Tikar People


Tikar / Tikari / Tige / Tigar / Tikali

The Tikar (also Tikari, Tige, Tigar, Tigre, Tikali) are a central African people who inhabit the Bamenda Grassfields in Cameroon. They are known as great artisans, artists and storytellers. Once a nomadic people, oral tradition traces the origin of the Tikar people to the Nile River Valley in present-day Sudan. They speak a Northern Bantoid language called Tikar. The current population of Tikar in Cameroon is approximately 168,000-173,000.

The Tikar people of the Northwest are thought to be closely related to the Bamileke people through the Bantu-Cameroon-Bamileke cluster.

Tikar People

The Tikar is a blanket term used for several ethnic groups in Cameroon. It has been used widely for different peoples and their culture.

There is a single ethnic group called the Tikar who live in on the Tikar Plain in Adamawa Region. They speak a Bantoid language called Tikar. Their population is approximately 25,000. The Bedzan pygmies (who also live on the Tikar Plain) share their language. The main Tikar towns are Bankim, Ngambe Tikar, and Magba.

The Tikar are a group of related ethnic proto-Bantoid Tikar-speaking groups in Cameroon. They live primarily in the northwestern part of the country, in the Northwest Province near the Nigerian border. In the Bamenda Grassfields, those who claim Tikar origin include Nso, Kom, Bum,Bafut, Oku, Mbiame, Wiya, Tang, War, Mbot, Mbem, Fungom, Weh, Mmen, Bamunka, Babungo, Bamessi, Bamessing, Bambalang, Bamali, Bafanji, Baba (Papiakum), Bangola, Big Babanki, Babanki Tungo, Nkwen, Bambili and Bambui.



The Tikar people speak Bantoid language, also called Tikar. Tikar is a Bantoid language of uncertain classification spoken in Cameroon by the Bankim, Ngambe, and related Tikar peoples, as well as by the Bedzan Pygmies. Blench (2011) states that the little evidence available suggests that it is most closely related to the Mambiloid and Dakoid languages.Variants of the name are Tikali, Tikar-East, Tikari, Tingkala. A Bandobo variety (Ndobo, Ndob, Ndome) may be a separate language. Less divergent dialects are Twumwu (Tumu) in Bankim, Tige in Ngambe, Nditam, Kong, Mankim, Gambai, and Bedzan.

Tikar is a cover term for three relatively similar dialects spoken in the Cameroun Grassfields, Tikari, Tige and Tumu (Stanley 1991). Tikar is spoken on the Tikar plain, south and south-east of Mambiloid proper, and it shares a common border with some Mambila and Kwanja lects in Cameroun. The Tikar Plain, a highly multi-lingual region, is referenced in many early administrative documents. Koelle (1954) includes a Tikar wordlist, but the first analysis of the Tikar language may be in Westermann & Bryan (1952) who considered it an isolated language. Richardson (1957) groups it with Bantoid and Williamson (1971) treats it as an isolated subgroup of her Bantu node. Clearly, the Tikar language has always been somewhat problematic in terms of its classification. Dieu & Renaud (1983) placed it together with Ndemli, another language that is hard to classify, although this may be simply an admission of ignorance. Piron (1996, III:628) recognises it as part of her non-Bantu group and assigns it a co-ordinate branch with Dakoid, Tivoid, Grassfields and the other branches of Bantoid (her ‘South Bantoid’) in opposition to Mambiloid.

Stanley (1991) notes that Tikar has many lexical similarities with the neighbouring Bafia (A53) but that the morphosyntax is quite different.
The main sources for this language are Hagège (1969), Jackson & Stanley (1977), Jackson (1980, 1984, 1987, 1988), Stanley (1982a,b,c; 1991) and Stanley-Thorne (1995). Following the establishment of a literacy programme, Tikar has been studied intensively and there are various academic papers on the syntax as well as a doctoral thesis (Stanley 1991). Separately a series of lexical studies published in German exist (Mamadou 1981, 1984). There is also an unpublished lexicon (Jackson 1988). The Bankim dialect, Twumwu, is the principal one chosen for standardisation and development. Nonetheless, primary comparisons do suggest that Tikar plays a role in the North Bantoid grouping and it is tentatively assigned a co-ordinate position with the Dakoid-Mambiloid grouping.


According to historians, anthropologists, archeologists and oral tradition, the Tikar originated from north-eastern Cameroon, around the Adamawa and Lake Chad regions(present-day Adamawa, North and Far-North Provinces). Tikar migration southwards and westwards probably intensified with the raid for slaves by invading Fulani from Northern Nigeria in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, there is reason to believe that such migration was ongoing for centuries long before the invasion. The pressure of invasion by the Fulani raiders certainly occasioned the movements that led the Tikar to their current locations in the Western Grassfields (Bamenda Plateau) and Eastern Grassfields (Fumban) and the Tikar plain of Bankim (Upper Mbam) (Mbuagbaw, Brain & Palmer, 1987:26; Mbaku 2005:10-12). Upon arrival in the Grassfields, the Tikar found other populations in place, populations which had either migrated from elsewhere or had inhabited the region for centuries. Their arrival occasioned population movements, just as did the arrival of others after them. Pre-colonial Cameroon, like the rest of Africa, was richly characterized by population movements not always induced by conflict or invasion.

Tikar people

In the Bamenda Grassfields, those who claim Tikar origin include Nso, Kom, Bum,Bafut, Oku, Mbiame, Wiya, Tang, War, Mbot, Mbem, Fungom, Weh, Mmen, Bamunka, Babungo, Bamessi, Bamessing, Bambalang, Bamali, Bafanji, Baba (Papiakum), Bangola, Big Babanki, Babanki Tungo, Nkwen, Bambili and Bambui.

Their alleged migration from the Upper Mbam River region was in waves, and mostly led by princes of Rifum fons, desirous of setting up their own dynasties (Nkwi & Warnier 1982:16; Nkwi1987:15-28). The authors of A History of Cameroon capture the Tikar migration asfollows:

“It was about three hundred years ago that increasing pressure from the north and internal troubles plus the desire for new lands led to the splitting up of Tikar groups into small bands, which, having left Kimi, drifted further west and southwest. Some of these moved under the leadership of the sons of a Tikar ruler who later called themselves Fons, the most common Bamenda term for paramount chiefs. These groups, at various times reached what is now Mezam. Among the earlier were those who came from Ndobo to the Ndop plain in the south of Bamenda, where they formed small, politically independent villages a few kilometers apart. No semblance of political unity was achieved. In the north-east we have Mbaw, Mbem, and Nsungli, also settlements of Tikar, and below the escarpment of a later date settlements of Wiya, Tang, and War. The main body of this group however, set off under the leadership of their Fon and founded the kingdom of Bum. The Bafut, Kom, and Nsaw were among the last to arrive.”
(Mbuagbaw et al. 1987:30).


Tikar Structures and Institutions

The political structures and institutions of the Tikar chiefdoms are very similar, and have influenced and been influenced by those of neighbouring non-Tikar groups. Some useful studies of Tikar political structures and institutions exist. Like other communities in the region, a Bamenda Grassfields Tikar community is led by a chief who is popularly known as fon, and whose chiefdomhenceforth we are going to call fondom. The Tikar in the Bamenda Grassfields mostlycame as small princely emigrant groups, to occupy areas that were already settled by other groups, with the result that in almost every Tikar fondom, are smaller fondoms that were either conquered or given protection by the Tikar, but that have largely retained their hereditary dynasties (Nkwi 1987:23-30; Mbuagbaw et al. 1987:30; Warnier 1985).

It is in this way that during the 19th century fondoms such as Nso, Kom, Bafut, Bum and Ndu expanded their boundaries by incorporating or making tributaries of neighbouring fondoms, while at the same time entertaining relations of conflict and tension or conviviality with their fellow Tikar fondoms. Bum, for instance, though small, gained importance from its role as an “entrepot for the kola trade with Jukun and Hausa in the north-west during the later part of the century”, and had “intermittent hostility” with Kom, its southern neighbours, while maintaining friendship with Nso and Ndu. Nso was mostly at conflict with Ndu and enjoyed an alliance with Kom, which was in competition with Bafut on its south-western boundary for the allegiance of much smaller fondoms (Mbuagbaw et al. 1987:31; Nkwi 1987:23-30; Yenshu 2001).


Trading and Relations with Others

Prior to the 19th century the Grassfields were a largely isolated region. Given the high altitude, mountainous and difficult landscape of the Grassfields, the lack of navigable waterways, and the fact that transportation prior to the opening of motorable roads was largely done by human porterage, the region did not benefit from the vast trading networks that crossed Africa in various directions, and which coastal chiefdoms took great advantage of. The mountain range that extends from the Grassfields to Lake Chadand the Jos Plateau of Nigeria remained largely undisturbed until the 19th century (Nkwi & Warnier 1982:78). Trade was mainly in slaves (see Chem-Langhëë 1995, for more on 19th and 20th century slavery in the Grassfields), ivory, kola nuts, salt, oil, iron, cloth pearls and cowries, which in certain regions were adopted as forms of payment. During the 19th century the Bamenda Grassfields was still very largely outside the trading networks of the Benue and Adamawa. But these two networks would spread themselves into the Bamenda Plateau at the end of the 19th Century, thereby offering the communities of the region the possibility for differentiation (Rowlands 1978; Warnier 1985:141-148).

Two Tikar fondoms, Bum and Fumban, occupied strategic positions as trade routes, Bum for trade with Wukari and Fumban for trade with Banyo. At first, trade between the Benue and the Grassfields was still mainly in the hands of the local population, which was not the case with trade with the Adamawa region, which was totally under the control of the Hausas, whose impact in the Grassfields has been such that there is hardlya local market today where one does not find a Hausa trader on a mat with items such as herbs, salt, powder and little packets of mixtures of cooking ingredients of all sorts. The mountainous nature of the region added to many rivers to make it difficult to travel, especially at the rainy season, meaning that only certain routes were possible for traders. Kola nut mostly produced in Nsungli and Nso was sold in Nigeria through Banyo, Yolaand Takum, and the importance of the Banyo route was only diminished when the French and British set up customs posts. The donkeys seen today in Nso (where they are called “the kola animals”) and elsewhere in the Grassfields were probably introduced during the kola trade (Warnier 1985:141-148). In the second half of the 19th century, the fon of Bafut was allegedly so powerful that he used to send traders as far away as Takum (Warnier 1985:267). The Western and Eastern Grassfields along with their Tikar fondoms have yielded some of the most enterprising entrepreneurs in present day Cameroon (Warnier 1993).



The Tikar have elements of matrilineal and patrilineal descent. Their folk belief states that during pregnancy the blood that the woman would normally release during menstruation forms parts of the fetus. This blood is said to form the skin, blood, flesh and most of the organs. The bones, brain, heart and teeth are believed to be formed from the father's sperm. In the case of a son the masculinity also comes from this. The Tikar are also noted as mask-makers.
The primary religion of the Tikar people is Islam.



The Tikar are renowned for their highly detailed masks. These masks are characterized by their strongly-defined noses and large eyes. They are also known for their beautifully decorated brass pipes. Their artistry put the Tikar people at the center of trade and politics in Cameroon and made them a force to reckoned with in the eyes of neighboring ethnic groups, especially considering they are thought to be the only people in the region who were skilled in iron-working.

The History of the Masks of the Tikar

The Tikar people have focused on education for generations. Teachers taught boys vocational skills which included craft-making, woodcarving, mask carving and making bronze sculptures. They developed a process of using hot wax and bronze to create masks and statues to be used during agricultural ceremonies and festivals.

The Tikar or Twumwu people currently number between 44,000 and 250,000 (depending on the source) in Cameroon, in the grasslands areas of central Africa. More than 25 peoples of this area currently claim Tikar origin including the Nso, Kom, Bum and more. While they speak a variety of languages (even though French and English are their official languages), they all claim to have similar ancestors linking their history and culture. Approximately 65 percent of the population is Islam with another 20 percent claiming Christianity. A largely agricultural people, their main crops are cocoa, coffee, bananas, plantains, sugar cane and cassava, among many others.

Tikar people


The Tikar people left northern Cameroon to avoid forced-conversion to Islam by Fulani invaders moving southward into Cameroon to take advantage of the lucrative, west-central trade route. The Tikar migrated south to what would become known as the city of Foumban. Once the invaders followed to the South, war began, forcing some ethnic groups to leave. Others, like the Bamun, remained, hoping to resist Islam. The Fulani conquest was brief and did not result in Islamization, although this faith was accepted by a later Bamum ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Mbouombouo Njoya, in the early 20th century. This created the division between the Bamun and Bafia people, two other peoples who claim descent from the Tikar.

The Tikar people predominantly practice Christianity. However, there are a small number who practice traditional religions and Islam. Despite the differences between the spiritual practices, the Tikar are known to refer to God the creator as Nyuy.


Cultural beliefs

Surrounded by great grasslands, the Tikar people developed a unique, understanding of nature and performed planting rituals to bless seeds and work implements. Other ethnic groups in the region were known to offer animal sacrifices when it was time to plant.[9]

The Tikar also have their own cultural belief about birthing. It is believed that during pregnancy, the blood that the woman would normally release during menstruation forms parts of the fetus. This blood is said to form the skin, blood, flesh and most of the organs. The bones, brain, heart and teeth are believed to be formed from the father's sperm. In the case of a son, the masculinity also comes from this.



Many believe the Tikar masks are originally used to celebrate agricultural ceremonies or festivals with a plentiful harvest resulting in even larger, more elaborate celebrations. Hosting an honored guest was also cause for celebration as these extremely political people were wise to treat foreign dignitaries with respect. During these festival,s plam wine, billet beer and carbonated drinks are served along with a chicken, goat, steer or sheep.