The Bansoa People of Cameroon


Cameroon, often referred to as “Africa in Miniature” due to its remarkable diversity in geography and culture, is home to numerous ethnic groups, each with its unique traditions and customs. Among these indigenous communities, the Bansoa people stand out for their rich cultural heritage and intriguing way of life.

The Bansoa People of Cameroon

The Bansoa people are a Bantu ethnic group  part of the larger Tikar ethnic group which also includes the Bamileke and Bamoun people. The Bansoa people, about 25,000 strong, call the western region of Cameroon their home. They live in harmony with other Bamileke ethnic groups in the country. What sets them apart is their deep-rooted traditional beliefs and religious practices. These values have remained unshaken despite cultural clashes with the Western world, population growth, and changes in labour specialization.

They maintain a strong connection to their past, continuously refreshing it through rituals and honouring their ancestors. These traditions are their core, without which they feel incomplete. They draw valuable wisdom and guidance from this past, which they consider the only true and enduring reality. This knowledge helps them navigate a world that often disregards ethical values and lacks clear direction, a world that no longer feels entirely their own.

Social Structure and Family Life

The Bansoa people have a close-knit social structure that places a strong emphasis on family and community. Extended families are common, and elders hold a revered position within the society. Traditional gender roles are prevalent, with men often responsible for farming and hunting, while women are skilled in pottery and crafting.

Bansoa People of Cameroon – The Bansoa Community of the United States hosted their very first cook-out at Wheaton Regional Park – Source: MyMCMedia

Artistic Expressions

Art and craft are integral to the Bansoa culture. The Tikar people, including the Bansoa, are renowned for their pottery, woodcarving, and beadwork. Their pottery is not only functional but also artistic, with intricate designs and patterns. These artistic expressions often tell stories, depict daily life, or represent spiritual beliefs.

The Tikar are also noted as mask-makers. These masks are characterized by their strongly-defined noses and large eyes. This craftsmanship has been passed down through generations and continues to play a significant role in their culture today.

Traditional Beliefs and Cultural Celebrations

Like many indigenous communities in Cameroon, the Bansoa people hold strong traditional beliefs and spirituality. They believe in a higher power and a pantheon of ancestral spirits who guide and protect them. Rituals, ceremonies, and sacrifices (original source) are common elements of their spiritual practices, often performed to seek the favour of the spirits or to commemorate important life events.

The Bansoa people, like other Tikar groups, celebrate various cultural festivals and ceremonies throughout the year. One of the most significant festivals is the Ngouon, which is a harvest festival celebrated with dance, music, and traditional cuisine. During Ngouon, the community comes together to give thanks for a successful harvest and to honour their ancestors.

Language and Communication

The Bansoa people primarily speak the Banso language or Sa’a, one of the five dialects of G’mbâ or Ngomba, , which is a Bantu language belonging to the Tikar group. However, due to their interaction with other ethnic groups in Cameroon and the prevalence of French and English as official languages, many Bansoa people are multilingual.

Proverbs and The Path of Life

This is a traditional society where life follows clear paths. When someone is born, they usually have a good idea of what their life will be like. Surprises are rare. The society, much like that of its ancestors, focuses on educating new-borns to respect the established order, customs, traditions, cultural and philosophical values, all of which have shaped and still shape society. These values have been passed down from the founding ancestors of the community and are considered the ultimate truth. This education mainly comes through oral traditions and spoken stories, and it has strong influences that guide behaviour.

The hind legs follow the front legs, or the hind legs have to land in the tracks left by the front legs
“The hind legs follow the front legs, or the hind legs have to land in the tracks left by the front legs”

It’s worth mentioning that within this community, there is no art for art’s sake. Proverbs, like other forms of storytelling, serve specific human purposes – they’re born to fill gaps in our understanding. Here, ethics and aesthetics always go hand in hand because literature here isn’t just innocent creativity.

Real life, with its challenges and uncertainties, is like navigating a complex maze full of obstacles and risks. To stay in control and not get overwhelmed, we must put in effort, look for something to hold onto, and then use it as a way to overcome these challenges and become masters of our circumstances. The Bansoa proverb, whose generic name is “ssánákhit,” is called “naghá ŋgú,” meaning the ancient word, the grand word, the serious word, in contrast to the small word or the profane word, serve as this essential anchor.

They act as a reliable compass, offering practical guidance and clarity for making decisions in specific situations. What’s more, they have a significant impact on shaping people’s behaviour, making them a powerful tool for socializing individuals. This is why proverbs often contain rules, advice, formulas, and instructions aimed at governing how people behave and interact.

Don't cross the river and break the bridge
“Don’t cross the river and break the bridge” – Meaning: Respect public property

In order to keep things in check, society uses its oral traditions, including proverbs, to provide clear examples of how people should behave. In these proverbs, emphasis is placed on respecting existing norms, and the audience is encouraged to accept their situation, integrate into the established social order, and not to question or attempt to change it. They also warn that attempting to change things is dangerous and is likely to result in failure for those who dare to try.

Keep on the path, even if it twists.
“Keep on the path, even if it twists.”

When we look at Bansoa proverbs, we notice a dominant tendency towards commandments, giving advice and guidelines. This isn’t accidental; these proverbs firmly establish and reinforce specific values within their society.

By telling people how to behave, these proverbs tend to modify conduct and shape their actions. They paint a picture of an ideal person who should embody qualities like acceptance, conformity, caution, patience, determination, and solidarity, while avoiding recklessness, laziness, selfishness, and stinginess.

If you don't bend in the morning, you'll reach out your hand in the evening.
“If you don’t bend in the morning, you’ll reach out your hand in the evening.” – Meaning: If you don’t work when you are young, you will beg when you are old.

In essence, these proverbs serve as a manual for behaviour rooted in the group’s philosophy and ethics. They serve as a way to teach young people how to fit into the community. Their main goal is to set a code of conduct by outlining what’s allowed and what’s not.

But these proverbs do more than just educate; they also ensure the community’s survival. In reality, while they help people navigate life by providing guidance for each moment, their ultimate aim is to protect and preserve the traditional family and social order. They ensure that the beliefs of their ancestors, rooted in nature’s forces, continue to thrive.

If someone follows behind the elephant, the dew won't wet them
“If someone follows behind the elephant, the dew won’t wet them”

These proverbs tackle fundamental questions about human existence – questions about how we relate to others, our community, and the natural world. They do so in their own unique way, often using imagery and symbols. And they don’t just ask these questions; they also provide answers, revealing the secrets to a peaceful, fruitful, and blissful life.

Through these proverbs, society encourages memorization over critical thinking and exploration. They encourage people to believe that the best way to learn and live happily is to be guided and taught by an experienced teacher, usually an elder. It’s a belief that shouldn’t be questioned, as the community’s survival depends on it. Many proverbs emphasize this strict recommendation.

What an elder sees while seated, a young person does not see while standing.
“What an elder sees while seated, a young person does not see while standing.”

Types of Proverbs

In general, Bansoa proverbs can be distinguished into two types: verbal and nominal.

The elements of verbal Bansoa proverbs are mostly in the imperative form. They advise taking action to secure a benefit and not acting in vain. They also emphasize recognizing our limitations and encourage the practice of virtue and the respect for the public good.

Think before you speak
“Think before you speak”
Don't leave the fire to kindle the ashes
Don’t leave the fire to kindle the ashes
Don't measure your buttocks against those of an elephant
“Don’t measure your buttocks against those of an elephant”
Hang your bag at your heigh
“Hang your bag at your height”

Statements of the nominal type also provide advice and directives, but indirectly, relying on generalization, dogma, and timelessness.

A pumpkin never rots unless something has pierced it.
“A pumpkin never rots unless something has pierced it.”
He who always tells the truth walks with his coffin
“He who always tells the truth walks with his coffin”
If someone falls into the water, let them drink.
“If someone falls into the water, let them drink.”
The rain that is announced with thunder doesn't fall
“The rain that is announced with thunder doesn’t fall”

The Proverb or Legal Code in Bansoa Society

The Bansoa society relies heavily on proverbs as both a tool for communication and a form of law for managing the community. These proverbs serve various purposes, such as offering advice, instructing, educating, or even expressing emotions like joy or sorrow.

They also play a crucial role in resolving disputes, such as land disputes or conducting marriage negotiations, especially when clear rules are absent or when legal codes lack precision. In such cases, judges refer to these tried-and-true proverbs to find solutions, restore peace, and maintain communication between opposing parties. These proverbs carry the weight of tradition and are treated as laws, making it difficult for anyone to challenge their validity. Questioning it would mean challenging the legacy of the ancestors, a sacrilege.

It’s important to note that Bansoa society is predominantly male-dominated, with men holding the power of speech and decision-making. Women are expected to remain silent in the presence of men and are typically relegated to traditional roles like wives, mothers, and caretakers. Women are viewed as not intelligent because femininity and motherhood are not compatible with intelligence.

The hen doesn't sing in front of the rooster
The hen doesn’t sing in front of the rooster
The hen knows the dawn, but she waits for the rooster's crow
The hen knows the dawn, but she waits for the rooster’s crow

This gender bias is deeply ingrained in Bansoa culture, as evidenced by proverbs like “A woman does not speak where men are.” These proverbs reinforce the idea that women should not engage in public discourse or make significant decisions within the family. The prevailing belief is that men are the sole authority figures, and society actively upholds this gender hierarchy.

A woman's urine cannot jump over the fence
“A woman’s urine cannot jump over the fence”
The breast that holds milk cannot hold wisdom
“The breast that holds milk cannot hold wisdom”

Bansoa proverbs also reflect their their political, religious, moral life social structure, which is characterized by a lack of formal hierarchies among its members. While inequalities exist, they are based on innate differences between individuals, such as wealth, intelligence, or physical attributes. Society views these inequalities as just and unchangeable, and each member is expected to fulfill their predetermined roles and responsibilities.

The five fingers of the hand are not equal
“The five fingers of the hand are not equal”
If everyone dances, who will applaud
“If everyone dances, who will applaud”

It’s a society that places men and elders at the top of the hierarchy, followed by women, youth, and children. The elderly, in particular, are highly respected for their accumulated wisdom and experience, which is considered invaluable.

The gums were there long before the teeth.
“The gums were there long before the teeth.”
If someone is your superior, carry their bag.
“If someone is your superior, carry their bag.”

Bansoa society leans heavily toward conservatism. It’s cautious about embracing change and new ideas because they might not always be beneficial, and in some cases, they could even pose risks.

A new rope hurts the goat's neck.
A new rope hurts the goat’s neck.
Don't abandon the widow because you have a new wife.
“Don’t abandon the widow because you have a new wife.”

Comformity in Bansoa Society

Bansoa society strongly values conformity. Bansoa proverbs provide insight into their conformist society. The proverbs cover a wide range of life’s facets and emphasize the importance of conforming to established norms. They see their proverbs as a guide to life, and those unfamiliar with them may feel lost in their society.

Being alive is the most important thing regardless of our social situation.

Wherever the hair is on the head, it's on the head
“Wherever the hair is on the head, it’s on the head”

This proverb sheds light on Bansoa culture’s perspective on life and the future, emphasizing their conformist nature.

Endure without complaints: In any life situation or job, complaining is discouraged, as it might lead to losing your home and livelihood. Instead, people are advised to adapt to their surroundings, accept ancestral laws, and conform to the established order. Gratitude for life and stoic endurance of one’s circumstances are considered paramount.

No matter how small the malanga, it will end up in the mortar.
“No matter how small the malanga, it will end up in the mortar.”

Powerlessness and destiny: According to Bansoa beliefs, humans are powerless in the face of destiny. They cannot alter their fate or that of others, as destiny is an overpowering force. This fatalistic worldview, rooted in genetic determinism and faith in fate, is expressed clearly in Bansoa proverbs.

If a banana is meant to ripen, it will ripen even if you put it in water.
“If a banana is meant to ripen, it will ripen even if you put it in water.”

Apathy and reliance on God: Bansoa society seems marked by apathy and fatalism. When confronted with life’s challenges, people tend to trust in God to solve their problems rather than taking action themselves. Several proverbs exemplify this outlook.

The frog has no tail, but God scares away the flies that land on it.
The frog has no tail, but God scares away the flies that land on it.

Complex living conditions: Life can be challenging due to interpersonal issues like jealousy, envy, malice, greed, and hatred. Attempting to rise above the societal norm, which emphasizes economic equality, may make one vulnerable to harm. Hence, displaying wealth is discouraged, and living discreetly is advised.

The animal that hides its tracks in the forest is the one that grows old.
“The animal that hides its tracks in the forest is the one that grows old.”

Focus on the present: Bansoa people display a limited inclination toward planning for the future, as it is viewed as uncertain. Instead, they prefer to hold onto what they currently possess, even if it means enduring hardship.

Contentment with the status quo: The Bansoa population tends to be satisfied with the status quo, as they fear conflict. They are reluctant to question their existence, societal laws, cultural values, beliefs, and customs, even if these aspects are not always beneficial. They inherit these norms from their parents and society and pass them on without considering changes or improvements.

The vine has no eyes, yet it climbs to the top of the tree
“The vine has no eyes, yet it climbs to the top of the tree”

It is impossible to summarize in a few words the richness of Bansoa proverbs. We can only point out that it is a universe characterized by its diversity, just like life itself. It covers all aspects of life, nature, and the world. Knowing and possessing it is a passport to life. The Bansoa proverb is the book of life, it is life, which means that anyone who does not know it is a lost man, without references, without resources, without weapons, a dead man.


In conclusion, Bansoa proverbs serve as both a means of communication and a form of law in their society. They reflect and reinforce cultural norms, including a strong gender hierarchy and an acceptance of innate inequalities. These proverbs play a central role in shaping the Bansoa community and its traditions.

The Bansoa people of Cameroon are an integral part of the country’s diverse cultural landscape. Their rich history, traditions, and artistic expressions contribute to the colourful tapestry of Cameroon’s cultural heritage.

Royal Statue Sculpture 19th century (Female figure seated on a stool with caryatid.)
Royal Statue Sculpture 19th century (Female figure seated on a stool with caryatid.)   Culture: Bamileke, Africa – Central Africa – Cameroon – West – Menoua (department) – Bansoa (chieftaincy) African. 19th century. 
Wood, glass beads, textiles, cowries. – Bansoa People of Cameroon

Despite their vibrant culture and rich traditions, the Bansoa people, like many indigenous communities worldwide, face challenges in preserving their way of life. Modernization, urbanization, and external influences can erode traditional practices and languages. Efforts to document and preserve their culture, language, and heritage are essential to ensure the Bansoa people’s legacy continues to thrive for generations to come.

If You Enjoyed This Content, Feel Free To Leave A Tip Or Visit One Of The Sponsor Adverts

You Might Also Like