Writing the Mambila

Sources on Mambila - Early Reports and Ethnographies

Like many African groups that are neither coastal nor have had long contact with Islam, documentary sources on the Mambila go back little more than a century dating from the European 'scramble for Africa'. The early sources are sketchy to say the least. To all intents and purposes the written record begins when the Germans were expelled from Kamerun by the Franco-British expeditionary force of 1916/17. Banyo fell in 1916, the Germans only establishing it as a base in 1902
Since the German colony was then administered by Britain and France under mandates from the League of Nations (which became the United Nations after the 2WW) the documentation is somewhat better than for full colonies - reports had to be filed with the League so there are repeated reports from the late 1920s until independence in 1960/61.

Why read early reports?

There are several reasons why one might choose to read the early documents on the Mambila. One is as a resource for the Twentieth Century History of the Mambila, to complement and provide depth to oral historical research. Another is to use them to provide a context for the reading of later documents. There are relationships between documents - later ones have been written in response to the earlier ones, so they can best be understood with reference to their immediate documentary contexts. One of the advantages about the Mambila in this vein is that the quantity of documentation is relatively small making it possible to collate all the sources and present a fairly comprehensive collection for the reader. So the colonial reports formed some of the context for Farnham Rehfisch, whose own work provided a context for my own research and writings on the Mambila. The collection thus allows the reader to trace the changing interests of the writers. The colonial officers were concerned with patterns of political power and allegiance mainly because they wanted to simplify the process of tax collection. Patterns of power and the organisation of social relationships were central concerns of British University departments such as University College London where Farnham Rehfisch studied in the early 1950s (see Kuper 1973 for background). By the time I began my studies in Cambridge in the 1980s the role of language and religion had gained far greater prominence - Rehfisch hardly mentions religion in his thesis although there is quite a lot of relevant data in his field notes.
The essential challenge posed by all texts to any serious reader is how to read the bias. For bias there surely is, and the critical reader must identify it and take it into account when working with the text. Early documents are often easier to deal with in this regard than contemporary ones for some of the bias gets exposed by shifts in fashion and political process. We can see the effects of colonial administration in the documents produced by colonial officers just as the influence of structural functionalism is evident in the choices made by students in the 1950s. The existence of bias in a text does not mean it is useless and must be rejected. It means that we can only use it with caution, and must be careful about what inferences we make on the basis of its authority. But that is true of all texts no matter what their provenance. In this respect documents on the Mambila provide an example of a general point about the exercise of critical reading.

Some early archival sources on Mambila

C.K. Meek

C.K. Meek was the first anthropologist to visit the Mambila in c. 1927. The results form a chapter of his 1931 work 'Tribal Studies in Northern Nigeria' which is included here as 'Meek on the Mambila 1931'. Note that this includes Rehfisch's field annotations from 1953. Some of the archival souces include comment and corrections on Meek by colonial officers.

Professor Farnham Rehfisch: fieldnotes and published work

A major part of the early information on the Mambila lies in the work of the late Farnham Rehfisch. I am happy that this can be presented here in its entirety: both published work fieldnotes and photographs are all now available for students and scholars alike.

Archiving the Rehfisch fieldnotes

Farnham Rehfisch carried out fieldwork in the village of Warwar on the Mambila Plateau of what was then Cameroon under the British Mandate from the United Nations, and is now in Nigeria. His research (in 1953) led to a University of London MSc thesis (1956) that was subsequently published in Nigeria (1972).
The fieldnotes of Professor Farnham Rehfisch have been archived with the kind permission of Mrs Rehfisch. The task was greatly facilitated by the discovery among his papers of the carbon of a typescript made by Professor Rehfisch from his original Mambila fieldnotes. The fieldnotes themselves have survived in the form of six small notebooks full of tiny writing. I have randomly checked the five that Professor Rehfisch typed himself. As far as I can ascertain he made no substantial alterations during the typing process.
The remaining notebook which Rehfisch did not type up I have typed myself, relying on my knowledge of Rehfisch's work, and his handwriting as well as my knowledge of Mambila in the field. I note some specific problems below.
The combined set of Rehfisch's typescript and the autograph notebook have been presented in chronological order (using the separate typed summary of the fieldwork diary). This has forced me to ignore the numbering of Rehfisch's typescript (the original pagination has, however, been indexed separately). Finally, there are some unpublished drafts of three short articles about Mambila. One of these entitled"Marriage" consists of extracts from the fieldnotes, including dates. Cross references have been inserted to this in the chronological sequence. However, I have respected Professor Rehfisch's decision to separate these notes.

A simple subject index has been prepared which will, I hope, prove of some assistance to readers. It is by no means comprehensive. For example, small, one line notes which occur throughout the text have not been indexed.
The costs of the archiving of these fieldnotes have largely been met by a grant from the Nuffield Foundation for which I am very grateful.

The following specific points need to be mentioned about the manuscript and the process of its archiving:

The typescript has been copy typed verbatim. I have removed notes at the top of pages saying"Topic X continued."
{sic} has been added where I have checked something which strikes me as odd.
Headings have been introduced where these clearly match FR's headings e.g. on the basis of a new line and Capitals in the original...
Abbreviations used by FR have been expanded e.g. mkt for market, comp for compound &c. Abbreviated names have been left unchanged as has D.O. for District Officer.
Proper names. I have left FR's transcriptions intact but for correcting obvious typing mistakes such as "J diel" which I have corrected to "Ndiel" p 7 of the original.
Readers should be aware that alternative spellings have been used for the same place or person. I have not corrected (or introduced consistency into this).
When some of the typescript has been lost over the edge of the paper I have filled in blanks when the context is sufficient to establish the missing words or letters with confidence. Where this is not possible the string XXX has been inserted.
Double question marks show where transcription is uncertain, '/??' marks an alternative reading.
A constant source of uncertainty in reading the autograph notebook lay in the similarity between "S" and "G" in FR's handwriting. Since Mambila proper names can begin with either letter it is impossible to rule out either reading, e.g. Solnya/Golnya, Saya/Gaya etc.. I have made some decisions based on local consistency, and I have used FR's typescript in order to see whether he knew people with both or only one of the possible names.

This was later published in the following forms:

Rehfisch, F. 1972. The Social Structure of a Mambila Village). Zaria: Ahamadu Bello University: Sociology Department (Occ. Paper 2). In additon two of the chapters appeared as separate articles:

Other published work is:

Unpublished material consists of the main set of fieldnotes from his research in Warwar and the following drafts:

The Virtual Institute of Mambila Studies - online: for other material on the Mambila

David Zeitlyn. Oxford, Somié and Canterbury 1996-1998

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