Puffy cheeks of wisdom

Bamileke & Bamoun Kingdom


Bali Nyonga Kingdom: Dances for the King, Cameroon, 2014

In the courtyard of the palace of Bali Nyonga, a series of dances are performed for His Majesty Dr. Doh Ganyonga III, known for his passion for Bali Nyonga culture.

The first dance is called Tum Mbong in which the dancers wear both human and animal masks. The lead dancer is recognised by his elaborate feather costume and red hat, the other dancers wear blackened tunics. This dance is performed to deliver “good messages” from the Fon to his people. Accompanying the dancers, musicians play drums, calabash rattles, and wooden xylophones.

The next dance is called Kujong, a dance of farmers who are herbalists and healers knowledgeable in medicinal cures. A powerful dance, the Kujong celebrates the harvest. Behind the performers, and elder carries a calabash filled with medicine which he sprays over them.

The final dance is called Galena – “The Fon is Calling”. This dance is performed at important ceremonies in the kingdom. The dancers faces are covered with netted cloth and they wear fibre hats with fuchsia colored feathers. Their ankles are wrapped with seed pods from the forest to enhance the stamping rhythms.

Bamungo & Oku Royal Courts, Cameroon, 2014

The Fon of Bamungo Kingdom, Ndofoa Zofoa III, is seated on his throne in his palace, surrounded by royal sculptures that protect him and reveal his status. He greets a court dancer by empowering him with a leopard skin hide. Members of the Bamungo secret society, wearing large feather headdresses, welcome high-ranking guests.

The second part of the film opens with the Fon of Oku Kingdom, Setieh II, seated on his throne covered with handwoven indigo textiles. To the accompaniment of drums, Oku chiefs and elders, all members of the Kwifon society enter the palace courtyard in procession to honor the king. Only when the King and Kwifon are united in peace and cooperation can the land prosper. To the delight of all, a masked court jester entertains the crowd by impersonating the King.

Menkom Kingdom: Dance for the Queen, Cameroon, 2014

The Bamileke royal dance called Fudzong takes place in the courtyard of the Queen in the absence of her 94 year old king (The former king had 76 wives).  The lead dancer wears a carved wooden mask and handwoven tunic embellished with cowrie shells. He places his decorated staff on a small wooden elephant which symbolises of the power of the kingdom. The accompanying group of dancers wear basket headdresses from which hang braids of human hair which swirl to the rhythm of the drums. At the climax, the lead dancer greets and dances with the Queen as a blessing to the kingdom.

Bamana Kingdom: Secret Society of Knights, Cameroon, 2014

In the Bamana Kingdom, the unique masked dance called Nkougan is performed by a secret society of knights which rule the kingdom along with the Fon. The dreadlocks of ancestral hair featured in this dance are believed to transmit the power of the ancestors. The number of horns on a mask indicate the wearers grade or class in society. Following the performance the dancers return to the sacred forest. In the background is the royal entrance to the palace featuring symbolic turrets, representing the joint rulership of the king and each of his nobles.

Bafoussan Kingdom: Funeral & Court Dances, Cameroon, 2014

One of the most important Bamileke dances is called the Tso, danced by the Kuosi secret society. It is performed both at the funeral of members of the society, as seen at the first part of this film, and at the request of the Fon in the Royal Court, in the second part. The Kuosi society is directly responsible for the protection of the king.

At the funeral, hats of red parrot feathers and skirts colored with indigo dye are worn by members of the Kuosi society. The dancers take their rhythm from a long wooden xylophone and a small drum called Nkak. At the Palace, the Fon, Nijitack Ngompé Pélé, sits in state awaiting the arrival of the dancers. His wives arrive wearing red parrot feather headdresses and waving cow tail fly whisks. In the royal compound, Kuosi secret society members dance with beaded elephant masks to demonstrate the power and grandeur of the kingdom. The majesty of the elephant is symbolic of the king. The number of beads in each mask symbolises the kingdoms wealth. Leopard skin costumes, worn by the dancers, are a sign of rank in society. According to legend, the King can transform himself into an elephant or leopard at will.

Bamoun Kingdom: Bonso Dancers, Cameroon, 2014

The Kikoum is an important dance of the Bonso people of the Bamoun Kingdom. The dancers wear red and black costumes and the leader wears a crocodile headdress. The group dances around a wooden ancestral figure and bless it with sacred leaves. The dance is performed for high ranking people, or if a member of the Kwifon society passes away.

Foumban Night Dance, Cameroon, 2014

The Kwaloum dance, performed by a group of the same name, is a “challenge” dance between men and women. This dance provided entertainment in the back courtyard of the palace of Fon Sultan Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya during the night time reception of the marriage of his daughter to her Turkish husband.