Decision of the Intergovernmental Committee: 18.COM 8.B.25

The Committee

  1. Takes note that Cameroon has nominated Nguon, rituals of governance and associated expressions in the Bamoun community (No. 01955) for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

Nguon refers to a series of rituals between the Mfon, or monarch, and his people. Aimed at promoting dialogue, harmony and peace, the rituals are observed over a period of three days by the Bamoun community of Cameroon’s West Region. Every two years in early December, ritual chiefs consult the members of the community on the state of the kingdom. Carrying the collected opinions, they enter the palace at night and in secret, on the agreed Friday, to talk with the Mfon. The following day, the monarch attends a public ‘trial’ on his governance, with ritual chiefs reading out indictments based on the community’s feedback. The Mfon may receive fines or even be removed from office. If granted a new mandate, he delivers an acceptance speech and receives the renewal of allegiance. Popular celebrations follow, culminating on Sunday with a parade and the monarch’s triumphant return to the palace. The practice is transmitted informally within families, groups and secret societies, as well as by the local radio station and Cameroon’s schools and universities. Over six hundred years old, the Nguon rituals are seen as a source of social cohesion and resilience and as a means of upholding values such as accountability, freedom of expression and humility.

  1. Considers that, from the information included in the file, the nomination satisfies the following criteria for inscription on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity:

R.1:   Nguon is a unifying ritual that is performed every two years by the members of the Bamoun community. It is a way to manage governance in the community and it consists of different elements such as offerings and redistribution of food and traditional medicine, community consultations, a pilgrimage, a public trial and popular celebrations. The bearers and practitioners of Nguon are the entire Bamoun community, with specific roles and responsibilities such as Mfon (King), Titâ-Nguon and Fonanguon (custodians and actors of the Nguon secret society), Pon-Pekâ (young assistants of the Fonanguon), Tâ-Ngu (chief justice of the kingdom), Kom (notables who appoint the Mfon) and the general public. The knowledge and skills related to Nguon is primarily transmitted informally, within families, groups and secret societies. Formal transmission is carried out through Cameroon’s schools and universities. The element provides the Bamoun people with a sense of identity and continuity with past generations since the founding of the kingdom, regardless of origin, religion, and socio-professional and political backgrounds. It contributes to cohesion, good governance and freedom of expression.

R.2:   At the local level, inscription would increase the visibility of intangible cultural heritage through activities related to awareness-raising, transmission, inventorying and safeguarding. At the national level, the inscription of Nguon would enhance visibility and awareness of the country’s living heritage. Strengthening the legal and institutional frameworks needed for the implementation of the safeguarding measures will result in increased awareness about living heritage. At the international level, inscription will improve the visibility of Central Africa’s living heritage and of the rituals that are a common form of expression in many communities around the world. It will also strengthen the concept of dialogue – which the element is based on – as a part of intangible heritage. The element presents creative ways to build and preserve resilience, solidarity, local economies, environmental sustainability, biological diversity and health, among others. As such, it can also be shared as a holistic approach to addressing some of the challenges faced by communities today.

R.3:   The State has supported the safeguarding efforts by providing a legal framework, granting subsidies and funding, ensuring the attendance of state representatives at the celebrations, providing local and media support, and including Nguon in education curricula. Proposed measures include: (a) transmission of the element through formal and informal education (awareness-raising activities and developing educational material); (b) identification, documentation and research (including inventorying, documentation and conferences); (c) preservation and protection measures (including the development of an ethical charter/code of ethics and expanding the related object collections); (d) promotion and enhancement measures in the context of tourism; and (e) revitalizing the redistribution practices. The community has been actively involved in identifying and planning the safeguarding measures. For the identification and implementation of the safeguarding measures, a joint Nguon safeguarding committee was established by order of the Minister of Arts and Culture. Members of the community make up two-thirds of this Committee.

R.4:   Community participation included identification and inventorying the element, the preparation of the nomination, including consultations and awareness-raising activities with community members, and a capacity-building workshop. Via the aforementioned Committee, community members assisted in completing the nomination form and in compiling the required annexes. Through an annexed video, different representatives of the Nguon community provided their support and consent, including those who hold traditional titles and duties in the ritual. Traditional access to customs and practices was respected and will be upheld by measures such as controlling physical access, educating the public and establishing a code of ethics.

R.5:   The element is part of the ‘General Inventory of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage in Cameroon’, managed by the Ministry of Arts and Culture, Cultural Heritage Directorate, Intangible Cultural Heritage Subdirectorate. The element was defined based on a field study conducted by the Ministry of Arts and Culture in 2020, with the participation of bearers and practitioners of Nguon and the consent of the traditional authorities. The inventory is updated every five years at the initiative of the Ministry of Arts and Culture, the bearer communities, or the decentralized territorial authorities.

  1. Decides to inscribe Nguon, rituals of governance and associated expressions in the Bamoun community on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity;
  2. Commends the State Party for its first inscription and for nominating an element that addresses social and developmental issues such as HIV/AIDS and poverty reduction;
  3. Further commends the State Party for a video which highlights the central role of communities in all the processes connected with the nomination.