By Olive Ejang
In continuation of our investigative project on the place of local traditional practices in Cameroon within the global human rights and freedom movement, we focus on the reconciliation and appeasement practice known as “traditional cleansing” which is common in most cultures in the North West Region.
This follows condemnation of appeasement practices by the Kumba based Human Rights Activist, George Mbia, especially when such relationships between blood and family relatives result in children or marriage. Our spotlight today is on the Mbem village which is the largest of the 43 villages that make up Nwa Sub-Division in the Donga and Mantung division of the North-West Region.
As part of the wider Yamba clan and descendants of the Tikari Ancestry, the Mbem tradition calls for traditional cleansing in the event of an incestuous sin so as to appease the gods of the land.
In his book “Knowing your Village, Mbem,” the traditional ruler, Fon Samuel Ngwim Ngabum, emphasize that once incest is committed, persons involved must undergo cleansing else death and other forms of ill-luck will continuously strike them and their families.
Fon Ngwim notes in pages 8, 9 & 10 that this important cleansing and appeasement ritual known locally as “Ndzepnjang” originated when blood and family relatives started bearing children and these children died successively in mysterious ways.
The continuous and incomprehensible deaths and ill-luck that befell families necessitated consultation of the gods of the land who revealed that relatives ought not to engage in sexual activities because they are ‘seeds from the same tree’ and recommended cleansing rituals to wipe away the abomination.
After successful initial cleansing ceremonies, children born by blood/ family relations survived without any problem. As such, “Ndzepnjang” was initiated by the founding fathers of Mbem and adopted by subsequent generations. It continuous to be performed today and is worth preserving so that it can be handed over to future generations.
According to the Fon’s publication and eye witness accounts, for traditional cleansing to be performed, a goat is tortured to death. The torture process starts with the eyes of the goat being pieced and gorged out using clubs.
Thereafter, the legs of the goat are heated on fire until it suffocates to death. The goat is then prepared in a traditional clay pot with some herbs. When the concoction is ready, the incestuous couple is forced to lie naked on a mat in front of the entire village and villagers beat and torture them for committing an abomination. The concoction is then shared amongst those present, while the traditional clay pot will be placed on the roof of the couple.
Fon Ngwim defends this practice by arguing that it washes away the sins of those involved, appeases the gods, and brings peace within families and the community. The custodian of the tradition insists that in the wake of modernisation, traditional values must be upheld and warns sons and daughters of Mbem who criticise this important ritual that “…if you do not want your hands bitter, do not touch bitter-leaf. So if you do not want to perform tradition, do not go or involve yourself in some taboo practices of the land.” (pp. 9 & 10).
Traditional leaders and loyalists often decry that Christians, human rights advocates and other critics constantly condemn their traditional practices as evil, which could lead to the complete eradication of their culture and traditions. The Fon of Mbem wonders why churches and other groups fail to educate people on the need to respect and uphold traditional values and culture.
It is in this light that the Human Rights Activist, George Mbia, argues that though incest is a taboo, torturing the couple and the goat as a form of cleansing is tantamount to human and animal rights violation. Mbia insists that “Such brutal and dehumanizing treatment of human beings must not continue in this age and time simply because we are following the footsteps of our forefathers and ancestors.
We have to fundamentally rethink all traditional rituals to ensure that they uphold basic human rights and dignities.” He added that torturing a human being to that extend is subject to outright humiliation which can automatically lead to death. There are several reported cases of serious harm and death that have resulted from the stringent application of various harmful traditional practices in the North-West and other parts of Cameroon. It is worth mentioning that the state does not intervene in local customary laws and practices.
Adding his voice to that of Mbia, the Kumba II District Supervisor of the Full Gospel Mission, Rev. Clarence Ntekim, equally condemned the practice of traditional rites and cleansing carried out by the Mbem people and other tribes. From a biblical standpoint, the pastor said that cleansing and traditional rites are a form of idolatry of the devil which is condemned by the Holy Bible in Hebrews 10:4 and Isaiah 1:11.
Rev. Ntekim clarified that though incest is a sin before God, no sin is bigger than the other. He said there’s always an opportunity for repentance, as the Blood of Jesus Christ was sacrificed on the cross for mankind’s sins (John 1:29).
The man of God intimated that the blood of Jesus is more powerful than the blood of animals, as it washes away all types of sins. He advised that rather than yielding to traditional cleansing, which tortures a soul physically, psychologically and spiritually, it is better to present such situations to God who is the giver of life for outright cleansing and sanctification, adding that “You cannot serve two masters at the same time. Flee from tradition and satanic practices and submit to the Lord Jesus for salvation of your soul.”