the bamileke of cameroon

been meaning to do a follow up post on the bamileke of cameroon since … well, since last november! always on top of things here at the hbd chick blog. (*^_^*) so, at long last, here we go….

oh. in case you don’t recall or didn’t realize, i’ve been trying to track down other outbreeders around the world — populations which have avoided close relative marriage (closer than second cousins) over the long term (say 30 or 40+ generations) — to see what they’re like: what their family structures are like, what their social structures are like, if they’re corrupt or nepotistic or have a lot of infighting between families/clans, etc. i’m interested in finding out if there are any general behavioral traits common to outbreeders. same for the inbreeders, too, actually.

the bamileke are outbreeders. they avoid all marriage with anybody on their mother’s side of the family (their matrilineage), and also tend to avoid marriage to third cousins or closer on the father’s side [pg. 149]:

“The matrilineage is comprised of all the people descended through women from a common female ancestor. Since all female descendants of the matrilineage are considered his sisters, a man must not marry within this group. No specific taboos exist against marriage within a patrilineage, although most Bamileke who share a common male ancestor four generations back [i.e. a great-great-grandfather-h.chick] will not intermarry. Whereas members of a patrilineage live close to each other and regularly commune with each other, those of a matrilineage are not close and may, in fact, belong to different chiefdoms.”

the bamileke, however, like many african groups, practice polygamy which probably narrows the genetic relatedness in the population. i don’t have any figures on how much polygamy is practiced there.

don’t know for how long the bamileke have been avoiding close cousin marriage, but i suspect that it is at least a few hundred years. the bamileke first came up here on the blog in a previous post, flatlanders vs. mountaineers revisited, in which we saw that they are some of the cameroon highlanders many of them living in very mountainous regions of cameroon, but yet their mating patterns — i.e. avoiding close cousin marriage — don’t seem to fit the broad pattern of highlanders or mountain folk typically inbreeding. apparently, however, the bamileke are fairly recent arrivals in the highlands, having migrated from the (flat) adamawa plateau somewhere around the 1600s [pg. 261 – links added by me]:

“As for the Bamileke, their ancient history is closely linked to that of the two previous groups. All came from the north, from the region today occupied by the Tikar. Their migration probably began in the seventeenth century and took place in successive waves.”

so, it could be that the bamileke are long-term outbreeders (because they originally came from a flatlander region) who transplanted themselves into more mountainous regions beginning ca. four hundred years ago. they don’t seem to have adopted a mountaineer economy — pastoralism for instance — but, rather, stuck to farming. what might have (ironically) saved them from eventually having to adopt pastoralism was the arrival of the germans who introduced coffee growing to the cameroon highlands. the bamileke quickly adopted the cash-crop system of coffee growing and trading with europeans. not sure about this, though — just a guess on my part.

it might be impossible to reconstruct the history of the bamileke people’s mating patterns from historical records (which will have been written almost solely by europeans, of course). if i find any published accounts by christian missionaries in cameroon, they might include some info on the bamileke. otherwise, genetic data (runs of homozygosity) would probably be the best way to discover how in- or outbred the bamileke are. for now, all i can say is that currently (in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries) the bamileke are outbreeders. and judging by their history, there’s a good chance that they’ve been outbreeders for a few hundred years, but that is just speculation on my part.

having said that, what are the bamileke like? what are their family types and social structures like?

traditional bamileke families do not appear to have been nuclear families, primarily because polygamy was (is) practiced, so that is unlike the outbred societies we’ve seen in western europe.

one subgroup of the bamileke, the bangwa (bangoua – in french), are described thusly [pg. 1]:

“Nor is Bangwa a ‘lineage-based’ society. Bangwa social life is not carried on in the all-embracing idiom of kinship, with personal loyalties and resources pooled in discrete unilineal descent groups. Kinship here is an individual business, with a person in the centre of a ramifying network of ties linking him with matrilineal and patrilineal kin, affines, creditor-lords, political superiors and so on. A Bangwa claims no clan or lineage membership, and no corporate group takes responsibility for any of his actions. Kinship is an aid to the business of making a living: tradiing, inheriting, acquiring a title, farming, ruling and marrying. And as the business of living is complex in Bangwa so is the kinship system.”

these features — not having tight clans or even lineages, individuals having to take responsibility for their own actions — are very much like what we see in the long-term outbreeding european populations. don’t know if the rest of the bamileke are like the bangwa in these regards, but i’m guessing yes, since i haven’t read any descriptions anywhere of bamileke peoples engaging in blood feuds or having a wergeld-like system. this absence of tight clans/kindreds seems outbred to me.

however [pg. 351]:

“Customary political structures revolve around kinship, which the Bamileke define by dual descent — patrilineal ties typically determine village residence and rights to land, but matrilineal ties define ritual obligations and the inheritance of movable property.”

so larger kinship groupings are not totally unimportant to the bamileke.

from the previous post (and from this article [pdf]):

“Although the group solidarity of the Bamileke is strong, individual achievement is highly valued. Members of the group are expected to exercise individual initiative in the pursuit of economic goals. Individual acquisition of economic resources including private property, money, and other remuneration is stressed. Other cultural characteristics of the group that have been invaluable to their entrepreneurial skills are discussed below….

“[T]he social status of an individual in this ethnic group is not rigidly fixed; individuals — male or female — can improve their condition in life and are expected to do so. Commercial and business success is one of the most highly valued routes to prestige and status. Bamileke women are also expected to achieve economic and comnercial success and there are few traditional limits placed on their economic participation….

“The traditional values of the Bamileke stress individual competition and overt displays of ‘getting ahead’. Individual Bamileke are expected to compete and to surpass each other’s accomplishments. The emphasis on competition is not limited to economic activities, but is a feature of personal relationships as well: within families, children are expected to compete with their siblings; sons and daughters are encouraged to surpass the achievements of their parents….

[P]oorer relatives are not expected or allowed to lay claim to or live off the riches of wealthier family members….

“A final feature of traditional society which must be noted is the system of succession and inheritance. Of all the elements characteristic of Bamileke social organization, this feature has been fundamental and has had far-reaching implications for the rate and pace of Bamileke participation in economic growth, development, and change. Succession and inheritance rules are determined by the principle of patrilineal descent. According to custom, the eldest son is the probable heir, but a father may choose any one of his sons to succeed him. An heir takes his dead father’s name and inherits any titles held by the latter, including the right to membership in any societies to which he belonged…. The rights in land held by the deceased were conferred upon the heir subject to the approval of the chief, and, in the event of financial inheritance, the heir was not obliged to share this with other family members. The ramifications of this are significant. First, dispossessed family members were not automatically entitled to live off the wealth of the heir. Siblings who did not share in the inheritance were, therefore, strongly encouraged to make it on their own through individual initiative and by assuming responsibility for earning their livelihood….

A notable feature of the group is the complementarity between individualism and collective unity. Individuals are expected to make their own way in the world while retaining a strong ethnic identity and group association. This interact is one of the factors accounting for their economic success. Each individual, for example, is expected to contribute as much to the group as he receives in return. Thus, cooperation is essential. The group is perceived of as an interdependent system based on the strength of individual links….

A principal Bamileke belief is that individuals are, in the final analysis, responsible for their own fate. One makes one’s way in society on the basis of individual qualities. Status distinctions and rank are not rigidly fixed and there is always the possibility of advancement.”

so here we have: individualism, extended family NOT being able to automatically rely on other members of the extended family, no precise inheritance rules (which is something emmanuel todd identifies as a trait of absolute nuclear family societies), and the collective unity of the larger group (NOT any family group). these are all traits that are found in outbred, “core” europe — although they are expressed somewhat differently in northwest europe vs. cameroon.

the bamileke also have a lot of voluntary associations, another characteristic common in outbred europe and not normally found in inbred populations — at least none of the inbred populations i’ve looked at so far [pg. 42]:

“The original function of these societies was to administer initiation rites, but in societies with a more complex economy and polity, both male and female associations grew in importance by assuming a plurality of administrative and commercial functions as well, such as tax collection, price control in markets, maintenance of public order, and organization of collective work. The *mandjon* societies of Bamileke men and women provide good examples of such traditional associations. The women’s *mandjon* are presided over by the mother of the *fon* or chief — there are over a hundred such chiefdoms in Bamileke territory — and its members help each other in agricultural work. The *mandjon* used to meet on a weekly basis to organize such work. In addition to associations that fit into the political structure of Bamileke society, there are also many autonomous associations based on neighborhood. Aside from ritual functions (such as divination and faith healing) they also act as savings groups and associations for mutual assistance. More recently, Bamileke associations…have been adapted to the needs of urban living and have led to a proliferation of voluntary membership clubs that provide mutual aid, companionship for immigrants, and entertainment. The savings groups are maintained by members paying in fixed amounts at weekly meetings, taking turns in receiving the entire sum. Membership is not restricted to a single saving association and the Bamileke tend to join them as soon as they earn money.”

interestingly, the bamileke are probably the most successful group in cameroon economically speaking — and they are also strongly nationalistic [pg. 65]:

“In the towns and cities, they are known for their skills at running small and large businesses and for their professional abilities…. During the years of the French colonial empire, the Bamileke were leaders in the nationalistic rebellion, especially the 1955 uprising that led to Cameroon’s independence. Today the Bamileke are extremely influential in the Cameroonian commercial economy. They are also one of the major constituencies of the Union de Populations du Cameroun (UPC), the fiercly nationalistic political party.”

i haven’t found out anything yet on corruption in bamileke society — although there seems to be plenty of it in cameroon. can’t imagine that they’re very nepotistic since the members of extended families are not obliged to help one another out — nor is aid to be expected — but you never know. i will endeavor to find out more!


previously: guess the population! and the semai

(note: comments do not require an email. bamileke elephant masks!)

outbreeding and nationalism

mr. mangan, esq., tweeted not too long ago (link inserted by me): Finnish nationalism was really weird in that it was begun and lead by ethnic Swedes.”

i don’t think that’s weird at all, because i bet that swedes have a longer history of outbreeding than ethnic finns, and, with more and more outbreeding, a group’s “circle of inclusiveness” widens (i think). i’m not 100% certain that the swedes have a longer history of outbreeding than ethnic finns, but i’m betting that they do based on the fact that the finns are outside the hajnal line and the swedes are not, and the general pattern seems to be that those populations that are inside the hajnal line are long-term outbreeders, while the rest are just not. another example resembling the swedish-finnish one is the irish nationalist movement of the 1700-1800s which was heavily influenced by the more outbred anglo-irish.

(btw, daniel olsson tweeted back to mr. mangan that finnish nationalism started with the fennoman movement which, according to him, was comprised of ethnic finns, but, in actuality, it appears that the earliest fennomen were indeed ethnic swedes!)

in “Nationalism and Vernaculars, 1500-1800” in The Oxford Handbook of the History of Nationalism, peter burke mentions that in thinking about early european nationalist movements [pgs. 23-24]:

“…a number of distinctions need to be made. One important distinction is that between older nations such as England and France, for instance, and newer nations such as Britain or the United Provinces of the Dutch Republic, which has a better claim than the United States of America to be the ‘first new nation’, since it was founded nearly two hundred years earlier.”

so there we have it yet again — as in so many other aspects (the decline of internal violence, for instance), it is the earliest outbreeders in europe that are the “older nations”, whereas the later nation states, like italy, are inbreeders. unfortunately (for me and my theory), germany doesn’t really fit this picture, unless we try to imagine the holy roman empire as a naiton state?…no, that won’t work…always causing trouble the germans. i still think it’s significant, though, that the earliest european nations were some of my “core”, outbreeding europeans and not any of the peripheral groups.

more from burke:

“A second distinction separates small nations such as the Swedes or the Venetians from larger ones such as France or Spain. (The Venetians were surely as much a nation as anyone in early modern Europe, since the city state was independent, and its inhabitants spoke a distinctive language, now classified as a dialect, while expressions of Venetian patriotism were common.)”

this is also directly related to my point about outbreeding and nationalism — yes, the early modern venetians were a nation, but the reason their nation was so small/narrow compared to england or france was because the italians had a longer history of inbreeding than the english or french. the nation was just venice and not “northern italy” or something larger, because the northern italians’ “circle of inclusiveness” was not as broad as that of the english or french (because the italians were not as outbred).


A third is the distinction between nationalism, in the sense of an organized social and political movement, and a more diffuse national sentiment, national consciousness, or national identity — which may be stronger or weaker in different places and times and among different social groups. The fact that in French, for instance, the term *patriotisme* came into use around the middle of the eighteenth century, while the term *nationalisme* emerged in the 1790s, suggests that important cultural changes were taking place at that time. It should be added that although the term ‘nation’ was used more rarely and more vaguely before the late eighteenth century than it has been since that time, proud references to the English, French, Spaniards, Germans, and so on are not difficult to find in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, as will be seen later in this chapter, even if the question as to who is Dutch, Swedish, Polish, et cetera, was rarely if ever raised in this pre-passport age.”

yes. this is now on my To Do List — find out more about the evolution of national sentiments/consciousness around europe (and the rest of the world) as well as nationalistic movements. the two are obviously related, but not exactly the same thing. it would be very interesting to know which populations were the earliest at feeling like a nation — especially feeling like a big nation, like “french”.

the historian patrick wormald has argued that the english viewed themselves as “english” already at the time the venerable bede (d.735) was writing his famous history (see, for example, chapter five in The Making of English National Identity). that would be truly incredible if it’s true! presumably the “english” at that time would’ve been just the anglos and not any of the enslaved britons. also, hard to know if it was only the intelligensia, like bede, who held this view, or also the anglo-saxon man on the street.

daniel hannan also makes a cautious argument for an early appearance of the english as a nation in Inventing Freedom [pgs. 73-74]:

“[T]he birth of England as a nation-state can be dated to Alfred’s wars. In 876, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, ‘all the English people who were free to give him their allegiance [in other words, were not under Danish occupation] owned Alfred as their King.’

“This is not the first reference to the English people. The concept of an English race, an Angelcynn, had existed from at least the eighth century, possibly earlier. What was new was the idea that all the Angelcynn, by virtue of their common identity, should recognize a single sovereign.”

again, this seems incredibly early for ideas of a nation to be floating about, but perhaps it’s true. still, hard to know if the english people also felt this, or if it was mostly chroniclers and kings and princes.

Further Research (and Rumination) RequiredTM! (^_^)

nowadays, of course, the “circle of inclusiveness” that many outbreeders hold to has expanded waaaay beyond nationalism to include pretty much everyone on the planet (“invite the world!”) and even the members of other species (for example the calls for human rights for chimps — not there’s there’s anything necessarily wrong with that! (~_^) )

(note: comments do not require an email. i can haz human rights?)