Bamiléké - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Bamiléké kingdoms are highly stratified, with kings and queen mothers at the apex, followed by various levels of title-holding nobility, royal retainers, commoners, and (prior to colonization) slaves. This system of social stratification exists alongside differences in wealth and power based upon commercial and educational success and participation in national party politics. Differences in wealth, formal education, and religious affiliation have become increasingly important.

Political Organization. In the precolonial era, Bamiléké kings had control over the life and death of their subjects. They were aided by the nobility, especially the nkam be'e (the council of nine highest nobles), royal retainers, and members of secret societies. Young men were organized into warrior associations such as mandjo. In postcolonial Cameroon, Bamiléké kings are still counseled by the nkam be'e and other societies of nobles. They have jurisdiction over civil but not criminal court cases in rural areas. They have official duties and receive salaries as justices of the peace, maintaining vital records of their rural subjects. There is no overarching Bamiléké political organization, neither traditionally nor in terms of contemporary party politics. As in the past, Bamiléké practice active interkingdom diplomacy.

Social Control. Disputes, depending upon their seriousness, were originally resolved by the lineage head, the quarter chief, or the king, each in consultation with other elders or notables. Oracles who made use of chickens, earth spiders, or poison ordeals were often consulted. Most of these forms of dispute resolution now exist alongside the Cameroonian court system, which in the Bamiléké region is fashioned after French statutory law.

Conflict. Bamiléké kingdoms raided and warred against each other and against their non-Bamiléké neighbors. This activity nearly stopped owing to a pax Germanica by 1905, but full cessation of armed hostilities was only achieved in the early 1930s. New conflicts arose during the struggle for independence. More recent conflicts are associated with a struggle for multiparty democracy following the end of the cold war, and extend beyond the Bamiléké area.

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