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NIKIA: dancing with fire and snakes


“They are going to trouble you” Bas told me.
“No they are not” I insisted. “They don’t trouble women. They will trouble YOU, because you are with me.”
“Ah, but you are a white man. It is different. They will trouble you.”
“No they won’t. Last year they troubled the people I was with. They didn’t trouble me.”
Jakob chuckled. “That is why you wanted us to come with you. To protect you.”
It hadn’t occurred to me, but since they mentioned it I was pleased that Bas and Jakob were accompanying me. I calculated that not even the juju’s could intimidate Bas and Jakob.

We were on our way to Bamessing, for the annual Nikia dance. The dance with snakes and fire.

But despite the reassuring presence of my body guards, as we approached Bamessing and saw the army of Juju’s surrounding people and harassing them, I began to get uneasy. And so once we were set down in the small square, I quickly dragged Bas and Jakob into a palm wine bar.
“We are early. Let’s wait here until the dance starts. The juju’s can’t come inside.”

We sat with our palm wine and I didn’t here the Juju’s as they approached the bar in which we sat. I jumped as they started calling us in their high pitched voices through the window. Bas and Jakob laughed. Three Juju’s stood looking into the bar through the window close to my head.

They put there hands through the window, palms upwards asking for money. They spoke to us in high pitched voices and in a language that was different from the dialect of Bamessing or the neighbouring villages. I was surprised when Bas spoke back to them in the same language and began to converse with them.

The Juju’s stood at the window and in the doorway, calling to us. But by tradition they cannot enter. The number of Juju’s had increased to 6.

However, as we did not respond, soon they came in and stood in front of us. One of them put a wooden doll on the table in front of us. Another put a carrot on the table in front of Jakob. Another put the blackened seed of an avocado pear. I reached into the bag at my side and pulled out a handful of small change.

The Juju’s continued to call to us in their high pitched voices, pointing at the goods in front of us.
Bas laughed “we should give the baby something?”
The juju nodded.
“Shall I give him some palm wine?” and Bas picked up his cup.
The Juju shouted in alarm and refused.
I put a coin at the place the Juju was pointing, on the forehead of the doll. I gave each of the others a coin. Bas did the same. Jakob also gave some coins but refused to give co-operate with all of them.
As the Juju’s began to pack their things, Jakob held the carrot.
“But this is mine! I paid for it.”
The Juju grabbed it from him.
“Hey, what about the doll? Take the doll.”
The Juju was still demanding money and refused to take the doll.
“But we gave you money, come here and take the doll.”
The Juju made to leave without taking the doll.
“Hey! Take the doll.”
A man walked into the bar and stood sternly looking at the Juju’s. He shouted at them and beckoned them out of the bar. He pointed at the doll sternly until the Juju picked up the doll as it left.

He smiled and shook our hands.
“You are welcome”
“Thank you”
“They have been told to not harass foreigners or camera men. If she wasn’t with you (pointing at me) they could have sat with you and waited.” (Meaning until they were satisfied with the money given to them).
Bas laughed.
“Today I am going to be a white man. When they come to me, I am going to talk white man language to them.” And he put on a strong American accent.
“What would have happened if they didn’t take the doll?”
“We would have had to have given them more money.”

We had walked to the site of the dance and found that we were still early. So we found another palm wine bar – this time the bar was simply a circle of stools in the dust under a tree. I wanted to take a picture to catch the beauty of the moment, but I knew that the people would not like the intrusion.


“So Nikia means clowns?” I asked
“Yes. Do you understand what the Juju’s are doing?”
“This event is depicting the migration of the people to Bamessing. So the Juju’s are not simply begging for money. They are trading. They always offer you something, before they ask for money.”
“Oh I see. The traders preceded the migration?”

We watched the procession as it passed us.
“And those men carrying plantain saplings, pots, pans and any old thing that they could find in the house is depicting the migration, when they had to carry everything that they had with them.”
But in the spirit of the Nikia, at times the men were wearing mini skirts or other eccentric garments that had the crowds laughing as they passed by.

“And the snakes are depicting foes. When you see a snake you run away from it. So having the snakes around their neck means that they have overcome their foes.”
“What about the fire?” I was watching a man blowing fire from his mouth.
“Fire depicts the supernatural powers of the people.”

We were told to stand for the procession that was about to pass us.
“That is the Fon of the Nikia.”
Bas leant towards me.
“Have you noticed for the people here, they don’t care about what is happening with the Nikia. They are simply here, because of the occasion.”
I looked around me and noticed that the men were drinking their palm wine with little concern for the proceedings occurring behind them.


After Jakob and Bas asked me
“Where now?”
“To Jakob’s bar. It is after all the 31st of December – let’s celebrate new years eve.”
And at the bar, I took a long thirsty gulp from my warm beer (there are very few fridges in the village) and asked “where is everyone?”
“We don’t celebrate new years on the 31st. We celebrate on the 1st.”
“But tonight is the point at which the old year ends and the new year starts?”
“And do you think we could wait up until midnight? It is only recently that we got electricity in the village.”
So they celebrate on the 1st with a day of feasting where everyone visits each others house and eats until they cannot eat anymore. In a part of the world where one good meal a day makes for a good day, this is a very special day in deed.

Posted by tamara_p 02:34 Archived in Cameroon

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