Stepping on toes at the 543rd Ngoun Festival

The crowd cascaded erratically around us – thousands of partygoers stumbled around like marionettes guided by a drunken puppet master.  Carried along by the tide, we danced two steps to the left, two more to the right, and back to the left once again.  We joined in this improvised two-step at last weekend’s Ngoun Festival in Foumban.

Ouch!  That was my foot!

We tried to hold ourselves upright as we crossed broken pavement, avoiding a stranded fleet of BMW motorcycles and watching out for elderly traditional chiefs temporarily separated from their protective detail of burly, ceremonial musket-wielding warriors.

Ooof!  Get your elbow out of my kidney!

Every two years, the Bamoun people of Cameroon’s West region flood to the town of Foumban, where they celebrate the long history of their people and re-affirm their sultan’s wisdom, benevolence and right to rule.  On Saturday, Sultan El Hadj Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, following longwinded speeches extolling his achievements over the last two years, removed himself from his beaded throne and faced judgment at the hands of the Fonanguon – representatives of his people.

Tam Tam Tam! – Cue the drums of uncertainty!


A barrage of criticisms, and empty baskets carried by the Fonanguon, revealed that not all was well in the kingdom. Poverty reigned while corruption wrecked havoc on everyone’s lives.  Harvests were poor, jobs were scarce, roads were falling apart, and – most worrisome – children no longer respected their elders!

Promising to work harder for his people, the sultan waited patiently for the verdict.  Shuffling feet, stern gazes and dubious muttering gave way to vigorous nods and enthusiastic exclamations as the imagination of those gathered ignited with prospects for the future.  All these things were possible with the Sultan’s good friend – President Paul Biya – at his side!  Wild exhortations ushered in the Bamoun Minister of Justice’s verdict – the 73 year-old Sultan could stick around for another two years.  A stoic ram was sacrificed on the spot to ward off any evils and bless the reign.

Boom!  Didn’t expect that random ceremonial gunfire!

Accompanied by pounding drums and blaring horns, hundreds of princes, other members of the very-widely extended royal family, and delegations from other government offices bowed to the ground and hop-skipped their way across the sand in deference to their restored monarch.


Phew! With all that preparation, it’s a good thing the Fonanguon allowed the king to reclaim his throne!

Hey wait!  Where are all the people of Foumban?

Surprisingly, the official ceremonies were largely closed to the public!  Under the shade of the tribune, perhaps a thousand government bigwigs, upper-crust elite, revered traditional leaders, be-suited diplomats and –a few – sandal-wearing tourists were allowed to soak in the sights.  While “protocol officers” kept the masses at bay –behind a multi-layered string of crowd control barriers – a few acrobatic youths perched themselves in nearby trees to take in the events.

Urgh! I can’t sit still any longer!

Taking pictures while sitting quietly in the grandstand just isn’t my style.  I need to move around … change perspectives … get myself in trouble!  So, I wandered around, avoiding the photographer access-card-checking marketing folks – seeking payment in exchange for the privilege of taking pictures – snapping away, happy as a clam.

Hey! Did you see that hand in your pocket?, asked one of the event’s undercover security guys.

Huh? Nope.

Oh, it’s ok.  We arrested him even though he didn’t manage to get anything!  We’ll let him out of jail on Monday.

Oh, ok… He couldn’t have gotten anything out of me anyways. – Poor fella…

Wearing my long, flowing traditional gandora robe – it’s hard to feel anyone fishing in your pockets when wearing 10 yards of fabric – I had left my wallet, phone and all else behind with Caroline!  I was lucky. Many diplomats and tourists hadn’t though ahead and “lost” their wallets.  Too bad they didn’t have Caroline, aka Madame Fort Knox, guarding their stash!

When the vibrantly clad celebrants paraded off from the ceremonial grounds, we rejoined the throngs heading over to the palace.  Outside the crowd-control barriers thousands of locals waited with craned necks to catch a glimpse of the events – and the lavishly clad guests – including us.  Off we went to sit at lavishly appointed, silk-covered, plastic tables and chairs, to sample the fare whipped up by the queens’ chefs.

Passing through the barriers, we joined the melee once more.  Locked in the crushing embrace of the crowd, which gradually ebbed towards our destination, we tried both to keep ourselves upright and to shuffle along to avoid trampling any toes.

Miraculously our stayed toes intact too.

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~ by Greg Spira on December 7, 2010.

One Response to “Stepping on toes at the 543rd Ngoun Festival”

  1. Great pictures once again! Good to know the pickpockets didn’t get your loot!

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