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Njoya Ibrahim: Cameroon's inventive king

Henri Fotso
May 12, 2021

Though Sultan Njoya Ibrahim acceded to the throne when the Germans were imposing themselves in Cameroon, he managed to reign with relative freedom. The King of Bamun was known to be a pacifist and a great inventor.

African Roots | Sultan Njoya Ibrahim | Porträt

Njoya Ibrahim: Cameroon's inventive king

When did Njoya Ibrahim live?

Sultan Njoya Ibrahim was, in all likelihood, born in 1876 and was only three years old when his father Nsangou died on the battlefield. From 1879 to 1887, his mother Na Njapdnunke ensured regency with the honorable servant Gbetnkom Ndombu. He ascended to the throne at the age of 11, becoming the 17th king of the Ncharé Yen dynasty his reign lasted 46 years until May 30, 1933, when he died in exile in Yaoundé.

What type of king was Njoya Ibrahim?

Unlike his predecessors, the King of Bamun was not aggressive. He was forced onto the battlefield when he was still very young. In 1892, he got rid of Gbetnkom Ndombu. The former servant obsessed with power decided to raise an army to overthrow the new king. As a result, the kingdom experienced a civil war that lasted three years until 1895, when king Njoya triumphed thanks to the Fula king of Banyo, Sultan Oumarou, who had come from the north of the country.

What made Njoya Ibrahim's kingdom great?

Njoya Ibrahim was a charismatic and pacifist king but was also a great inventor. In 1915 or so, he created a religion inspired by Islam, Christianity, and traditional beliefs. The founding principles (which are named njoyaism and based on pragmatism) are written in the Nkuet Kwate (which means "pursue and achieve"), also called the King's Bible. This book is written in A-Ka-U-Ku, a writing system invented by Sultan Njoya himself, that stems from the language shü-mom. Sultan Njoya also wrote fifteen books (including romance novels) and an encyclopedia about traditional pharmacopeia.

Sultan Njoya: inventor of the Bamun script

Furthermore, he invented a machine to grind corn. Culture connoisseur, he promoted the development of arts to reach the cultural thriving of the Bamun people. The capital city Foumban is the city of arts today. At its heart is the palace built by Sultan Njoya, which has become part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

What was Njoya Ibrahim's relationship with the colonists like?

Unlike Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, Njoya Ibrahim did not fight against the colonists. In 1906, for instance, he allied with the Germans during his war against the Banso who had killed his father and kept the skull as a trophy. This alliance can be considered a starting point for good relations between the German colonists and the Bamun people. In 1908, Sultan Njoya Ibrahim even sent his throne as a birthday gift to Emperor William II. Today the throne is exhibited in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. He also gave one of his spouses (still a virgin) to Jesko von Puttkamer, who governed the colony then called Kamerun. A girl named Elise was born from their union.

While relations between the Germans and the Bamuns were generally smooth, things changed when the French arrived at the end of World War I. The French administration terminated his reign by deporting him to Yaoundé (for reasons still not clarified). He died on May 30, 1933, after spending three years under house arrest.

What are Njoya Ibrahim's famous adages?

"It is better to die than to live in shame." This phrase is said to explain how Njoya Ibrahim preferred to die exiled in Yaounde rather than be greeted as a former prisoner back in his kingdom.

"If someone overtakes you, learn to take your bag and walk behind him." This motto led him to compromise with the first German settlers in his kingdom.

"Do not let other people act for you." According to Oumarou Nsangou, teacher of the shü-mom language, this quote echoes philosopher Immanuel Kant who recommended "daring to think for yourself."

Scientific advice on this article was provided by historians Professor Doulaye Konaté, Professor Lily Mafela and Professor Christopher Ogbogbo. African Roots is supported by the Gerda Henkel Foundation.