Who are the Mbororo?

The Mbororo

Mbororo is a term given to a sub-group of Fulani pastoralists. Fulani is one of the largest and most familiar ethnic groups of Africa – residing in a number of Central and West African nations. Mbororo number about 1.5-2 million in countries including Niger, CAR, Cameroon, Chad, and Nigeria. They are represented by Mboscuda in Cameroon, a local Cameroon-based ethnic association seeking to promote their rights and dignity in the country.

The Fulani are the world’s largest nomadic group, spread across Central, West, and North Africa, and numbering about 20-25 million. Within Cameroon, they are often generally divided into two distinct groups: Fulbe and Mbororo. This distinction refers to their lifestyle and residence – the Fulbe are primarily sedentary (called “town Fulani”) while the Mbororo are primarily pastoralist/nomadic. However, there is a lot of overlap between the two – and many Mbororo have settled and become sedentary in recent decades. Technically, the Mbororo are semi-nomadic, because they do maintain some residence in certain times of year, and migrate when pastures and grazing are fallow. So, the Mbororo are a semi-nomadic, cattle-rearing people. Of course, Mbororo can further be divided into smaller groups (like Aku and Jaafun – distinguished by the colour of their cows) based upon things like religion, region, and kin.

They are the most recent immigrant group in Cameroon, arriving in the late 1800s and early 1900s. They first arrived in northern Cameroon in areas like Adamawa and the grassfields. This is one of the reasons behind the discrimination and prejudice against them. They tend to practice Islam, and are often seen as “foreign” – especially given their tendency for herding cattle, migrating, and other cultural traits like pulaaku (explained below). Mbororo likewise consider themselves distinct from other groups in terms of appearance (describing themselves with thin noses, “red” skin, and other features) and behaviours. According to Mbororo with whom I’ve spoken, they were also late to adopt “Western” education (probably given their pastoralist lifestyles), which is another reason for discrimination. However, many Mbororo are now highly educated.

Pulaaku is a fascinating code practiced by many Mbororo that involves four principal a07f66215233040601932939d467fe80traits: Distance, self-control, individuality, and racial purity. Some Mbororo practice a form of traditional scarification (see picture). However, I have met a number of Mbororo in Yaoundé and this practice seems to be in decline.

 

Mboscuda started in the 1980s. It has many objectives, though land rights remain a priority, given the struggles Mbororo encounter in Cameroon. After independence, ethnic associations were banned in Cameroon (1960-1982) as the country tried to promote unification. They were finally legalized in 1982.

Similar to many indigenous groups throughout the world, the Mbororo do not have a hometown territory or nation, but are dispersed throughout many African nations where they are principally minorities. This makes them foreign in most places to where they migrate or settle.

There has been tension and struggle for Mbororo in Cameroon related to political representation, land, migration, and economics. Tension arose in the 1980s when land they considered theirs was confiscated in northwest Cameroon. One of the central qualities of the Mbororo in Cameroon is the ownership and herding of cows. They are fundamental to their lifestyle, and has raised issues in Cameroon over rights to access land and migrate. For example, Mbororo are often forced to pay expensive vaccination fees, taxes, and permits as they migrate throughout Cameroon, often repeatedly. However, the ownership of cows is also very valuable.

Further reading:

  • Barkan, Joel D., et al. (1991), “Home-town” voluntary associations, local development and the emergence of civil society in western Nigeria (Working Paper; Nairobi,) 31 p.
  • Burnham, Philip (1996), The politics of cultural difference in northern Cameroon (International African library 17; Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute) ix, 210 s.
  • Davis, Lucy (1995), ‘Opening political space in Cameroon: The ambiguous response of the Mbororo’, Review of African Political Economy, 64, 213-28.
  • Fernandez, CE (2014), ‘Managing ethnicity through the body: Tattoo and facial scarification ethnography among the Cameroon’s Mbororo’, The Scientific Journal of Humanistic Study, 6 (10).
  • Hickey, Sam (2011), ‘Toward a progressive politics of belonging? Insights from a pastoralist “hometown” association’, Africa Today, 57 (4), 29-47.
  • Mboscuda website: http://www.mboscuda.org/.
  • Pelican, Michaela (2006), ‘Getting along in the grassfields: interethnic relations and identity politics in northwest Cameroon ‘, (Martin Luther).

 

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