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  • Libby Moreton

Ngondo: The Water Festival of Douala

Welcome to our new blog series Celebrating Cameroon where we will explore a number of vibrant festivals and traditions that take place across the country. Often nicknamed 'Africa in miniature', Cameroon is rich in culture and ethnic variety consisting of over 200 languages and tribes and various belief systems.

In this series, we will journey through Cameroon's key cultural regions and explore how they celebrate their heritage. Sign up to our blog page today so you don't miss a thing!

A Spectacular Celebration

First up, we're excited to share with you the Ngondo Festival, a spectacular celebration that takes place in Cameroon's coastal region. Ngondo is a water festival held every December in Douala, Cameroon's largest city. The Sawabantu people come together to commemorate their ancestors who are believed to inhabit the Wouri River as water spirits. These spirits are called miengu (singular: jengu).

The highlight of the festival is a display of jengu worship, a ritual by which the people call upon their ancestors to communicate with the spiritual world. Derived from the traditional Bakweri belief, miengu are believed to be mermaid-like figures who bring about good fortune and healing. It is for this reason that the jengu cult has become a popular group amongst the Douala peoples. While it is male-dominated, initiation into the cult is open to both men and women and is also considered a rite of passage for children of this region.

This ceremony takes place on Wouri Bay's beach where a member of the jengu cult, thought to have supernatural powers, dives into the sea with offerings for the spirits that are prepared the previous night. As they resurface, the individual appears dry and hands a message to the cult leaders which was given by the spirits. Once decoded, the message is delivered to the public and usually offers words of wisdom, guidance and any warnings of threat to the community. 

Interestingly, The Wouri River was originally named Rios dos Camaroes, which means River of Prawns. In 1472, Portuguese explorer, Fernando Póo landed in Cameroon and gave the river its name after observing an abundance of prawns in the water. This name was later given to the whole country. 

Ngondo is also a celebration of ethnic unity and features a number of colourful festivities including dancing, beauty pageants, armed combat and musical performances. One of the most popular events is a canoe boat race which is typically witnessed by thousands of supporters.

See below for some photos of these fun and vibrant festivities!

The Ngondo festival, like many others, highlights the importance of preserving the structures and traditions of Cameroon's patrilineal communities and practising a dutiful display of honour and worship. For the Sawabantu people, jengu worship conveys how family ties transcend the physical world through deep and spiritual bonds to their ancestors. Most of Cameroon's traditions honour these types of bonds in the highest regard. 

We hope you've enjoyed learning about the Ngondo Festival! If you're interested in discovering more about Cameroon's rich cultural heritage, subscribe to our blog posts and newsletters here.

Want to know how you can make a difference to the life of a child in Cameroon? Explore our website where you can learn more about what we do, and even sponsor a child. We'd love to have you join our community and learn more about this incredible country!

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