Chapter 1 :

NGONDO, Pioneer Instrument of Cameroon's Diplomacy

The Ngondo, is the traditional Assembly of the Sawa kings, to whom, according to Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, Historian, University Don and Sawa Patriarch, they surrendered part of their authority, thereby recognizing the Ngondo as a Paramount institution, vested with the powers of a traditional court.

“It was there to resolve problems. You did not have one king who was above the others. It is a fact that King Bell, was one of the most powerful… but… you needed an institution, which could reign supreme”
Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on the Ngondo as a traditional court
Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on the Ngondo as a traditional court, cont’d

Beyond its traditional and endogenous role, the Ngondo played the role of a diplomatic institution, defending the interests of the people, in the face of the imperial and colonial authorities. The earliest known activities of the Ngondo, according to Valère Epee, Sawa Patriarch, date as far back as the 1840s, when the Ngondo, Traditional Assembly of Sawa rulers, signed treaties with some European countries, notably Britain, for the abolition of human sacrifice. Subsequent treaties were signed to end slave trade.

Treaties for the abolition of slave trade were signed in 1866. Ngondo and the British authorities also signed a treaty to regulate trade. The Court of Equity was thus created for the control and regulation of trade on Rio dos Camaroes and other parts of the country. These acts, are what really strengthened the image of the Ngondo, in the mind of all, as a political institution”

Valere Epee, Sawa Patriarch

However, there are conflicting accounts on the role of the Ngondo in regulating trade, as Ralph Austen in the article, Tradition, Invention and History of the Ngondo, and published in 1992, in the Journal of African Studies, Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, writes. 

“The evident failure of the Duala rulers , however assembled to keep order in local markets, led another Consul in 1856, to impose upon Cameroon, a device already instituted elsewhere in the British African sphere of informal empire, ‘the Court of Equity’”

Ralph Austen, Tradition, Invention and History of the Ngondo, P.290
Ralph Austen, Tradition, Invention and History of the Ngondo pdf

Back to the Ngondo, this institution went to extreme lengths to defend the interests of the entity that would become Cameroon. 
The famous the transfer of Sovereignty Document, also known as the Germano -Douala Treaty of July 12, 1884, signed by the Imperial German administrator, Consul Emil Schulze, and the Douala Kings, Bell; Ndumba Lobe, Akwa; Dika Mpondo, and Deido; Jim Ekwalla on July 12, 1884, ended with the words “We are the chiefs of Cameroon”. According to Ralph Austen, the Kings who signed the treaty, are identified with the Ngondo.

Germano-Douala Treaty 1884
Germano-Douala Treaty 1884
Map of Kamerun 1884

However, unsatisfied, with the turn of events years later, the same Ngondo Traditional Assembly, sent an emissary, Adolf Ngosso Din, Secretary of King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, to Germany, to protest colonial oppression, the injustice of racial segregation, and to call on the German colonial administration to respect the engagements signed in 1884, which attested.
“…that the land cultivated by us the places the towns are built on, shall be the property of the present owners and their successors”.
But this clause was not respected by the Germans. This is what prompted the Ngondo, to send Adolf Ngosso Din, albeit clandestinely, to Germany. Part of the document he took as an emissary read.
Our cultivated ground must not be taken from us, for we are not able to buy and sell as other countries
Ngosso Din, who left through Tiko by sea, upon arrival in Germany, was able to work with lawyers, and to spark a debate at the German Reichstag, prompting the German parliament, to raise the question of their government’s management of the Protectorate. Before he was arrested and repatriated to Cameroon, in 1914, and subsequently executed, he had accomplished the mission of the Ngondo.

King Rudolph Douala MANGA BELL

The political activities of the Ngondo would not end there. Ralph Austen writes
The Ngondo is also given credit for a whole series of delegations, petitions, and other acts of anti-colonial protest, undertaken by the Duala against, both the German and French rulers”.

Ralph Austen, Tradition Invention and History of the Ngondo, P. 287

Prince Kum’a Ndumbe III, corroborates this, stating that in the case of the resistance by King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, the Ngondo was actively involved, even holding secret meetings on the banks of the River Wouri.

Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on the role of the Ngondo in defending Douala Manga Bell

It should be noted though, that the Ngondo, up till 1926, was mostly recounted through oral tradition. As Ralph Austen states, the first documented mention of the word Ngondo, was 
“…when a petition of the “chefs et notables de Douala”, to the French High Commissioner requested that the colonial government, restore to African use, a building formerly housing the “Tribunal des Races (Native Court), qui est à Ngondo (derrière l’usine de la gare du chemin de fèr du Centre à Douala)” 
In 1929, four Douala kings sent another petition to the League of Nations, under the headline, “Grande Assemblée Populaire”.

Ralph Austen, Tradition Invention and History of the Ngondo, P. 291

It is during the post-World War II era, that the Ngondo was established as an annual festival, celebrated every year, from 1945, until it was banned for 10 years by the Ahidjo government in 1977, for “subversive activities”. It would be reinstated in 1991, by President Paul Biya.

Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on why the Ngondo was banned by President Ahidjo

In the beginning, the Ngondo brought together the five Kings of Douala and their subjects. Today, the Ngondo has attained the lofty goals of bringing together all the coastal or Sawa people of Cameroon. But exactly who is a Sawa, and what does the word stand for? The Prince explains below.

Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on the meaning of the word Sawa
Prince KUM’A NDOUMBE III, speaking on the meaning of the word Sawa, cont’d

Each year, the Ngondo crowns a young lady as the most beautiful. A beauty competition with a difference, one which views beauty from a cultural prism.

 king of Ambasse Bey is honored at the 2019 Ngondo, for his role in bringing this Sawa traditinal rhythm, to a global audience.



Special Thanks :  -AfricAvenir International Foundation
– Léopold Magloire B.YANDO of ACCOMPI+ Agency
Narration : Moity UWAIFO AKONJANG
Photos/VideosMerling CHIMEGNI
Editing : Martin NZOKPA, Hervé DJOUFACK
Development : Landry LEUNKEU, Abdoulaye Mougnol 
Coordination : TEHWUI LAMBIV, Elvire KABA, Mireille BISSECK
General Supervision : Charles NDONGO

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