In 1906, Njoya, the Sultan of the Bamum assisted the Germans in crushing the Nso resistance. The Sultan also recovered the skull of his father and predecessor in the process. Nsangou had fallen in battle fighting the Nso and his skull had stayed with the Nso. The recovery of the skull was important for traditional rites necessary to legitimise Njoya’s position as Sultan.

It appears the Nso and the Bamum were constantly at war with each other. What was the exact nature of the relationship between the Nso and the Bamum? 

Let us start from the beginning. 

The Tikar are believed by some scholars  to have originated from Sudan, eventually migrating westwards to the Bornu area. From there they gradually migrated South to the Mbam valley area. 

Around 1299, a princess of Nganha named Wou-Ten founded a Tikar dynasty at Rifem (present day Bankim in the West Region). One of her successors, Tinki died in 1387, setting the stage for a bloody and chaotic struggle for succession. 

Eventually, one of the late king’s sons, Mveing ascended to the throne. He began the bloody process of eliminating all possible rivals including one of his brothers named Nchare Yen.

Nchare Yen elected to leave Rifem with his followers alongside his brother Morunta. Their eldest sister from the same mother, Ngonnso also desired to leave but the brothers rejected taking her with them on the basis that she was already married. 

Nchare Yen and Morunta left Rifem without Ngonnso. However, Ngonnso and her followers left on their heels. According to Nso oral history, when the brothers learned Ngonnso and her supporters were persisting behind them, they destroyed the bridge over the Mape River (a tributary of the Mbam river) after crossing, leaving Ngonnso and her followers stranded.

Morunta and his followers continued North East and settled at Ndjitam in what is now the Center region. He founded a dynasty which continues there to this day.

Nchare Yen, the founder of the Bamum dynasty, settled at Njimom in the Noun valley after easily defeating the Bamileke farmers and artisans he found there. He eventually conquered the seat of power of the most formidable ruler of the area, Mfomben. He renamed it Foumban and it has been the capital of the Bamum sultanate ever since. His kingdom rapidly expanded and now occupies the entire Noun division.

Given that the Tikar already has steel weapons and a military tradition, they found it easy to overrun and  subjugate the locals. These locals were assimilated into the Bamum kingdom. 

Ngonnso and her followers were unable to cross the Mape and they decided to move west along the banks of the Mape into Bui and therein founded the Nso dynasty. The name Nso is believed to have been derived from her name “Ngon – Nso” (Nso Lady) Ngonso was also referees to as Yennso, meaning mother of the Nso people.

Ngonnso led her followers to Kofivem where their supremacy was recognised by the autochtonous Visali (Mtaar) people. While the Visali submitted to the Ngonnso, the Visali gradually assimilated with Ngonnso and her people. The Visali were never regarded as captives by the newcomers. Ngonnso and her people also adopted most of the Visali language and merged all aspects of the two cultures.

Ngonnso died around 1421 and was succeeded by her son Leh who is regarded as the first Fon of Nso. Under him and his successors, the expansion of the fondom continued. They suffered a setback around 1720 when their attack on Nkar was repelled by the Nkar with the aid of the Bamum.

Nkar eventually fell to the Nso during the rein of Fon Sehm I. He attacked in 1810 and the siege lasted for over 10 years. Eventually the Nkar were defeated and the Nso moved their capital to Kimbo (Kumbo) around 1825. The Nkar were reduced to a vassal state. 

The events of 1720 show that despite the common origins of their rulers, tensions already existed between the Bamum and the Nso. They would be at war intermittently until 1906, when the German empire, with the help of their Bamum allies, finally subjugated the Nso fondom.

Their languages as currently spoken, while belonging to the Bantoid family of languages are also quite different. Lamnso is a mixture if the Tikar language of Ngonnso and the language of the Visali people. On the other hand, the Bamum language is influenced by that of their Bamileke neighbours.

Whether Nchare Yen’s act of leaving his sister stranded at the Mape contributed to the eventual enmity between the two groups is a matter for speculation. However, this singular act led to the creation of two of the largest Grassfield kingdoms of Cameroon.

Live long and prosper my friends 

All due credits GHOST TOWN MONDAYS

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