The Bamun are an important people from Cameroon. They have a rich religious and ceremonial history that reaches to the migration of King Nsara and his followers who entered the present-day Cameroon. The name Bamun literally refers to the area where the people finally settled, a valley that was called “mun,” “noun,” or “nun.”
Geographically, the Bamun kingdom is located near the lands of the Tikar, an artistically and culturally significant people. Both the Bamun and the Tikar are known as great artists creating enormous sculptures of bronze and beads. In many ways, the flow of the culture between the Tikar and the Bamun is one that has enriched both groups. The Bamun essentially adopted many words from the Tikar language. They also adopted words from other people, including the Bafanji, Bamali, and Bambalang. One can deduce that part of their moral mindset is influenced by the sociolinguistic and cultural climates in which they lived.
The Bamun have a rich cultural heritage; however, in contemporary times, the people have become mostly Islamic and Christian. Living in the area of volcanic mountains, the Bamun were known for festive occasions representing their experiences. For example, the people dressed in traditional colors and fabrics and paid homage to the history of the ethnic group at the palace of their kings. This practice, which can be traced to the 14th century, demonstrates a continuum of the monarchial reign and sovereignty. Thus, this tradition shows the high moral and ethical standards with which the Bamun upheld their values.
Before the Bamun adopted Islam during the time of the grandfather of the Sultan Ibrahim Mombo Njoya, they maintained a strong African tradition based on their ancestral heritage and customs. The seventh king of Bamun who became in fact the first king in the line of the Njoya royalty (the first king, Chare, 1394–1418), El Hadj Seydou Njimoluh Njoya accepted Islam, an alien religion, partly because he had many wives, but allowed his people the right to practice Christianity. Other Bamun still practiced the Bamun ancient religion. The Bamun king is considered among the most powerful traditional rulers in Africa, yet the king allowed the people to continue the practice of the ancestral religion. The Bamun King Njoya presided over rituals in his palace that were based on local customs as a way of expressing continuum of the dynasty. The highly publicized nguon ceremony, one of the most elaborate in Africa, celebrates the 600 years of the dynasty.
Even today, the king, called sultan in the Islamic tradition, resides in the palace in the traditional town of Foumban. In the palace of the king are found the relics of the past kings and the history of the customs and traditions of the ancient Bamun. Kinship remains essential to the Bamun way of thinking about ancestors and life.
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