Fali - Sociopolitical Organization



Social Organization. Fali society can be understood in concrete terms by looking at the population of a village: it is constituted of several segmented wholes that overlap or are connected, while at the same time being identified by means of predominating historical (tribes) or sociological (clans, lineages) criteria. Thus, each village can include elements of one or several tribes, essentially historical entities with a political character (Guilmain-Gauthier 1981). Each is formed by the juxtaposition—or rather the alliance—of several more or less segmented clans, which themselves break down into lineages arranged into hierarchies according to age.

Political Organization. Although the provincial administration has imposed state and national organizational structures, the Fali, like most of the ethnic groups of northern Cameroon, have kept their traditional political organization for their own internal use. Despite appearances, Fali society is quite hierarchial. It is composed of several tribes, made up of one or several noble clans ( ni haya , "those from high up"), clans of free men and warriors ( ni fulia , "those from down low"), and clans of slaves and foreigners ( ni palala , "peripheral ones"). Each tribe is headed by the eldest man of the oldest lineage of one of the noble clans that are represented in the village. In spite of a flattering title, he has scarcely any authority; for alongside him there is the wun voli (war chief) or, more simply, wuno (chief), who is the true holder of power. Since he is elected from within a noble clan to which this dignity is attached, only one wuno exists per village. The supreme authority from a political point of view, he is also a religious personage, the son of ancestors who have become protectors. Because he is highly respected, he must be exemplary. He keeps no tax for himself. Formerly, if he had to decide on peace or war, he did so only with the assent of all the clan heads.

In serious conflicts that endanger a large part of the ethnic group, it used to be the case that the heads of different villages chose one of their own number to exercise a quasi-absolute power. This centralization of authority disappeared by itself when the danger was past. Nowadays the provincial administration on the district level sometimes leans on these ancient structures in order to exert its authority. It does this directly when villages have escaped from the trusteeship of the Islamized Peul (Fulbe) or indirectly by the intervention of their sultans in the opposite case. The second situation is unwillingly endured by the Fali. Their fear of seeing Islamic Peul power become preponderant led them, at the time of the last legislative elections, to vote for the RDPC, the party of President Paul Biya (a southerner and a Christian), to the detriment of the UNDP, the party of Bouba Bello (a candidate from the Islamized north).

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