Last Thursday I met a royal for the first time in my life…. No, not Prince William or Princess Kate, although, this king comes from a dynasty almost as long as that of Queen Elizabeth’s… Our study abroad group met with Chief Toukam who welcomed us to his Chefferie last Thursday.
After two hours on a dusty road, we arrived at the beautiful Chefferie of the Batoufam and were greeted by a dozen men and women playing a wooden xylophone, drums, and shaking maraca-like instruments. The beat was like nothing I had ever heard- intense and layered. We ran off the bus to join the village women in their dancing and were welcomed immediately. For the next thirty minutes we danced with these women and men in the dust, which we kicked up until we were surrounded by a haze of red. My friend Sonia turned to me halfway through dancing and said, “There is something really grounding about this.” I agreed wholeheartedly. Moving to the drums with the Bantoufam people, living their tradition and experiencing their joy, I felt at home.
We entered the Chefferie and were guided to one of the Chief’s main sitting rooms which was elaborately decorated with rich wood carvings, brilliant woven rugs, and beautiful wall hangings of the chief.
He had many interesting things to share, including how globalization has effected his tradition and how he helps create development for the people in his village. More to come on those subjects soon…
The subject I was most interested in was his wives, as the majority, if not all, of the traditional chiefs of Cameroon are polygamists. He would not say how many wives or children he had because giving an answer would mean he was done obtaining more wives and making more children. He did say that he is one of his father’s 200 children which kind of gives an idea of how many kids and wives he might have over his lifetime.
After graciously answering our questions the chief took us on a tour of his grounds, which is an honor some community members never get the chance to experience. He took us by the homes of some of his wives, and we went in to say hello. Such a surreal experience. There we met about ten women gathered around the fire, some young and some old, who all welcomed us graciously. In that cool brick room I met Carol, one of the chief’s wives, who was the mother of a little boy sitting in another woman’s lap. Meeting this community of women was as much an honor for me as meeting the chief. These women are in charge of taking care of those living in the village and basically keep the Chefferie running.
In the past month, the bounds of my perspective have been stretched miles away from my comfort zone. Everyday presents a new challenge and a new vantage point from which to view the world. The stretching process has been sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful, and always rewarding.
Check out the Royaume de Batoufam at www.batoufam.org