The King’s Religion is the People’s Religion!

7 May

“Cuius Regio, Eius Religio” – Joachim Stephani (1544–1623)


I shall take you over to a kingdom in west-central Africa, where their King was allegedly “healed” by a certain Christian Pastor from a protracted ailment, whom he invited to his palace later for thanksgiving. During the deliverance and fortification ceremony to rid his palace and kingdom of ‘evil spirits’. He asks the ‘Man of God’ to destroy all the ancestral shrines and deities in his village, blaming them as causes of every misfortune, underdevelopment and every other ill that affects or afflicts his land and people. A stand-off and show of spiritual force ensues between pro-Christians and pro-African traditionalists. With arsenals open and war cries being  yelled against this iconoclasm or sacrilege, only the timely arrival of armed government forces prevent these hither to peaceful coexisting clans-people from physically confronting each other with and the bloodbath that could have followed.

Viewed from the perspective of a political anthropologist, the ‘Grassland Fondoms’ of the Western Highland region of Cameroon reveals a political setup that could serve as a template for reinventing the state in Cameroon as per this model. The Fondom syncs culture, tradition, religion and administration, providing and demanding compatible services as a de jure state does. Below is a breakdown of the power and administrative structure of a Fondom and its reflection in the modern state or a religious organisation:

1. The Fon or iFo’o equates to a head of state, the Pope in Catholicism, the Patriarch in Orthodox Christianity, a Caliph, Emir, Sultan in Islam. The Fon is the supreme military and spiritual leader of His Subjects,  just as the Pope is the defender of the faithful, the president of the republic or monarch is commander-in-chief of the armed forces. As spiritual leader in ancestral and traditional worship, he is the chief priest who represents ancestral continuity and intercession between the living and the spirit realm.

2. The Kwifoo is a the traditional legislative institution as well as it is a secret society that represents the entire population of the kingdom.  The members of Kwifoo are called Ikum and are literally speaking kingmakers and can discipline a Fon as the parliament in a state can impeach or censure a president or a council of Cardinals can excommunicate a faithful or clergy. Along with the Fon, they serve as  law makers and customary judges for civil and criminal matters.

3- The Fon is aided by a set of quasi-regal persons who execute functions and roles equal to those of governors and civil administrators, Bishops and priests, Imams and Sheikhs respectively. These delegation of powers  includes princes, princesses (Mafor, Mofor, Ndifor, Tapifoo, Nde’eh, Nchinda), vassal and tributary Fons (sub-Fons) and lineage chieftains. As in all organised units, there is an order of merit to reward honourary titles and merits for acts of valour and services rendered to the Fon or the Fondom (Akamentso, Ntsofoo, Ntumfoo). These too are also incorporated into the administrative, judiciary and leadership corps of the Fondom.


The right to a religion and the freedom to worship are the things that keep secular states in balance from becoming theocracies. No wonder nation-state builders have always advocated the separation of religion from the state. Freedoms and rights are just almost but they are not the same thing. Though recognized by his people and government as their representative and administrative auxiliary, when a custodian of the customs and traditions of a people uses his position to proselytize for the causes that he supports or begins to break the traditional institutions and cultural landmarks he is charged to safeguard without consulting other hierarchical and subordinate authorities in his kingdom, it defeats the intention of the act and diminishes his legitimacy as well as the cultural identity of his people vis-a-vis other clans who are or may not be adherents to the new found faith. I wonder what it will be like for them if they are rejected in the great beyond of afterlife by the Jewish ancestors for whom they are with lightning bolt speed and conviction discarding their own African ancestors today? Why not leave the ‘all powerful and knowing’ celestial deity fight its own battle and war?

No class of people whether classified by creed or ethnicity holds the monopoly over religious fundamentalism. I read news reports not long ago how some zealot had in premeditation burned Holy Korans, again how another had made a blasphemous yet trivialized mock video of Islam’s prophet. Moving back in time from Osama Ben laden the godfather of terrorism  to Anders Breivik the far-right Christian extremist mass murderer in Norway, we saw aeroplanes become missiles in the hands of some zealots  now styled and branded as ‘terrorists’ which they used to slay 3000 thousand people; not forgetting the young Nigerian whom despite his father being an influential banker concealed a bomb in his panties but failed to detonate it aboard an America bound flight and also about others who without consideration for anthropology and heritage went about destroying the ancient relics and mausoleums in Mali and later on by calls from yet another leader of faith under the excuse of idolatry called for the destruction of the great pyramids and Sphinx in Egypt. Except for some psychopathic individuals, I believe few people are born religious fanatics. When individuals for one reason or the other congregate into groups for some common purpose they choose their options to achieve what the what. Terrorism at that level becomes more complex because it is difficult to define who then is a terrorist as in the case of the April 2013 Boston bombings.

Nigeria is no stranger to the politics of ethno-religious politics. This has been the the ground on which public office seeking and power sharing has been anchored since its independence. With the rising spate of sectarian violence orchestrated by the dreaded ‘Boko Haram’ militant group against the people and the state of Nigeria, one is taken aback as to what really motivates them. How does one win a war against an enemy for whom death in any form, whether suicidal or killed means victory?  Arising from the ashes and remnants of the ‘Maitatsine’ Islamic jihads of two decades earlier or a nostalgia for the Sokoto Caliphate Jihads by the charismatic Usman Dan Fodio in the 19th Century; the Boko Haram tragedy presents an ideal case study of how very lethal the fusion of ethno-religious leadership in a secular state can be.

The state in Africa is arbitrary, arising from colonialism and the unification of peoples with different political cultures, the successor state has been too tribal and religiously fundamental, all of which concoct  a recipe for it to go pariah. The sadness of African state building or formation is that their ethnic and religious groups run horizontally while their state boundaries run vertically. The powerful Lamidos in the north of Cameroon and Nigeria the face of these increasing powerful radical religious clerics have either had to share the loyalties of their subjects with them or have either become powerless or waned in authority due their collaboration with civil and military administration or may be because religious leadership presents a more appealing package than traditional authority.

If some zealots and bigots could have their will done within a twinkle, museums, historical sites, archaeological and other monumental landmarks will be demolished and forgotten. If this was the case, the christian missionaries and Islamic Caliphs who Christianized and Islamized Africa would not have left any relic existing today in their quest to convert Africans. Sometimes when I learn of all these in the news and in readings from history books, how religious extremists and fundamentalists use religion as justification to replace one  form of oppression with another, it rumbles like a quake at the foundation of my sanity.

African spirituality of the interconnection between the living and the non living centered around and derived from a supernatural being. Ancestral veneration, libations and sacrifices is an aspect of worship by the living which prepares and connects them for the eventual transition to the unseen but felt non-living after reality. That’s why we have diviners and spirit mediums. African spirituality is the most diverse and varied form of belief. Religion is organised and enforced propaganda or hypnotism! Before Modibo Adama’s  jihadists entered the Bamum country or the British Baptist Missionary Society ‘light bearers to the dark continent’ set foot on the beach at Bimbia, nor Dr. Eugene Zintgraff and his camping company entered the court of the  Fon of Bali Nyonga’s, Africans before then fought wars to defend their lands, crops and herds from migratory groups and not to propagate their spiritual beliefs. The Jihad came along with the sword and the Evangelists came along with the machine gun and today wars are fought by those wielding religious manifestos. So the food for thought is if there is any compatibility between  African traditional leadership and institutionalized religious ideologies within the context and situation of a secular state entity?

“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” – Desmond Tutu

By Nwanatifu Nwaco

One Response to “The King’s Religion is the People’s Religion!”


  1. The root of it all | 2ndlook - May 18, 2013

    […] The King’s Religion is the People’s Religion! ( […]

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