The University of Iowa University of Iowa

Life in the Cameroon Grasslands

by Hans-Joachim Koloss (1938 - 2013)
Formerly Museum für Völkerkunde

The house of a military society in Mbot, Northwest Province of Cameroon. Photo by Hans-Joachim Koloss.

The traditional military societies are still alive everywhere in the Cameroon Grasslands, though tribal wars have not been possible for a long time. Usually there is at least one military society in each village and nearly all the male adults are members. Every week they have their meeting in the military house to drink palm wine and discuss problems of the community. Instead of carrying on wars, the military societies are now responsible above all for community work—for example, building public houses, roads and bridges. The military houses are much bigger than normal houses and their walls are not covered with clay. They have two doors, one for the “officers,” the other for commoners. Typical for these houses are also pillars, which are decorated with human and animal figures, like the pillars of the main building of the palace. The military societies are entitled to this privilege because “they are the people,” or, in other words, they represent them. Secret societies made up of ordinary families do not have this right.