Oroko or Balondo people are a group of sawabantu (or Duala people) with lineage originated from the Congo basin, migrating upwards and splitting into two groups. One part settled around the south Region of Cameroon known as the Batanga of kribi while the other migrated to the South West Region settling along the Kumba-Mamfe high way right up to Mbonge and down to Mundemba.
Oroko is an ethnic group made up of several clans. Each of the clans has its own cultural characteristics in terms of traditional dancing, meals and semi-language differences . Their villages are spread around the South West Region specifically in Ndian and Meme Division, where they constitute more than 3/4 of the population in each of these divisions.
The Orokos are located north of Mount Cameroon with River Mungo on the right and the Atlantic Ocean on the left. They extend far north towards Mamfe via Bakassi, and Korup National Park; one part of which bounds with Nigeria and another part with Manyu division.
The main geographical features of the tribe constitute the highlands of Bafaka Balue, which extends right up to Rumpi hills and Itoki Bakundu area. This forms the back bone and also constitute the shed from which the five main rivers take their rise: the Mungo, Meme, Ndian, Moko and the Munaya. The great fishing grounds of the west of the Adriatic coast harbor the mangrove forests and the creeks which constitute the richest fishing grounds on the west coast of Africa.
During the very early colonial days, the majority of the coastal people were known as the Balondos. But when the wind of cultural and political awareness started blowing across the coast of West Cameroon, many of these people began identifying them selves as different ethnic groups each with its own appellation like: the Balongs, Barombis, Bakolles, Isangeles, Korup and Bafaws or are semi-Oroko and share similar origin. The result was that the distinctively carved out boundary of the real Balondo ethnic group contained only a minority of people within the then kumba division. Because of slight dialectal differences, the Balondo ethnic group later broke into fragment of what is today known as clans, one of which is the Balondo Bananga clan. Hence Balondo at this point was no more referring to the ethnic group but to a particular clan within the ethnic group. The new ethnic map brought in more controversy in the house such that the people decided to change the Balondo appellation. Kemba of Bowa Bakundu proposed that since all clans of the ethnic group use the word Oroko as a common expression to mean welcome, it will be better to rename the tribe as Oroko instead. Ngrime of Iboko Ngolo opposed the name with a logical argument that the name Oroko may imply that they are welcome into a foreign land. However, the Oroko appellation prevailed since Ngrime didn’t have followers.
When the political map of the South West Region was later reshaped, the people found themselves occupying three quarters (3/4) of both Ndian and Meme Divisions. These two divisions, of course, derived their names from Rivers Ndian and Meme respectively. It is worth mentioning that River Ndian traces the origin of its name from the interaction between Nabangi and some Calabar fishermen occupying 3/4 of the above mentioned divisions, explains why Oroko is the largest tribe in the South West Province even though both divisions are non-indigenous divisions.
It is interesting to know that of the ten clans in this ethnic group, seven of the clans are found in Ndian division, two in Meme division and one is sandwiched between Ndian and Meme. The largest of all is Mbonge clan with 43 villages. Although the Bakoko clan also has three villages, the Balondo Badiko clan is considered the smallest because the three villages here are smaller in size than those of Bakoko.
The Largest cosmopolitan village is Ekondo-Titi or to an extend kribi in South Region which is made of the Batanga while Dikome Balue is the largest indigenous village. The men dressed themselves in sanja (a loin cloth) wrapped around their waist in a masculine fashion over multicoloured jumpa regalia although today’s generation pretends to say the white long sleeve shirt has been the traditional wear. (See attached photo). The initiated juju men into the various traditional cults spice their traditional regalia with a nyariphu over their head. It is a tradition for the titled men in the "Etana" (juju house) to greet each other by calling their titles e.g. Dior, Nfoni, Abwe Kenda etc. The women folk also have their own traditional and sacred hierarchy e.g Nyangeromo, Mosembe etc. However, the Etana of the Oroko man does not extend membership to women. The Etana was a powerful traditional “House of Parliament” without multiparty politics, where binding and peaceful decisions were arrived at.
If there is one thing to acknowledge of this people besides their rich cultural background and natural intelligence, it is their sense of hospitality. This spirit of hospitality has now made them to look like the Achebe’s proverbial lunatics who may be outnumbered even though they own the place.
Clans and number of villages.
The Orokos are predominately found in the South West Region of Cameroon, covering a large portion of the Meme and Ndian divisions while Batanga of Kribi is base in the South Region of Cameroon. They are made up of 11 clans namely: Balondo Ba Diko ,Balondo Ba Nanga ,Balue ,Batanga ,Bima ,Ekombe ,Mbonge ,Bakoko ,Ngolo ,Bakundu and Semi Oroko clan -the Barombi tribe of southwest
The Artistry of the Oroko dance. The OROKO Dance consists of two groups of entertainers (i) those who play the instruments/drums (drummers) and (ii) the dancers. The drums are of different sizes including a larger base-drum that controls the rhythm of the dance. Sounds from instruments and dancers are similar to those found in R&B, JAMS, Rap music, hiphops etc.
There are different types or forms of the OROKO Dance (Denyangi, Ngoba, Njoku etc), and certain characteristics that make the dance generally unique: It is simple and easy to learn, it involves much shaking of the back, shoulders and hands, loin cloths must be tied around the waist, dancers also mask or paint their bodies with different colors and it is a dance with slow-to-fast rhythms.
Although the dance is simple and easy to learn, like the hiphops, Krumpin and Poppin etc. of the USA, rehearsals are a must and dancers need to be focused, determined and above all make it fun. The excitement and fun of the OROKO Dance is based on the back, shoulder and hand-shaking. Often, rhythm of the dance starts slowly and after a while reaches a climax. Again, like hiphops, Reggae and the likes, during such a climax, the dancers tend to bend downwards and increase the frequency of back, shoulder and hand-shaking.
In the “Njoku” dance, dancers mimic the structure of an elephant and its behavior. At its climax, dancers also display some Krumpin and Poppin patterns. From the above description, there is no doubt that present day hi pops, Krumpin, Poppin, R&B, and Clown Dances have much in common with the OROKO Dance or might be using such African traditional dances as their models or inspirations. The OROKO Dance has often been at the top of competitions in Cameroon. For example, the dance represented Christ The King College (CKC) during the U S ambassador’s visit to Tiko. (see Picture on left side ) It also won the first prize during the all Catholic Colleges’ competition in Kumba as well among the top three traditional dances in the prestigious University of Buea, Cameroon.
Food is any substance (usually of plant or animal origin) that can be metabolized to produce energy, enhance body processes and build tissues. Cameroon is a country characterized by its over 200 tribes and its traditional food diversity. With the Oroko Clan as a significant part of this diversity, this article attempts to list some of the major Oroko traditional dishes, their composition, how they are prepared and served, and what others say about the Oroko people in relation to their food.
Some of the major Oroko traditional dishes include Ekwang, Mekere Na Erembi, Bende Na Erembi, Mekere Na Ndondi Na Ebonge, Boranga Na Itoko, Mekere Na Ndonga Na Maso, Bekube, and Mekere Na Ndoh. Although these dishes are typical of the Oroko Clan, some such as Ekwang and Mekere are widely prepared and consumed in Cameroon. Ekwang is made from cocoyams (Xanthosoma sagittifolia) or cassava (Manihot esculenta), cocoyam leaves or leaves of a certain herb that is moderately bitter (bitter-leaf), red hot paper (Capsicum sp.), palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), special spices [Sore (smoked leaves of a forest plant with special flavor), Ngakanga (nut-like), Ebobe (small seed-like or berry-like)] and some smoked or sun-dried fish/crayfish. After peeling off the outer surfaces, the cocoyams and cassavas are grated to form a paste. Salt, pepper and the spices (Ngakanga and Ebobe) are then added to the paste and stirred to form a homogenous mixture. Portions of the mixture are placed on the leaves of the cocoyam or the bitter herb, folded to form cylindrical shapes, and placed into a cooking pot. Palm oil, spices, smoked fish and some boiled water are then added. The food is allowed on fire for about 20-25 minutes. Generally, Ekwang is served while still very hot and traditionally, it is eaten using fingers.
"Mekere" commonly known as plantains (Musa sp.), is one the major staple foods in most Cameroonian households. However, it is typical to the Oroko Clan (e.g. the Ebanga variety). Boiled Mekere can be eaten with pepper (Mekere Na Ndonga), with fish (Mekere Na Ndondi), with the bitter herbs (Mekere Na Ndoh). The Mekere can also be pounded or grated to form fine powder, which can also be used to prepare other dishes. Mekere Na Ndonga consists of boiled plantains and a pepper paste containing some spices. Occasionally, and especially during the rainy season, boiled plum fruits (Prunus africana) are also added to the dish. Mekere Na Ndondi Na Ebonge consists of boiled plantains, boiled fresh fish (Ndondi) and the broad leaves (Ebonge) of a certain plant commonly found in the forest and in Palm Oil plantations. The Ebonge and the spices are added to the fresh water fish or to some species of fresh water frogs (Bekube), wrapped on plantain leaves and boiled. Mekere Na Ndoh consists of boiled plantains with leaves of the bitter herbs (bitter leaf). The leaves are mixed with pepper and some spices, and steamed for about 5 minutes. Lastly, Mekere Na Erembi consists of boiled plantains eaten with pounded cocoyam leaves (Erembi). The pounded leaves are mixed with pepper, spices and palm oil and boiled before being served. Sometimes, in place of Mekere, special boiled cocoyam cultivars (Bende) are used (Bende Na Erembi).
Traditional dishes like the Ekwang and Mekere have become very important such that they serve as essential components of certain traditional occasions even outside the Oroko Clan. For example, in Born Houses (celebrating the birth of a new borne baby), death or JuJu initiation ceremonies, traditional dance ceremonies and marriages, many people will regard these ceremonies as successful if and only if these special dishes are present, accompanied with some beer or wine.
It is noteworthy that most Oroko traditional dishes have certain peculiarities. Firstly, they consist of a variety of spices and hot pepper that play an important role as stimulants as well as medicinal significance. Secondly, preparation and serving of the Oroko dishes involve the use of plant leaves. These leaves are either added directly as part of the food to be consumed, used for packaging before cooking or as biodegradable plates.
The above description, peculiarities and physically powerful nature of the Oroko people have made many other Clans and tribes to raise questions or comments on the physical structure of the Oroko people in relation to their food, which I think warrants some investigation. Some people attribute the physical structure of the Orokos to their food e.g. that many of them are physically very strong and some short because they eat too much Mekere Na Ndonga while others say the food make the Oroko people very energetic and powerful. Some say certain spices from the Oroko land, when added to food, enable the people to withstand any form of food poisoning. Others too say certain leaves added to the Oroko foods make the women to be very charming and attractive.
DOCTRINES THE EXISTENCE OF ONE GOD The oroko people do not doubt or speculate the existence of the Divine. They believe that life came from the Divine, who sustains the world. The world is not a product of chance, but a given reality to us by God, the Father and creator of everything.
THE EXISTENCE OF DIVINITIES
The Oroko people believe in the hierarchy of gods headed by the Supreme Being ---the God. Hence, we hear of the god of the mountains, gods of rivers, gods of the families and gods of harvest. It is thus Divinity which is believed to influence the action in each area.
THE EXISTENCE OF ANCESTORS
The Oroko families include both the living and the dead. Those who are dead are in the world of the Divine and since they are now with God, they are more powerful. Also, since they lived on earth, they are still part of the family and they understand the problems of the people better. Hence they are invoked to play an intercessory role and it is not every one who becomes an ancestor .To qualify, one must have been a family head, clan or tribal lord. Such a person must have lived an exemplary life .In this way, our ancestors are our traditional African saints or holy people who are dead and are with God.
Geography The government of Cameroon started extracting oil from Ndian division in the early 1960s unbeknown even to the Ndian people. And for over 50 years of oil extraction, not even a penny has been ploughed back to the division as subventions, royalties, or revenue sharing. The division cannot boast of electricity, a single Petrol or Gas station, lack of adequately equipped schools with resources other than that provided by Parents Teachers’ Association, no hospital, pupils as young as 6years old in the remote areas of Ndian trek about 2 hours to attend school in the nearby village because of the absence of roads and schools in their respective villages, no pipe borne water except that which has been gotten through community interventions etc.
Annoyingly, while the population of other divisions have grown exponentially, the population of Ndian division has stagnated at 130,000 since 1975. The census bureau estimates that population increases 3.56% annually. If this is the case, then Ndian division should have a population of about 526,000 inhabitants. Why the population has not changed since 1975 is due to the dark arm of the government whose interest lie in their resources and not of the people.
The low population is a justification for the government not to provide any amenities on grounds of sparsely populated division. Again, the division is not sparsely populated; the government has never truly provided accurate count of Ndian division's population over the ensuing censors since 1975. Many have blamed the docility of the Ndian people which they say is the reason for their underdevelopment. On the contrary, the Ndian people have petitioned the government severally over the span of 50 years but nothing has come of it. Because of the neglect, the Ndian people, not the belly-hungry Ndian politicians, solemnly stands in solidarity with the teachers and lawyers, to demand for reforms and for federated states as the only solution to address age-old neglect.
THE BELIEF IN SPIRITS
The Oroko people believe that there is the existence of invisible world of the spirits. Good spirits influence positively and bring joy as well as happiness while bad spirit influence or brings mischief, sadness and sufferings. To better protect him or her self from those bad sprits, most Oroko people always move with concoctions of leaves or back of trees that have either been placed into the blood stream using a razor blade or has been tied into a ring or sewed into small bags.
ADHERANCE TO THE MORALE CODE
The Oroko people in particular and Africans in general, have an inborn thirst for decency and high moral code of conduct. Hence a thing or a behavior is considered right or wrong depending on the culture or tradition of the ancestors.
Worship means to communicate and present our problems to the Supreme Being. The Oroko people believe that there is a God called “Obase” and ancestors called “Melimo”, and that the “Melimos” can communicate to God directly. The Oroko people manifest their beliefs by celebrating any aspect of life such as birth, naming, circumcision, death, marriage, burial and planting. In the oroko tradition, worship is done in a particular way. Special people are charge with these responsibilities. Special people such as the chief priests called (kuh) or title holders, family heads and traditional doctors are responsible for carrying out these activities. In the oroko society, the traditional ruler is the chief priest because it is he who can communicate directly with the ancestors to ensure the wellbeing of his community .It is the chief priest who invokes the ancestors to give them abundant harvest, child birth, peace and good health .In other to communicate with the ancestors the chief priest go to particular places such as shrines, graves, sacred places such as large lakes , big trees etc.There are particular ways in which the oroko people worship, called rituals. They consult the soothsayer (ngambeman). This involves the slaughter of fowls or animals and sprinkling of the blood. This is then accompanied by the pouring of libation (palm wine) and the presentation of the problems to the invisible ancestors. Thanks giving (supplication) and the asking of something for protection. A value is either a way of doing something or a belief that people accept, respect and uphold. Most Oroko people share these values or uphold it.
BELIEF IN THE DIVINE This belief is instinctive ( the power to know things without being taught), it is spontaneous and taken for granted. It is the measure promise to all logic in Africa. The people will not tolerate that attitude of rejecting the divine or ridiculing it.
COMMUNITY LIFE AND A SENSE OF BELONGING The oroko people since time immemorial believe in the solidarity among people. That is why any where they settle or are based, them do live in solidarity by helping one another. Infact the western idea of an individual capable of defying the community, staying and acting alone is considered an abormination.The logic is that they have a proverb that goes thus, “i am because they are” .A person is considered a person only in relation to his family , tribe and ethnic group. An individual gains his individuality and he or she is identified only in his community. Hence the worst punishment an Oroko man or woman can have is to be ostracized from his/her home. The community in an oroko perspective is very elastic and involves both the dead and the living.
OIL PRODUCTION IN OROKO LAND
Where does 75% Crude Oil produced in Cameroon come from? Since 1970, 75% of Crude Oil produced in Cameroon comes from an offshore area named Rio Del Rey Basin in Ndian division (Source: World Bank G-75% When did Oil Exploration begin in Ndian division?
Crude Oil exploration started in Cameroon in early 1950 in Douala Basin. In 1964 when Nigeria discovered oil in Niger Delta in the Gulf of Guinea, Cameroon shifted her search for oil to now Ndian division, then part of Kumba division, and when oil was discovered there, it was called, “Rio Del Rey basin” unlike Douala and Kribi basins which were named after the towns.
The following are some of the oil fields in Rio Del Ray basin where millions of barrels have been rigged and the Oroko people are yet to gain from the blessings the Almighty God bestowed on their land: Boa Bakassi, Ekoundu, Kita Edem, Kole Marine, Lipanja, Ndian River A&B, Lokole II, Lokole II AA, Lokole III BB, CC, DD,EE, Mokoko Abana, Mondoni Marine, Rio Del Rey III A-E, Asoma, Bavo Betika, Kombo, Makoko and the latest is Bao South. I hope you do realize that most of the fields carry Oroko names.
In late 1970 the Rio Del Rey Basin reached a peak production of 158,000 barrels per day before declining in the mid 1980. One can just imagine how Ndian division would have prospered if just $0.30 was set aside for her from each barrel of oil rigged from her land. Fortunately for the Cameroon government, she is going to be receiving $0.45 for each barrel that gets to port of kribi from the Chad –Cameroon pipe- line deal.
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