Polygamy isn’t exactly something people in the West look upon fondly. That someone could have 100 wives — even if that someone is a king — seems a relic of the past, not a reality in the present.
But in Cameroon, a Central African republic bordered in part by Nigeria, Chad, and the Congo, there is a king with 100 wives. And the arrangement isn’t what you’d think.
Fon Abumbi II of Bafut, Cameroon, inherited almost 100 wives from his father when he died, according to an exclusive profile for CNN. “Just like in the United Kingdom, African kingdoms and kings are bound to a rich culture and history. (Practices) like inheritance of all your father’s wives is nothing but a moral obligation.”
Abumbi has ruled Bafut, which is technically called a fondom and is Cameroon’s largest, for nearly 50 years. Local tradition dictates that when his predecessor passes away, he inherits his elderly queens and then marries his own. (He also has 500 kids.)
And apparently, these women don’t just sit around being demure and submissive. The king needs all 100 of them to turn him from a mere prince to a great ruler. Each has a major role in the kingdom, said a Bafut prince, Nickson. They are accomplished, speaking English fluently, and are “great marketers.”
Abumbi’s third wife, Queen Constance, agreed.
“Behind every successful man must be a very successful, staunch woman. When you are king, the elderly wives remain to hand down the tradition to the younger wives, and also to teach the king the tradition because the king had been a prince, not a king.”
And with 100 of them, that’s a heck of a lot of advice.
This African kingdom and its structure is like something out of a long-forgotten past. A bit of background is necessary to understand it: Bafut is a town, a fondom, and a commune in the northwest part of the country; it’s also in the works to become an eco-city. This region of Cameroon has (obviously) preserved its traditional structure, and Abumbi (and his 100 wives) is its leader, working together with local councils.
Before the Europeans hit their shores, the fons were independent; most were subjected to German, then French or British, rule after World War I. Bafut fell under British rule until independence in 1961, and now is subject to the Cameroon government. The fondom remains semi-autonomous, the fon is the local ruler, and they have jurisdiction over their ancestral land. And he’s not just a figure-head either, he has seats on many national boards.
But in the modern era, people may still wag a finger at a man who can call 100 women “Mrs.” Christianity, changing values, and western influence have challenged polygamy here; even though it’s still legal, it’s not that common anymore.
Though in 2015, the idea of polygamy seems not just outdated but oppressive, Abumbi said modern values and traditional practices can live together. And it’s his job to ensure both blend, and neither is destroyed.
“My role is to blend them, to find the way forward so my subjects can enjoy the fruits of development and modernity without destroying their culture. Without a culture, you are not a human being, you are an animal … To run a kingdom nowadays in this era, you must be educated because things are moving very fast. Like they used to say, education is light, ignorance is darkness.”
[Photo Courtesy CNN Screengrab]