Retired Archbishop of Douala, Emeritus Christian Cardinal Tumi paid homage to the Nso Mfuh cultural group of Douala, Cameroon’s economic capital recently. Anyone from a different cultural background, witnessing the event or watching pictures of it would be tempted to pass a judgement on an event which the Nso people hold in high esteem – an event performed by a man whom they hold in highest esteem equally. The Mfuh dance is one of the Manjong or warrior cultic groups of the Nso Land.
In the time of inter-tribal wars, the Manjong served as the militia of the land. With the end of these wars, Mfuh and its other brother groups have been largely reduced to a drinking and social group which continues to boost the pride of the Nso man. Some elements of mysticism though remain in some circles, but by and large, the group, which is exclusively for men, serves a social purpose. Like most other traditional groups in the Grass fields of Southern Cameroons, members are largely persons who belong to one of the various mainstream churches or denominations.
Most of the Catholic parishes in Nso, Bui have the Samba, which is another traditional cultic group, brought in from the traditional setting into the Church setting. The Samba group is also found in some towns attached to parishes as in Bamenda (almost all the township parishes), in Simbock Parish in Yaounde, etc. Their role in the liturgy is also highly appreciated, especially in the context of the inculturation of the Lectionary Procession and other areas of pastoral life. Their music is very palatable and graces animation after the Mass.
The bishops of the Ecclesiastical Province of Bamenda have been greatly promoting this group and other cultural bodies, which they see as wonderful channels of evangelization. Catechesis is also done in these groups; they own a bible and always start their sessions with the prayer session of the Bible Sharing. In short, the members feel proud when they express their faith through the eyes of the culture.
A full grown-up male in the Nso Land always does what is called Mfumen Mfuh, or Fum Mfuh; this means becoming a member of the Mfuh militia with full rights. In the past the rite signified presenting oneself as fit for military expeditions. This rite was often marked by lavish eating and drinking, and the items provided were specific in terms of types and numbers, especially numbers that signify fullness or completion (as in the Christian tradition).
A significant number here is 7. With the passage of the Church from the hands of missionary priests into the hands of indigenous priests, the urge for inculturation has hastened this search for a marriage between faith and culture. When people listen to the Word of God, proclaimed by their own sons, they feel proud to belong to a culture that still lives especially important social values – they feel the Word of God touching their lives directly, and convince themselves that certain positive original ideals of their culture could be easily employed for the realization of the common good and the enhancement of the dignity of man.
Far back in the mid-1990s, late Father Umberto Paris, an Italian Capuchin Missionary to Cameron, founded the Association of Traditional Rulers in Shisong Parish. This soon moved to Sop Parish, and subsequently to the entire Kumbo area. The idea has now spread into the entire Diocese of Kumbo as far as to the Mbum Land and down to Oku and Noni. The medal which Father Umberto designed for traditional rulers is incredibly significant. The circular nature of the medal shows the general nature of mankind; we are all in the same boat of humanity.
The Traditional Rulers’ Association is meant to bring together all people such that there be Unity of Faith and Culture (which is their motto) and not fighting. Pope Francis continuously re-echoes the same theme in Fratelli Tutti, his recent Encyclical of Fraternity and Social Friendships. The red byzantine cross that extends to most of the ends of the medal signifies the salvific action of the death of Christ on the cross. The gong, the peace plant and the gourde and cup, which are typical cultural symbols in Nso Traditional Religion (NTR) and the traditional religious practices of the other tribes of the Diocese of Kumbo, are inserted inside the cross to show that the salvific death of Christ also embraces our cultural practices.
The predominantly shiny silver colour shows the light that is shed in the hearts of peoples and their cultures when they realize the ideal proposed by the motto: Unity of Faith and Culture. While working in Bambui, Father Umberto also tried to enter in the North West Fons’ Association. He offered each Fon of the North West a copy of the Compendium of the Social Teachings of the Church, a document which, as some Fons who read it testify, clearly expounds so many values that are already found in their traditions.
Though it holds true that no culture is an island, it is risky reading cultural elements of another entity with the bias of one’s own background. With the Christian Churches now run entirely by indigenous peoples, there is no way by which it could be presented void of the cultural elements of the soil in which it was planted and is lived.