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Food as a linking device among the Guidar of North Cameroon

A Food Historian’s viewpoint / Une étude ethno-alimentaire par un historien
La nourriture comme lien entre Guidar du nord-Cameroun
Forka Leypey Mathew Fomine

Abstracts

This article elucidates and illuminates food as a powerful device that established and strengthened cultural and commercial relationships among the Guidar of North Cameroon and between the Guidar and their neighbouring ethnic groups. During cultural ceremonies such as traditional wedding, death celebration, funeral entertainment, naming ceremony and group circumcision, the Guidar collectively consumed diverse food items that established and cemented cultural relationships among them. Food also aided in establishing commercial relationships between the Guidar and Moundang, Massa, Tupuri, Bamileke from Cameroon and the Sara from the Republic of Chad.

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General introduction

1This article explores the social history of food amongst the Guidar who are the chief occupants of Guider, the administrative headquarters of the Mayo-Louti Prefecture, Northern Province of Cameroon, Central Africa. The Guidar, like many other peasant ethnic groups in Cameroon, cultivated a wide range of food crops, raised different domestic animals and produced a variety of local drinks. These food types constituted a powerful device that linked people culturally among the Guidar, and in turn linked them to their neighbours. Cnsumption of foodstuffs during naming ceremonies, traditional weddings, funeral entertainments and after group circumcision aided in establishing strong cultural links among the Guidar.

2But food did not only link the Guidar culturally. They established strong commercial links through the marketing of foodstuffs. For instance the Guidar were linked to the Guiziga through groundnut trade (Arachis hypogaea) since this important delicacy was periodically scarce among the Guidar. The Guidar were also linked to the Sara, an ethnic group from the Republic of Chad, through trade of both smoked and fresh fish. The Guidar were not as expert fishermen as the Sara from Chad, so without this trade link perhaps the Guidar should not have had the opportunity to consume large quantities of fish as they did.

3In order to avoid terminological confusion in this article, it is important to clarify the difference between the name of the ethnic group that has been surveyed and that of the geographical region it occupies. The surveyed group is variously referred to in Cameroon as Guidar, Gidar or Baiynawa (Collard 1973). The group will henceforth be referred to as Guidar. Similarly, the town occupied by the group is variously referred to as Guider, Guidder or Baiynawa. In this article, the appellation Guider is maintained. Food encompasses in this article a wide range of components which include locally cultivated crops, locally raised domestic animals, locally produced drinks and fish taken from local streams. Although food constituted an important device that linked the Guidar to their neighbours both historically and anthropologically, little research has been done on this topic (Schultz 1979).

4Methodology

5Information for this paper has been gathered mainly from unpublished sources principally oral interviews that I collected in Guider (and surroundings) with people old enough to recall some pre-colonial food practices in the region. I arranged interviews and then met the informants individually or in groups, using various materials to record their responses (tape recorder, pen and field notebook). Recorded interviews were later transcribed. These and dissertations also provided useful material as well as a few published books. I carried out fieldwork for the write up of this paper and other parts of my thesis focused on the Guidar from August to November 2006. During this period I interviewed approximately one hundred informants (some have been cited in this paper and the rest in my Ph.D. thesis which is still to be defended). Most interviews were conducted in Guider while a few were conducted at Figuil, Batao and Ngong. The factors taken into consideration before choosing informants were age and cultural identity. Most of the informants were above 60 years but a few were in their 30s. A bulk of the information was provided by the Guidar while a tiny fraction was furnished by the Fulani, Massa, Tupuri and Moundang.

Guidar Geographical setting and historical background

6The Prefecture of Guider lies between Latitudes 9°30’ and 10°30’ north and Longitudes 13° and 14°30 east of Greenwich Meridian (Schultz 1979 : 32). It covers an area of 760km2 (Boulet 1975: 23). In 1967, the population of Guider was estimated to be between 14,000 and 18,400 (Schuh 1982) inhabitants, while today it stands at about 60,000 inhabitants. It is situated between Garoua, the provincial headquarters of the Northern Province and Maroua, the provincial headquarters of the Extreme North Province. Babirkim and Lam bound it to the north, to the east by Bidzar, to the southwest by Tchontchi and to the west by Live (Schuh, 1982: 3).

  • 1  The word mayo comes from Fulfulde, signifying a river that flows only during the rainy season, and (...)

7Guider is located in the north-easternmost corner of the Benue river Basin. It is drained by three important rivers, the waters of which all flow eventually into the Benue River - Mayo1 Tiel in the west, Mayo Oulo in the central and Mayo-Louti in the east.

8The Guidar are divided into four clans, namely Moukdara, Mambaya, Monsokoyo and Mbana. The Moukdara and Monsokoyo originated around the Mandara Mountains (Schultz, 1979 : 295). The Mambaya or Bidzar were said to have their origin among the Mambay, people whose homeland lay south of Guider. But Jacques Lestrigant attributes their origin to the fusion of three separate ethnic strands: Fali and Moundang refugees from Fulbe invasions at the beginning of the 19th century who joined with a local native population known as Nyam-Nyam or Niam-Niam (Nizaa) (Lestringant 1964 : 104). Some Mambaya traced their migration from Goudour (Mohammadou, 1988). The Guidar were predominantly farmers (Baudelaire 1944), with only an occasional mention of trade and hunting as alternative occupations.

Food as a linking device among the Guidar

Food as a linking device during traditional weddings

  • 2 The father of the bride redistributed the money among his close kin and those of his wife. However, (...)
  • 3  Interview with Dambakeu.

9The Guidar established elaborate cultural and trade relationships amongst themselves and between them and their neighbouring ethnic groups stemming from the production and consumption of different food types. For instance, the bride dowry required different food items in order to be sufficient. In pre-colonial times, before a marriage was consummated, the bride and the groom were approximately 14 to 16 and 18 to 20 years respectively. But during the colonial period (1884-1960), it varied between 16 and 20 for the former and between 20 and 24 years for the latter. Guidar bride dowry requirements varied from one family to the other, but in most cases, the standard requirements included 100,000 CFA that was paid to the bride’s father2 together with a goat and a sheep. Some cola nuts (Cola acuminata) accompanied these items if it was in a Muslim family. The mother of the bride received an amount of 50,000 CFA. But the Guidar bride dowry in pre-colonial times included seven castrated cattle animals, seven goats, four fowls, five sheep and about fifty leaves of tobacco (Nicotiana rustica). On the day that the family of the bride and that of the groom negotiated the dowry, the groom entertained visitors with millet dumpling, groundnut sauce, boiled yam, cola nuts and millet beer.3 The consumption of these foods together helped to establish and cement long-lasting cordial relationships between the family of the groom and that of the bride.

Food as a linking device during naming ceremony

10Seven days after delivery, the child’s (be it male or female) maternal and paternal kin, headed by its father, organized the baby’s naming ceremony. A child born on an extraordinary place was either named Mougna or (Abali 2000: 39). On the day of the naming ceremony, the foodstuffs provided by the child’s parents included cooked beef, chicken, sheep meat and millet beer (exclusively the thin millet beer type known to the Guidar as bili-bili). Items brought at the naming rite by attendants varied according to religion. Muslims predominantly brought soap, plates and other modern dishes, fathoms of cloth and some kola nuts. Christians and Pagans on their part would bring millet beer, soap, fathoms of cloth and a valise if available. Food items which were reciprocated by both parents and invitees served as a strong connecting device that linked them. If the child was a male, this was continued with the circumcision rite at the age of about ten years.

Food as a linking device after group circumcision

  • 4  Interview with Haman Aboubakar, farmer, aged 55 years, Guider, 27 September 2006.

11Information on circumcision is scant because it was an interdiction for the Guidar to discuss circumcision-related issues with a stranger. Nevertheless, group circumcision was (and still is) practiced in the area. Male youths, aged between 8 and 14 years were circumcised in the bush where they stayed in segregation for three months. Even some parents whose children were born in the state maternity insisted that the midwife should not circumcise them. Upon arrival of the youths in the village a grand ceremony was organized at the expense of the parents of the initiated youths. Foodstuffs consumed were traditional millet, maize or sorghum dumplings, groundnut sauce, sesame and millet beer. By eating these foodstuffs together, a strong cultural relationship was established and cemented among the recently circumcised youths. But the cordial relationship established after eating the collective food did not end there. During the next group circumcision, previously circumcised youths might share a goat together. Christians and Pagans went ahead to drink bottled beer together. The Muslims on their part would drink Top together because it is a strict religious taboo for Muslims to drink beer. The circumcision was believed to be a rite of passage through which Guidar youth passed from youth to adulthood. The Guidar referred to it as the “pinching” of the foreskin.4

Food as a connecting device among the Guidar during death ceremonies and funeral entertainments

  • 5  The Guidar believed that death was natural if caused by an illness such as cholera, malaria or typ (...)
  • 6  The mat on which the departed laid before dying was later wrapped and thrown in a distant bush so (...)
  • 7  The Guidar always weeded the grave as a sign of veneration to the departed.
  • 8  In no event did a Guidar youth touch the corpse due to the fear that the spirit of the deceased mi (...)

12Communal food consumption was also common in Guider when death occurred. When death5 occurred in a village, the corpse was buried on the same day due to the unavailability of a mortuary. In the distant past (and even in contemporary Guidar society), the body was washed and wrapped in a white piece of cloth and locally woven mat6 before burying (in the distant past it was wrapped in sheep skin). The male youths dug the grave7 while aged people (above 50 years) performed the burial.8 In situations when the deceased was a Christian, the catechist led prayer at the gravesite. In the past, after burial, the close kin of the deceased would tie a piece of smoked wild animal skin on the head but today the skin has been substituted by a white piece of cloth. On the day of burial, the close relatives of the deceased provided all mourners with millet beer, a goat, sheep and millet or sorghum dumplings, groundnut and beans sauce. Thus relationships between the bereaved family and mourners, who abandoned their work and sacrificed the whole day to attend the burial, did not strain. These foodstuffs therefore served as an excellent device linking the bereaved family and all mourners. The Guidar were different from their neighbours in terms of the food items exchanged during funeral festivities. For instance, among the Doowaayo, the predominant food that the bereaved family gave mourners was millet dumplings and millet beer.

  • 9 Guidar Christians observed forty days duration because they believed that Jesus Christ lamented in (...)
  • 10  Interview with Aboubakar.

13After burial, the kinsmen of the deceased stayed in his compound for three days. They dispersed on the last day only when an agreement about the definite funeral celebration was reached. In principle, the celebration was held after forty days9 if the deceased was a Christian but it was usually delayed until sufficient funds were available. However, if the deceased was a Pagan, the celebration could take place even after a fortnight.10 Guidar Muslims had no fixed duration before the celebration.

  • 11  Ibid.
  • 12  Interview with Yola Oumaro, aged 32 years, Guider, 5 September 2005. Oumarou narrated in an interv (...)

14When sufficient funds were available, forty days after burial, the maternal and paternal relatives of a deceased Christian or Pagan Guidar organized the funeral celebration or entertainment. The celebration was a feast during which cooked food was given to all the well-wishers present. The foodstuffs eaten were significantly diverse but the conspicuous ones included goat and sheep meat, millet and sorghum dumplings, boiled yam tubers, boiled sweet potato, pounded and boiled manioc tubers, groundnut sauce, groundnut pudding, fried groundnut, okra sauce, rosella leaves sauce, millet beer and some bottles of brewed beer.11 On the day of funeral ceremony the kinsmen of the deceased ate a special sun dried or smoked ritual beef that was cooked without salt.12 The kinsmen themselves purchased the beef out of collective financial contributions.

  • 13 The scene in which the widow chose her second husband was always humorous, caused by the manner in (...)
  • 14  Interview with Asta.

15On the day of the funeral celebration of a married man, his relatives prepared a special splendid meal out of millet porridge cake, groundnut sauce and chicken which was given to the relatives of the widow. As soon as they finished eating, all the male kin of the deceased and the deceased’s close male friends assembled in a straight line, in a competition to inherit the widow. The widow would put two or three litres of millet beer (exclusively bili-bili) in a calabash and stand directly in front of the runners. In a humorous13 episode, she handed the calabash of millet beer to the man she loved most and who henceforth became her husband. If the chosen man accepted the offer and loved the widow as well, he drank all the millet beer instantly, seized and put the widow’s hand in his armpit as an indication of a new marital union.14 The millet beer that the widow gave her new husband was of particular importance. This was the initial device that linked the widow to her new husband. Although the primary objective of the ceremony was for the widow to be inherited, in no event could this happen if there was no millet-beer. The beer played a special role during the ceremony.

Food as a linking device during royal enthronement

  • 15  The Guidar chief as any other chief in contemporary Cameroon society is a symbol of authority. He (...)
  • 16 Interview with Damba.

16During the enthronement of a chief, the Guidar exchanged and consumed different food items. The institution of chief among the Guidar was old and hereditary.15 When a chief passed away, he was either succeeded by one of his sons already installed or by his brother. On the day of enthronement, the close kin of the new chief offered him livestock gifts – cattle, horse, sheep and goats. Prior to the day of installation, villagers (where the chief was to be installed) were taxed different sums of money that varied between 500 and 1,000 CFA for entertainment of the populace on the day of installation usually depicted as an impressive merriment. Out of the collective contribution, the following foodstuffs were purchased and cooked by the village women – millet, maize and sorghum dumpling, boiled and pounded manioc, boiled yam, groundnut sauce, fried groundnut, goat meat, sheep meat and millet and bottled beer. During mealtime, the villagers were served separately. For instance, if there was an enthronement ceremony in Kong-Kong, villagers from Debelze, Karba, Dahal and Budva, were served in separate groups according to their village of origin. Some visitors gave others bottled-beer as gifts. A majority of the Guidar who turned up at the enthronement ceremony however, did not only come for that purpose: some came to try and catch a debtor, to see a boy or girl-friend, to hear news or relay a message.16

How food bonded lovers among the Guidar

  • 17  Interview with Oumarou.

17Guidar lovers were not exempted from the elaborate relationships that were established in Guider through food exchange. During the colonial period and in more recent times, on an important Christian feast day such as Christmas (as well as on national holidays such as 11th February and 20th May), female lovers gave their boyfriends the popular stiff starchy millet dumpling and chicken as an accompaniment. In this boyfriend-girlfriend relationship, millet dumplings and chicken were very prestigious food items that could not be substituted. The male lover in turn would give the woman a fathom of cloth or an envelope containing 5,000 or 10,000 CFA17. Through the exchange of gifts lovers strengthened their relationship. Millet dumplings and chicken that the female lover gave the male served as a powerful device linking lovers.

How food linked landlords and tenants and also united members of traditional co-operative societies

  • 18  But the general notion was that the entire village land belonged to the chief.
  • 19  It is pertinent to make the point clear that there was no land shortage in Guidar but land nearer (...)
  • 20  Interview with Troumba.

18The importance of livestock among the Guidar was not limited to nutrition. It was also a means of acquiring subsistence fields.18 In pre-colonial times, to acquire a piece of land, 19 for instance, 100 square meters, it sufficed to give the village chief a goat and two or three bags (about 25 kg each) of millet, but during the colonial period, farmland started being purchased in the area. Although there was no standard measurement or any price fixed beforehand, oral tradition held that approximately 100 meters of farmland was sold at 50,000 CFA coupled with a goat20. This goat helped to enhance cordial relations between the landlord and the new land owner. In the absence of goat, even if the amount of money required was sufficient, the land title was not transferred to the new land owner. It is to be noted that in recent times, subsistence fields were no longer purchased from the village Chief, rather from the first occupant who exploited it. The purchased land was either exploited by recruited paid agricultural labourers or by members of a rotating work-party (a small co-operative society).

19Small co-operative societies that were available in Guider often provided work force to members in turn. The prominent jobs done by the groups included: farmland clearing; planting crops such as millet, rice, manioc, sorghum, groundnut or maize; harvesting and carrying crops to the farmer’s house; house-roofing; house-plastering (coating walls); house-thatching; and mud brick moulding or carrying roofing sticks from the bush to the compound. In return for the work done, in order to maintain good relationships, the beneficiary gave members sorghum or millet dumplings, groundnut sauce (or any other available sauce) and millet or sorghum beer. These small co-operative societies were often engaged in different types of paid labour – clearing or tilling farms, carrying  sticks for house roofing from the bush to compound or moulding mud blocks – from which every member earned small sums of money, for instance 1,000 CFA wage. Members of these small co-operative societies, and other Guidar who belonged to none, saved their small earnings in various rotating credit societies (where cordial relationships were also established through food consumption) often referred to in the Cameroonian English repertoire as njangi or djangi, known by the Guidar as sougah.

Food as a binding device in rotating credit societies

  • 21 Interview with Miste Todou, aged 30 years, housewife and trader, Guider, 5 September 2006.

20Credit societies were unprecedented in Guidar pre-colonial society. Credit societies were introduced among the Guidar in colonial times. Some of the credit societies held their sessions daily (those in which membership was limited to traders), fortnightly, monthly or once every two months. However, a few held their sessions quarterly. The amount contributed by a member during each session varied between 500 and 10,000 CFA. Recipients of the fund provided members with millet beer, or brewed bottled-beer, in most cases, one bottle of beer per member. The number of bottles of beer or the number of litres of millet beer provided by the recipient, the amount of money contributed by each member, issues discussed during the session, synopsis of issues discussed during the previous session and the total amount of money received by the recipient were recorded by the secretary. Meeting sessions were held in the house of the president (traders held theirs in the market) who had a final say in most matters that arose.21

  • 22  Ibid.

21Some rotating credit societies operated small saving banks where able members saved small sums of money during each meeting session. Amounts saved varied between 500 and 5,000 CFA. On the last meeting-day of every year, members organized a big feast from collective contribution, with each member drinking about two or three bottles of brewed beer. Other foodstuffs that accompanied the beer included sorghum or millet dumpling, groundnut or sesame sauce, fried groundnut and millet beer (these were the food types preferred on such a day). On such days, the host (always the President) would welcome members with a bundle of cola nuts as a sign of solidarity. Cola nuts served as a special device that strengthened the cultural relationship which existed between the president and other members of the rotating credit society. While eating, non-members (strangers and visitors inclusive) were given small quantities of food and only drank millet beer because brewed beer was expensive (550 CFA for a bottle of miitzig).22

Food as a linking device in the domestic cell

  • 23 Ibid.

22Relationships established between and among individuals within the domestic cell are also worth highlighting. In a polygamous marriage where the husband had two wives or more, co-spouses did domestic cooking in turns. This is where serious jealousy was manifested among co-spouses as each woman wanted to be the best cook by preparing the most palatable meal. This was intended to attract the husband’s interest. When each woman’s turn came up, she prepared foods such as millet and maize dumplings, okra sauce and served the husband, her co-spouses and all the children in the yard. This food aided in establishing cordial relations among co-spouses and also in attaching them to their husband. In most cases, when a grown up son married, he and his wife co-habited with his parents for about a year before he transferred into his permanent residence. During the one year period, it was the father’s duty to provide the new couple with their daily food needs which consisted in the usual maize and millet dumplings and any sauce available. This food helped to bring the recently married woman who was a new comer in the family closer to her father in-law. The young woman helped her mother in-law in doing domestic works such as cooking and laundry.23

23Although food was a very powerful device that united the Guidar within the domestic cell, identified cases of witchcraft pulled them apart. For instance, when a woman noticed that a co-spouse or a neighbour be-witched her child, she would report the matter to her husband. The husband would then invite a witch doctor to reveal the witch. The witch doctor would scarify the be-witched child’s forehead and apply some herbs (my informant did not know the name of the herbs). The magical power of the herbs enabled the child to publicly announce the name of the witch. The witch was compelled to bring back the child’s soul. Some witches were said to have taken people’ souls and made them work on their farms unconsciously. The father of the bewitched child gave the witch doctor the following: a cockerel, mutton, goat and an amount of 5,000 CFA.

Food as a linking device between the Guidar and their ancestors

  • 24 Interview with Aboubakar.

24The Guidar established and maintained cordial relations with their ancestors through the performing of planting and harvesting rituals. The planting ritual was organised after the first rain in April or May. In each village, the ritual was carried out under the leadership of the chief, assisted by the initiated persons. Before the actual ritual, the chief stayed in seclusion in the bush together with the initiated persons for three days. On their arrival in the village, the chief brought a concoction in a calabash which he used to perform the ritual by pouring it on the ground in the form of a libation. During the big feast that followed the ritual, huge quantities of millet beer were consumed by participants. Other foods that accompanied the beer included millet and maize dumplings, yam and beans. The food was contributed by the entire village dwellers. The chief treated villagers with a cow while each traditional title holder provided mutton. It was compulsory for each lineage head to slaughter an animal and sprinkle its blood in his yard. Slaughtered animals were predominantly goats and sheep. A poor fellow who could not afford a goat or a sheep would manually tear open the mouth of a cockerel and sprinkle its blood in his yard. A collective village dance took then place in the palace. Interestingly, a special dance was organised apart for young female virgins who danced with their un-fallen breasts exposed to the crowd. It was during this dance that many Guidars chose their wives.24

25The harvesting ritual was held in October or November after the massive harvest of food crops. Food items eaten during the ritual were the same as those eaten during the planting ritual. The only difference is that more was eaten during the harvesting ritual than during the planting ritual. The reason for this is simple: food was more abundant after harvesting than before planting. Both rituals were offered to ancestors, first to ask for forgiveness if they were wronged and second, to request abundant harvest in the subsequent year. This is self-explanatory that the Guidars believed in intermediaries between them and God.

Specific foods that united children

  • 25  Interview with Troumba.

26Guidar children were not left out in the elaborate network that was set up in Guider via the exchange and joint consumption of different food types. However, it is pertinent to make the point clear that there were very few specific foods reserved for the children. For instance, there was just one specific undomesticated fruit reserved for the children known as jujube. This fruit grew wild in Guider and other places in Northern Cameroon. It was unusual to see a Guidar adult eating this fruit. Other foods reserved for children were tiny flour fritters that parents purchased in the market and carried home. Guidar children manifested great joy when they ate these fritters together. With slaughtered animals, the mother would chew the liver and put it into the baby’s mouth. The Guidar, just the same as other Cameroonians, especially the Mbo where I come from, believed that the liver accelerated baby growth. In a chicken, parts reserved for children were the feet, head and intestines. Whenever a chicken was killed in a household, the children themselves would tear the intestines with a sharp bamboo, discard the dung, wash the flesh, roast it and eat in a group. This was one of the happiest moments in childhood. This was a strong social bond that united children even as they grew up into adults.25

Food as a linking device among the Guidar in the commercial sphere

Food as a connecting device among the Guidar during trade by barter

27At this point, we may turn to the various commercial relationships that were established among the Guidar through the use of food as a special device. But before examining the various commercial relationships that were based on money as a medium of exchange, knowledge of trade by barter that once existed on subsistence crops in the area is imperative.

28Before the emergence of money economy in Guider, trade by barter through which the Guidar exchanged different subsistence crops and domestic animals had prevailed. The Guidar were famed millet cultivators since time immemorial. In pre-colonial times, they used the cereal that they produced en masse to acquire a variety of valuables via exchange with their neighbouring groups. For instance, they exchanged millet for the round caps and the broad-sleeves robes (gandoras) with the Fulbe (urban- Fulani). A big calabash of millet was exchanged for a cap while five calabashes were exchanged for a robe. The Islamised Guidar needed these Muslim-styled dresses in order to be in uniform with their counterparts in Northern Cameroon. Although a few Guidar wove their own native caps out of the African fan palm (Barassus flabellifer) fibre, these were worn exclusively by un-Islamised Guidar.

  • 26 Ibid.

29But it was not only through exchange with millet that caps and long robes the Fulbe possessed reached the hands of the Guidar. People (slaves) also constituted an important trade item in Guidar pre-colonial society. In time of famine, un-Islamised Guidar exchanged their children (as slaves) for cattle with the Fulbe. Oral tradition held that certain Guidar chiefs went as far as exchanging slaves (their children inclusive) for caps, long robes and cattle with the Fulbe. A particular custom was observed for a Guidar (chiefs and non-title holders) to choose one of his children and exchange him for any food product. Early in the morning, fire was set in the centre of the yard and the children instructed to encircle it in order to bask themselves. As the children basked themselves, their father observed keenly to sort out the child who stood in the direction of the smoke. When such a child was earmarked, it was immediately assumed that it would be stupid in the future. The unfortunate child was immediately segregated (as a sacrificial lamb) and exchanged for cattle that was slaughtered and cooked to feed the other children.26 Nevertheless, the Guidar were not the sole suppliers of slaves to the Fulbe. Another ethnic group of Northern Cameroon that supplied slaves to the Fulbe was the Moundang (Adler 1973). The Moundang exchanged an immense number of slaves with the Fulbe and Hausa which was reciprocated with cattle, goat or cloth. For instance, a young girl was exchangeable for two cattle animals, ten goats or ten fathoms of cloth (Vincent 1973).

  • 27 Ibid.

30Transhumant pastoral Fulani (Mbororo) were specialized cattle raisers in Guider and the entire Northern Cameroon as a whole. They raised more cattle than the Guidar. The wives of the Mbororo were expert cattle milk producers. From pre-colonial times up to about 1950, Mbororo women exchanged milk for groundnut, okra and millet which the Guidar possessed in huge quantities. Informants estimated that about five medium size calabashes of milk were exchangeable for 15 kg of millet or groundnut.27 Through this exchange, Mbororo herdsmen and their wives consumed millet and groundnut that they themselves seldom cultivated. This is excellent evidence that food served as a powerful device that linked the Guidar to their neighbours.

  • 28 Samples of the pre-colonial and colonial hoes are still available in Guider up to this day. The hoe (...)
  • 29 Informants narrated in several interviews and discussions that the profession of smith did not perm (...)
  • 30 Interview with Tongou.

31In pre-colonial times and even during the immediate colonial period, the Guidar had expert smiths who smelted iron ore and manufactured long-lasting hoes.28 These smiths who by virtue of their profession29 were not fowl raisers, exchanged hoes for fowls with the few Guidar who raised chicken and with the Moundang who bred a good number of fowls. A fowl was exchangeable for two hoes. The Guidar also used millet to acquire tobacco. Tobacco that Hausas itinerant traders possessed in abundance was of particular interest to them. Although a few Guidar planters cultivated tobacco from pre-colonial times until ca. 1920, those who did not cultivate it, were obliged to exchange millet for it. In pre-colonial times, a big calabash of millet was exchangeable for about ten leaves of tobacco but during the colonial period, the quantity dropped drastically to a big calabash of millet for five leaves. In pre-colonial times, tobacco constituted an important item in bride dowry payment among the Guidar.30

32In pre-colonial times, the Guidar carried out trade by barter simultaneously with cowries as a medium of exchange. According to C.Collard, cowries were introduced among the Guidar in 1845 but did not diffuse until between 1855 and 1865. Cowries were introduced from Ghana where they had been in use since 1200 and from Gao where they were already in circulation since 1354. Before examining both distant past and recent trade on foodstuffs among the Guidar it is necessary to present some basic measurements that were employed in the area during the first half of the 20th century for the sale of foodstuffs. Until about 1950, there were a few stable measurements used for the sale of foodstuffs in Guider. In most cases, approximation was the order of the day. For example, a small calabash could contain approximately 1 litre; a medium size calabash approximately 3 litres while a big calabash could contain about 4 litres. The hand was also a standard measurement. For instance, a single handful of millet or groundnut could measure approximately half a glass.

Marketed foodstuffs as a linking device among the Guidar and between the Guidar and their neighbours

  • 31 Interview with Aboubakar.
  • 32 Ibid.

33During the colonial period, the Guidar established elaborate trade networks through the buying and selling of different foodstuffs. The Guidar were not producers of palm oil. Bamileke traders sold palm oil to them in various village markets situated in Guider. One litre of palm oil was sold in the region at 1,000 CFA. Doumour market was located in the Mayo-Kani Prefecture, Far North Province; cattle was cheaper in the market than in any other market in the region. The Guidar went as far as Doumour market to purchase cattle in ordinary times.31 In December, pigs were always sold at exorbitant prices in Guider due to the Christmas feast during which many non-Muslims ate pork. During this period, many Guidar attended Figuil market where they massively purchased slaughtered or live pigs to be eaten on Christmas Day.32

34The Guidar population that raised chicken was small. Many Guidar purchased chicken and chicks from the Tupuri at Djiguilao market in the Extreme North Province. The Tupuri were well-known in the area for poultry farming. Although the Guidar extensively employed bamboo beds domestically, they did not weave beds themselves probably because there were no raffia palms in their territory. The Moundang from the Republic of Chad carried traditional beds woven with raffia bamboo to Guider where they sold to the Guidar. A medium size bed cost 5,000 CFA. While returning to Chad, the Moundang bought millet and groundnut from the Guidar. Through commercialization of these food items, the Guidar established and cemented cordial trade relations with the Moundang.

  • 33  The Guidar held it that beans were Guiziga second major staple, after millet.

35Despite the fact that groundnut was a major staple crop among the Guidar, there were times that it was scarce in their territory. During periods of scarcity, the Guidar purchased groundnut from the Guiziga at Moutourwa market, in the Extreme North Province. The Guiziga who were the predominant ethnic group in the area preferred beans sauce as opposed to groundnut.33 Again, Guider was not rich in fish. Most fresh and smoked fish that the Guidar ate was predominantly purchased at Badadji market from the Sara and Arabs who hailed from the Republic of Chad. The Guidar were commercially attached to the Sara and Arabs via fish trade.

36In recent times different periodic markets were found in Guider where the Guidar bought and sold different food items (see table 1).

TABLE 1

PERIODIC MARKETS IN GUIDER AND MAJOR FOODSTUFFS PURCHASED BY THE GUIDAR

Day

Market

Major foodstuffs

Monday

Figuil

Chicken, sheep, goats, and smoked/fresh fish.

Tuesday

Sorawel

Sorghum, manioc, millet, groundnut, and sesame.

Wednesday

Batao

Cattle, millet, sorghum, bili-bili, sheep, and goat.

Thursday

Kong-Kong

Cattle, chicken, groundnut, sesame

Friday

Guider

Beans, millet, sorghum, groundnut and maize.

Saturday

Boula-Ibi

Sheep, millet, sorghum, groundnut and sesame.

Sunday

Badadji

Fresh/smoked fish, goats, sorghum, millet and sesame.

SOURCE: Compiled by the author in September and October 2006 during field survey in Guider.

37As table 1 indicates, at the Figuil market held on Mondays, the Guidar purchased chicken, goats, sheep and smoked fish. Although millet and sorghum were Guidar chief staples, those Guidar who did not possess it in abundance bought them at Batao market, held on Wednesdays.

38An investigation into prices of selected foodstuffs purchased by the Guidar in more recent times reveals prices as indicated in table 2.

TABLE 2

PRICE LIST OF SELECTED FOODSTUFFS PURCHASED BY THE GUIDAR IN TIMES OF ABUNDANCE (NORMAL PERIOD)

Foodstuffs

Quantity

Cost price

Millet

10kg

1,700 CFA

Maize

10kg

1,500 ”

Groundnut

10kg

2,700 ”

Beans

1 glass

200 ”

Sesame

1 glass

150 ”

Okra

Fresh (six pods)

200 ”

Okra

Sun dried (1 cup)

250 ”

Cow

Small (3 years)

40, 000 ”

Medium (5 years)

90, 000 ”

Big (over 5 years)

130, 000 ”

Sheep

In Ramadan time

45,000 ”

Sheep

In ordinary time

15,000 ”

Goat

Average size

10,000 ”

Chicken

A chick

1,000 ”

A hen

1,500 ”

A cockerel

2500 ”

Yam

2 kg.

500 ”

Rice

1 kg.

400 ”

Tamarind

1 glass

3,00 ”

Baobab

1 glass

100 ”

Beef

1kg with bones

700 ”

1kg boneless

1000 ”

SOURCE: Compiled by the author in September and October 2006 during field survey among the Guidar.

39As table 2 shows, 10 kg of millet were sold at 1,700 CFA while the same quantity of maize was sold at 1,500 CFA. This difference in price stemmed from the fact that millet was consumed in the area more than maize. The situation was different for beans and sesame. While a kilogram of beans was sold 200 CFA, that of sesame was sold 150 CFA. Paradoxically, sesame was consumed in the area more than beans. It is probable that sesame was cheaper because many farmers cultivated it as an important delicacy. It is worth making the point clear that during the period of Ramadan, sheep was generally very expensive. It was for this reason that sheep that cost 45,000 CFA during Ramadan could not be sold at any amount more than 15,000 CFA in ordinary times. During the period of seasonal shortage, prices of foodstuffs rose in Guider tremendously (see table 3).

TABLE 3

PRICE LIST OF SELECTED FOODSTUFFS PURCHASED BY THE GUIDAR DURING PERIODS OF SEASONAL SHORTAGE (APRIL, MAY AND JUNE)

Foodstuffs

Quantity

Cost price

Millet

10kg

5,000 CFA

Maize

10kg

4,000 ”

Groundnut

10kg

5,000 ”

Beans

1 glass

300 ”

Sesame

1 glass

250 ”

Okra

Fresh (six pods)

250 ”

Okra

Sun dried (1 cup)

400 ”

Cow

Small (3 years)

80, 000 ”

Medium (5 years)

200, 000 ”

Big (above 5 years)

250, 000 ”

Sheep

In Ramadan time

60,000 ”

Sheep

In ordinary time

40,000 ”

Goat

Average size

18,000 ”

Chicken

A chick

1,300 ”

A hen

2,000 ”

A cockerel

3,500 ”

Yam

2 kg

1,000 ”

Rice

1 kg.

800 ”

Tamarind

1 glass

5,00 ”

Baobab

1 glass

150 ”

Beef

1 kg with bones

1,000 ”

1kg boneless

1,500 ”

SOURCE: Compiled by the author from oral tradition and archival reports on the Guidar.

40Nevertheless the Guidar maintained other relationships through non-food exchange. The Guidar established strong marriage relationships via the exchange of wives with the Fulani, Tupuri, Moundang and Massa since time immemorial. A few Guidar men married Fulani women but in comparative terms, less Guidar men married Fulani women. The ratio of the exchange of women between the Guidar and the Tupuri, Moundang and Massa was the same. The Guidar acquired an important non-food item like cam wood from the Gbaya in Adamawa Region of Cameroon.

41The Guidar also established impressive trade relations via purchase of manufactured products. They acquired electronic equipment such as televisions, refrigerators, tape recorders and radios from the Federal Republic of Nigeria. The geographical proximity of Guider town to Nigeria enhanced this trade. Other products acquired from Nigeria included motor bikes and petrol. The few well-off Guidars who consumed canned foods such as tinned tomato, sardine, Ovaltine, Matinal, tinned milk and tinned Maggi purchased them from stores based in Guider. The majority of wealthy Guidar who owned cars purchased them in Benin although a few crossed over to Nigeria and purchased theirs. Cars were less expensive in Benin as opposed to Nigeria.

Conclusion

42The prime objective of this article was to unravel the role of food as a linking or connecting device among the Guidar. In general terms, the article has surveyed and explored the importance of food for the Guidar. At the broadest level, it has sought to show that no traditional ceremony was carried out among the Guidar without food sharing. For example, during the naming ceremony of a baby, its father entertained participants with cooked beef, chicken, mutton and millet beer. Similarly, after group circumcision, circumcised youths stayed in the bush in segregation for close to three weeks and on their arrival in the yard, they were jointly served millet and maize dumplings, groundnut soup, sesame and millet beer. The mere eating of these foodstuffs together linked each youth to the others and shows the bond that bound the boys together.

43Although death was (and still remains) a sorrowful event, whenever it occurred among the Guidar, food eaten contributed enormously in linking people together. After burying the corpse, the close kin of the deceased provided the mourners a cooked goat, sheep, millet and sorghum dumplings and millet beer. These food items that the bereaved family provided the mourners were the most satisfactory indications of the love the bereaved family had for their departed kinsman. Food aided in establishing a long-lasting cordial relationship between the family of the deceased and the mourners who always made verbal reference to the quantity of food eaten during any funeral. After the burial of an adult male, the millet beer that the widow gave her new husband was of peculiar importance in that it was the first indication that the widow loved the particular runner among several competitors and also the first food that the new couple shared together.

44This article has also demonstrated that the Guidar did not live in isolation. Through buying and selling different food items, they were linked to their immediate and distant neighbours. Although several kilometres separated the Guidar from the Bamileke in the Western Province of Cameroon, the Guidar purchased their cooking oil – palm oil – from Bamileke merchants. The trade link between the Guidar and Bamileke was striking and fascinating. The source from which the Guidar purchased chicken was not as distant as palm oil. They purchased chicken that constituted one of their most significant dietary complements from the Tupuri in the Extreme North Province of Cameroon. On the basis of such elaborate trade links that the Guidar established with their neighbours via the buying and selling of food items, it might be realistic to infer that the Guidar will never live in isolation but always in communion with their neighbours.

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Bibliography

ABALI, S., 2000, “Etude Comparative des marginaux dans les sociétés Guider et Mambay: le cas de jumeaux”, B.A. dissertation in History, Ngaoundère University.

ADLER, A., 1973,  “Le royaume moundang de Léré au XIXe siècle” Colloques Internationaux du C.N.R.S. No. 551 Contribution de la Recherche Ethnologique A L’Histoire Des Civilisations du Cameroun Volume 1: pp. 101-112.

BOULET, J., 1975, Les pays de la Bénoué, Yaounde, Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique d’Outre-Mer.

BAUDELAIRE, M., 1944, « Rapport sur deux Tournées totalisant 23 jours, effectuées du 19 au 26 avril et du 8 au 22 mai 1944 », Sub-division de Guider en pays Njegn, file No. VT38/29, Yaounde National Archives.

COLLARD, C., 1973, “La société Guidar du nord-Cameroun” Colloques Internationaux du C.N.R.S. No. 551 Contribution de la Recherche Ethnologique A L’Histoire Des Civilisations du Cameroun Volume 1: pp. 131-138.

LESTRINGANT, J., 1964, « Les pays de Guidar au Cameroun: Essai D’histoire Régionale », Versailles.

MOHAMMADOU, E., 1988, « Les Lamidats du Diamaré et du Mayo-Louti au XIXe siècle (Nord Cameroun) » ed. By shun’ya Hino, Institute for the study of Languages and cultures of Asia and Africa (ILCAA).

SCHUH, R.G., 1987, Données de la langue Guidar (MA KADA), Yaounde, Société Internationale de Linguistique.

SCHULTZ, E. A, 1979, “Ethnic Identity and Cultural Commitment: A study of the process of Fulbeization in Guider, Northern Cameroon”, Ph.D. Thesis in Anthropology, Indiana University.

VINCENT, J.F., 1973, “Eléments d’histoire des Mofu, Montagnards du nord Cameroun”, Colloques Internationaux du C.N.R.S, No. 551, Contribution de la Recherche Ethnologique A L’Histoire Des Civilisations du Cameroun, Volume 1 : pp. 273-295.

Acknowledgements:I thank a number of people, many more than I can mention, who have been very instrumental in seeing this work, being part of research for my Ph.D. thesis (still to be defended) at History Department, The University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon. I thank my supervisors Professors V.G. Fanso of History Department, University of Yaounde 1, David Zeitlyn, University of Kent at Canterbury, England and Doctor Neil Bradman, The Centre for Genetic Anthropology, University College London. This paper and my entire Ph.D. research in Cameroon were funded by Dr. Bradman, Chairman, The Centre for Genetic Anthropology, University College London. Professor Zeitlyn read the paper and made useful suggestions. I remain indebted to Fanso, Zeitlyn and Bradman.

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Notes

1  The word mayo comes from Fulfulde, signifying a river that flows only during the rainy season, and remains dry for the rest of the year. But the Guidar and the other ethnic groups of North Cameroon and the Adamamwa used the appellation to designate any stream or river.

2 The father of the bride redistributed the money among his close kin and those of his wife. However, he kept a greater part for himself.

3  Interview with Dambakeu.

4  Interview with Haman Aboubakar, farmer, aged 55 years, Guider, 27 September 2006.

5  The Guidar believed that death was natural if caused by an illness such as cholera, malaria or typhoid fever. They had different perceptions towards it. Some Guidar perceived it as liberation from ‘ado’ (trouble) such as via suicide in which the deceased liberated himself from long misery of loneliness. Others viewed it as a means of joining the ancestors especially in the case of death of an old person, while some viewed it as a punishment against both trivial and serious faults committed by an individual. The first reaction of the Guidar towards death was to burst into cry. When a man died, his wife was the first to start crying; if it was a woman, her children began first, but if she was childless, her sisters were obliged to begin first. If a baby died, its mother began first. However, it was taboo to cry when a twin died. The primary objective for crying when death occurred in Guider was that the body should reincarnate, but being that the Guidar detested twins, they did not cry when any died: a clear indication that they did not want the twin to reincarnate.

6  The mat on which the departed laid before dying was later wrapped and thrown in a distant bush so that the spirit of the deceased was driven from the house to the bush.

7  The Guidar always weeded the grave as a sign of veneration to the departed.

8  In no event did a Guidar youth touch the corpse due to the fear that the spirit of the deceased might trouble him.

9 Guidar Christians observed forty days duration because they believed that Jesus Christ lamented in the Desert for forty days.

10  Interview with Aboubakar.

11  Ibid.

12  Interview with Yola Oumaro, aged 32 years, Guider, 5 September 2005. Oumarou narrated in an interview that in 1980, while in the bush for group circumcision, funeral celebrations were scheduled in the families of two of his companions, and as Guidar tradition demanded, the boys’ own share of saltless beef was brought to the bush where he had the opportunity to eat a share for the first time in his life. Oumarou used this example to substantiate his view that even the boys, who did not belong to the family that carried out a funeral celebration, ate ritual beef.

13 The scene in which the widow chose her second husband was always humorous, caused by the manner in which she made her choice. Whenever she advanced towards one of the runners and retreated, the observers applauded.

14  Interview with Asta.

15  The Guidar chief as any other chief in contemporary Cameroon society is a symbol of authority. He organizes and controls communal labour in the village, for instance, the maintaining of the village road and market. In the judicial domain, he hears and settles disputes in his village, assisted by his traditional titleholders. In some villages, he is the owner of the land.

16 Interview with Damba.

17  Interview with Oumarou.

18  But the general notion was that the entire village land belonged to the chief.

19  It is pertinent to make the point clear that there was no land shortage in Guidar but land nearer to the village was preferred for cultivation purposes than far distant land. It was such land that was purchased in the area.

20  Interview with Troumba.

21 Interview with Miste Todou, aged 30 years, housewife and trader, Guider, 5 September 2006.

22  Ibid.

23 Ibid.

24 Interview with Aboubakar.

25  Interview with Troumba.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Samples of the pre-colonial and colonial hoes are still available in Guider up to this day. The hoe is significantly different from the traditional (V-shaped) African hoe that is used in Southern Cameroon. I have seen such hoes only in Poli and Guider: the handle continuous straight out of the blade, giving it a shovel-like structure. However, the hoe is not as long as the shovel. Its length measures maximum 40 centimetres. The hoe is used squatting as opposed to the Southern Cameroon hoe that is used bending.

29 Informants narrated in several interviews and discussions that the profession of smith did not permit them to keep fowls, but no informant explained why it was so.

30 Interview with Tongou.

31 Interview with Aboubakar.

32 Ibid.

33  The Guidar held it that beans were Guiziga second major staple, after millet.

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References

Electronic reference

Forka Leypey Mathew Fomine, « Food as a linking device among the Guidar of North Cameroon », Anthropology of food [Online], Articles, Online since 01 July 2009, connection on 20 November 2017. URL : http://aof.revues.org/6353

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About the author

Forka Leypey Mathew Fomine

Ph.D. Candidate, History Department, University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon, Email: fleypeymathew@yahoo.fr or fomineematthew@yahoo.ca

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Copyright

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Anthropologie of food est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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