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Crossover (young adults + adults)
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Author of the Entry:
Divine Che Neba, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com
Peer-reviewer of the Entry:
Daniel A. Nkemleke, University of Yaounde 1, firstname.lastname@example.org
Eleanor A. Dasi, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com
Elizabeth Hale, University of New England, firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Mkong Bongjio (Storyteller)
Age of narrator: 66 (in 2017)
Social status: Ordinary Citizen
Profession: Retired teacher
Language of narration: Oku
Bio prepared by Divine Che Neba, University of Yaounde 1, email@example.com
Background*: The Oku people are part of the Tikari tribe who migrated from the West Region. The kingdom is made up of about 34 villages ruled by second class and third class chiefs. Its system of traditional rule is a kind of federation, with the kwifon secret cult as the highest organ in the land. The land has natural endowments such as Mount Kilum (the second highest in West Africa after mount Fako) which holds endemic species of plants and animals, caves, waterfalls and the mythical lake Oku. The people are engaged in craftwork, farming and sculpting. Oku has one of the best honey industries that produce pure natural honey in the whole country. Most Oku people have embraced Christianity, but some still practice ancestral worship. Like many other Africans, the Oku person believes in the power of the gods and ancestors over human life and other natural phenomena. This explains why one of the most important shrines in Oku land (known as Lumetu), at the foot of the Kilum mountain, which is visited by the Oku king and chiefs annually, is dedicated to Mnkong Moteh.
* See here (accessed: January 9, 2019).
A long time ago, a man appeared around Lake Oku. No one knew where he came from. He did not have any known parents or relatives, and spent all of his time near the lake and in the sacred forest of Lumetu. His name was Mnkong Moteh, and he came up during the reign of Nghanga, son of the legendary Nyanya, founder of the Ntul dynasty. Though Nghanga had mystical powers that he inherited from his mother, Mnkong Moteh fought and won Nghanga in a spiritual war that was fought in the lake, burnt most of the Ntul people alive, then subdued the rest and brought them under Oku.
He was seen as a devilish king because of the many mysterious deeds he performed. At one time, there was very severe drought in Nso land, which resulted from a misunderstanding between the Oku and the Nso people. Because of this, the Nso people planned to attack the Oku people but before they could execute their plan, most of their streams, springs and rivers dried up. In fact, there was no sign that the drought was anything near ending. So, the Nso people sought peace. Mnkong Moteh took a basket made of bamboo pith, carried water in it, and took to Nso. While there, he asked for certain rituals to be performed. Once that was done, he gathered a number of notables, said some incantations, and raised the basket up into the sky. Immediately the sky broke loose and rain fell as the people had hardly ever seen before, bringing back the streams and rivers.
Before he died, he instructed his successor to bury him in the sacred forest, but the latter thought he would be better honoured if buried in the tomb for kings. His spirit could not rest in the tomb. So on the day sacrifices were being offered to bid him final farewell on his journey to the spiritual realm, his spirit transformed into a royal python (with cowries on the head) and moved away to settle in the sacred forest at Lumetu. As he moved, he left a trail marked by camwood, which the chief priests traced in order to find his final dwelling place. There, a shrine was built in his honour, which is one of the major shrines in Oku today. Yearly sacrifices are offered in this shrine to ask for protection and provision, after which the royal python that holds Mnkong Moteh’s spirit also visits the palace. It is because of this, and other facts, that Mnkong Moteh is worshipped as a god. He is also considered one of the founding fathers of Oku so much so that he is always being mistaken to have been the first Chief.
The myth of Mnkong Moteh emphasizes the role of collective memory in constructing a unique identity around shared experiences and a common heritage. Collective identity that is recognized both by the members of the ethnic group and outsiders, based on heroic actions and exploits of an individual, or a group, constitutes an important cultural repertoire. This gives a sense of cultural solidarity against adversity be it natural or man-made. The above myth also highlights the heroic deeds of a hero amid great adversity, but who, by dint of courage, extraordinary strength, and sometimes divine help, is able to overcome and establish himself as ruler or deity.
Hamilton, Edith, Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, London: Black Dog & Leventhal, 2017.
Myth The Origin of Lake Oku (accessed: December 14,2020).
Researcher: Divine Che Neba.
Research Assistant: Mkong Cynthia Mboh.
Editor: Eleanor A. Dasi.
Method of data collection: Tape recording.