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Field Mission to Bafut, Cameroon: Part 2, Bafut Palace

Behind the Achum Shrine are houses used by secret societies run by the priests in the traditional religion of the Bafut people. Each priest is responsible for a different spiritual realm. My colleague, Raymond Asombang, holds a Ph.D. in Archaeology from London University and is an eminent professor in Cameroon. He is also a member of Bafut's religious society that cleanses the sky of evil. A spiky cactus grows on the roof of their house snagging evil spirits as they drift overhead. Behind the palace is a sacred forest, an element found in many Bantu religions, from which sacred plants used in religious ceremonies are harvested.

The palace is at the center of the social and spiritual life of the Bafut community. I attended a ceremony in the central courtyard, next to the shrine, at which families of the fon's siblings (his father had over 20 wives) brought firewood and laid it before him as a gesture of obedience and solidarity. The fon testily noted who was not present. The ceremony was accompanied by eating and drinking and ended with traditional dances, summoning spirits to bless the fon and his people, and celebrate the Bafut way of life. Dancers dressed in masks carved as elephants or lions danced athletically in a circle, accompanied by rhythmic beats played on a giant timber xylophone.

Symbolically, as well as physically, the palace is at the center of community life in Bafut, an embodiment of their cultural identity.