Behind the photograph depicting the facade of the palace of the kings of Bamun in west Cameroon, reproduced at two-thirds of its real size, the Chicago Field Museum also presents a vitrine dedicated to the Palace Museum.1 The photograph is not a representation of the original structure created by King Njoya (ca. 1860–1933) in the 1920s, or of the later building established at the palace entrance by his heir King Njimoluh (r. 1933–1992), but rather it encapsulates the fourth version produced by a Swiss expert during palace repair works in 1985 (Bosserdet 1985). Another restructuring was carried out in 1996 and the latest, involving the construction of a new museum, is ongoing.2 The Field Museum vitrine is therefore obsolete and has always been incomplete. It does, however, acknowledge the existence of an endogenous patrimonial process, presenting objects presumed representative of it, namely masks, a portrait of King Mbuembue (r. first half of the nineteenth century), objects associated with King Njoya, manuscripts in Bamun script, and products of the encounter with the European world. As artificial as it may seem, this mise en abyme of an “African” museum in a “Western” museum is therefore significant.

In the mid-1920s, there already existed a museumlike institution in the royal palace founded by King Njoya following the dismantling of his kingdom by the French colonial administration. Unique in Cameroon and Central Africa, this display, which corresponded more to an exhibition of dynastic legitimacy and of a “royal treasury” than a museum per se, responded primarily to a local political agenda. In fact, the stakes of controlling regalia pitted the palace museum against the collection put together by the King's cousin, Mosé Yeyap (ca. 1875–1941), a Christianized interpreter at the local colonial post. While this context of increasing political tensions was central to the creation of the royal museum, its importance also resided in the crystallization of multiple parallel patrimonialization processes, which characterized the emergence of a “Bamun modernity” between 1895 and 1933, during the long reign of King Njimoluh, and up to the present. These processes derive from the existence of Bamun script and historiography; the large-scale circulation of photographs and printed materials; means of self-representation; the continuous presence from the end of the nineteenth century of external third parties, namely Muslim proselytes, Protestant missionaries, colonial administrators, researchers, and even internal opponents who stimulated creations or reactions; and the personality of protagonists, specifically that of King Njoya. The reciprocal influence of the diverse actors and vectors must be viewed in a synchronic manner in order to bring out the contiguous and often antagonistic patrimonial arenas and, consequently, the modalities of articulating politics and patrimony in the Bamun kingdom.

BAMUN CONCEPTIONS OF PATRIMONY

The existence of patrimonial processes seems to be integrated into a social organization founded on the capitalization of borrowings. From the founding of the kingdom, probably in the seventeenth century, a desire for autonomy from his homeland led the first king to use the language and elements of the rituals of conquered peoples. This policy of incorporating captured peoples, rituals, and later artistic techniques continued beyond the arrival of the first Europeans in July 1902. Fundamental in maintaining political prominence in the cultural region called the Grassfields, the politics of incorporation required a balance between processes of innovation and stabilization, both of which fall within the powers of the king, in modified forms, up to the present. As a result, patrimonial processes were closely linked to power wielding at various levels, and the power-patrimony paradigm was continuously reconfigured.

Principle of heritage: from ruin to patrimony. The continuity of the power-patrimony paradigm is portrayed in the methods of transmitting and inheriting titles as property. The referent is the method of dynastic transmission, reproduced in lineages and families (Tardits 1980, Wasaki 1992). The new king “ascends to the throne of Nshare Yen,” founder of the dynasty, as the heir of an office that incarnates his forefathers. With each enthronement, the ruler reaches back multiple generations, re-entrenching an ancestral figure in the present. In assuming this statutory and symbolic heritage, the heir also receives objects related to lineage and rank—that is, both the property belonging to the private family sphere and a right to insignia of external representation or public attributes such as the machete, spear, cap, and royal blue and white ntieya fabric. Between these two spheres are found objects specific to enthronement, given by the king to his son in the palace, which include specific durable insignia such as a single brass bell called a süre and, since since the early twentieth century, a long Islamic robe called a gandoura, as well as an organic object, a red turaco feather generally kept in the house of a maternal uncle. Transmission is thus ensured through internal and related measures, besides lineage.

The importance attached to maintaining patrilineal transmission underlies the conception of patrimony. As underscored by Germain Loumpet (forthcoming), the terms associated with patrimony are related to the notion of m'fom. Depending on the word stress, this monosyllabic word has the following meanings:

M'foM /sacred place/ or /cemetery/ of the njis (sacred place circumscribed by a ficus hedge);

M'fOm /ruin/, as in Mfomben, the ruins of Mbem,3 from which the capital of the kingdom derived its name, that is an abandoned, forsaken place;

Fom /dull, dusty/ ill-kept (an old thing, an unswept house, abandoned property).

A sacred place where the prince (nji) goes in circumstances that threaten the very existence of the lineage, to which access is otherwise forbidden under pain of a curse and death, the cemetery of lineage heads (m'fom) is also a place of conservation par excellence, where objects can be kept in greater safety than anywhere else.4 The major patrimonialization paradigm is therefore a conception based on the dread of discontinuity and of rupture, but also on the demarcation of sacred places. While the existence of ruins evokes a curse (ndon), the Bamun nevertheless respect ruins as a place where something had existed and continues to maintain a presence. From this standpoint, the same ambivalent word designates both the patrimony of a lineage and its possible absence, its material (cemetery) and immaterial (lineage transmission) aspects.

It is therefore possible to consider the need for lineages, as with the palace, to continuously maintain and add on a level both symbolic and actual. The value of patrimony stems from the capacity to incorporate additional elements taken or borrowed from others. The distinct notion of collective patrimony must thus be underscored, not because it was absent from the transmission of royal power and its function of invoking dynastic continuity, but because it supposes an external conception imposed on internal and local usages.

A translation process: iconography and script. Preceding the arrival of Europeans by several decades, the first major documented transformation of Bamun society is linked to the introduction of Islam. The presence of Hausa traders from the 1860s, followed in approximately 1894 by Fulani cavalry from Banyo during the civil war of Gbetnkom Ndombouo, popularized the dissemination of copies of the Qu'ran and the wearing of long robes. Islam and its material culture appeared then as the vectors of a new political power, and it is probably this point that interested the young King Njoya when he invented the first version of the Bamun script around 1895.

In several accounts, Bamun script is a medium of conservation and patrimonialization. Not only did it enable the emergence, between 1906–1910, of an official royal historiography, drafted in later cursive versions of the writing, as well as counternarratives from persons opposed to the king, but its very first ideographic version, lewa, also acted to conserve iconographic signifiers transformed by the revealed religions. The most vivid example is perhaps that of the stylized spider, the meaning of which, imposed by Islam and later by craftsmen, is “work.” The original meaning, however, is “wisdom” or “truth,” in line with the creature's divinatory function. The trapdoor spider is the messenger of the ancestors that also delivers their message by dreams assimilated to spider webs. More generally, a semiological analysis of lewa shows the predominance of square and rectangular signs for designating space and triangular signs for social status. Ontological signs are circular, while radiating signs indicate periodicity and duration. Lastly, the sign of the king, mfon, combines space (a square), with status and position (a diamond terminating in circles) (Fig. 1). This ideographic system therefore recalls the more ancient iconographic one and is found both in the form of the throne (a round chair on a square base) and on the map of the kingdom (Galitzine-Loumpet 2011b). Moreover, the more ancient iconographic system as well as lewa functions, with nuances, at the level of the micro-states throughout the region called the Grassfields.

1

Lewa symbols (ca. 1896) for “king” and “kingdom” (Dugast & Jeffreys 1952; Galitzine-Loumpet 2011a)

1

Lewa symbols (ca. 1896) for “king” and “kingdom” (Dugast & Jeffreys 1952; Galitzine-Loumpet 2011a)

King Njoya and his entourage were certainly not aware of the double patrimonial function with which the lewa signs were a posteriori invested, no more than we can fathom the local evidence of iconographic readings. The means of transition from one system of graphic communication to another, however, highlights the importance attached to the notion of permanence and reincorporation, the functionality of iconographic signs being transferred to the ideograms of a version of writing that was itself evolving. Seven versions were ultimately required, the latest dating to 1910, for the Bamun script to be able to serve a wide variety of purposes, including historiography, etiquette and palace administration, accounting, pharmacopoeia, and various narratives.

PATRIMONIALIZATION IN THE COLONIAL SITUATION

The arrival of the Germans on July 6, 1902, further transformed the perception of objects by introducing new regimes of value. These involved a distancing, as attested to by various events, photographs, and letters. Several periods can thus be distinguished, which are not exclusively chronological. The first period (ca. 1902–1920), itself divided into many stages, is that of the encounter and gradual matching between various patrimonial processes. It corresponds to the emergence of a market and can hardly be discussed without mentioning the growing influence of the photographic medium. It ended with the reassertion of royal power for a short period corresponding to World War I. The second era (ca. 1924–1940) is that of the emancipation of the category of “Bamun art.” Patrimony became a field of direct confrontation. For King Njoya, it was a period of relinquishment in favor of new actors and patrimonial media. Finally, the last period, which appeared in the mid-1940s and continues until the present under renewed forms, is marked by the patrimonialization of the early actors, principally King Njoya himself. I will come back to these different phases and also underscore the introduction of new vectors of patrimonialization, namely photography and drawings.

The photographic medium and the art market: the skull, the throne, and European appreciation. Major political and symbolic events explain the introduction of new patrimonial paradigms between 1906 and 1910. The first patrimonialization process is linked to the restitution of the skull of King Nsangu (r. ca. 1865–1885), King Njoya's father, during the joint German-Bamun expedition against the neighbouring Banso Kingdom in 1906. This episode was crucial for a young, contested king and also corresponds with the beginning of his great historiographical work entitled “Book of Past Things and Wars among the Bamun” (Nda lewa nga pamom pua pit). The return of the skull opened a field of reciprocity and recognition between the Germans and the Bamun within which objects were immediately integrated. This exchange was at first political, as part of the old game of alliances between peers. An example is the effigy statue offered to the German authorities at the death in 1908 of Captain Glauning, a friend of the king who was very closely involved in the acquisition of objects for the Museum of Berlin (Geary 1994:25, 2011:49–55). These exchanges were thereafter rapidly monetarized. King Njoya became the authority over a new value of objects which he could transfer, keep, or try to monetize beyond the normal circles within which objects were disseminated.

A posteriori, the most outstanding episode of the ongoing transformations is undoubtedly King Njoya's visit to Buea in 1908. The main intent of this journey was to present the German governor with a promised copy of the Bamun throne. The copy of the throne was not completed on time. It was the throne of his father, King Nsangu, that King Njoya reluctantly removed from the palace premises, then from the fortified town of Fumban, and beyond the Noun border river—a journey that crossed various fundamental concentric thresholds in the conception of the pureness of the kingdom. It was the throne of the king of the Bamun, still recognized by small neighboring kingdoms; but it was already considered as an object, a gift intended for Emperor Wilhem II, when King Njoya posed in front of the throne while wearing a pseudo-German uniform, his transformation a metaphor for that of the object. In Buea, the royal present became a trophy for the Governor, and it took at least two decades for the throne to finally be exhibited as a masterpiece of African art (Galitzine-Loumpet 2008, Oberhofer 2012:36). Initially, the radical metamorphosis was considered a misunderstanding, as King Njoya did not receive the tokens of gratitude he expected, such as European horses, guns, and clothing. One can imagine the effect produced by this separation through the continuous production, to date, of Bamun counternarrations. King Njoya's transformation of disappointment into the mastery of new European techniques (Njoya 1952:135) was matched by popular explanations of a Bamun ruse, maintaining that the “real” throne was in Fumban.

The introduction of this distinction in use constituted an important new element which paved the way for the liberalization of the royal rights to materials and motifs through reforms initiated by King Njoya between 1910–1920 in the areas of the rights of ownership and sale. Henceforth, many materials, patterns, and articles of clothing were usable by or accessible to the most affluent, irrespective of their rank. A Bamun art market was being gradually established under the control of the king, but with the support of a new vector, namely photography.

The photographic medium. The value of objects was mostly contingent upon the dissemination of German photographs of objects. The photographic plates were developed on the spot and immediately became part of a system of gift-giving and prestige property, raising great interest on the part of the royal family (Geary 1988:37).

The objective and future of photographs were therefore various and, at times, oppositional depending on whether they were taken by Europeans or Bamun. The codes of representation and technical know-how were European, however; Christraud Geary mentions the dissemination of ethnographic conventions through a number of colonial-era pictures (1988:34). While close-ups and frontal portraits of individuals dominated the often intimate photographs taken by the Swiss missionary Anna Wuhrmann, who had particularly friendly relations with the king, other authors preferred more open shots comprising architectural objects and elements aimed at documenting the Bamun Kingdom. This external approach for a long time influenced the relationship between the Bamun people and their photographed image. Having quickly realized the symbolic and political importance of photographs, King Njoya, as early as 1912, arranged his own pictures taken with his various wives, the most famous being the head-and-shoulder pictures of himself and Queen Ndayie, both wearing partially European garb and in unusual poses.5 Other photographs of the same series are conserved in King Njimoluh's office in the royal palace. These images are related to a series of portraits of queens largely with bare chests.6 Were these photographs of the same period and personally selected by the king? It is likely. These pictures of the palace highlight the existence of parallel standards and call into question the dominant canons.

What should be noted here is the influence of photographs on the development of an art market. This patrimonialization through photographs was somehow doubled ten years later with the arrival of French colonial military, and later civilian authorities, who replaced the defeated Germans and the British in May 1916. In turn, the French discovered “Bamun art” and an export market that was already employing a significant number of people. In 1917, Frederic Gardmer, an army photographer, thus documented the various trades and the “outstanding objects produced by the Bamun people” (Fig. 2).7 In addition to this interest in “Bamun craft,” photography, from 1920, began documenting the growing conflict between King Njoya and the French colonial administration.

2

“Objets remarquables du travail Bamoun.” F. Gadmer, Ministry of Culture (France) Mediathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine.

2

“Objets remarquables du travail Bamoun.” F. Gadmer, Ministry of Culture (France) Mediathèque de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine.

An intermediate era: World War I. The years 1914–1918, which correspond to the defeat of the Germans, the departure in captivity of the Swiss missionaries, the transit of the British regiments of the Indian Army, and the establishment in May 1916 of the French military administration marked the reassertion of royal power as well as a reconsideration of the political and patrimonial dimension of the Bamun writing.

Once again a master of the political game, King Njoya also tried to reaffirm his position symbolically. These short-lived golden years were marked by major projects aimed at portraying royal capability and quality: the invention in 1915 of the syncretic religion Nwet Kwete; the drawing of a map of the kingdom beginning in 1913, followed by one of Fumban; the strengthening of the royal schools for learning Bamun writing through the appointment of literate Bamun Christians; and the beginning, finally, of construction work on the new palace in 1917.

The year 1918 marked a first turning point. Under the supervision of the missionary pastor Elie Allégret, Governor Lucien Fourreau imposed religious freedom, further freeing the Christianized elite from royal control, and appointed Mosé Yeyap as a writer and interpreter at the colonial post. Decisive for subsequent events, the context of this appointment can only be understood within a particular episode, namely the discovery of two history notebooks written in Bamun script in the Basel mission, abandoned after the German defeat in 1916. In particular, a later Bamum text disclosed that, “The Sultan was very angry when he learned that Christians were speaking and writing about all that was bad about the country and giving [it] to strangers to enable them to see the basis of the country's secrets” (Njoya and Pepuere 2006). In fact, these two notebooks belonging to Pastor Göhring contained a version of the Bamun history, descriptions of the Nja ceremonial dance, and an account of the late nineteenth century war with Banso. They were not, therefore, a counternarration of the official historiography collected at the palace but, more precisely, the hijacking of the royal prerogative to compose history. This event attests to the progressive detachment from King Njoya and the palace from the processes of patrimonialization.

Collections and drawings. The liberalization of the production of objects in the 1910s opened a new production space still under the control of the king. Up to 1920, “Bamun art” concerned objects mostly produced for European museums and foreigners in transit, alongside a considerable production of objects commissioned by the king. Thus, in 1924, King Njoya could still commission a portrait of King Mbuembue. Moreover, owing to its exceptional nature, linked to Bamun historiography and not to a specific ritual, this object highlighted changes that took place right within the palace.

An art of reaction: the influence of Mosé Yeyap. The change that took place at the end of the 1920s directly resulted from the degradation of the political situation and portrays its paroxysm. In late 1919, Lieutenant Prestat's poisoning accusation8 led to the deportation of the king's close associates to Campo on the Cameroonian coast. Those deported included Ibrahim Njoya (ca. 1887–1966), an accomplished scribe, sketcher, and sculptor. In 1920, the royal schools were closed, the use of Bamun script banned, and the lost-wax cast characters used for printing in Bamun script destroyed. In 1924, another shady case was used as a pretext to break up the Bamun kingdom. Placed under house arrest in his palace and later at his country estate to the east in Mantum, the king's prerogatives were drastically reduced and his political power shared among several paramount chiefs. The same measures eliminated Nguon tributes and ceremonies and created a handicraft center separate from the palace, located near the colonial post. As can be seen, these measures affected the entirety of royal authority, which did not distinguish art from politics.

The influence of Mosé Yeyap in the conflicts that led to the exile and eventual death of King Njoya seems clear. Literate in Bamun, German, and French, he occupied a central position in the colonial administration and was the only one who openly challenged the king. There is, however, the danger of attributing all the transformations that took place during this period just to the confrontation between two personalities and of minimizing the general context which Yeyap, nevertheless, used remarkably well. The people's discontent at a changing Bamun society was certainly exploited, but one of the lasting effects of the informal alliance between the French Protestant mission and the colonial administration was the invention of “Bamun custom,” that is, a filtered and controlled tradition that was a pivotal element of social control on which French peace was based (Galitzine-Loumpet 2011a).

It can be suggested, however, that the confrontation between the two men signaled the emergence of a modern concept of patrimony born of the conflicts between legitimacy and ambition, politics and art. In the Bamun context, patrimony derived from a kind of political art of reaction between two individuals and two social representations, each trying to outbid the other. A graph derived from various sources presents the following approximate sequence of events (see Timeline). What the colonial administration saw as the loss of royal prestige and secularization of a sacred art, Bamun considered a political struggle. While the administration was not completely deceived, it was slow in fathoming individual ambitions beyond its own motivations.

Representing objects. Postcards published by the Evangelical Mission of Paris and by various photo studios established in Cameroon bore testimony to this symbolic field of battle. The very act of collecting objects from the extended lineages and keeping them in one's home should be understood—as it is to this date in the Bamun kingdom—as an open challenge to royal power. A photograph showing Mosé Yeyap standing in front of various objects and the authority conferred on him by his central position revealed his political influence (Fig. 3). Several pictures represented him standing in front of his collection in a composition using court codes. In the Bamun arena, this visual message is unequivocal, all the more so as the king's cousin did not hide his dynastic ambitions. It was not only the representation of “Bamun tradition” to foreigners, but also a challenge spatially inscribed on a hill facing the palace, at the summit of the handicraft street and below the colonial administration. It was not only the exhibition of rank-related attributes, but also the representation of a new modernity.

3

Mosé Yeyap (in the middle), n.d. (Dec. 1929?).

3

Mosé Yeyap (in the middle), n.d. (Dec. 1929?).

Yeyap was also an active supplier of objects, either to various missionaries or directly. The archives of the Ethnography Museum of Geneva contain correspondence between its director Eugène Pittard and Yeyap (Morin 2014:6–7), which is all the more important as it also attests to the sale of palace objects during King Njoya's exile and the regency that ensued.

In contrast to Yeyap, there were few or no photographs of the king in the late 1920s. King Njoya's political eclipse corresponded to his disappearance from photographs. Although in the early 1920s King Njoya still posed for missionaries in front of his throne, pictures gradually shifted focus to Bamun Christians or handicraft activities, which became increasingly popular. This disappearance was noticeable on postcards, calendars, and exercise books ordered by the Evangelical Mission of Paris and circulated in Fumban. Other personalities emerged, for example Daniel Panjuene (1899–1925), a young convert who died of tuberculosis at the age of 25 and who became the representation of “L'Afrique joyeuse,” or “Happy Africa” (Fig. 4).

4

“Afrique joyeuse” exercise book published by the Evangelical Mission of Paris publishing house around 1950, based on a picture by A. Wurhmann (ca. 1912). The exercise book belonged to Ibrahim Njoya and was intended for Pastor J.R. Brustch.

4

“Afrique joyeuse” exercise book published by the Evangelical Mission of Paris publishing house around 1950, based on a picture by A. Wurhmann (ca. 1912). The exercise book belonged to Ibrahim Njoya and was intended for Pastor J.R. Brustch.

Thus, the exile of Njoya, his death and burial in Fumban, and the enthronement of his heir were barely documented. My assumption is that this eclipse contributed to the establishment of the “palace museum” and Bamun drawings, as the latter first acted as local photographs.

From regalia to museum. Bamun kings inherited, ordered, and displayed objects and regalia, part of which was strictly reserved for royal use and, hence, referred to using a name in a restricted language out of the ordinary. One of the royal functions was to preserve these items for ceremonies, while others were to be kept strictly secret. The statuses and uses of palace objects were, therefore, diverse. At no prior moment, however, did all of them form a “museum” collection from the European perspective. The permanent and public exhibition of royal objects in a place reserved for that purpose was a new and unprecedented act.

Yet most studies use the word “museum” as an obvious category (Dell 2013:38, Geary 1983, Nelson 2007:2). This a posteriori interpretation seems problematic, as neither the date of establishment of the “museum” nor the public display of the objects collected by Mosé Yeyap were confirmed before 1929. The notion of collection seems more appropriate. Officially geared towards organizing Bamun handicraft, Yeyap's collection underwent the transformations desired by the French. The creation of the Museum of Bamun Arts and Tradition in 1947 was a new phase in which the palace participated and which I will discuss later.

TIMELINE (QUESTIONABLE DATA IN ITALICS)

DateNjoya/Royal PowerYeyap/Colonial and Missionary Power
Contemporary Period Regalia kept in the palace, used during various ceremonies.  
1919 Social upheavals in Fumban/Exile of artists close to the king.  
1920 Map of the Bamun kingdom started in 1913.Destruction of Bamun printing characters. Settling of the French protestant mission.Closure of royal schools.Banning of the use of writing. 
Late 1923 Completion of construction work on the current palace. Start of object collection by Yeyap. 
1924 May 26: Break-up of the kingdom.Reduction of palace spending and revenue.Njoya orders King Mbuembue's portrait.Njoya resides in Mantum. Establishment of the handicraft center.Yeyap's collections derived from the lineages and orders from craftsmen.Start of construction of Yeyap's “museum” at Njimon, near his house. 
Dec. 28, 1929 Royal portraits and drawings of the Bamun dynasty.Creation of an exhibition hall in the palace. Exhibition of sacred palace objects in public at the instigation of Yeyap, in the presence of Governor Carde, King Njoya and many missionaries. 
1930  Construction of a “main museum,” in the handicraft neighborhood. 
1931 March 12: exile of King Njoya to Efoulan, Yaounde. Photograph of Yeyap in front of his “museum.”Exhibition of Bamun objects in the Togo-Cameroon Pavilion, colonial exhibition, Paris.Sale of palace objects at Ethnography Museum of Geneva at Yeyap's instigation. 
1933 May 30: death of King Njoya in exile.  
DateNjoya/Royal PowerYeyap/Colonial and Missionary Power
Contemporary Period Regalia kept in the palace, used during various ceremonies.  
1919 Social upheavals in Fumban/Exile of artists close to the king.  
1920 Map of the Bamun kingdom started in 1913.Destruction of Bamun printing characters. Settling of the French protestant mission.Closure of royal schools.Banning of the use of writing. 
Late 1923 Completion of construction work on the current palace. Start of object collection by Yeyap. 
1924 May 26: Break-up of the kingdom.Reduction of palace spending and revenue.Njoya orders King Mbuembue's portrait.Njoya resides in Mantum. Establishment of the handicraft center.Yeyap's collections derived from the lineages and orders from craftsmen.Start of construction of Yeyap's “museum” at Njimon, near his house. 
Dec. 28, 1929 Royal portraits and drawings of the Bamun dynasty.Creation of an exhibition hall in the palace. Exhibition of sacred palace objects in public at the instigation of Yeyap, in the presence of Governor Carde, King Njoya and many missionaries. 
1930  Construction of a “main museum,” in the handicraft neighborhood. 
1931 March 12: exile of King Njoya to Efoulan, Yaounde. Photograph of Yeyap in front of his “museum.”Exhibition of Bamun objects in the Togo-Cameroon Pavilion, colonial exhibition, Paris.Sale of palace objects at Ethnography Museum of Geneva at Yeyap's instigation. 
1933 May 30: death of King Njoya in exile.  

At a still imprecise date, but probably around late 1929, King Njoya created what Gebauer described in 1931 as a “museum” (Gebauer 1971), that is to say a public exhibition area—an equally imprecise point because many objects were forbidden to women and the uninitiated, and even when abandoned the palace remained a sacred place. There is a lingering terminological ambiguity on the issue: Geary uses the words pa nju (“things of the world,” or by extension “things of the palace”) (1983:ix) and some scholars employ nda ngu (“house of the country”) to, at times, refer to the palace museum and in some cases, by extension and erroneously, the palace (nshut). Actually, neither the palace museum nor the palace are nda ngu, which today refers specifically to a secret place where the “bags of the country,” containing the nails and hair of the deceased kings and other enthronement objects, are kept. Likening the museum to nda ngu reveals the absence of an appropriate indigenous term, and it would be interesting to know the moment when the Western word was imposed locally, the change of name serving as an indicator of the transformation of sacred objects into cultural property. Lastly, the name of the museum has itself undergone changes, from the Museum of King Njoya to the Royal Palace Museum and, in the most recent construction project, to the Museum of Bamun Kings.

Invention of Bamun drawing. The development of Bamun drawing seemed to counter the increasing invisibility of the king. The timeline for the drawings is still uncertain. However, Ibrahim Njoya, the king's cousin and close aide, made very early drawings around 1915 of royal manuscript decorations and maps of the kingdom and the town. Royal portraits appeared in the late 1920s and seemed from the outset to fall within the political/memorial register. King Njoya occupied a place of honor at the center of the dynastic drawing, standing or sitting in front of the palace entrance, holding a book and surrounded by the main regalia, including the throne, the mujemndu double gong, a cluster of spears, ivory, and royal ntieya fabric. His bust was directly inspired, to the smallest detail, by a photograph taken with his wife in 1912.

In the same vein, the representations of the other kings were based on the photographs of King Njoya, as for example in an anthropometric profile produced by Bernhard Anckerman in 1908 (Figs. 57). The principle was thereafter abundantly used. Preserved on tracing paper and reproduced in many drawings showing the king alone or with his peers, this practice attested to the incorporation, once again, of one medium in another. It also demonstrated the number and dissemination of pictures and the importance given locally to photographs as elements of power. There were variations in the composition of drawings—care was given to framing devices that served to adapt and strengthen the visual idioms of European sovereignty through positioning and framing.9 Although it is difficult today to give the exact number of drawings in circulation around 1930 and their various uses, it seems certain that Ibrahim Njoya was not the only renowned sketcher.

5

King Njoya (picture by Ankermann, 1908).

5

King Njoya (picture by Ankermann, 1908).

6

King Nsangu, Ibrahim Njoya (ca. 1928–1930).

6

King Nsangu, Ibrahim Njoya (ca. 1928–1930).

7

Mfon Nsangu. n.d., Anonymous.

7

Mfon Nsangu. n.d., Anonymous.

Drawings reportedly featured in the political arena, at least until the death of King Njoya. They were, however, quickly aestheticized, as illustrated by the fate reserved for the map of the kingdom: this major work was classified in the generic category of “Bamun drawings.” It was acquired by Pastor Jean Russillon in 1937, and it was under the name of the sketcher, and not of the king who commissioned it, that it became part of the collections of the Ethnography Museum of Geneva (Galitzine-Loumpet 2011b).

Two other works enhanced the ambivalent status of drawings and the diversity of sponsors. The Drawing of Objects, acquired by Russillon on the same date as the map, was an astonishing picture (Fig. 8), a visual inventory in which almost all of the palace museum objects were meticulously drawn (Savary 1979) and which was very certainly a European commission. For what purpose precisely was it created? In a way, this image exposed the king's impotence, finally robbing him of his right to regalia. It thus highlighted again the political and patrimonial stakes of controlling objects and the diversity of patrons and intermediaries; that is, it underlined the existing balance of power.

8

Drawing of Objects. Ibrahim Njoya (ca. 1935–37?)

8

Drawing of Objects. Ibrahim Njoya (ca. 1935–37?)

The visitors' book of Mosé Yeyap's collection and later of the Museum of Bamun Arts and Tradition is a second interesting element. Produced by Ibrahim Njoya, the book is bound in elaborately decorated leather with brass inlays and comprises several pages of portraits of Bamun kings, alongside other drawings such as art works, patterns, etc. The earliest signatures date back to 1936 (Fig. 9).10 Thanks to this work, dynastic representations were finally freed from palace control and entered the sphere of Bamun art, and the existence of a museum open to Europeans was legitimated.

9

Visitors' Book. Ibrahim Njoya, ca. 1935–36. The canon is the same as that of earlier royal portraits and drawings of cavalry used in many other drawings by Ibrahim Njoya.

9

Visitors' Book. Ibrahim Njoya, ca. 1935–36. The canon is the same as that of earlier royal portraits and drawings of cavalry used in many other drawings by Ibrahim Njoya.

The canons established by Ibrahim Njoya mostly for dynastic genealogies (Figs. 1012) and disseminated in an increasing number of public media (Galitzine-Loumpet 2002), including commemorative fabrics worn by the king, were preserved by the artists who succeeded him. The use of a photographic model, and later drawings as models, was maintained in the works of the artist Daïrou, who became the major proponent of Ibrahim Njoya's formal canons, and in a current lost-wax bronze work.11

10

Inner wall of the Palace of Bamun Kings, by Daïrou, commissioned by the King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya.

10

Inner wall of the Palace of Bamun Kings, by Daïrou, commissioned by the King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya.

11

King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, Nguon ceremonies 2006.

11

King Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, Nguon ceremonies 2006.

12

Portraits of Kings Mbuembue and Njoya, by Ismaela Puetuenchi based on photographs and drawings.

12

Portraits of Kings Mbuembue and Njoya, by Ismaela Puetuenchi based on photographs and drawings.

King Njoya's local and colonial opponents could be credited with the first patrimonializations of his works and their circumscription within a henceforth closed timeframe. Symptomatically, his successor, Njimoluh, was enthroned in June 1933 as “heir to Bamun kings” and the first photographs of his reign referred to him exclusively as “King of Fumban.”

CONTEMPORARY PATRIMONIALIZATIONS

Patrimonializing the royal function: the reign of King Njimoluh (r. 1933–1992). The long reign of King Seidou Njimoluh (1902–1992) started in 1933 in a deeply troubled context. The new king was imposed by the colonial authority against the wishes of Mosé Yeyap, who was gradually sidelined from the affairs of the kingdom. Reduced by the colonial administration and paramount chiefs, the royal power was an empty shell and the vacancy of the throne during King Njoya's exile had led to an abandoned palace. Yet King Seidou Njimoluh is credited with gradually reasserting royal power (Fig. 13). His greatness resided in his use of the patrimonial process by orienting it towards King Njoya, making of his reign a “golden age” of the kingdom at the time of the European arrival, and exploiting the population's general weariness with the excesses of the paramount chiefs. At the end of World War II, with the emergence of the struggle for independence, he was aided in his endeavor to patrimonialize King Njoya by a powerful maternal cousin, Senator Njoya Arouna (1908–1971), Paramount Chief of Njinka and “representative of Bamun traditional chiefs to the French Government” up to 1947.

13

King Njimoluh, ca. 1940

13

King Njimoluh, ca. 1940

This cautious policy played on deep symbolic connotations. Limited to the realm of tradition, Njimoluh made use of his prerogatives. As of 1935, he ordered the return of the instruments of the Mbansie society which had been hidden in the 1920s. The following year, he convened the emissaries of the Nguon ceremony, which had been banned in 1924. The Nguon was again called in 1958, 1963, 1976, and 1985.

Njimoluh also moved the collections to his father's office in the palace and brought back some craftsmen to reside close to the palace (Tardits 2004:58). Lastly, in 1944, he created the Bamun Academy devoted to Bamun historiography on the model of French Academy (Académie française). In 1947, the king reportedly participated in the creation of the new Museum of Bamun Arts and Tradition by the French Institute of Black Africa, comprising Yeyap's collection, which was bought back to his heirs, and some palace objects (Lecoq 1951:137). Thus Njimoluh began the complex patrimonialization of the figure of King Njoya, supported by both the palace, for purposes of legitimation, and by new actors.

The Bamun Academy and the stakes of translating Bamun historiography. The minutes of the Bamun Academy sessions are an important source yet to be studied. The first session, held on March 14, 1944, addressed an audience made up of paramount chiefs and Njoya's close aides. The objective was a translation of King Njoya's book “Bamun History.” From the 1940s at least, the translation of this work into Bamun alphabetic writing became a major challenge, and no less than six parallel versions were mentioned, each time bringing together a team around the personalities at the time: the king, Mosé Yeyap, and the French pastor Henri Martin.12

The first act by the Academy, however, was “a correction on the solemn handing over of the skull of Nsangu, sultan of Bamun killed in Banso” (Njimoluh 2006). The Academy furthermore introduced a new timeline which gave value and legitimacy to the Western perception of the past. Extending as far back as 1394, the foundation date of the kingdom has been contested since the 1950s, but still continued to be the basis of the official timeline, thus becoming part of a local patrimonialization process (Fig. 14).13

14

King Mbuombuo Njoya in front of the dynasty timetable.

14

King Mbuombuo Njoya in front of the dynasty timetable.

The sessions of the Academy, scheduled to meet every week, quickly came under colonial control. In 1956, a new academy was founded and the paramount chiefs were no longer admitted. Its proceedings, however, brought to the palace historiographies written by many authors. The stakes of historiography came to overlap with those of objects and accounted for the abundant productions of local, generally self-published writings mainly on the history of lineages or the reign of King Njoya.

Patrimonialization of King Njoya. Publications and activities were part of the patrimonialization of the figure of King Njoya, which his successor steadfastly pursued, increasing commemorations and monuments. In April 1953, King Njimoluh commemorated the twentieth anniversary of King Njoya's death.14 In the late 1950s, he welcomed Claude Tardits, author of the first monograph on the kingdom, which soon became a reference within the palace itself. The idea of refurbishing the palace and its museum and building a statue emerged in the mid-1960s (Gabus 1967). The palace restoration was completed in 1985, the centenary of King Njoya's accession to the throne and the fiftieth anniversary of the enthronement of King Njimoluh, thereby marking the beginning of a new heritage policy of the various kings. Lastly, the king patrimonialized the name itself, and was henceforth called by a double name, Njimoluh Njoya, a practice that his successor also pursued. Njimoluh also ordered a new throne in the 1970s (Figs. 1516).

15

Statue of King Njoya, 1985

15

Statue of King Njoya, 1985

16

Bust of King Njimoluh, 1993.

16

Bust of King Njimoluh, 1993.

These combined actions transformed King Njoya into a national and, gradually, pan-African and diasporic hero. The patrimonialized figure of King Njoya and his close associates, however, quickly became entangled in local and national matters. Royal proximity developed into a guarantee of political legitimacy, and publications on the subject began to multiply (Njiasse Njoya et al. 1984, Lietmbuo et al. 1992). Ceremonies were, therefore, abundantly photographed to document the relative status of the participants by photo studios established in the 1950s (Geary 2013), while individual “self-patrimonialized” pictures became popular (Fig. 17). Private object collections were established, like that of Nji Mombe, the king's uncle (mambamfon), and of his son, both members of a Christianized elite closed to the palace. Once more under palace control, royal patrimonializations were pursued by associates while continuing to serve as a medium for internal or regional contestation.

17

Bamun notable, n.d., probably from the studio of Nji Mouliom Oumarou, also known as Nji Photographer. Wearing the mpelet headdress reserved for princes suggests high social rank.

17

Bamun notable, n.d., probably from the studio of Nji Mouliom Oumarou, also known as Nji Photographer. Wearing the mpelet headdress reserved for princes suggests high social rank.

LEGITIMACY AND PATRIMONIAL ONE-UPMANSHIP

Since the reign of King Njoya, the legitimacy of a new king thus seems to be based on patrimonial measures. The king not only incarnated dynastic continuity, he was compelled to regularly reiterate his capability to patrimonialize—that is to say, to innovate through politically harnessing the past. Since the antagonism between King Njoya and Yeyap, each king has had to grapple with the emergence of internal contestations of royal prerogative which show to what extent patrimonial issues have, for a century, been entrenched in a founding context of political tensions.

On this point, King Mbuombuo Njoya, who succeeded his father in 1992, seems to have implemented a double policy. On the one hand, he instituted a regular periodization of Nguon ceremonies, which became biennial, and increased activities within Nguon. On the other hand, he increasingly monumentalized patrimony by transforming and creating new edifices (including a memorial to King Njimoluh inaugurated during the first Nguon of his reign in 1993), restructuring the palace museum during the building of the palace hospital in 1996, and more recently constructing a new museum which, we cannot but note, combines all the symbols of royalty and Bamun identity. This latter project takes the patrimonial concept to a new level, presenting an idealized international collaboration as illustrated by the museum project presentation document, albeit relying on a tested process in Bamun history, namely a presumption of equality with the greatest world institutions (Figs. 1819).

18

Museum of Bamun Kings.

18

Museum of Bamun Kings.

19

Museum of Bamun Kings, works progress (March 2015).

19

Museum of Bamun Kings, works progress (March 2015).

In the late 1990s, the king also had plans to transform King Njimoluh's apartments into a museum or to produce a replica of King Njoyas earlier thatched raffia timber palace at the town entrance.15 But heritage and museum processes still proved challenging in different ways. On the one hand, Adamou Ndam Njoya, a political figure who was capable of initiating his own heritage policy and publications on King Njoya, spearheaded an internal protest. On the other hand, art object vendors, who self-identified as antiquarians and claimed to be of royal lineage, began selling objects that they fraudulently presented as originating from the palace. This latter phenomenon reached such a scale that King Mbuombuo Njoya issued a communique against “the spread of cybercrime, a means through which they [fraudsters] carry out transactions of art objects which they sell to their victims, making them believe that the objects are from the Palace or Royal Museum.”16 This development is proof, if need be, of the royal function of authentification progressively established by King Njimoluh. Paradoxically, it is difficult to imagine the creation of private or lineage museums without links to the palace.17

The current king of the Bamun is also facing new regional competition from museum projects of varying quality initiated in other parts of the Grassfields. Although such regional competition is probably less stiff than in the twentieth century, there is still need to preserve Bamun prominence. In fact, patrimonialization processes for a large public in Cameroon were first initiated in the Bamun kingdom (Galitzine-Loumpet 2006b, Malaquais 2002).

In the final analysis, the political function of the patrimonial processes initiated during the reign of King Njoya seems to continue, to the extent that local antagonism appears to be a model of patrimonial representation and practices. Such a model has, in a way, been raised to a regional level, becoming part of personal relations between micro-states of the Grassfields. Must patrimony always be threatened in the political arena in order to exist? Must it constantly be the subject of competition between representations in order to appear in public? It seems impossible to answer these questions in the Bamun Kingdom outside a diachronic and synchronic analysis, one built around notions of heritage and patrimony by considering the dissemination of the images and political imaginings of patrimony.

Notes

1

I use the word “Bamun” currently employed by those concerned and the Cameroonian administration. “Bamum” is closer to the original word “Pamom,” but it is also a construction.

2

Germain Loumpet and I restructured the Palace Museum between March 1995 and 1996.

3

The Mbem people were conquered by the founder of the Bamun kingdom, Nshare, in the seventeenth century. The village of Mbem then became the capital of the new kingdom and the Mbem language became the official Bamun language. Borrowing the language of the vanquished by the victor is a sufficiently rare occurrence to be stressed.

4

The royal cemetery is called Gebt'nja.

5

It is, however, difficult to establish the exact royal role in the arrangement of this picture, taken with the help of Anna Wurhman.

6

An inventory of photographs was conducted in 2003 under the Getty Collaborative program, “Modernity in Bamun Art.”

7

Mediathèque de l'architecture et du patrimoine: http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/

8

Prestat, as a pretext to reduce King Njoya's political power, accused the king of trying to poison him.

9

The drawings preserved in the Ethnographic Museum of Geneva show that settings could be drawn in advance. http://www.ville-ge.ch/meg/musinfo00.php?debut=20&what=dessin&bool=AND&dpt=ETHAF. A specific study on the relationship between drawings and photographs is ongoing.

10

Some of them were prestigious within colonial circles, such as General Leclerc, Pierre Messmer, the British Commissioner in English-speaking Cameroon, etc.

11

Part of the activity of the artist Daïrou (1955–2007) was the painting of portraits based on photographs.

12

Sultan Seidou Njimoluh, “Bamun History (based on the original by late Sultan Njoya)” (Galitzine-Loumpet 2006b:55–76). The only one to be published was the translation by Pastor Martin (Njoya 1952) on the advice of Idelette Dugast. Some omissions suggest that it could have been truncated and that the work of rewriting was important.

13

This periodization remains particularly problematic in light of the more recent founding narratives of neighboring kingdoms. The kingdom was probably founded in the seventeenth century.

14

Speech by H.M. Sultan Njimoluh Seidou (Loumpet-Galitzine 2006b:203–208).

15

El Hadj Mbuombuo Njoya, King of Bamun, personal communications, 1993–1995.

16

Release by King Mbuombuo Njoya, February 12, 2013.

17

Prince Njiasse Njoya intitiated a small dance museum in the 2000s, and the private collection of the King's uncle, Mambafon Mongbe Emmanuel, was temporarily established in the town center. Objects were presented together with portraits of the kings and their followers drawn by Daïrou.

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