In Cameroon, Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture Promotes Local and Cuban Ties

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In Cameroon, Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture Promotes Local and Cuban Ties

Publication Date

LOBE, CAMEROON – Edmond Motule, 40, is the president and chief of the Oroko community in Lobe, an estate in southwestern Cameroon. He founded the Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture, which will take place here for the fourth year on Dec. 26.

Motule says the festival aims to bring together the 10 tribes of the Oroko community from hundreds of villages scattered across the region.

“The Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture is all about celebrating a people in diversity, bringing together the unique cultural heritage of the 233 villages,” Motule says.

Motule, a neat and jovial man, was crippled by polio at age 5. He says that his parents staved off pressure from the community to kill him by throwing him in a river or leaving him in the forest because of his disability, and his gratitude has motivated him to make the most of his life.

In his village, Motule is likened to Socrates for his questioning personality. His brothers and sisters have nicknamed him “the Diplomat” for the smooth way he addresses family issues. His admirers call him “the butterfly that has taken the status of a bird.”

In addition to his Oroko community duties, Motule works as a medical laboratory technician at a local hospital, as he says his disability propelled him to study science. Motule also wrote a book about the diversity of the Oroko people. He says that the diversity of the Oroko people is worth celebrating, which is why he founded the festival in 2008.

Referencing an excerpt from his book, Motule says that each of the 10 tribes of the Oroko community has its own unique characteristic. While the Balue tribe is known for its intelligence, the Ngolos are known for their wisdom. The Balondo Banangas are rumored to be marvelous singers, and the Batangas are recognized for their oratory skills. The beautiful queens of the Bima make this tribe stand out, while the Mbonges are known for their handsomeness. The Ekombes are recognized for their courage, the Balondo Badikos for their patriotic spirit and the Bakokos for their foresight.

Motule, who hails from the Ngolo and Balue tribes, puts their characteristic traits of intelligence and wisdom into action in the management of the Oroko people of the Lobe estate and in the organization of the festival.

Motule says that the festival strives to bring the Oroko people together so that they can culturally interact, exchange values and understand each other in order to nurture a peaceful coexistence and productive development. He says the festival also provides a medium to raise awareness about HIV and AIDS.

“It is my duty as a laboratory technician to talk to the people about HIV/AIDS, to get themselves tested, to tell them how to prevent and manage the disease, and also try to erase stereotypes and stigma attached to this disease,” he says.

He says the festival also aims to expose the international community to the rich cultural practices of the Oroko people. He says the festival calls especially on the Cubans, who are believed to have Oroko origins, to better understand their roots.

Many say that the Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture, which brings the diverse people of the Oroko community together this month, is the best day of the year. Some say the festival also offers the opportunity for the Oroko people to connect with distant relatives in Cuba as well as other tribes in Cameroon. Organizers and participants aim to expand the festival’s reach this year to preserve Oroko culture and strengthen its people’s ties in the region, nation and abroad.

Lobe is one of the many estates on the land owned by Pamol Plantations, a public limited company that grows oil palm trees to supply palm oil in Cameroon and abroad. The century-old plantation has attracted thousands of people from all over Cameroon and neighboring Nigeria in search of work. Europeans originally founded the company because they found the soil and the Oroko people suitable for their plantation. The estate is situated under the geographical location of the Oroko people in Cameroon and particularly in the land of the Balondo Bananga tribe.

The Oroko  comprise an estimated population exceeding 200,000 people living in more than 230 villages across the Southwest region of Anglophone Cameroon. It has 10 tribes, each with its own group of villages. Each tribe also has a unique indigenous language but can understand those of the others because the linguistic differences are slight. In Lobe estate, there is a cross section of all 10 Oroko tribes.

To begin the day’s activities, Lobe village’s sanga mboka, or “father of the land,” calls on the ancestors to take control of the event. This assures the community a peaceful event, which takes place in the camp where the plantation workers here live.

One prominent activity of the day is a colorful march in which the 10 different tribes display their various traditional outfits, carry placards with cultural messages, and dance and sing with joy. Oroko musicians also play live music throughout the day, and tribe members perform traditional dances. A polyglot competition, which offers a prize to the person who can best speak the most dialects of the other Oroko tribes, aims to promote and preserve the vernacular.

Community members also showcase various arts and crafts, such as weaving baskets and making mortars, which are used to prepare traditional Oroko foods. At the end of the festivities, all participants and attendees can taste the delicacies of the Oroko people as well as palm wine.

With all of these cultural activities, the festival is a special day for the Oroko people. Many say it is one of the happiest days of their lives because it creates a sense of community.

Rose Andu, 40, is the president of the Ngolo tribe of Lobe estate. At last year’s festival, she was named the best traditionally dressed president of all the clans. She says that the festival is just the right medium to pass on to Oroko children the Oroko cultural heritage, a legacy that is fast fading.

“I am so happy with the organization of Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture because our children are learning a lot about our ethnic group,” Andu says.

Sabina Ekona, 57, from the Batanga tribe, is graced with the post of nyanga mboka, which means “mother of all women.” This is a meritorious position given to a respectable woman with wisdom and conflict management skills. Each Oroko village has a nyanga mboka, a title that is held for life or until resignation. During the festival, Ekona is responsible for organizing the women’s participation.

“Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture is the best day of my life, and I make sure that all Oroko women help to make this day special to themselves and others,” she says.

She says she dresses her best, feasts with loved ones and makes new friends on this special occasion. Ekona, who now lives and works on the plantation, says it’s also a meaningful day because the cultural activities evoke memories of her childhood and teenage years in her home village.

Jamana Netongo, 52, is the nyanga betoh, the “woman of culture.” She says there will never be a day as special in her life as the festival day. Her job is to promote in Cameroon and abroad the cultural opportunities that the festival offers.

“Culture is my passion, my life, my every day,” she says. “I am calling on the national and international community to come and experience the Oroko arts and culture through Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture.”

She says she enjoys the rare opportunity to reunite with longtime friends at the festival, which she reveres more than Christmas.

Ivor Miller, a researcher at the African Studies Center at Boston University, is interested in promoting the festival among Cubans because of their ties to the Oroko people. Miller came to Cameroon in 2005 after reading Motule’s book on Oroko diversity. He says he came because he found a clear link between the Oroko, which used to be called the Balondo, people of Cameroon and the Cubans because of the similar names, masquerades, songs and practices.

“The Balondos [Orokos] are very important to the history of the Ekpe/Mgbe society of West Africa that went to Cuba during the trans-Atlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries,” he says. “The Balondos in Cuba recorded their history and passed it on to their children in Cuba, so it is remembered very well there.”

Miller, who is now a Fulbright scholar and a lecturer at the University of Calabar in Nigeria, says there should be a reunion between the Cubans and the Oroko people of Cameroon.

“The Cubans have never forgotten their Balondo origins, and they want to communicate with Balondo people and travel to Cameroon for cultural exchanges,” Miller says.

He says that few Oroko people know about this cultural tie. The few who know say that festivals like this are a step toward raising awareness. Miller says that there should be more media coverage to raise awareness about this trans-Atlantic cultural link.

“Raising awareness in newspapers and the Internet is important,” he says. “We must spread the word and raise awareness of the Cuban brothers and sisters. Eventually, we will have to raise money and create cultural festivals to bring the Cubans to Cameroon for cultural displays.”

Miller says there will be another festival in February that will bring Cubans to Cameroon to reunite with long-lost relatives from the Ngolo tribe.

Expanding the event is also a way to ensure the continuance of the festival and, therefore, of Oroko culture.


Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture is a grandiose occasion that requires a budget of about 500,000 Central African francs XAF ($1,020 USD). This money comes mainly from the Oroko community members of Lobe estate and the Pamol Plantations, Motule says. The festival fund also receives some donations.

“We decided not to give appeal letters for the past years because we wanted to use our strength and resources to build a solid foundation for Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture,” Motule says.

But Motule says that, with the community celebrating the fourth festival this year, he thinks the right time has come for the festival to become stronger and better.

“Our way forward is to seek for funds and aids from national and international sources, to call for much more guests from home and abroad, and to plan for cultural exchange visits in and around the world and especially to our brothers of Cuba,” he says.

Florence Mukete, 41, known for her exceptional dancing skills and, as a member of the Bakoko triber, for her foresight, says that the sustainability of the festival depends on the institutionalization of a solid income-generating project.

Today, the Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture is not a thing of the Oroko community of Lobe estate alone. This year, other non-Oroko groups of the Southwest region have applied to be a part of the event in order to showcase their rich culture too.

The Bayangs, Bafaws, Bakweris and Barombis are among the groups outside the Oroko community that live in Lobe estate that will participate actively in this year’s festival. The banner for this year will note the festival’s affiliation with these other tribes 

Cameroonians from various other communities also come to witness the festival. This year’s theme is promoting the ideals of globalization and national integration.

“Oroko Festival of Arts and Culture for this year is a come and see,” Motule says.