At the beginning of 1945 I undertook, at the request of the Government of Nigeria, to make a survey of the economic and social position of women in the Cameroons Province and in Bamenda in particular. For the reasons which I have already discussed in an earlier report, my work was eventually confined to Bamenda.
The terms of reference for my research were broad, but how broad was not at first I think, generally recognized. The activities of the Bamenda woman are many-sided and cannot, without distortion, be abstracted from the context of tribal life and placed in a cultural vacuum. Their investigation entails, primarily, a study of economic, kinship, religious and political institutions. The need for the same breadth of approach holds equally for the presentation of the results of research. In other words, one's starting point is not the women but an analysis of a particular aspect of culture. On that basis one may then proceed to examine in more detail the way in which the structure and organization of rights, duties and activities within a group of institutions affect the position of women. All this has implications for the type of generalization that can be formulated and for the planning of anthropological fieldwork in the future.
In the first place, this handling of data yields a series of statements on the role of women in particular segments of tribal life. Generalizations at this level are valid, significant, and of value to those concerned with the problem of raising the status of women and promoting their welfare. An attempt to go beyond this and, by a species of anthropological or moral arithmetic, to decide whether the position of women in general is high or low, or good or bad is, in my opinion, likely to prove profitless. I have made this point with almost monotonous regularity in all my reports. It is repeated here because one still finds in the questionnaires of such bodies as The United Nations Trusteeship Council a demand for broad generalizations on the position of women in such and such a territory. Clearly, the replies to such questions are at best superficial, at worst distorted, and almost invariably contradictory. Let me give two examples which I found embedded in the Government files. A missionary who had spent many years in Bamenda asserted that "the women of this Division have achieved a remarkable degree of freedom and independence contrary to notions abroad". Another missionary of a different denomination but also of considerable experience of the country stated: "The status of women is alarmingly low. The main causes of this are considered to be the dowry system and polygamy - especially in its extreme form as practised by local chiefs, village heads and prominent men of the tribe". As a further contribution to this diversity of opinion it is not inappropriate to cite those given me by some women of Nsaw. "Woman is an important thing, a thing of God, a thing of the earth. All people come forth from her." And this statement - also made by the wife of a polygynist : "A woman is a very God. Men are not at all. What are men?" Sometimes the answer to this rhetorical question was - worthless " Again, in response to my inquiry why people mourned four days for a woman and only three for a man, the men offered the explanation : "A woman is one who bears the people (of the country). Women are very important. Women are like God, because they bear children." It should be noted, however, that to the people of Nsaw even God has his limitations and is not omnipotent.
Obviously some of the commentators had in mind certain activities or customs which they regarded as an index of the general position of women. But, if allowance is made for this and the judgment is taken to refer primarily to a
particular practice such as marriage payments or polygyny, it is still of little value unless it is shown to be based on a detailed knowledge of the institution concerned and its interlocking relationships with other aspects of tribal culture.
With the economic aspects of polygyny and marriage in general I shall deal later in this book. It should be stated at the outset, however, that it is not the task of the anthropologist to produce a policy, despite some tendency to regard him as a species of medicine man called in to diagnose a disease in the body social and to prescribe a cure when traditional remedies have failed! And this brings me to a point which was raised earlier in connection with the planning of anthropological research. It should be clear from the preceding discussions that there is no short cut to the study of women. Generalizations on their status and roles are the end-product of an intensive process of investigation into the social organization or into a particular set of institutions of a tribe. In the framing of projects for research much would be gained, I think, if the terms of reference recognized this fact and indicated more precisely the scope of fieldwork entailed. In other words, instead of defining a research project as "a survey of the economic and social position of women", I would substitute for this "a survey of the economic and other aspects of social organization". Or, if the object of particular interest were the position of women in marriage and the family, then the terms of reference should be broadened to include a study of marriage and the family. This is not an attempt to expunge or to exclude the women from the picture. On the contrary, it seeks to provide a broad and reliable basis for valid generalization on their role and status by ensuring that all the relevant factors will be taken into account and that their particular problems will be placed in a perspective where integral relationships with others are made evident.1
As far as the presentation of my own material in this book is concerned, I have confined myself to an examination of the economic position of women not merely because the terms of reference for my research laid emphasis on this aspect, but because problems in this field are, in some ways, the most pressing and the most difficult of solution. They affect not only the women but are bound up with the role of agriculture in the economy, the system of land tenure, pastoral and trade development, the introduction of new occupations, and so forth. Women, as wives, mothers and daughters, produce most of the food and spend the greater part of the day on the farm. In this sphere of activity they enjoy considerable independence and have well defined rights; and it is in this sphere that there has been less change than in others. For example, the influence of Missions, Native Courts, and especially of Reviewing Officers is modifying marriage law in such matters as freedom in the choice of a spouse, custody of children and divorce, - questions with which I hope to deal in another publication. But Christian women, not to forget the pagans, still continue to farm and still accept in principle and largely in fact the traditional division of labour between the sexes. The placing of agriculture in the foreground for detailed analysis reflects, then, its importance in the life of the women. Changes introduced in this field will affect not only the status and position of women in marriage and the family, but will radically modify the economy and the general standard of living.
1. This report was submitted as a manuscript to the International African Institute at the end of March 1951, and a copy was later sent to the Government of Nigeria. Since then the text has been revised for publication in book form: Chapter 1 has been shortened and some of the later chapters have been re-arranged and reorganized.
In what is to follow we shall endeavour to approach problems along broad sociological lines. We shall be concerned with ecological conditions, - the type of natural resources, the traditional means of exploiting them, the range economic needs, and the bearing of all such factors on the division of labour between the sexes. In discussing land tenure we shall not be content to list women's rights to usufruct, but shall view it as a functioning system. Nor can this subject be dissociated from the more general problems which act not only the women but all members of the community, - namely, soil conservation, the return for labour in terms of harvest yields, and the extent which these have to be supplemented by the purchase of extra quantities of food.
Finally, while analysing as fully as possible particular disabilities under which the women labour, account will also be taken of the contribution of the men and its implications for the functioning of the economy as a whole. For, in the long run, the alleviation of the lot of the women is bound up with the welfare and general improvement in the standard of living of the community, ofwhich they form but a segment.
Before bringing this introductory section to a close I should like to discuss the conditions under which my fieldwork was carried out in order to indicate the nature, range and limitations of the material I collected and the extent which it constitutes a reliable basis for generalization.
Originally it was intended that I should make a survey of the Cameroons Province, that is Bamenda, Mamfe, Kumba and Victoria Divisions. But after almost a year in Bamenda I realized that a survey of even a selected number from its 23 Native Authority Areas would demand all the time I had available and, ideally, much more. An attempt to cover the other Divisions would yield little reliable data for valid generalization. Such a survey would have fallen into the category of tribe-trotting, but not scientific fieldwork. With the consent of the Government of Nigeria, I therefore spent my second tour Bamenda.
The reasons for my choice of Nsaw (Banso) as a centre for intensive study have already been discussed in earlier reports and require but brief mention here. The Tikar are the largest ethnic group in Bamenda and are subdivided into a number of independent chiefdoms, differing in size, language, political structure, and kinship organization. Nsaw is the largest of these and, like most of the Tikar, is patrilineal, whereas Kom, an area which I seriously considered as a centre for intensive investigation, is matrilineal. Secondly, the political structure of Nsaw still retains many of its traditional features but other aspects of the culture have been and are being modified under the influence of Missions, the Administration, schools, the expansion of trade, medical services, the presence of immigrant Fulani and Hausa, and transients who travel the main motor road which passes through the capital, Kimbaw. There is a Roman Catholic Mission in the charge of European priests at Shisong, some 2 miles from Kimbaw, and also a maternity clinic run by the nuns at the convent close by. The Mission has its school at Shisong and a smaller one in Kimbaw, where the Basel Mission also has a school in the charge of an African headmaster. There is a hospital and dispensary with an African dispenser, a U.A.C. store and a large market.
I reached Kimbaw on the 4th April 1945 and, by courtesy of the Basel Mission, stayed until the end of October in their Resthouse which was in Veka'akwi area and within about 3 minutes' walk of the nearest compound. At my request the Administration kindly seconded one of the Court Messengers to act as my interpreter, guide, philosopher and friend; and for the first three
months I had lessons in Lamnso from Benedict Somo, (an ex-schoolteacher) his wife, and another woman. Father Stokman lent me a grammar which one of the Roman Catholic Missionaries had compiled and it proved most helpful. At the beginning of November I trekked north, but did not spend much time in Nsungli as, according to the Intelligence Reports, its social structure and economy appeared to be similar to that of Nsaw and I was anxious to reach the forest peoples to the north in Mbembe and Mfumte. After 7 weeks I returned to Kimbaw, and I spent about a month there before visiting the outlying village of Vekovi, where I had reason to believe fewer changes had occured in the traditional system. In March I spent a week in Djottin-Vitum, a conquered village of Nsungli extraction, and then passed on to Kom where I had three weeks. An illness cut short my stay in the Bafut N.A. and I returned to Kimbaw at the end of April 1946. I remained in Kimbaw until the end of June, but lived in a hut in one of the larger compounds (hut 13 in Mbonyaar Compound of Sketch Plan, App. D).
In July I returned to England for leave and to write my Preliminary Report; and I reached Bamenda again in January 1947. After a fortnight's stay in Kimbaw I began a long trek on foot through Ndop to Bamenda Station; and then, from Nyen (in Meta) through the other Widekum tribes of the west and so north to Aghem and Fungom. Again, I planned my survey on the basis of information in the Intelligence Reports, and selected the village of Teze in Ngie for a month's fieldwork before spending brief periods in the other tribes. Dates and length of stay are given in an Appendix, but I did not reach Bamenda Station until August. After a week in Bali I went back to Kimbaw, with the object of obtaining some quantitive data-budgets, farm measurements, and recording of diaries. I took over the hut which I had occupied in my first tour, and lived there from September to March 1948.1
Fifteen months, all told, were spent in Kimbaw and other villages of Nsaw, but unfortunately the period was not a continuous one. After my first tour there was a long interruption lasting almost fifteen months before I returned to Kimbaw, and this proved something of a linguistic setback. However I was able to work alone with the women none of whom, with two exceptions, had even a knowledge of Pidgin-English. I spent most of my time on the farms and in the compounds; I never summoned people for formal interviews to my house, though many came to visit and gossip. As far as possible I avoided " paying " for information, but from time to time I made presents, usually in kind-salt, cloth, trinkets, soap, tobacco, and so forth-to those who assisted me and who became my friends. Needless to say gifts poured into the house, mostly in the form of farm produce, fowls, eggs and fruit, and for these I made a return. Where I was recording budgets of the individuals concerned I made a somewhat reluctant note of our mutual transactions!
Much of the material in this book is drawn from my Nsaw notebooks, and most of the African terms and texts are in Lamnso. I have used the orthography recommended by the International African Institute with one or two exceptions, namely wv for bilabial v, and fh for bilabial f. Most final vowels in Lamnso are palatalized and the sound sometimes approaches the -German ich and sometimes y. Both are recorded in my notebooks since individuals varied in their pronunciation, but in this text I have employed the phoneme y. There are two o sounds : a represents the vowel as in " hot ", and o the vowel as in " caught ". For the spelling of place-names I have adopted the current anglicized version: Nsaw for Nso, and Kimbaw for Kimbo.
1. Full details of my itinerary are given in Appendix A.
It is difficult to know where to begin and where to end in making my acknowledgements to all those who gave me assistance and hospitality during my fieldwork. First of all, however, I should like to express my profound sense of gratitude to the Government of Nigeria and the Colonial Research Committee for making possible the opportunity and privilege of undertaking research in Bamenda. The investigation was financed by a grant from the Colonial Development and Welfare Fund and was carried out under the auspices of the International African Institute. I am deeply indebted to the Director, Professor Daryll Forde, for his advice, encouragement and unfailing interest in my work, and to Mrs. B. E. Wyatt, Secretary, for her many acts of kindness while I was in the field and here in London. I should also like to thank Professor Margaret Read who, after her return from Nigeria in 1944, first whetted my curiosity about the Cameroons. Over a luncheon table, strewn with maps, she "sold" me Bamenda in an hour. I say "sold", but after a few months in the Cameroons there was never a more voluntary and enchanted captive to the landscape and its people than myself.
Before leaving London I also had the good fortune to meet Miss G. Plummer (then Deputy Director of Women's Education, Nigeria) and Mr. W. E. Holt (then Senior Education Officer, Cameroons), both of whom gave me valuable information and advice. The Department of Education, Nigeria, was particularly interested in my research in relation to its bearing on problems of girls' education and I became its special protegée while in the field. I should like to express my thanks to Mr. R. Davidson (Director of Education), Mr. T. Baldwin (then Deputy Director), Miss G. Plummer, Mr. W. E. Holt, Mr. B. Cozzens, Miss A. Spence, Mrs. J. Sandiford and other members of the Department for their help and hospitality.
In the British Cameroons Government Officials all co-operated to facilitate my research, to organize transport, and to extend generous hospitality. By anthropological standards my two tours were long, and without the friendship and encouragement of Officials, and not least the opportunity for stimulating discussions, I should not only have been deprived of many pleasures but should have lapsed into that state of staleness which is apt to beset even the experienced fieldworker after the first eight or nine months. I should like to record here my gratitude to all those with whom I came into contact, and in particular to Mr. A. Bridges (then Resident of the Cameroons Province) and Mrs. Bridges, Mrs. P. G. Harris, Mr. W. Aston-Smith (S.D.O., Bamenda), Mr. C. Mayne (then S.D.O.), Mr. Brayne-Baker (S.D.O.), Mr. F. Kay (then S.D.O.), Mr. J. Stapleton (then A.D.O.) and Mrs. Stapleton, Mr. W. Newington (S.D.O. Kumba) and Mrs. Newington, Mr. J. Pedder (then S.A.O.), Mr. S. E. Gwilliam (S.A.O.), Mr. J. McCulloch (then Vet.O.), and Dr. D. McLaren (S.M.O.).
During my first seven months in Kimbaw and again for three months in 1946 the Basel Mission most generously allowed me to occupy their comfortable Resthouse. I thank them and the other Missionaries of Bamenda who gave me hospitality and who performed many acts of kindness. My nearest European neighbours were the members of the Roman Catholic Mission at Shisong, two miles from Kimbaw. The Rev. Father Stokman took a keen interest in my work, lent me a Lamnso grammar which he had compiled, found my first Lamnso teachers for me, and at all times was ready to help and advise. Mother Camilla and the other nuns at the convent were my very good neighbours and made my existence almost a sybaritic one with their regular gifts of vegetables, strawberries and cream. Last and not least my warmest thanks are due to Mr. and Mrs. Paul Gebauer of the
American Baptist Mission for their kindness and the pleasant days I spent in their company.
My greatest debt is to my African friends and acquaintances in Bamenda without whose courtesy, trust and co-operation my research could not have been carried out. They endured my questioning and my "'satiable curiosities" about every detail of their lives with forbearance, humour and patience, and never made me feel an intruder. To single out individuals from among the hundreds whom I met is perhaps invidious but, inevitably, there were people in Nsaw whom I came to know well over my long stay in that country and who greatly assisted me in my work. I should like to express my thanks to the Føn of Nsaw, the Queen Mothers, the Councillors and Court Officials; to Mr. Vincent Lainjo (then N.A. Treasurer), to my interpreter and friend, the late Benedict Tata, and to my first teachers of Lamnso, Mr. Benedict Somo and his wife Christina Lambiif. I lived in the Veka'akwi area of Kimbaw and now take the opportunity of thanking my friends at Djem, Mbonyaar, Kinga, Menggu, Ka and other compounds who saw me almost daily over many months and always made me welcome. Mr. Sylvester Ndjodzeka kindly lent me his house at Mbonyaar and he, the Fai, and other members of the compound made me feel at home and one of the family. Finally, I should like to record my appreciation of my two stewards, Mr. Michael Keng (of Oku) and especially Mr. Daniel Mbinkar Tatah, who not only looked after me but helped me in my work.
If this book throws some light on the problems of the women and contributes in any measure to our understanding of their values, courage and wisdom it will have gone a little way towards discharging my debt to them for the confidence and friendship which they so generously extended to me.