Once Were Warriors: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About The Bamileke People

Have you ever heard of the Bamileke people? We didn’t think so. Residing in southern Cameroon for hundreds of years, the Bamileke people have developed some of the richest traditions in Africa. Travelers generally don’t get to interact with them like they do with the Maasai, with the exception of the lucky few that have had a chance to travel extensively throughout the country. From their far away origins, to their old warrior societies, to their colorful costumes, here are 10 things you didn’t know about the Bamileke people.

They have intricate traditional costumes

Many traditional Bamileke still dress in costumes when performing a ceremonial dance or for tourists passing by. The costumes are rather large and typically cover the body from head to toe. Each society within the Bamileke have their own particular costumes and style of dance.

Along with elaborate elephant masks

The Bamileke warrior society was known to wear elephant masks along with leopard skins to display power, wealth, and privilege. They were often worn in ceremonies and given to warriors and people who helped enrich the royal treasury. You can still find many Bamileke tribes using these masks during ceremonies.

They still use traditional structures

Many Bamileke still make structures that resemble a mud hut, with the top of the building using a thatch roof that looks like a giant cone. While few Bamileke live in buildings like this, they are still used for storage buildings and gathering places in the villages.

Many practice polygamy

Many Bamileke people still practice traditional polygamy, mostly for the aspects of inheritance. Marriages usually have a bride price that is paid to the bride’s family. This practice has lead to some individuals having dozens of wives.

They speak many different languages

Though you might think all of the Bamileke speak the same language being of the same culture, that isn’t even close to the truth. In fact, there are at least 11 different languages that the Bamileke speak, including Kwa, Mdumba, Yemba and Ghomala.

They can be traced back to Egypt

The Bamileke people can be traced all the way back to Egypt. The people migrated to the northern part of Cameroon between the 11th and 14th centuries. They later moved farther south to avoid the Atlantic Slave Trade and a forced conversion to Islam by invading peoples.

They have very old beliefs

Before missionaries came to Cameroon, many of the Bamileke believed in a creator god called Nsi. Other groups in the country believed in local deities that had power over trees, streams, and natural features. Today, Christianity is by far the most popular religion, but many of the old beliefs still exist among some of the Bamileke.

They practice traditional medicine

Many Bamilike still practice traditional medicine in day-to-day life. Some of the practitioners include diviners, spiritualists, and herbalists that people seek for healing. However, most people will just use contemporary medical assistance at hospitals and clinics.

They have an interesting burial ceremony

When somebody in traditional Bamileke culture dies, burial often occurs within 24 hours, followed by a week of public mourning in the village. Many of the relatives shave their heads out of respect for the family member. After a year, a death celebration is performed, and the widow of the deceased can have sexual relations with other people afterwards.

The first kingdoms started in the 16th century

The oldest kingdoms of the Bamileke people were started in the 16th century after population movements in the area. There were many wars that the Bamileke fought in between the Nso and Bamoun people that lived right next to them. The kingdoms eventually dissipated somewhat during the colonial area, when the Germans, the French and the British took over the area through most of the 20th century.

Related content on AFKTravel:

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Cameroon

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