Centre for Social
Anthropology and Computing

Welcome to the Mambila riddle machine


A digitised recording of the formula at the beginning of riddles is available. There are two separate files, one for each phrase which have been saved as movies since these are probably more players for this format. Other formats can be arranged if anyone has problems listening to the files.



Introduction to Mambila Riddles

The riddles which follow were collected in the course of ongoing fieldwork in the village of Somié Adamaoua Province, Cameroon. Most of them were collected in the late 1980s by Ndinuaga Salomon who was then a school boy c. 15 years of age.

Most riddling is done between children in their teens but they then form a backdrop to adult interactions. This may be seen most clearly in the use of one riddle as a rebuff to those who enter houses without asking permission (Challenge for the reader: idenitify which one it is). As such they shade towards proverbs, but are seen by most Mambila as distinct. They are games (vogo) of children and lack a proper name - they may be refered to by the formulaic question answer pair which introduces a riddle: the riddler says "Ngengge" and those who will play the game answer with "Nang go". The riddle is then put.

If no one can guess the correct answer they give up, but before being told the answer they must pay a forfeight. This is verbal only but those giving up are asked to "surrender" either a village (i.e. the population of a village) or some of their kin. If the questioner wishes to emphasise their superiority they can say that the offering is not enough and insists that more is offered.

So, a typical exchange may go as follows:

Nang go
No, try again
No, try again
I dont know
Give me a village
A village name
It's not enough, give me another
A village name
Answer to the riddle

Some background reading is available - An article first published in Man (n.s.) by Ian Hamnet, and a bibliography of anthropological studies of riddles


Note: the riddle machine only works with an online connection. Click on the button below and you will be asked a Mambila riddle (as a help for non-Mambila speakers there are glosses provided).

You can either type in the answer or select an answer from the list of the answers to all the riddles. If you don't know you can admit defeat - but the answer will not be forthcoming unless you give us either a village (i.e. the population of the village) or a person (preferably one of your kin).