Beti-Pahuin people


Beti-Pahuin / Beti-Ekang

The Ekang are a group of closely related ethnic groups located in rain forest regions of Cameroon, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe. Though they separate themselves into several individual clans, they all share a common origin, history and culture.

Estimated to be well over 5 million individuals in the early 21st century, they form the largest ethnic group in central Cameroon and its capital city of Yaoundé, in Gabon and in Equatorial Guinea. Their Beti languages are mutually intelligible.


Group distinctions

The Beti-Pahuin are made up of over 20 individual clans. Altogether, they inhabit a territory of forests and rolling hills that stretches from the Sanaga River in the north to Equatorial Guinea and the northern halves of Gabon to Congo to the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the west to the Dja River in the east.


The Beti people are a Central African ethnic group primarily found in central Cameroon. They are also found in Equatorial Guinea and northern Gabon.

The group called Beti consists of the:

  1. Ewondo or Yaunde (more precisely Kolo). The Ewondo, or Yaunde, are centred on Yaoundé, Cameroon's capital, which was named for them. They also populate the eastern Mefou division and the Mfoundi and Nyong and So divisions in the Centre Province. The remainder of their territory lies in the northern portions of the Ocean division in the South Province. Their language (or Beti dialect), also called Ewondo, is the most widely spoken of the Beti languages in Cameroon, with an estimated 1,200,000 speakers in 1982. It serves as a lingua franca in Yaoundé and much of the rest of Cameroon's Centre and South Provinces.
  2. Bane
  3. Fang (more precisely M'fang)
  4. Mbida-Mbane
  5. Mvog-Nyenge
  6. Eton (or Iton). The Eton are further subdivided into the Eton-Beti, Eton-Beloua, and Beloua-Eton. The Eton live primarily in the Lekie division of Cameroon's Centre Province with major settlements at Sa'a and Obala. They speak the Eton language or dialect, which had 500,000 speakers in 1982.

The Beti people, like the other Beti-Pahuin peoples speak a dialect of the Fang language, also known as Pahuin or Pangwe. Sometimes called as the Beti language, it is a Southern Bantu language belonging to the Niger-Congo family of languages.

The Beti language is sub-classified as Bulu language, Eton language, Ewondo language and Fang language because though different, they are mutually intelligible to respective speakers. While the languages are similar, there are linguistic differences suggesting a complex interaction between these peoples.



The traditional occupation of the Beti people is farming, particularly of yams, cassava, corn and plantains as staples. Since colonial times, many have adopted cash crops such as peanuts and cacao.[1] They are skilled artists and craftsmen, particularly in iron and wood handicrafts. However, these craftsmanship are nearly extinct because of urbanization and modern trade flows.

The traditional Beti society has been organized at the village level, typically with its borders fenced and fortified with watch towers to protect the inhabitants from wild life of the rain forests and intruders. Outside the village compounds were carefully concealed traps, as another line of defense against slave raiders. The villages have tended to be politically independent of each other, centered on a lineage called Ayon or Mvog. They are a patrilineal people, and disputes are typically settled by a due process led by a headman. The Beti revere their ancestors, and known among other things for their artistically produced reliquary boxes called the Byeri. They store the bones of their ancestors in these reliquary boxes, which were used during rites of passage, with their sophisticated masks called So (animal-faced) and Ngil (human-faced).

The Beti people practise double exogamy, that is typically married away from both father's and mother's lineages. Another notable aspect of their society has been the concept of Mebala, a type of potlatch, where wealthy families ceremoniously gather and give away their wealth to the poorer families.


The Fang (or Fan) form the second group. Individual ethnic groups include the Fang proper, the Ntumu, the Mvae, and the Okak. Fang territories begin at the southern edge of Cameroon south of Kribi, Djoum, and Mvangan in the South Province and continue south across the border, including all of Río Muni in Equatorial Guinea and south into Gabon and Congo.


The third grouping is called the Bulu and makes up about a third of all Beti-Pahuin in Cameroon. The Bulu include the Bulu proper of Sangmélima, Kribi, and Ebolowa, the Fong and Zaman of the Dja River valley, the Yengono, Yembama and Yelinda of the Nyong River valley, and the Yesum, Yebekanga, Yebekolo, and Mvele.

Other groups

In addition, several other peoples are currently being assimilated or "Pahuinised" by their Beti-Pahuin neighbours. These include the Manguissa, Yekaba, Bamvele, Evuzok, Batchanga (Tsinga), Omvang, Yetude, and, to some extent, the Baka.

Society and culture

A large number of Beti-Pahuin are involved in lucrative enterprises such as cocoa and coffee farming.

The Beti-Pahuin peoples organise themselves according to a series of patrilineal kinships, although some of its subgroups seem to have practised matriliny in the past. As a consequence of this matrilineal past we can still nowadays see the strong link among the maternal uncle and the nephew. The family (a man, his wife or wives, and his children) forms the backbone of this system. Several families of a common lineage live together in a village, and in turn, several related villages form a clan. These clans come under the nominal rule of a chief, who is also traditionally regarded as a religious authority.

The majority of the Beti-Pahuin ethnic groups live in small, roadside villages of no more than a few hundred inhabitants. These villages are mostly linear, with houses paralleling the road and backed by forest. The typical dwelling unit is constructed of dried-mud bricks placed onto a bamboo frame and roofed with raffia-palm fronds. In recent times, metal roofing has become increasingly common, and wealthier individuals may construct their homes in concrete.

Beti-Pahuin territory also includes a number of sizable towns and cities, most of which were begun by the Germans or French. Here, settlements are more in the European pattern, with a network of streets, various neighbourhoods, and central administrative or commercial districts.



Most individuals maintain an agrarian lifestyle. Manioc and maize form the staple crops with plantains, yams, and groundnuts also playing a vital role (in fact, "Ewondo" and "Yaoundé" mean "groundnut"). A variety of forest products, such as greens, insects, mushrooms, and various palm products, supplements the diet. Livestock is limited to small animals that may be left to forage unattended, such as goats, pigs, and chickens.

These are typically saved for special occasions such as funerals or New Year's Day. Instead, the main source of animal protein during the year, comes from bushmeat, that is, wild game such as pangolin, porcupine, and monkey brought in by jungle hunters. Likewise, fishing is central to the lives of many Beti-Pahuin, particularly in Equatorial Guinea and São Tomé and Príncipe.

In addition, a substantial number of Beti-Pahuin are involved in the cocoa plantations that dot the territory of Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Cameroon's south. Most of these are Bulus or Fangs, since their territory contains the largest concentration of plantations. In contrast, the Ewondos farther north often find work as unskilled labour, as their environment is much more urbanised. Many Beti-Pahuin were highly skilled workers in wood, ivory, and soapstone. They were particularly noted for their lively masks.



Most Beti-Pahuin peoples were Christianised by 1939 (though the Fang were also influenced by the Mitsogo). At that time, much of their traditional culture was abandoned, including much native dance and song. After the colonial era ended, their traditional religion has enjoyed a resurgence, such as the Bwiti religion and, as has a flowering of new styles of music and dance, such as the Bikutsi of the Ewondos.

Thus, today many Beti-Pahuin consider themselves Christian, go to church on Sundays, and then attend various secret societies or visit a traditional healer at other times during the week.



The Beti people are Bantu people who once lived in northern parts of Central Africa, with a complex, undocumented and debated prehistory. They likely moved into equatorial Africa in the seventh or eighth century, then further southwest in central Cameroon between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, likely after waves of wars and slave raids from the Fulani people. They were also a targeted source for slaves and ivory by the Hausa people.
Their initial migration in the 17th century was from highlands and forested regions east of the Sanaga River towards south and west. They continued to face jihads and violence from the north by the Fulani people (also called Fulbe or Fula people), abandoned their settlements and migrated further into southern parts of central Cameroon till the 19th century when European traders and colonial forces intervened as they sought trade and markets. The first European power to create a colony that partly included the lands of the Beti people was the German Kamerun colony in 1884. After the first world war, the German colony was taken over, divided by the French and the British colonial powers.
In 1856, Paul Du Chaillu met the Beti people. He published a memoir about them in 1863. The memoir mentions his arrival on the Atlantic coast and being told by local people about the cannibalistic Beti people. When Du Chaillu met the Beti people, he saw skulls and bones near their settlement. He immediately took these for cannibalism and wrote about it in his memoir. Later visitors such as the ethnographer Mary Kingsley in 1893–1895, who did not speak the Beti language or live with the local people, saw the same sighting, and titled her book "A Victorian Woman Explorer among the Man-eaters".
In 1912, a Christian missionary named Father Trilles visited them, learned the Beti language, and wrote a more objective ethnographic account of the Beti people. More accounts about the Beti people began appearing after World War I, but were often stereotypical and most emphasized about their alleged practice of containing bone relics in reliquary boxes. These alleged practices were used to justify violence against them and the enslavement of Beti and Fang peoples. When their villages were raided, thousands of their wooden idols and villages were burnt by the slave raiders. The French and the British colonial officials suppressed these practices.