First posted on the This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. forum on Fri Aug 24, 2001 2:09 pm
Subject: THE PATH TO LAIKOM - Intro [Part 1 of 14]

Dear WoinKom,

As the subject line indicates, this is just Part One of a 14-part academic paper. All thanks to Nawain Shanklin [Ayongn'a Nawain] for graciously offering her research work to WoinKom and to 'WayneBobe', George Mbeh for taking time off babysitting his newborn 'njii_ndo', to proofread this precious document. No one is receiving a bill in the mail for this work, but the ancestors are not sleeping ...

There will be a two-day lapse between each part to enable you to read, digest and react to the information. This also gives you time to better manage your mailbox. At the end of it all, those who need a complete copy of the document [in Word format], with kindest permission from NaYaounde, will get it as an attachment - for printing and other purposes. Kom will hopefully be printed and distributed so many times that even the Chinese will want to know The Path to LaiKom.

On your marks, get set and ... yi jel ajung!


I. Introduction.

A. Symbolic Analysis of Kom Architecture.

This paper has as its main purposes the description and analysis of Kom royal court architecture. I will describe seven royal court compounds of Kom as they existed at the time of my fieldwork (1981-82), as they are recalled by Informants, and as they were described by other fieldworkers and visitors,With particular attention to descriptions that have not been published -- from the thirties and forties (Gebauer 1971, 1979, unpublished notes on Laikom in Gebauer Collection, Goldwater Library, Metropolitan Museum); and from the fifties and sixties (Chilver and Kaberry 1967; Chilver, unpublished field notes 1963.)

The term "royal court" compound is Gebauer's (1979:78), modified for use here to refer, - first, to compounds the heirs-apparent succeed in their "ascension" to Laikom and the position of king (hereafter Fon) and, - second, to compounds that are occupied by important leaders who are not on the path of ascension, e.g., the Fon's titular parents.

Emphasis is given to those compounds that are part of the ascent to Laikom, compounds that form a metaphorical staircase by which an heir-apparent ascends to the palace at Laikom.

The analytic means are the techniques of symbolic anthropology, techniques that facilitate the understanding of meanings in architecture but have seldom been applied to Grassfields ethnography and, to my knowledge, never used for the study of Grassfields architecture.

Space does not permit an extended discussion of all symbolic principles of Kom cosmology; I will give a comprehensive description of those principles manifest in Kom royal architecture as they affirm and contradict Kom ideas about the ascension of an heir-apparent.

To illustrate the efficacy of symbolic analysis in Grassfields ethnography, I use the three levels of interpretation suggested by Victor Turner (1982b): the exegetical, the operational, and the positional.

The exegetical level is that of indigenous belief and interpretation. The operational level of analysis is concerned with information gathered by a trained observer's sociological analysis. The third level, the positional level, attempts to understand
in the broadest possible sense the ways in which architectural or other forms "fit" into the overall picture a people have of their universe.

The three analytic levels can be illustrated with a discussion of a statement that Kom people often make: "The king was considered an ordinary person before his choice and installation" (Nkwi 1976:49).

The statement is one I believe to be paradoxical, in that it is both true and false, and symbolic, in that it reflects Kom ideas about the (human) status of an heir-apparent before he undergoes the rites that confirm him as (semi-divine, immortal) Fon.

At the level of informant exegesis, this statement is one that most Kom people would say they believe. Informant belief conceals important information, however, that must be dealt with at the other two levels. At the observer's operational level, the statement is false, because many behaviors indicate treatment of the heirs-apparent in ways closer to that accorded the Fon than to that of an "ordinary man."

At the positional or structural level, the truth and falsity of the statement are reconciled because there is embedded in it a deeper and more important truth, that the treatment of the heir-apparent is idealized as that of an ordinary (mortal) man until such time as he has undergone the enstoolment rites that confirm him as a semi-divine (immortal) Fon.

In the informants' view, the secular aspects of the ascension are less important than the spiritual transformation that occurs when the "ordinary" man becomes Fon, but in the observer's view, the path to Laikom is best seen as a series of levels,
up which an heir-apparent toils, learning appropriate behavior at each level and acquiring with each step new responsibilities and privileges.

Becoming sacred Fon does indeed involve a spiritual transformation; this transformation, however, is the culmination of a secular training process that includes a series of transitions:

1) from ordinary man, prior to succeeding a compound;

2) to ordinary notable, after succeeding the royal court compounds of Anjin, Mbam, and Anyajua;

3) to extraordinary notable, on succeeding the compound at Fuli, traditionally the home of the next in line for the throne.

To understand and explicate these meanings of Kom architecture more fully, it is necessary to understand the position of Laikom within the Kom polity and the general sociological principles that underlie building. For this, Turner's positional analytic level is a useful starting point. Turner noted that the positional level of analysis has both temporal and spatial dimensions and in order to set the royal court compounds of Kom in proper perspective, I will simplify a bit and use these dimensions as synonyms for history and geography, which are a "cosmogram" of Kom ideas.

NEXT TIME ... PART 2 of 14

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