History of the Oroko People

Essay culled from "Know The Oroko Ethnic Group. An overview of a people in diversity" By Tata NOFURU Edmond

 nofuru-edmundOroko 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 language. Their villages are spread around the South West Province 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 as far north as Mamfe, 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. 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 Province 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 and 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.