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From Tribute to Tax in a Tikar Chiefdom1

  • E. M. Chilver and P. M. Kaberry


This historical reconnaissance is not concerned with the economic consequences of direct taxation or its relation to the dogma of colonial self-sufficiency but rather with what McPhee calls its ‘political, moral and social nature’. A revenue system reflects not only the circumstances in which the authority of governments is exercised, but some of its ideal premisses—a truism which can be illustrated from the tax history of British West Africa in general and by the comparison of the Northern and Southern Nigerian systems before the post-Amalgamation reforms of Lugard and his successors. Since direct taxation is an aspect of colonial administration which affects members of a tribal society regularly and generally and demands a voluntary or enforced accommodation, its study in a particular tribal area may provide some useful insights to students of social change. Where the tribal society already has a system of tribute or provisioning, the introduction of a different system presents the colonial Government's native agents with problems of reinterpretation as well as procedure.



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page 2 note 1 Kaberry, P. M., ‘Traditional Politics in Nsaw’, Africa, October 1959, pp. 366–83.

page 3 note 1 The Roman Catholic Mission has adopted tshong as a means of organizing Christian women for mission work.

page 5 note 1 Kaberry, P. M., ‘Report on Farmer–Grazier relations and the Changing Pattern of Agriculture Nsaw’ (mimeographed), 1959, p. 5. Copies may be consulted at the International African Institute, the Royal Anthropological Institute, and the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, Oxford.

page 6 note 1 Emonts, Joh., Ins Steppen- und Bergland Innerkameruns, Aachen, 2nd ed. 1927, p. 284.

page 6 note 2 An unassisted Nsaw married woman in 1945 farmed about 14 acres of which nearly 1 acre was under grain. The average maize yield per acre was 7 vegati (595 1b. approx.) or 21 smaller baskets (ankem), a unit used in calculating tribute. The average acre yield for guineacorn was 12 vegati (1,020 1b. approx.), or 36 ankem. (See P. M. Kaberry, Women of the Grassfields, H.M.S.O., 1952, pp. 104–6.) Sub-chiefs also presented smaller quantities of groundnuts where these were grown. In addition, they presented one or more women to be wives of the Fon, and boys for service in ngwerong. When the women died, they were replaced.

page 6 note 3 Those who wished to have a case tried in takibu presented a fowl and a calabash of wine. The fowl was retained by the Fon, while the wine refreshed the councillors.

page 7 note 1 German military penetration of Nsaw is described in Das Deutsche Kolonialblatt, in particular Bd. xvii, 1906; Zimmermann, O., Durch Busch und Steppe; vom Campo bis zum Schari, 1892–1902, Berlin, 1909; and in Emonts, op. cit. The best exposition of German native administration in English is to be found in Rudin, Harry R., Germans in the Cameroons, 1884–1914, London, 1938, which contains a bibliography of German sources.

page 8 note 1 W. M. Bridges, ‘Banso Re-Assessment Report’, 1934 (MS.), paras. 156–8; Emonts, op. cit., p. 190.

page 9 note 1 A similar system of tax-collection is described by M. l'Administrateur Ripert (1923) in Delarozière, Études camerounaises, nos. 27–28, 1949, pp. 137–8.

page 9 note 2 For discussion of the doctrines underlying direct taxation see SirLugard, F., Political Memoranda (No. 5), 1918; Annual Reports of H.M. Government to the League of Nations, 1921–38; Annual Report of the Southern Provinces of Nigeria, 1927 and 1928; Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the recent disturbances in Owerri and Calabar Provinces, 1930; SirCameron, D., The Principles of Native Administration and their Application, 1934; SirBourdillon, Bernard, The Apportionment of Revenues and Duties as between the Central Government and the Native Administrations, 1939; Phillipson, S., Administrative and Financial Procedure under the New Constitution: Financial Relations between the Government of Nigeria and the Native Administrations, 1947, pp. 4758.

page 9 note 3 See Moberly, F. J., Military Operations: Togoland and Cameroons, 1938.

page 10 note 1 Joh. Emonts, op. cit., pp. 76–93.

page 12 note 1 Rittmeister von Stetten, Deutsches Kolonialblatt, Bd. vi, 1895, pp. 159 ff.; Moseley, L. H., Regions of the Benue, Geog. J. vi, 1899, p. 633; Glauning, Hauptmann, Deutsches Kolonialblatt, Bd. xvii, 1905–6, p. 237.

page 12 note 2 On an earlier occasion in 1924, to make up a tax-deficit, the Fon had organized convoys of kola to Ibi, 200 miles away, where nuts reached 3s. to 5s. a hundred.

page 13 note 1 W. M. Bridges, op. cit., para. 170.

page 15 note 1 In 1954 the two amfoomi were also for the same reason appointed members of the new Nsaw Advisory Council.

1 The fieldwork upon which this paper is based was carried out by Dr. Phyllis Kaberry in 1945–6, 1947–8, and 1958. Her thanks are due to the Colonial Social Science Research Council for a fellowship for the first two tours, and for a supplementary grant towards the cost of the third; and to the Trustees of the Leverhulme Research Awards whose grant of a Fellowship made the third tour possible. Mrs. E. M. Chilver's thanks are due to the Oxford University Committee for Commonwealth Studies for leave of absence during August and September 1958. They are also grateful to His Honour the Commissioner for the Southern Cameroons, the Premier and Ministers, and to Administrative Officers for assistance, and for permission to inspect Assessment and Divisional Reports, Native Authority Estimates, and Council Minutes. By an old and understandable convention it is not possible to quote the authors of administrative reports, so our use of them has been confined to those which have been given a wider circulation. In Nsaw, the unfailing help and keen interest of the Fon and many friends, including the founders of the Nsaw History Society, made this and other studies possible.

From Tribute to Tax in a Tikar Chiefdom1

  • E. M. Chilver and P. M. Kaberry


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