Sustainable Development in Africa & Satellites - page 50

t the end of November each year,
Douala vibrates to the rhythm of
the Ngondo, the great cultural
festival of the Sawa. For two weeks,
these Cameroonian coastal peoples
celebrate the cult of water on the banks
of the Wouri. The place has links with
Cameroon’s colonial history as this
was where the Portuguese navigator
Fernando Póo landed in 1472. Amazed
by the abundance of prawns, he gave the
name of Río dos Camarões (‘Prawn River’
in Portuguese) to the river that later gave
its name to the country.
Some thirty coastal and south-western
ethnic groups participate in this festival
grouping the Sawa, Tondé, Jébalé, Ewodi,
Bakoko and Bassa peoples and others.
It has three main parts: the immersion
of the sacred vase, the election of Miss
Ngondo and a pirogue race.
Deep symbols
The immersion of the sacred vase starts
withanassembly very early in themorning
on the last day of the festival. Dignitaries
in ceremonial dress come to the river
accompanied by their staffs and followed
by a dense crowd of people. Initiates on
a pirogue look for a secret passage for
the immersion of the sacred vase. An
emissary goes into the Wouri with the
vase to seek messages sent by the water
divinities, the ‘Myengu’ (sirens). Once
they have been brought to the surface,
they are interpreted by the ancients who
meet in the sacred hut. Tradition has it
that the ‘Myengu’ protect their people and
help them to carry out their instructions
that are sources of blessings: strength,
wisdom, prosperity, fertility, good fishing,
good harvests, fraternity and love of
one another, peace in households and
throughout the country. This immersion
of the sacred vase is the mystic aspect
of the ceremony and the occasion for
this people to communicate with their
The spectacular and very popular final
event of the Ngondo is the race between
giant pirogues that can be crewed by up to
70 paddlers. It is watched by thousands of
supporters gathered on the banks of the
Wouri. It also has a mystic connotation
The 2006 Ngondo ceremony. The diver and his assistants prepare to set out in a pirogue to seek the sacred vase. In the background, pirogues of oarsmen go
to Wouri bridge for the start of the traditional race.
© Steven Le Vourc’h
Ngondo, the festival of water peoples
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