IndexAfricaCameroon → Bangwa


Featured: (Nso’, Beti / Eton, Maka, Etap, Pangwe / Fan, Baifa / Banen, Fali, Mouktélé, Bangwa, Bali


A baby is betrothed at birth, or in infancy (Brain, 1972:p114-8)[1], a custom “fast changing today”. She invites her fiancée from early age on, and lives with him permanently at the approach of marriage. The age difference is sometimes fifteen to twenty years. A strong taboo is placed on pre-nubile, or pre-adult, sexual intercourse, with both boys and girls. The criterion for this lies in the concepts of “social” instead of “sexual” puberty, so that a youth of twenty may be regarded as a “child”, id est, unfit for sexual intercourse.


According to Brain (1967:p29-30)[2]:


“In the past girls were betrothed soon after birth. The ceremony was a simple one, the suitor or his father placing a large log of wood on the fire of the mother of the newly born girl. If the mother and father agreed the log was left on the fire and the baby was betrothed to her suitor. As a son-in-law he now began a long period of service to his parents-in-law: he helped his mother-in-law in the heavy work of farm-clearing; he brought working-parties when his father was building a house in the compound. He was personally responsible for re-building his mother-in-law’s house. He could be sent on errands by them. When his father-in-law needed money he borrowed at will from him. Nowadays, since most of the young men are working in the south, accumulating heavy marriage payments, these personal services are no longer carried out: most of them are incorporated into the final marriage payments. The Bangwa girl goes to her husband as soon as she is physically mature, although before puberty she has been visiting his compound under the supervision of a senior wife. She brings food to her future husband, receives gifts in return and begins to cultivate farms near his compound”.


Brain again (1970:p218-9)[3]:


“Sexual education is acquired casually. There are no formal puberty rites for groups of boys or girls. Girls are married shortly after puberty or as their breasts 'begin to drop'. Once a girl, in a group of age-mates, Is considered ready for marriage the parents other age-mates prepare to arrange for the weddings of all their daughters, whatever their physical maturity, although a very immature girl may be 'fattened' for seven or nine weeks, on the advice of a diviner. A girl is accompanied at her wedding by two age-mates or friends who attend her through the lengthy ceremonial, bathing with her and anointing her with camwood and oil before she is taken to her husband's sleeping-hut for the first time. […] Bangwa men have fleeting sexual relations with girls, but never confuse a love affair with a relationship of friendship with a woman, formed in early childhood. Men and women of the same age are not necessarily of the same social age; this in itself precludes the notion of sex. Youths, on the whole, are not considered sexually or socially mature until many years after their girl 'friends' have married and had children, The difference in poise and physique between a youth of twenty and a matron of the same age is often remarkable. A young man usually becomes betrothed to his first fiancée in his early twenties, while she is still a child; when he first marries, his female friend may be a grandmother”.


Brain (and Pollock, 1971:p19)[4], lastly:


“In the past girls were betrothed soon after birth. This involved the future husband in a long period of service, mainly on behalf of his mother-in-law. Marriages are legalised by the concluding of the marriage payments and the transferring of the ‘marriage goat’ to the bride’s kin”.



Lockhart (1994:p19)[5]:


“There are no initiation ceremonies within Bangwa culture. Children are named and grow to adulthood without any formal rites. Marriages were arranged before a girl had reached puberty, sometimes even soon after her birth, and were legalised with the payment of the bridewealth which was often high”.





Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Apr 2005


[1] Brain, R. (1972) Bangwa Kinship and Marriage. London: CambridgeUniversity Press

[2] Brain, R. (1967) The Bangwa of West Cameroon: A brief account of their history and culture. UniversityCollegeLondon []

[3]Brain, R. (1970) Friends and Twins in Bangwa, in Man in Africa, edited by Mary Douglas, London, Tavistock []

[4]Brain, R. & Pollock, A. (1971) Bangwa Funerary Sculpture. London: Duckworth []

[5]Lockhart, V. (1994) A Social-Historical Study of Social Change Among the Bangwa of Cameroon. Occasional Paper No. 52, Centre of African Studies, University of Edinburgh []