My Dear Woin Kom,
KOM SUCCESSION IN COURT
I can appreciate why we all consider that it is the Kom succession that is in court. First, it comes from the ego of the people involved and also from the “camps” they both represent and/or have been seeing in each other from. I fear that on those grounds alone this may not be a real sample case of what is in court but most of the things complained of will lead many a Kom child to court with his “new father” (father’s successor) It is proper at this stage to take a look at the Kom succession as it should be, the limitations facing the present process today and whether, we would, on our own or in ==== shoes make any positive contribution towards its development or whether there exist any alternative or way forward.
THE KOM CHILD AND THE SUCCESSION RITUAL
Although Kom succession is popularly described to be matrilineal, many people have convincingly argued that it places too much attention on the woman (wife or wives) who are said to hold their families (family clans) sacred and over and above that of the husband in their marriages. From the present evolution of things today, I fear that this argument is escapist and is being used by our “new fathers” to cover their own shortcomings in their expectant responsibility roles. In every real succession ritual that I know, I have found that it is always the children that bring their “new father” (successor) out and lead him in the “Yindo/successor” dance while they present him to the public to whom he presents a sacrificial goat to be killed for the “ancestors” approval.
My understanding of this ceremony taking place in public is that all the parties concerned: the “new father”, the children and widows of the deceased who are traditionally the principal beneficiaries portray a kind of family unanimity. It is a public manifestation that the family of the deceased is united behind the “new father” and will henceforward live with their beloved reincarnate in the “new father” (Yindo). With very profound respect for the traditions of Kom, it was after this ceremony that the “new father” took a new name “Yindo X” (successor of X) manifesting not only the solemnity of the occasion: the children to present, the public to witness, other recognized successors to receive him and the sacrificial goat to bind them with the ancestors and for which the “new father” takes a new name directly linked him with the “departed” (Yindo X).
We are aware that many a people after this ceremony have become changed for the worse and done many unholy and unimaginable things. They have neglected the succeeded children, maltreated, abused and expelled old widows, seized farmlands from elderly widows and sometimes from the children and sold, claimed various sums of money saved or due to the deceased and refused to pay the children’s school fees or hospitalisation. The cases of people who now hold themselves out as Yindo X having acquired it through criminal means including the elimination of someone’s father abound. Some have killed potential rivals to take the place that is not yet due to them.
Despite all these things that are becoming routine, our tradition, the Kom tradition does not provide any remedy for the real beneficiaries of the deceased. Are the children and their miserable mothers supposed to return to their god knows who’s compound and take up residency there just because they trace them to be their matrilineal uncles?
THE LIMITATION OF THE KOM TRADITIONS OF SUCCESSION
Many people will read personal meanings to the (ongoing) saga. From (the son's) story without more, I fear that he and his brothers are simply unable to match their positions today and the expectations they had when (the successor) took the role of their “new father”. I read it as an unfulfilled expectation resulting in a frustration. Many Kom children find themselves in the same position but kind of do not know what to do. Those who know (the son), and this includes (the uncle himself), and know the camps or positions they have held, will agree that (son) is not one of those Kom children who will not do something, however novel or embarrassing. There was an expectation which was not met but rather went sour.
Again these situations and even worse forms abound today like in the 1960s when (the uncle's) contemporaries wrote in “Gua Kom”, “Ngem Kom”, “The Voice of Wacy”, Kom Newsletter” and “Saghaah Kom” for and against the Kom matrilineal succession. There are many people in Kom who have taken the unilateral decision about succession of their estate when they pass on. Some have written wills, others have made open pronouncements to their family members, many others are building two compounds and distinguishing which is a family compound and therefore up for succession following Kom tradition. Yet others, privileged to have compounds in Kom and outside Kom now argue that Kom customary succession rules do not apply to property outside Kom etc. etc.
Either way, our personal positions about Kom tradition on this issue does not alter it. Our positions only attract a sympathy from each other and sympathies do not go to the heart of the problem: irresponsible successors what about them. I like Bobe Chiatoh’s allusion to the Mboini visit to the Kom Palace in December 2001 where certain measures about cry-die were reviewed by the Fon. I appreciate that this could be done single handed by the Fon. I appreciate that we cannot decree change in consequence over the net but I do believe it is time to discuss the issue elaborately even beyond the internet and get consolidated opinions from Kom people of all walks of life. Let us not this a personal issue like the one that just subsided about who wrote or did not write a book on the Kom tradition. If a book should have to written on this or other issues about our traditional values, they should be after our debate for our own good. We do not have any forum where traditional wrongs can be corrected in Kom.
The Fon cannot say how X or Y should or should not succeed. Problems involving succession in certain compounds in Kom where the Fon sought to make certain contributions were seen from a negative angle. Kom people can be very passionate on these issues, in order to make positive contributions towards the evolution of our traditional and customary rules, we must be objective and fair to ourselves in a wider and national situation. If we seek to contribute to the Cameroon legal system with what we have, let us expect to give in to other ideas if they are better than ours on the balance. There is no perfect system of succession or of anything at all.
KOM SUCCESSION WITHIN THE CAMEROON LAW
In the North West and South West Provinces of Cameroon, the law applicable on the succession is customary law but when this fails, it is the law as applicable in England, the former colonial master. By the said English law, every person has a right to dispose of his property the way he/she judges fit. If he does not do so, the judges of the common law courts will decide according to certain laid down principles. By Cameroon law, customary law is applicable on issues of succession like in other permissible areas only when the custom in question is not obnoxious and must also conform with rules of natural justice and good conscience. As at now since the customs are different, each case is considered on it own merits, that is, according to the grievance of the complainant amongst others. These interpretations are made in the Cameroon judicial courts.
The Kom matrilineal system of succession is only one of the Cameroon customary systems of succession. The Judge/Magistrate has to sought out the conveniences and inconveniences of each system according to the law, his good conscience and appreciation and previous interpretation of natural justice. In many tribes in Cameroon, the system of succession is patrilineal, that is from father to son. Within that system today, there is the gender argument that all children are equal and so the girl child must be allowed to succeed if that will be in the best interest of the beneficiaries. Today that has been resolved favourably for the girl child. There were arguments that a married woman cannot come from her marriage home to inherit her father’s property. This too is history. Human rights education is opening up peoples thinking, and identifying for them rights that were not imaginable in the last 50 (fifty) years.
Kom children are interacting with the other people, listening to the same radios, watching the same TVs, reading the same papers and browsing the same net. We cannot pretend that they are living in a society exclusively Kom. For some of us who are living outside Kom, I will like you to carry out a simple experiment with your own children: ask for their position on the Kom system of matrilineal succession and listen what they will tell you. Then ask yourself if you could dare to ask their kind of questions or make their kind of declarations on the issue of Kom matrilineal succession to your own father. Most of us arguing this topic today have parents who had doubt on the justice of the system. Some did not bother to explain the detailed advantages to us so we have nothing to explain to our children. Some of us think exactly like our kids but above all we are not convinced about its rectitude but have to pay lip service to defend certain positions we now find ourselves in. Is that it? I remember that I used to have many advantages to give for matrilineal succession in Kom but today when I look at each one I have a list of known instances of abuses that ridicule the whole idea I used to carry in my mind.
Matrilineal succession in Kom has become a personal interest occasion far from the original concept of responsibility over the beneficiaries of the estate. In those occasions, and they are many, the Kom child feels orphaned (a new concept in Kom), widows get deprived of farmlands where they have farmed for years. These farms are leased to other people for money and eventually sold. The widows get expelled from their matrimonial homes. Fewer children of these homes today go to school, the “evils” their mothers are visited on them and they are eventually expelled or orphaned if I may say. The saying that a Kom child never lacked a “father” is today only a concept for those who have experienced what we are talking about. Today, if we continue to say that deprived children and widows cannot complain, because there are no rights recognizable for them in the Kom customary laws, then the Kom succession laws themselves will need something to take in: change.
COMMON LAW COURTS AND KOM SUCCESSION RULES
After many years of “asking or not asking”, common law courts have finally been set up in Kom. The Kom Customary Court at Njinikom, the known recognized customary court that handles Kom customary issues, must now live on the same bed with the common law courts. The Ministry of Justice places the supervisory control of the customary courts in the hands of the common law court of the locality. The lessons to be learned here are numerous both for the authorities of the customary court and Kom litigants in general. Our notions of relationship, for example, must begin to meet general standards. The President of the court in Fundong may be expected to understand concepts of Kom culture for matters coming up before him, but he was not sent there redefine his terminologies of “father”, “brother”, “human rights”, “priorities in applications for letters of administration” amongst others. He cannot be expected to say too like we do that Kom customary laws should excuse a parent from sending his children to school because their uncles should do so. If some of these things were done in those days it was because people were truthful to their ancestors, traditions and customs. They all had a pride to keep.
Truthfulness and pride in that sense is not common place today. Even back then, these were only favours. Rights of parental maintenance, provision, education and by general implication, succession are human rights which are universal. They cannot be redefined by us especially if our justification is doubtful to be in the interest of the beneficiaries. The priority of succession of a deceased person’s property universally includes: surviving spouse, son/daughter, brothers/sisters, father/mother, grand children, nephews and nieces in that order. It is not for us to reverse the priority. Matrilineal succession in our context comes somewhere below in the priority line up. However, these irrationalities whether of the Kom customary law or the English law will affect you and or your beneficiaries only when you fail to dispose of your property by yourself.
THE WAY FORWARD: WRITE A WILL
The concept of disposing ones property by will at death is English common law. By that law, which is ours too by the force of history, this must only be done by a valid WILL. In the absence of a will, succession is determined by English rules where the deceased died intestate (without a will). Many Kom elite have written their wills already. Others have held sessions with their matrilineal family members on the issue. Many others have actually distributed the said property amongst their children. Some have tried to settle the nephews or brothers as the case may be so that on their death, the nephew or brother does not insist on his “right” to succeed. A vast silent majority is quietly gnashing their teeth and praying that by some divine intervention no disturbances should take place over their succession. They are sitting on the fence. On the other side of the eye, there are those who have already succeeded compounds and are asking “what about us”. Others are whispering “it will be my turn to succeed very soon, you cannot change it now” The problem exists.
The only people that do not think about it in advance are the beneficiaries. We all sympathize with them. Our ancestors probably do too. The beneficiaries do not need our sympathies. They need our intervention. They need our help. They want us to determine this issue. You can do so no matter the camp in which you find yourself. Your choice will be in your will when you write one before your death. Make sure that it is a valid will with two witnesses who sign according to the law. Common law courts will respect your will and give letters of administration to those you stipulate or dispose of your property according to your own wishes. Your wife/husband will take only what you have determine for him/her. Your children and or nephews will take only what you have assigned to them or to any other beneficiaries you may wish to provide for. Any other way will be to allow other people, usually strangers to you, to dispose of your property the way they like. For now, while we hope that (this) case will open another door for other distressed Kom children and widows, I will like to thank you very sincerely for your patience in perusing this garbage.
ANDREW AKEM FULTANG