Bangwa (Western Bamileke) Marriage Wards

Robert Brain
Africa: Journal of the International African Institute
Vol. 39, No. 1 (Jan., 1969), pp. 11-23


IT is not uncommon in West Africa for lineage heads and chiefs in patrilineally organized societies to retain important bridewealth rights in their daughters or marriage wards and their descendants. My own field-work, on which this paper is based, was done among the Bangwa, a Bamileke group of the Cameroons.[1] The Bamileke have been described as practising a special form of marriage, known as ngkap marriage[2] The principle is simple: a girl is given in marriage without transfer of bridewealth from her husband; as a result, the marriages of the daughters of this union are arranged by their maternal grandfather, who becomes known as their tangkap (ta ngkap = father [of bride] wealth). In ‘ngkap marriage’, unlike marriage with normal bridewealth transfers between a husband and his wife’s kin, husbands only obtain rights in uxorem (in the woman as a wife) and not rights in genetricem (in the woman as a mother). If the tangkap continues to give his wards in marriage without receiving bridewealth from their suitors, he continually increases his capital stock of marriage wards. Chiefs among the Bamileke, heads of large polygynous compounds, give daughters and wards to their impecunious subjects, sons, and servants who cannot afford the marriage payments. Hurault[3] estimated that in one chiefdom with a population of approximately 20,000, the chief had 1,500 female wards and was linked, through ngkap marriage, to the majority of his subjects. On a lower level lineage heads are able to increase the size of patrilineages through ngkap marriage, since wards and their children are incorporated into the group of their tangkap, not that of their father.

‘Bamileke’ is a term used for administrative purposes and refers to over half a million peoples grouped into more than a hundred independent statelets having some degree of cultural and linguistic homogeneity. Each small state is ruled by a sacred chief to whom subjects owe political allegiance as well as economic services
and to whom they are bound by proliferating ties of kinship and clientage. The worship of matrilineal and patrilineal ancestors, through male and female skull lines, supports a system of succession to titles and inheritance of property from father to son and mother to daughter. Bamileke social organization has been mainly described with reference to the Eastern Bamileke, particularly the chiefdoms of Bandjoun and Batié and on the whole the institutions investigated have been called 'Bamileke' without regard to the extent of cultural variation in the area. The Bangwa, whom I studied, are the westernmost Bamileke group, situated in West Cameroon. They were the only Bamileke peoples to have been administered by the British after the defeat
1 My field-work was made possible by a field research assistantship from University College London, and grants from the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research and the Trustees of the Horniman Fund. In all I spent twenty months in Bangwa, from October 1964 till December 1965 and from April till September 1967.
2 Vide Labouret, Henri, ‘Situation matérielle, morale et coutumiére de la femme dans l’ouest-africain’, Africa, vol. xii. no. 2. April I940, Tardits, Claude, Les Bamiléké de l’ouest Caméroun, Paris, 1960; and Hurault, J., La Structure des Bamiléké, Paris, 1962.
3 Hurault, ibid., p. 40.

of the Germans during the First World War. ‘Bangwa’ is another administrative term, given to a cluster of nine independent chiefdoms located on the western side of the watershed dividing East and West Cameroon (the former French and British trusteeship territories of Cameroun and the Southern Cameroons). Their isolated

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position, several days walking distance from the nearest British administrative post, has meant that their institutions have suffered less disturbance than those of their eastern neighbours. Since the work of French ethnographers refers primarily to the Eastern Bamileke, my Bangwa material together with some details on other Western Bamileke chiefdoms across the border in East Cameroon, presents some interesting contrasts.

The Bangwa number approximately 30,000, distributed unevenly among the nine chiefdoms; the largest, Fontem, has about 12,000, the smallest, a few hundred inhabitants. They occupy a very mountainous region, ranging from high plateau

savanna of up to 7,000 feet to forest lands at 1,500 feet. They live in scattered compounds, rarely inhabited by more than one adult male, his wife (or wives), and their children. Chiefs and subchiefs have servants and their families living in or near the compound. A network of tree-lined paths link individuated compounds with the chief’s palace, a striking complex of wives thatched huts and tall meeting-houses; in front of the palace is a dancing-green, a sacred copse, and the local market-place.

The Bangwa subsistence economy depends almost entirely on the women, the men farming only cash crops. In the past Bangwa men were famed as middle-men in the northeast-southwest slave-trading network. Nowadays they provide the savanna areas to the east with livestock, palm oil, and surplus food products. An intricate social and political hierarchy in no sense thwarts individual ambitions since wealth is able to purchase the highest rank. Descent, traced matrilineally and patrilineally, is reflected in dual lines of male and female skulls transmitted unisexually from parent to child. Dual descent validates succession to status and the inheritance of property rights; it is not utilized to establish large, bounded corporate groups since most of the
corporate institutions of society are based on territoriality not kinship. There are no lineages. The only kinship group which has a specific term is the
atsen’ndia; the core of this group consists of members who trace descent, matrilineally, from a given female ancestress but the term atsen’ndia may be also loosely used to cover a person’s effective kindred.

The wealth of a Bangwa man is counted not only in terms of palm groves, livestock, ritual objects, and money, but also in terms of rights over people: servants, formerly slaves, wives, marriage wards, and children. Women are betrothed in early childhood and go to reside permanently with their husbands from the age of twelve or thirteen. Bridewealth is high and increasing and important services, both before and after marriage, devolve on the son-in-law. The polygyny rate is high: in a typical hamlet over 50 per cent of married adult males have more than one wife, while a paramount chief may have up to fifty at the present time. This is achieved by late marriage for men.

In Bangwa the term
ngkap means wealth and is also used in a special sense for bridewealth (ngkap atu mengwi = wealth for a woman’s head). Bridewealth is paid by a brides suitor to an extensive array of her kin. The most important are those of her four marriage lords: her father, her mother’s father, her mother’s mother’s father, and her tangkap (or their living patrilineal successors). The first contrast with ngkap marriage among the Eastern Bamileke is obvious: all marriages, where bridewealth is handed over, are ngkap marriages and all Bangwa brides have a tangkap. Their children, both male and female, are automatically wards of their tangkap, although bridewealth must also be paid to the father. According to Bangwa beliefs and statements a person’s tangkap is the patrilineal successor of the man who first bought his or her matrilineal ancestress as a slave in East Cameroon. The patriline of the tangkap has retained an important lien on all the matrilineal descendants of that ancestress. Of the four marriage lords the tangkap is the only one who need not be an actual kinsman of his wards. Of the other lords the bride’s father is known as mba nze (Lord Begetter); her mother’s father or his successor as mba tetse (Lord Middle); and the mother’s mother’s father as mbe nkembetü (Lord Twig). Occasionally the patrilineal successor of the ward’s mother’s mother’s mother’s father claims a share of the bridewealth and is

known as ‘Lord Thief’ (see Fig. 1). A typical division of the bridewealth payments among the four marriage lords would be:


The father of the bride, mba nze


The brides mothers father, mbe tetse


Her mother’s mother’s father, mbe nkenbetü





These amounts are approximations based on my records of sums handed over in a number of marriages in 1965 and 1967. They exclude considerable sums and gifts given to the mother, the mother’s mother, and other patrikin and matrikin. Payment
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since the reunification of the two trusteeship territories is now made in CFA francs but Bangwa calculations are still done in pounds. The amounts actually paid will vary, according to the status of the bride and her husband and also to the individual forcefulness of the marriage lords, each of whom settles the price privately with the husband. In the past the
tangkap expected as much, if not more, as the bride’s father. Modern conditions are changing this. A woman’s marriage is arranged by her father, if she is the first daughter. The tangkap, however, has the traditional right to arrange the marriage of his wards’ second daughters. This is considerable since he may either marry her himself or give her to a son or client. The third daughter is given in marriage by the mbe tetse marriage lord. Bridewealth is shared out in the normal fashion

and in most cases the parents’ consent to the arranged match is essential. The relationship between the bride’s father and the
tangkap is seen as that of subject and chief, or servant and master, so that the marriage lord’s wishes are usually followed. In the past there was a strong taboo against tangkap marrying their wards but nowadays this is becoming common, chiefs often betrothing the second daughters of their wards soon after birth.

In Bangwa, marriage, with transfer of bridewealth, also involves payments to the bride’s
tangkap. A rare form of marriage is also practised which is more directly comparable to that described as ngkap marriage for the Easter Bamileke. It is called ‘he-goat marriage’ and involves the full retention of genetricial rights by a woman’s father. It is rare since bridewealth rights in a free woman involve not only her father but three other marriage lords. In ‘he-goat’ marriage the husband pays no bridewealth and acquires only sexual and economic services in his wife; in some cases only sexual services are transferred. ‘He-goat’ marriages provide docile husbands for important titled women; in this way they are able to found their own patrilines. A chief’s wards may also be married to his sons and daughters without transfer of bridewealth: the chief then claims the right to give in marriage the daughters born of the union. This form of marriage only works in practice if the chief owns the bridewealth rights of the four marriage lords himself. A man with no male heirs may also give his daughter in marriage under this system; by transferring only uxorial rights in his daughter he retains rights in her children who grow up in his compound, as his sons, and eventually inherit his status and property. This form of marriage, as among the Bamileke, enables a man to swell his group through the children of female members. But in no sense does the refusal of a woman’s father to accept bridewealth from her husband convert him from her father to her tangkap; the original tangkap will still claim bridewealth and services.

In the following paragraphs I shall be considering the institutionalization of the relationship between a
tangkap and his male and female wards. A tangkap is the patrilineal successor of the man who first acquired permanent, transferable rights in the ward’s most distant matrilineal ancestress. The link between wards and tangkap is validated by tracing a matriline through females to this ancestress and then down through the original tangkap's patriline to the present successor (see Fig. 1). The ancestress of such a matriline is called ma’nge or ‘queen termite’ (whose functions in founding a termite mound with its myriad inhabitants parallels that of a queen bee in a hive). A ma’nge’s successor is the custodian of the line of female skulls and worships the ancestresses on behalf of other descendants. In most cases people who claim the same matrilineal ancestress are wards of the same tangkap. It should be pointed out, however, that the wards of a tangkap are in no sense a corporate group. As a ward you sacrifice to the patrilineal ancestors of your tangkap, as a descendant of a ma’nge you sacrifice to matriline ancestresses. Wards never eet; their relationships with their tangkap are dyadic. A tangkap’s wards are often widely separated geographically and may be unaware of their common allegiance to a single tangkap.

The term in Bangwa for ward is
azem ngkap (thing of money). It refers to males and females; both the sons and daughters of a woman owe regular services, tribute, and dues to their tangkap. Male wards perform annual tasks such as working in their

lord’s palm or raffia groves; they also bring tribute of wine, plantains, meat, or oil, depending on their occupation or whether they inhabit the savanna or forest zones. A wealthy ward - there will be an onus on a chief, for example, to be an exemplary ward - makes important gifts (livestock, a gun) to his
tangkap. Female wards are also expected to bring firewood and gifts of cocoyams, maze, etc., to their tangkap. Male wards and the husbands of female wards make contributions, either in labour or material, towards the building of a tangkap’s meeting house. Such a due is legally sanctioned; nowadays when a woman divorces, her husband will claim the return of these building fees from the tangkap: the native court has set it at £5. At the death of a male or female ward, death dues must be paid to the tangkap by the heir. A male ward’s heir pays cash and also hands over the dead man’s cutlass or gun. For a woman, a huge basket containing corn, groundnuts, peppers, etc., is given to her tangkap. Significantly her hoe, farm bag, and pepper baskets were traditionally presented to him as well.

Death does not finally sever the relationship between a man and his
tangkap. This occurs with the exhumation of his skull. About a year after the death the man’s heir sends for the tangkap to perform a ritual over die grave called ‘shaking the sapling’. The tangkap sacrifices a goat provided by the heir and pours blood down the side of the sapling that has been planted on the grave above the position of the head. Melon seeds, salt, and oil are placed beside the grave. As the tangkap shakes the sapling he talks to his dead ward, telling him to prepare for the exhumation of his skull from the cold, unfriendly earth. It is believed that the corpse, or perhaps only the skull, wanders around inside the earth (it is the country of the Bangwa dead) and only the tangkap has the power to recall the skull in readiness for exhumation. His task finished the tangkap sprinkles a white sacred powder on the grave and tells the heir to feed the skull for the next few weeks and then to dig. Once exhumed the skull is medicated and kept in the house of the heir.

Wardships are a source of financial gain, particularly for chiefs. ‘Wardships’, said one sophisticated chief, ‘are our money. You mustn’t spend it, though, or give it away. We keep it in our bank and the profits will always be there.’ Wardships are capital and the interest consists in bridewealth receipts and a miscellaneous ollection of dues and payments in kind. A chief’s wealth depends to a great extent on payments made when wards marry or die. His servants have an important duty of securing payments when his wards marry. They regularly scour the country to check on the condition of these wards, noting deaths, births, preventing any attempts to conceal marriages. When the chief dies the country is combed to ensure the satisfactory payment by wards’ husbands of the ‘skin of death’, death dues which now consist of a sum of money which s supposed to contribute towards the funeral arrangements. A chief with several hundred wards is in a transactional rather than a reciprocal kinship relationship with his wards. His servants represent him at their rituals and ceremonies. If a ward is thought to have become ill through the displeasure of the
tangkap’s ancestors a retainer carries a small pot containing the chief’s spittle which is rubbed on the sick person as a blessing.

It is very difficult to estimate the number of wardships which a chief holds as
tangkap. In one small subchiefdom, with a total female population of about 300, the subchief claimed tangkap-wardship rights in seventy-five women. Chiefs use their

links with Wards to reinforce their political and administrative control of the country. A large body of dependants (sons, officials, servants) are rewarded for loyal service by the gift of a chief’s ward as wife. Chiefs also marry their own wards or, if they are close kin, exchange them for brides for themselves and their sons. Even the queen mother, the chief’s titled sister, and an important member of the political hierarchy, has wardships which she bequeaths to her sons. Wardships are also changing hands, usually filtering from the lower echelons of the society to the chief: as entry fees to societies and as death dues paid by subchiefs’ heirs. Male wards may become servants of their tangkap-chief. In this way the chief has a permanently self-recruiting retinue based primarily on the institution of wardship. Also, through wards scattered throughout the country, a chief maintains personal contact with a large proportion of his subjects. Sentiments of loyalty to the chief, ones
tangkap, counteract sentiments of loyalty to one’s immediate political superior or kin group head. In an elaborately hierarchical system, such as the Bangwa, where governmental functions are carried out on several levels, the possession of wardships creates links of interpersonal obligation between persons of different ranks, wealth, and locality.

The material benefits to a commoner
tangkap, who has perhaps inherited one or two wardships, is less striking. The possession of a single wardship is looked upon as a kind of lottery. One man, X, was tangkap of the late paramount chief of Fontem, the largest Bangwa chiefdom; X bought a female slave, whom he gave in marriage to one of the chief’s servants. Their daughter married Chief Fontem and she delivered his heir and three other daughters, all of whom became wards of X. This is an example of an extremely lucky draw in the lottery. The female wards, profiting from their close relationship with their brother, the chief, acquired considerable property (their own palm groves, compounds, even wives). They married prosperous subchiefs. Upon their death and the marriages of their daughters and all matrilineal descendants Tangkap X and his heirs claimed important dues. Their own sons inherited their property and acquired titles, and as wards of Tangkap X made continuous voluntary as well as obligatory prestations to him. When Chief Fontem died Tangkap X received his gun and substantial death dues; when the chief’s sisters’ sons die they will pay similar dues. Tangkap X, once a junior member of an insignificant commoner line, is now an independent noble and head of a large compound; he has divorced himself from obligations to his own fathers patriline and skull cult.

The present chief of Fontem succeeded his father in 1951. As a ward his is rather an anomalous position since his
tangkap died without a male heir. Succession in Bangwa is exclusively from parent to child. The dead man’s daughters’ son is to all intents and purposes fulfilling the role as the chief’s tangkap. This man is a young trader, a literate Christian, and is favoured by the chief in many ways. He has the best site for his store in the growing market centre immediately in front of the palace; he receives monopolies to sell beer and wine at state functions; and he has the invaluable advantage of the use of the chief’s Landrover, the only motor vehicle in the country.

The relationship between male and female wards and their
tangkap are ideally reciprocal. A tangkap not only receives economic benefits from wardship rights. He is also a ‘father’ to his wards; in the case of the child of slaves whose parents are dead, a tangkap is the only kinsman a person has. Such a ward expects material and moral support from him. A tangkap is expected to take an interest in a wards welfare,

helping during life crises and illnesses. A
tangkap sends oil and other food when a female ward has a child. He shares the cost of rituals carried out on behalf of wards. If a girl is fattened prior to her marriage he pays a share of the expert’s fees. He helps pay the autopsy specialist who operates on Bangwa corpses to ascertain, through divination, the cause of death. Today he also contributes towards school and medical fees. In each case the share of the tangkap (and of the other marriage lords) is nicely calculated according to the proportion of bridewealth they are due on the marriage of a female ward. Women expect periodic gifts such as salt, meat, or cloth from their tangkap. For a male ward the ultimate, but rare, reward for loyalty to a tangkap is a bride, or at least substantial contributions to bridewealth payments. The Bangwa say that a tangkap ‘circumcizes his wards’ by making the initial betrothal payments on the latter’s first wife. This locution is explained by the fact that men were not circumcized until after betrothal (nowadays all male children are circumcizcd a week or two after birth) so that a man’s betrothal, arranged by a benevolent tangkap, enabled him to undergo two essential rites de passage. If a man’s father were a slave, or a poor servant, a close relationship with his mother’s tangkap offered better opportunities than that with his own father.

The obligations of a
tangkap towards his wards are subject to moral sanctions, but it is frequently said that if a tangkap does not fulfil this traditional role he should not be paid his dues. On the other hand a tangkap’s rights are sanctioned both legally and supernaturally. If a ward does not carry out his customary duties he can still be sued in the courts today; or he or she and their children may sicken and die as the result of the malevolent attack of a tangkap’s sorcery, witchcraft, or ancestors. Wards are therefore expected to maintain smooth ritual relations with their tangkap. Sick children may be taken to their tangkap for blessing. Wards sacrifice regularly at his patriline skulls. Tangkap ancestors may cause barrenness, disease, and infant mortality if dues are not paid or bridewealth payments misappropriated. It is the children of the ward who suffer supernatural attack, although it is their parents who are responsible for the nonpayment of dues in most cases. The tangkap’s reaction is simply: ‘My property has been stolen; let the wards die.’ The diviner will often point out a tangkap’s ancestors as the origin of a certain misfortune: the ward carries oil, salt, a chicken to the tangkap’s skull house where they are sacrificed. As absolution the tangkap grinds a special leaf on the mud floor of the house and rubs it with the heel of his foot on the chest of the afflicted ward. If a tangkap is unable to effect supernatural attack on his wards through the agency of patriline ancestors he may have recourse to the services of a professional sorcerer who manufactures medicine to be directed against the persons concerned. This is done openly and is morally justifiable since the wardship payments have not been made. This medicine may cause illness or even death. Symptoms are again diagnosed by the diviner, or the activity of the sorcerer is perceived in the nature of the illness. Such an illness can only be cured with the settling of outstanding debts and the ritual burning of the medicine.

tangkap and the other three marriage lords are often accused, as a body, of bewitching their wards. Unlike the mystical retribution brought about by ancestors or medicines, witchcraft is never given a moral justification. The supposedly increased number of accusations against marriage lords, and against tangkap in particular, seems to indicate a desire to dissolve antiquated ties. At all events there still exist strong

beliefs in the power of the
tangkap to wield supernatural sanctions. It is this which helps maintain the institution in Bangwa and also among other Western Bamileke across the east-west border. Women, as mothers, specially fear the spite of tangkaps and urge their husbands and kinsfolk to pay the traditional dues in order to prevent the tangkap’s curse causing them to be barren or their children to die.


Below are a few examples of statements made by Bangwa with reference to the tangkap institution. Traditional views: ‘My tangkap owns me.’ ‘My tangkap is my father. I carry him cocoyams, corn, and sugar-cane and he gives me oil, salt, and cloth.’ ‘My tangkap buries me.’ ‘My tangkap is more important to me than a kinsman since it is a relationship that can not stop.’ ‘Every Bangwa man has a tangkap. Nobody can own himself.’ ‘If you abolish the tangkap institution then all our children will die.’ ‘The white man is like a tangkap to me; he took me to hospital in his car.’ Modern views: ‘A tangkap is a slave-owner.’ ‘The chiefs feed on tangkap dues.’ It’s the tangkaps who are killing all the children in the country.’ ‘The white man came and said there should be no slavery and this man now claims my sister as his slave.’ ‘Tangkap is an institution by which the nobles oppress the commons.’

In East Cameroun the institution of
tangkap was seen as an evil by the French authorities and it has been officially banned since the twenties, although dues linked with wardships are still paid. It is only recently that educated Bangwa men have begun to lobby the administration in favour of banning it there. Until 1967 Bangwa had no resident administrator. Judges in the ‘native authority’ courts are still chiefs who stoutly defend the traditional rights of tangkap. British colonial officers made infrequent visits to this notoriously difficult country, visits which involved month-long treks through nine widely separated chiefdoms. In the fifties, petitions condemning the institution came in from younger Bangwa. The following was written in 1955:

This evil is known here as tangkap by which the nobles and chiefs oppress the commons. Ebungcap [plural of azem ngkap, or ward] means a thing bought with money, a chattel. A man gets into another’s family, twists it at will, claims the lions share of all the dowries of the girls there, goes around calling all members of the family ebungcaps (slaves). So in this country slavery and slave trade has never ceased. Tangkap means the owner of slaves. The evils of this practice are great-fatal. The chiefs don’t want to abolish it. They don’t want the government to know of it. They depend solely on it for their wealth and importance.

The Commissioner of the Southern Cameroons reacted to this letter, agreeing that Bangwa marriage ‘appeared to perpetuate the evil effects of slavery’. Investigations, however, were perfunctory, and the administration fell in with the views of the chiefs that the time was not opportune for change.

It is pertinent to discuss how far the
tangkap institution is connected with slavery. Are wards slaves? The word for slave in Bangwa is efwet and has a precise meaning. The word for ward is ahem nhkap or a ‘thing of money’. The dogma that a tangkap’s patrilineal ancestor bought his wards matrilineal ancestress in an eastern slave market is an ideological backing for an institution that has become universal. In Bangwa there are a few slaves left. In the past many were merged into the society. Children of male and female slaves were considered free-born and suffered few disadvantages. All Bangwa

are not descended from slaves, although none would claim to have no slave connections. It is very possible that
ngkap marriage did originate during early days when the Bangwa controlled an important savanna-forest slave-trading network. Male slaves were mostly sold to the neighbouring Banyang, although some were retained as servants. Female slaves were married. The arrival of the Germans in the 1890s put a stop to wholesale, long-distance trafficking. The institution of tangkap meant that the patriline of slave owners could benefit indefinitely from their ancestors rights in female slaves. This successful attempt by slave owners to retain economic rights over descendants of their chattels was imitated by men married to free women - fathers of free-born daughters assumed for themselves the privileges of tangkap. The same process is observable today in Bangwa when women from neighbouring forest tribes (Mbo and Banyang) are married. Bridewealth on their daughters is claimed by their father who takes the shares of all four marriage lords. His successors will claim permanent tangkap rights in the original foreign woman’s matrilineal descendants; they will justify these rights by asserting that their patrilineal ancestor bought the wards matrilineal ancestress during the slaving days.

The ideology of slavery thus justifies the rights of a
tangkap. But the institution itself is not slavery. A tangkap cannot sell his ward as a slave-owner could sell his slave. He does not own a person, but rights in this person, which he shares with other marriage lords and the ward’s kinsfolk. Opportunities for abuse are present, however. Wards are sometimes removed from their parents at a young age and taken to live in their tangkaps compound, wearing the same iron leggings as his wives. Tangkap are said to put their wards into the marriage market, selling them to the highest bidder: ‘They treat them like goats to be sold, not like people.’ Wardships can be and are also transferred from one tangkap to another: in a man's will, as a gambling payment, in compensation for homicide, as death dues to a paramount chief, etc. It should be remembered that this transfer of a wardship does not involve the physical transfer of the woman. A ceremony ritualized the transfer of a ward from one man to another. Local elders witness the former tangkap spit into the hands of the new tangkap, thus symbolically transferring full wardship rights in the woman and her matrilineal progeny.

I noted several cases of wardships being transferred. One man bought the wardship rights in his own mothers descendants (i.e. including himself) for £40 and a tin of oil, plus one bar of soap for his
tangkap to wash his hands of them. One wardship was transferred to a doctor for eye medicine. Another was transferred in payments of a fine inflicted after a false accusation of witchcraft. One wardship was transferred to the kin of a woman killed by accident in a hunting trap.

Wardships could also be pledged or pawned. A
tangkap in need of ready cash will approach the husband or brother of his ward for a loan, pledging the ward as security. Until the money is repaid, which it rarely is, the woman and her matrilineal descendants are wards of the man who lent the money. But on the whole the transfer of wards is rare. The Bangwa condemn young chiefs who are more interested in the profits to
be gained from the sale of wardships, than in their ward’s welfare. Unscrupulous chiefs have, nevertheless, been known to make wholesale transfers of wardships in order to buy the more tangible benefits of Western civilization such as motor-cars and corrugated-iron for the roofs of their modern palaces.

At the same time the foundations of the
tangkap-ward relationship are being undermined. Tangkap are not carrying out their traditional roles as fathers to their children. As the tangkap fails to support wards at passage rites, refuses contributions towards male ward’s bridewealth payments, ignores requests for schooling and hospital expenses, so his claims to death dues, annual tribute, and bridewealth are being disputed. Due to the serious nature of the supernatural sanctions wielded by the tangkap no attempt is yet being made to cut him out of his traditional share of bridewealth. But prestations are being reduced; even the traditionalists say that they did not object to giving a goat or two to their wive’s tangkap but £70 or so is exaggerating. The relationship between male wards and tangkap is breaking down faster; young men refuse to make the traditional payments to the tangkap upon the death of their father or mother and the delivery of annual tribute has virtually stopped. The increased incidence of witchcraft accusations against marriage lords as a whole and tangkap in particular reveals a consensus of feeling that the financial demands of tangkap are unreal in the present situation.


Two forms of marriage have been described for the ‘Bamileke’ in East Cameroun - marriage with institutionalized bridewealth payments and
ngkap marriage where no significant transfers are made by the husband. In the former a husband acquires full rights over his wife as uxor and genetrix; he claims full bridewealth payments when his daughters marry. In the latter he gains his wive’s services only; in this case the tangkap retains rural authority over children of the union and they are incorporated into his patrilineage. In Bangwa, a Western Bamileke people, the modal form of marriage always involves the transfer of bridewealth to a woman’s kin, including the four marriage lords the most important of whom is the tangkap. Every Bangwa man, woman and child, chief, commoner, or servant, has a tangkap to whom he owes a complex of economic and ritual dues. In Bamileke a person has a tangkap if his or her mother married under the so-called ngkap rule (i.e. with no transfer of bridewealth). In Bangwa a tangkap’s rights are permanent and heritable; he does not relinquish rights in wards through accepting a significant portion of bridewealth. These rights over the descendants of the woman’s matriline descend to his sons.

An examination of the Bangwa marriage system reveals differences with the Eastern Bamileke system which are significant. Bangwa
ngkap marriage is very unlike that described for the ‘Bamileke’ by Humult and Tardies, although a rare form of marriage, known as ‘he-goat marriage’, resembles it. The Bangwa appear to have elaborated the institution described for the Eastern Bamileke. There is not one person who is ‘father of the bridewealth’, there are four; one of these, the tangkap proper, has permanent rights in both male and female members of the matriline. In Bangwa a person does not belong to the tangkap’s group, he is fully incorporated into his father’s group with a complementary relationship to the groups of the three other marriage lords. The differences are probably due to historical factors. Among the Eastern Bamileke, slavery and ngkap marriages were banned at roughly the same time. In Bangwa slavery was banned but the institution of wardship was allowed to flourish. In a sense wardship rights replaced rights in slaves: slave owners were able to maintain important rights over matrilineal descendants of female slaves; similar rights

were then claimed by husbands of free-born women. Rights in the descendants of male slaves were not so easily sustained.

It seems clear that the type of
ngkap marriage described by French ethnographers for the ‘Bamileke’ region as a whole should be restricted to its strongholds among the Eastern Bamileke: the chiefdoms of Bazou, Bamana, Bangangte, Bandjoun, Bafoussam, and Batié. The Bangwa are very closely related, culturally and linguistically, to the Western Bamileke (Bafou-Fondong, Fongo Tongo, Fongundeng, Fondongela), their neighbours immediately over the border in East Cameroun. From brief visits to these chiefdoms it seems that their marriage system corresponds in most details with that described here for the Bangwa. There are some differences: the two middle marriage lords (the bride’s mother’s father and her mother’s mother’s father) are given minor roles; and the relationship between male ward and tangkap is much less complex than in Bangwa. But both the bride’s pater and her tangkap are concerned in bridewealth payments throughout the Western Bamileke region. This difference was recognized by early French administrators who noted the dissimilarity between the marriage system of the peoples of the east and the west in the former trustee territory of French Cameroun. It is clear that the Bangwa chiefdoms belong to the general Bamileke culture area; nevertheless, due to differences in special factors in the recent past, as well as the other variations in language and social institutions, ‘Bamileke’ should be considered to comprise two major sub-areas, which I have tentatively described as Eastern and Western Bamileke. Further research will inevitably locate even more important variations and the division of this large region into smaller culture areas.



LES Bamileke de l’Est ont été décrits comme pratiquant une forme de mariage connue, le mariage par
ngkap par lequel une fille est donnée en mariage sans transfert de ‘prix de l’épouse’ de la part du mari; ces mariages sont conclus par leur grand-père maternel, qui devient ‘père du prix de l’épouse’, tangkap. Les chefs de lignage peuvent augmenter leur patrilignage grace au mariage par ngkap, car les ‘pupilles’ et leurs enfants son incorpores au sein du groupe de leur tangkap et non de celui de leur père.

Chez les Bangwa, le groupe le plus occidental des royaumes Bamileke, on trouve un systeme completement different. Le ‘prix de ‘épouse’ est payee par le prétendant de la femme a quatre maîtres du mariage: son père, le père de sa mère, le père de la mère de sa mère et le
tangkap de cette dernière (ou leurs descendants patrilinéaires vivants). Le contraste avec le mariage Bamileke par ngkap est evident: tous les mariages sont ngkap bien que la dot soit toujours versée, et toutes les mariées Bangwa ont un tangkap. D’autre part, les enfants du mariage, fils et filles, sont automatiquement ‘pupilles’ du tangkap de leur mère, quoiqu’une part du ‘prix de l’épouse’ ait été remise au père de la mariée.

D’après les croyances et les déclarations des Bangwa, le
tangkap d’une personne est le successeur patrilinéaire de l’homme qui, le premier, a acheté son ancêtre matrilinéaire comme esclave dans l’Est-Cameroun. Le patrilignage du tangkap a conservé un droit important sur tous les descendants matrilinéaires de cet ancêtre. La parenté entre ‘pupille’s et tangkap est pleinement institutionnalisée. Tous les Bangwa, hommes et femmes, doivent des services

réguliers, un tribut et des redevances à leur
tangkap; en retour, le tangkap met ses ‘pupilles’ à l’abri du besoin et offre des sacrifices en leur nom.

Les jeunes Bangwa déclarent que la parenté
tangkap - ‘pupilles’ est un reliquat de l’esclavage et devrait être interdite comme elle l’a été dans l’Est-Cameroun depuis les années 20. Ils estiment que c’est un moyen pour des chefs peu scrupuleux d’exploiter leurs sujets. Le statut de ‘pupille’ est une source de gains financiers pour les chefs, particulièrement à propos des droits de succession réclamés aux successeurs de leurs ‘pupilles’. Jusqu’à un certain point, le refus de quelques Bangwa évolués de payer les redevances d’usage est en train de saper l’institution. Pour la plupart des Bangwa, cependant, la nature des sanctions légales et surnaturelles exercées par leurs maîtres de mariage les détourne de toute tentative sérieuse de les frustrer de leurs droits. Si une ‘pupille’ ne remplit pas son rôle, elle peut être poursuivie en justice; ou bien sa famille peut tomber malade et mourir sous l’attaque malveillante de la magie, de la sorcellerie ou des ancêtres d’un tangkap.