Ndu Nyiet (Royal Drinking Horn)

By: Adenike Cosgrove Tagged:


Among the many kingdoms (fondom) of the Cameroon Grassfields, the central fon (chief) and a number of secret societies are responsible for the social rule of each kingdom. In close counsel with Kwifor, Ngwerong, Mfu and Takumbeng (the social organisations of village elders, nobles, princes and elites) the fon must maintain spiritual and social order and is responsible for peaceful collaboration between neighbouring villages.

As a sign of social status and rank within the community, men within kingdoms of the Grassfields (including the Bamum, Bamileke, Bangwa and Tikar kingdoms) possess a 'title cup' (nda nyiet), one of the most precious heirlooms passed down through the generations to the most honourable member of the family. As a status symbol, the fon and the heads of his social organisations hold the most prestigious nda nyiet, the buffalo drinking horn. Family heads, village elders, commoners and women all possess drinking horns made from different materials. The vessels are used to pour and drink palm-wine during important rituals that safeguard the wellbeing of the family, community and kingdom. The fon and his elite group of nobles also display their horns during important ceremonies and festivals. It is also believed that, once initiated through rituals and magic spells, the nda nyiet holds the secrets of each family in possession of one and as such much be treated with reverence.

Distinguishing Features

  • Fon drinking horn: Made from black buffalo horn
  • Family head drinking horn: Made from dwarf cow horn
  • Traditional elite drinking horn: Made from antelope horn
  • Commoner drinking horn: Made from cow horn
  • Youth and women drinking horn: Made from gourd head
  • Relief carving of human figures, royal animals and geometric motifs
    • Animal motifs include lions, elephants, buffalos (myet), crocodiles (all considered royal animals), spiders (ngame; meaning wisdom / divination) and frogs (tetuo; meaning prosperity)
    • Geometric patterns include palm tree (meaning peace), crossroads symbols (meaning problem solver
  • Start of the 20th century saw the incorporation of beaded or copper alloy finials
    • Finial in form of head with mpelet prestige headdress or intertwined double-headed snakes (mfüet)
  • Some have braided brass at rim or horn
  • Small spout for pouring

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