Three letters by Roger Du Boulay (then Assitant District Officer) to Farnham Rehfisch

1) Gembu, 31/3/53

Dear Rehfisch,

Many thanks for your most useful notes. The general picture I has was correct in outline, but I have very little of the detail. There were no notes on Mang at all when I came here two years ago, and all that I had was of my own complication. I knew that the six villages were related and that Mang had at one time been leader. Why they had decided to follow Kabri I was not clear, but I thought probably simply because of Baju’s personality. I knew that there had been some rikici about the Kara chieftainship at one time but did not know what. It is still going on. Bearing these facts in mind and also that Dembe and Mang have long been an intolerable nuisance to the administration, with their perpetual quarrels and disobediences, I decided to try and take advantage of the death of the recent Arnado Kara to have a general clean-up. Mang incidentally for your information are officially under Kabri -- or as I would prefer to put it to avoid these intolerable jealousies, a member of the Kabri federation -- but it is true that I did give instructions some time ago to the D.H. not to make too much fuss if they did not pay their tax etc. through Kabri, and also warned Arnado Kabri not to go near the place. But as far as I know no-one has ever told them they are independent or to build a Rest House. Admittedly the ADO who was here last year for a couple of months was (between you and me) a bloody fool and capable of all sorts of stupidity. But he did not record every having been at Mang.

What I plan now if possible is to amalgamate Dembe, Mang and Kara. The Rest House will have to be at Kara. But if they had had any intelligence they would have realized at the meeting at Kara that both the D.H. and I carefully, almost ostentatiously, refrained from making any remark at all about the future chieftainship of Kara. As far as I know Kacalla Mang is the senior of the possible candidates for the post of Chief of the combined village of Mang, Kara and Dembe. He would certainly have my vote if he could command a reasonable majority in te other five villages. What I would like you to do if it is at all possible is to hint that this is what is in the DH’s mind if he can once persuade the villages to amalgamate. On the other hand Mang must clearly understand without any question at all that there is no CHANCE WHATEVER OF THEIR becoming an independent unit of their own account. If they cannot manage to reconcile themselves with Kara and effect a union, they will have to go back to being part of Kabri, and will have to contribute building and repairing Kabri Rest House, help them with the road repairs, bring carriers food to Kabri, pay their tax through Kabri etc. etc. Any failures will mean fines and imprisonment and will be no fun for anyone, least of all them. I am most anxious that this amalgamation should be carried through now while there is no Chief of Kara as we have had quite enough trouble from these unruly hamlets. You can safely say to them that if they cannot come to some arrangement either with Kara or with Kabri (quite unlikely) or with some other neighbouring village, life will be absolute hell for them. On the other hand if they would only think, we groups units together for administrative convenience, and as far as we are concerned they are only grouped together for the objects I listed above and perhaps a few others. This need imply no inferiority at all and I strongly appreciate talk of “following” etc. although I know this is the idiom both in Hausa and Fulani and apparently in Mambila. What the DH told them to do in our meeting the other day was to have a general meeting of all the elders of Kara, Dembe, and Mang and to try to come to some arrangement for amalgamating the 3 units. They are then to send a delegation to Gembu to tell him the result before the 8th of April. I think you had better tell them as from me that they must do as the DH. told them to do at Kara and if there is something they do not understand they must send to him for an explanation. But you may also be able to find a way of explaining the other points I have made above without actually committing me or the DH. (It is very good of you to have taken this up -- of course you are under no obligation to do this if it seems too much). As regards your general point, I agree that perhaps the time is approaching when you will have to take a firm line about such complaints. Once I have gone the problem will largely answer itself I think. Then you will have no alternative but to refer them straight on to the DH. At the moment I leave it to you, with the warning to be very careful not to get into a position which will be embarrassing later -- as I am sure you will be.

P.S. Ngu have not previously entered into this business, and used to dissociate themselves from Mang and follow Kubri. Have they now thought again.

Best wishes,


2) 23/4/53

F. Rehfisch, Esq. No. STA 8/186
Anthropologist Gembu, 23/4/53
Warwar, Mambila District


Dear Mr. Rehfisch,

You kindly offered some time ago to investigate, in the course of your work, any special problems on which your training and close relations with the Mambila people might help to throw some light. Since then we have discussed the subject several times and have seen at first hand some of the ways in which a social anthropologist can help the Administration directly and immediately as well as in the long run. You also know more or less the extent of our knowledge of the Mambila.

I now summarize some of the points in writing on which we should be grateful for any further information. I have tried as far as possible to indicate questions which admit of concise and factual answer as opposed to those larger questions which, though enlightenment on them would be useful, need whole treatises for their answer and demand the expression of opinion rather than the exposition of fact.

As you know the Mambila are extremely jealous of each other and of their rights, and are without traditional large units. For the purposes of administration it is essential to have reasonably large basic units with a head or representative acceptable to them and to us. For this reason all information on the historical groupings and allegiances of Mambila units in pre-Fulani and pre-German days is useful. There is no suggestion, I should add, that changes in organization are contemplated.

On the death of a Village Head or Chief the struggle for succession is usually severe and unscrupulous. The T.O. often only gets the chance to investigate genealogie at such times (i.e. during the election of a new chief) when the information is liable to be biassed and distorted. Hence all corroborated and reliable information about the genealogies of “ruling houses” and about ancient but unforgotten quarrels is useful to us - provide of course that it is not obtained in such a way that it raises a dead or dying issue of life.

Frequently the Mambila ( or “European”) Chief is a puppet and the Administration is not aware of, and does not come to grips with, the real source of power, whether “Native Chief”, Medicine Man or Council of Elders. Information about the people in each village whose opinion really counts in day to day affairs would be useful; but I realise that the question of real power includes nearly the whole field of your study and is too large a question for a short answer.

Especially round Mbamnga, the whole question of marriage, and of the exchange and bride-price varieties, etc., is obscure and probably in the process of change. An accurate account of the old system, and of the changes brought about by the Mbamnga Court, (and by the Mission?) would be useful.

A concise account of Mambila farming techniques, and more especially of their notions of land tenure, would be most useful if it comes within your purview. The point of this would be to acquire the basic information necessary for considering the introduction of new crops or techniques, especially such as will tend to contract the farming acreage necessary per man and so allow for both human and bovine increase and human development.

As you will see the demand for information is insatiable, and you are probably by this time regretting your offer. So perhaps I should add that this letter is to indicate what information would be useful rather than to ask for it; we shall be grateful for anything you can add to our scanty stack.

I suggest that if you have anything to communicate you should address yourself to;

The Divisional Officer,
ADAMAWA DIVISION, YOLA,

and refer to this letter, (I am sending a copy to the D.O.). You should head your letter:- Information for Possible Inclusion in the Mambila District Notebook, or something of the sort.

With again many thanks for your kind offer,

I remain, Yours sincerely,


3) Gembu, 20/8/53


Dear Rehfisch,

Thank you for your letter and the books.

With regard to the complaints, I can only repeat: I am here to ?????? ?????? the area for another month at least. I will take NO action on any complaint that is not brought to me. Anyone who wishes to make any complaint can come to me at any time, day and night, and I will do my best to investigate. He does NOT have to go first to the D.H. a Alkali or even my Messender or boy. But Mukaddas is not an OGRE, and it is not impossible for them to bring complaints, and therefore I must insist that they at least make a complaint. They can ascertain my movements of anyone at Gembu.

All the same thank you for your notes, which will be most useful if they bring their complaints.

As regards the boundary, Mukaddas is I am certain completely impartial in this and they must bring the matter to his attention. If Tangara have removed a boundary post, they have committed a criminal offence. Anyone who fails to repeat it abets the offence. I saw Wawar at Mbamnga and he made no effort to repeat this. You may tell him if you wish that he will be falling down on his job if he fails to report this matter at once.

I shall not be able to come Warwar for some time yet. My approx. movements: 23rd - 2nd September Nguroje area: 6-20 September: Duofi area (incl. Wawar): 20th September to 1st October - Bamenda. 1-15th October Gembu, 15-31st October Kan Iyaka - Mayo Ndaga - Banyo. Then home, and I mean England.

Are you coming to have a look at Salla tomorrow morning? If no rain, can be interesting.

Best wishes,




P.S. In the stolen children business, there has obviously been some misunderstnding of what Mukaddas did say. He has been D.H. 20 years in a District which would have exploded if he had done anything like that and kept on very good terms with a rather ????? American Mission. But whatever he did say, it forms no precedent, and if whoever it was did not like the discussion, he can come and tell me why not.


Gembu, 15/9/53

Dear Rehfisch,

Answers to your queries -- very brief I’m afraid.

(1) The only instruction that I can find that has ever been given about exchange marriage is as follows:- the A.D.O. at the time had written tot he D.O. asking for guidance and detailing some of the consequences of the exchange marriage system. The answer came back in due course: “It is confirmed that you should continue touse your influence to modify the more undesirable consequences of the practice.” That being so you will understand tht the Govt.’s attitude is largely that of individual touring officers. I am not able to tell you what they have thought or said about it, except in the case of my immediate predecessor. However, what they thought or said is not really so important as what they are thought to have said by the Mambila, and that you are better able to discover for yourself thatn I can tell you. My predecessor acting on the advice given about proceeded to lecture the Mbamnga Court at great length, stressing that though the Govt. ws not against exchange marriage as such, it could not agree to a woman’s being in any way compelled to marry her proposed husband, and that only if all four parties were willing should the marriages take place. Similarly if one marriage broke down that should not automatically mean that the other must be dissolved etc. etc. Somehow out of all this, whether because they were bemused by the subtleties and decided to cut the Gordian Knot of for what reason I do not know, the court for themselves decided that their future practise would be not to interfere with any existing exchange marriage, but to refuse to enforce any of the traditional customs which are involved in exchange, and not to recognise any new marriage for which bride price was not paid. Later they went further and began to say that exchange marriage was forbidden and to fine those taking part in it.

In my view their opinion is the more logical. It is impossible to distinguish in practice between the bad consequences of exchange marriage, and if you are going to forbid one you may as well forbid the other. Also the Mambila do not clearly distinguish between the D.O. “discouraging” and the D.O. “forbidding”. In short the present position of Govt. re exchange marriage is that it thinks in general it is a baddish thing, because of its consequences, but it is not prepared to forbid it out of hand without local support. It is however prepared to support the local court if it forbids it, and that is roughly what is happening.

(2) Cutting up dead bodies. I can find no instruction on this. It has been commented on by various D.O.’s, who usually point out that it is liable to lead to cannibalism -- and at least one Kaka Chief has privately admitted to me that it usually did in fact. Cannibalism is of course very much forbidden (though I am not sure under what law) and possibly this is the reason why cutting up dead bodies has also largely been discontinued -- as the perpetrators do not know how they would escape from a charge of cannibalism. But I was also told that the practice had been categorically forbidden by Mr. Dunger. Whatever the cause I am gad not to profit by the impression that it is forbidden bo Govt. though I do not know that it ever has been.