government interpreter he, accompanied by his kinsmen Susa-Sili, Tako’ni and Muka’, recovered the skull of Gawolbe, the Chamba invader of the Western Grassfields, from the chiefdom of Bafu-Fondong, near Chang (Dschang). He was, moreover, the Bali tadmanji or intermediary between the Fon of Bali and the Bamileke villages near Chang (Dschang). None of these events in his career can be dated with any certainty, however, the recovery of Gawolbe’s skull seems to have taken place between 1908 and 1914.