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OGIRISI: a New Journal of African Studies

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Salt, history and culture in the western grasslands of Cameroon

Kah Henry Kam

Abstract


This paper examines the socio-cultural value of salt among the people of the western grasslands of Cameroon from the precolonial era to contemporary times. Salt was andremains an important condiment used in households, marriages, treatment of the sick, initiation and other cultural ceremonies throughout the western grasslands and elsewhere in Cameroon. It was a priceless and rare commodity in the past and explains the high value that was attached to it by all and sundry. It also played a cutting-edge role in the political economy of many ethnic groups across Africa from production to commercialisation. Young people from different ethnic groups in the western grasslandsundertook long and tedious journeysto sell different commodities like kernels and mats and in return bought this scarce and precious commodity for retail or various socio-cultural uses. Important village notables and traditional rulers stored salt in locally made containers and made it available when this was needed. Salta once very scarce commodity is in abundance today. One no longer needs to trekfor days, weeks and months to procure it as was the case in the pre-colonial and colonial past. Many njangi or local spent thrift societies buy the condiment in huge quantitiesand distribute to members during the end of year for use infestivities like Christmas and New Year. Family heads also keep and give their kith and kin some of itas a responsibility. Through a content analysis of existing literature, interviews and observations, this paper probes into the history and cultural meanings and uses attached to this important condiment in the western grasslands of Cameroon known for its very rich and diverse cultural practices.

Keywords: Salt, Cameroon, Grasslands, Culture, Ritual




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