By Yerima Kini Nsom
The rumbling gongs of Kwifoyn thundered deafeningly. Other instruments did the synergy, producing some kind of weird music that is in tandem with the mythical ideology of the Kom Kwifoyn.
Basking in rhapsodies, the “nikangs” ululate in all mellifluity. “Ouuuhu, Ouuuhu!;” they roared from their fief at the Kwifoyn compound. This was the atmosphere that greeted visitors to the Kom traditional capital, Laikom, during festive periods. That was then-when Laikom was Laikom in all its ramifications and aura. That was when Laikom, in whose bowels the Kom palace resides, had not yet been dispatched to the dustbin of past glories. That was when that destination of the mythical python trail still had the remnants of the tanangkoli era.
Abiding cold pierced into your bone marrow when you arrived at the Itinilah, the first neighbourhood at Laikom. That was when climate change had not yet turned things upside down. A violent breeze did a gentle rock dance with the trees in the patches of forest around.
Itinilah was the biggest neighbourhood at Laikom. Its fief was the compound of late Bobe Ballah Ndziforkum ( the maternal grandfather of Raymond Nyonguo, a mechanic at Mini-Ferme in Yaounde) who was the village head. As you made your way to the palace from Itinilah, you were greeted by a vivacious heat, a veritable beehive of activities. Dance groups and people from all over Kom waited with the patience of a vulture to “wash the palace”. Dignitaries from the nine valleys of Kom waited eagerly for the “palace day to break”
It was an era wherein each village in Kom made it a point of duty to construct at least one house in the palace. Houses for the queens were renovated every now and then. The Kwifoin injunction on death celebrations loomed on every village that failed to construct its own house in the palace.
The section of the palace where women live was divided into quarters named after some jujus in the palace. They were: Nteh Alobuih, Nteh Funkwo, Nteh Munang and Akwachong.
The palace savoured the effervescence of epicurean feasts on a daily basis. Food and drink agogo! Mbororo people came with very healthy cows to “wash the palace with”. If the traditional council at Ituih was not on recess, one was likely to live one of the most entertaining moments, listening to judgments on cases bordering on land disputes, succession questions, and witchcraft, the keeping of “bad medicine” and other social issues .
Many princes and princesses made it a point of duty to visit the palace frequently. There were some prominent princes who made the atmosphere unusually festive whenever they came home to the palace. They were Prince Henry Ghechi Kini, Prince Francis Chia Ngam, Prince Isidore Duiyen, Prince Sama Ndzi, Prince James Ndoin, Prince Freeboy Wainkem, Prince James Nsah and Prince Yuh Nabain. All of them are of blessed memory today.
It was an era wherein the best things went to the palace. If someone caught a big wild animal anywhere in Kom, he felt honored taking it to the palace. The best firewood was sent to the palace. It was then an unwritten law, some kind traditional mores that the best thing was meant for the palace. The best thing the young people at Laikom did to catch the attention of the Fon, would be to go the Akua-nge forest and fetch good fire wood for the palace.
The Fon would in turn, honour them with dresses and meat. There were healthy sheep in their hundreds in the palace. They were slaughtered anytime to feed strangers. Anytime the princes and the princesses in the palace needed meat for their households, they would start playing the palace xylophones (Njang Ntoh) on a country Sunday (Ntui boli). The music would touch the fon’s heart and shake him out of his royal abode known as Nchii. He would then order that a sheep be slaughtered for the entertainment of those playing or dancing the xylophone.
If you were a man who has not come of age, you would not be allowed to go near the Kwifoyn compound. When Laikom was Laikom, the citadels of the three main kom families were still very much alive. They are the palace, also known as the Ikui family compound, Achaff and Itinalah areas. Achaff is just below the palace on the footpath that leads to Njinikom through Yang. In the heydays of Laikom, the late Prince Yuh Nabain, who later settled at Baingo, lived there.
Palace guards like Bobe Study Nchia of blessed memory and Bobe Linus Jam lived there. Itinalah was the most vibrant neighbourhood with many compounds. The most conspicuous was the compound of a very rich palace guard (Nchitoh), late Bobe J. Munang Abu-ah (uncle to Pa Monoprix at Njinikom). The compound was not only brutally intimidating but also cut the posture of a palace with 16 houses. It was a world of its own with close to 50 people living in it. It had a juju group called “Ndang”. Just below Bobe J. Munang’s compound, was the house of one of the daughters of Foyn Ngam, Princess Ninying Ndeng. Just adjacent her was that one of the palace guards, late Felix Akumantain. By the roadside around the vicinity, was the humble abode of the late Bobe Kwifoyn Wainketang who later settled at Ameng. On the other side across the main road, stood the lone house of one of the princes of Foyn Lo-oh, late Bell Yuh Jong. Just before you wink, your eyes caught up with the compound of late Bobe John Kuma, alias Sanje (Raymond Nyonguo’s father) He was the closest neighbour to late Bobe Sayong Yuh Nambuh.
Below his compound, was that of late Bobe Sanga Mai. His compound of two houses was just a little valley away from that of one Chindo, the late Bobe Bana Nsih. Just before one initiated the last bend to Itinalah from Fundong, the lone bamboo house of the late Prince Ndunga Chiachuo, the son of Foyn Ndzi, stood on the right hand side of the road. And if one moved further to the centre of Itinilah, you were greeted by two conspicuous compounds, belonging to two princes of Foyn Lo-oh, late Nsom Lo-oh and Awanda Wulsamoh. Elderly palace guard, Bobe Careless Anchang whose compound is near that of Bobe Ballah, is still alive and kicking today.
Meanwhile Bobe Fulani Mom whose compound is on the way to the main farmland at Laikom died. He was married to one of the princesses, Nawain Chafbeh. Besides the three main areas of Laikom, there was a small neighbourhood called Nkeng where the headquarters of the Kom customary court was lodged. The court building was a solid edifice that later became the Full Gospel church led by one pastor Peter Kimbi Ngea from Anyajua. Later on it became the hub of the Catholic Church led by a certain catechist called Peter Kufoin. One of the prominent princesses, late Mandeli Nih, daughter of Foyn Nsom Ngwe lived at Nkeng. The late Bobe Formbzih, a notable also lived there. There was also the late Bobe Njaituh just below the palace.
In those old good days, Laikom epitomized traditional and cultural activities. All the rituals, including the clearing of the Fon’s farm at Yang, the Kwifoyn’s hunting expedition, the performing of the Fuchuo rites and the Kom annual cultural dance culminated at Laikom. Many Bobe Kwifoyns lived permanently in the palace where many young chisido underwent pupilage for at least two years.
That was Laikom of yesteryears. Until the Kom people think of how to bring back life to their traditional capital, Laikom will remain in the doldrums and a shadow of its original self. A good road to the place is one way of doing the trick. It could attract Kom sons to build their second homes at Laikom and bail their capital from solitude.