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Des taurins et des hommes

Christian Seignobos
Éric Thys


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1Although the rearing of taurines (Bos taurus) in Cameroon and Nigeria has become a limited occupation in an area now occupied by zebu, it is of interest not only for the comprehension of the societies that possess them but also to attempt to halt their disappearance.

2The different contributions concerning Cameroon address the main features of each of these types of animal husbandry, whereas those on the taurines of Nigeria are in the form of more overall syntheses.

Kapsiki, the last taurine of the Mandara hills

3The Kapsiki people are the last breeders of taurines in the Mandara hills. W.E.A Van Beek analyses the ambiguity of this occupation, which is essential to the sustainability of Kapsiki society and ensures social status but which through its capitalisation aspect is a cause of jealousy and tension. The Kapsiki are cereal farmers who rear cattle. The taurines are not associated with the agrosystem but are used solely in social relations. The ways in which taurines are acquired enhance a whole flowering of social play. In this, the taurine contrasts strongly with the Fulani zebu as a symbolic reference. Fulani livestock farmers have long been present on the Kapsiki plateau. However, the zebu has only joined the Kapsiki herds recently and gradually. The Kapsiki, who set out from their defensive sites to conquer the plateau land, entrusted their herds to Fulani herders. They have now taken control over their animal husbandry occupations for two decades. Today, the young people are turning to the zebu, which is less loaded with ritual and connotations of the past.

4The Kapsiki taurine is a small shorthorn. A measurement study was performed by B. Dineur and E. Thys on 216 head of cattle in the Gouria region, with the recording of height at the withers, chest girth, scapula-ischium length (by sex and age category), horn length and live weight. A table proving chest girth-weight equivalents was drawn up with good correlation between these measurements (r = 0.987).

5Blood groups and soluble polymorphic substances were determined by Thys et al. using blood samples from 197 Kapsiki taurines and 178 Fulani zebus in the Dogba region and compared to those of other cattle: Afrikaner, Holstein, Frisian and Shorthorn. The Kapsiki breed, classified as a West African Shorthorn taurine, can probably be considered to be a cross between longhorn and shorthorn taurines. It is not free of zebu blood.

6P. Ducos performed a series of measurements of the cranium and skeleton of a 6 1/2-year-old castrated Kapsiki ox. There is a certain resemblance to the N’Dama breed.

Namchi cattle, symbol of identity

7There are still taurines in the countryside of the Poli region. C. Seignobos described their rearing and position among the Dowayo. In this society, ownership of these animals is a source of prestige as they are needed in dowries and at funeral ceremonies. The position of corral chief, whose quasi-hereditary power is based on “cattle stones”, is very well-perceived. They form the framework of Dowayo society. In every village, the corral plays a special role in social and religious life. The taurine is reputed to possess a share of humanness that affects his relations with people, the care taken of it and its underlying symbolism. C. Seignobos’ 1991 census of corrals and the cattle they housed indicated stagnation or a decrease of the numbers in comparison with previous counts. Cattle farming was described as waning by the first travellers, the idea being that it had previously flourished. Nothing is less certain. This animal husbandry is very socialised and strongly controlled by a gerontocracy and was intended to be kept limited. Although taurines have been more widespread in the Poli region, they have never formed vast herds on the scale of the Fulani zebus. Through ignorance of the true nature of this animal husbandry, colonial administrators and livestock services unsuccessfully attempted to develop it and integrate it in economic channels. Today, the occupation of the highland grazing land by Mbororo cattle farmers while the Dowayo have come down into the foothills with their taurines has generated strong opposition between the two types of animal husbandry. This cohabitation is not without conflict. Like all traditional societies in the region, the Dowayo society is experiencing a crisis that at term will be the end of the taurine associated with it. The survival of this animal husbandry will depend on a change in its social functioning and a withdrawal of the notabilia in favour of young cattle farmers.

8E. de Garine addresses the cognitive and symbolic system related to the taurine in the neighbouring Duupa society in five villages that continue this animal husbandry. The taurine is also subjected here to criteria of individuation going as far as castration, which is considered as being the equivalent of circumcision in man. The links with Dowayo animal husbandry are obvious: corral, corral chief, sacred cattle stones ensuring the fertility of the herd, sumptuous slaughtering and the same use at funerals. Nevertheless, E. de Garine considers that the techniques and social practice of the Duupa people in taurine husbandry are declining. Although taurines can be seen at all levels of Duupa culture, they do not — or no longer — seem to be essential to the functioning of society. The taurine is a prestige item or a ’luxury’.

9In the so-called ’Koma’ societies of the Alantika mountains, taurines also fulfil or used to fulfil an essential psychosocial function. E. Dounias analyses rearing within the framework of the use of land by the Koma, with the controlled herding of zebus in the foothills and taurines in semi-liberty on the mountain slopes in a highland ecosystem. These activities result from the two trends of Koma society, which is conservative in the mountain area and more open-minded in the foothills. Unlike the Dowayo, there are no corral chiefs but herd chiefs aided by herders. The social ascension of a Koma Gimbe man is expressed by his ability to sacrifice cattle in honour of his wife during the naginappo ceremony. Here again, the way in which the animal is cut up and the parts distributed follows a precise code. A young adult can perform his first naginappo with a zebu and then, as he grows older, move on to the taurine, which is the more sought-after animal. Notables may sacrifice six or seven cattle during their lives. Will the sacrificial role of taurines be conserved, thus maintaining the breeding of it? Several factors reveal its decline: cultural factors, with the adoption of Fulani esthetic criteria, and technical factors since the zebu, unlike the taurine, can be yoked in the foothills. The increased scarcity of taurines and the isolation of mountain animal husbandry are obvious, whereas there are abundant zebus.

10E. Thys and W. Zigla measured a sample of Namchi cattle consisting of 134 bulls and 314 cows. The figures are provided by age category, together with the adult weight and the capabilities of the breed.

11E. Thys compared the main male and female body measurements and the internal and external horn length of Kapsiki and Namchi. The results confirmed that these breeds form part of the group of African Shorthorn taurines.

Muturu and Keteku, forgotten Nigerian livestock

12In Nigeria, the taurine populations and the types of rearing practised are extensions of those described in Cameroon, with very close genetic stock. The behaviour of the cattle and that ascribed to them by the people who rear them are also similar In both countries. The purposes of the rearing activities are identical.

13B. Paarup-Laursen analyses in greater detail the naginappo ritual described by E. Dounias and practised by the Koma in Nigeria; it is called topnagi here. The Koma ritual involves a whole set of social and economic relations. It is above all a social event that consolidates relations between men and women and those of their respective lineages, while expressing social ascension. It acts as a reminder of the rules of Koma society, as if the complexity of the system of relationships, which is both matrilineal for inheritance and virilocal for dwellings, and of social relations as a whole required regular definition. Topnagi stems from the determination of individuals and is adapted to the movement of the ’career’ of the Koma, thus resulting in competition and emulation. In Koma society, where the taurine is declining, the features of the animal are still present. Although the role of the cattle has become an economic epiphenomenon, its is still intact and even strengthened from the symbolic point of view.

14In Nigeria, the term Muturu covers all small shorthorn taurines. These West African Dwarf Shorthorns can be classified in four groups: the savannah Muturu in the north, the Muturu of the Jos Plateau, those of the derived savannah and the forest Muturu. R. Blench et al. indicate the geographical distribution and grazing and feed strategies of each group. The inventory is completed by information on productivity (reproduction and fertility, herd structure, mortality and offtake), trade and the constraints of these types of rearing. This contribution shows the measure of interest of Muturu rearing, their past importance and the role that they may play In the future. As in Cameroon, these rearing operations are considered to be very minor and have always been mentioned as curiosities in administrative reports. These cattle have been reduced to remnant populations but their traces — sometimes in the recent past — cover vast areas. They are not precisely the same animals. They are larger and more varied in colour in the north. Their ’wild’ behaviour is stressed everywhere, as is their unsuitability for milking, but this is compensated by great hardiness. Blench et al. mention the small size of the herds and their absence on markets. Transactions take place within groups that award the same social value to the cattle (weddings, funerals and sacrifices). Analysis of the different types of rearing reveals a difficult situation and various degrees of decline in numbers. The rearing operations have a more social than economic basis and are rendered fragile by ongoing social changes. Statements by the population concerning the decline of the Muturu should also be treated with caution. A number of causes are involved: children now attend school and less land is available, agrarian practices and political management are changing. Nevertheless, the diagnosis is the same. It is as ’social animals’ that these shorthorns no longer have a position in rural societies in Nigeria. They have lost their role as prestige items and as irreplaceable sacrificial animals. Their last battle is being fought at the level of symbolism. If they lose this final reference to the past they will disappear.

15R. Blench et al. discuss Muturu crossbreeds, generally called Keteku, and N’Dama cattle. The geographical areas and management systems are described for the Keteku in the north and centre (zebu x Muturu) and those in the south (N’Dama x Muturu, also referred to as ’Lagos cross’). Keteku are involved in transhumance movements in central Nigeria. They are used for draught and dairy purposes in the Borgu. ’Lagos cross’ cattle are reared on the coast in the south of the country under free-range or tethered conditions. The Keteku was brought from Benin by the Fulani in the west and remains limited to the western fringe of Nigeria. The N’Dama was introduced more recently in the Nigerian coastal area from Senegambia. Like Muturu, Keteku are dwindling as a result of pressure from the zebu. Here again, the decline is taking place in spite of a certain hardiness and qualities as draught animals. N’Dama productivity in difficult environment would be similar to that of zebu. In spite of this, promotion in development projects through farm-stations does not achieve the hoped-for success in diffusion, including that of crossbred stock. The decline mechanisms affecting the Keteku are the same as those suffered by the taurine. Zebus, present in overwhelming numbers all over the country and sold on the markets, are taking the lead and replacing local breeds and their derivatives for reasons of facility.

The taurines of western Cameroon, chieftainry cattle

16The Bamileke are doubtless the rare Bantu (or semi-Bantu) to have owned cattle.

17J. Boutrais describes these herds that are the inalienable property of chief-tainries and that live in semi-freedom on grazing land or fallow at the edge of bocage areas. Widespread in the Bamenda and the Bamileke, these herds gradually declined from the eighteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. They were weakened by Tchamba-Bali raids and then by forays of the Banyo Fulani and were finally the victims of requisitions during the German and French colonial campaigns. The herds were always centred very locally; they dwindled gradually and the last disappeared during the troubles of the independence period in 1959. Offtakes from the herds often exceeded their capacity for renewal but, as they were the property of the chieftainries, they continued to break up slowly as the chiefs got rid of herds that had become too encumbering. Finally, according to J. Boutrais, the arrival of the Mbororo and their zebus in the highland pastures in the west precipitated the elimination of the taurines through lack of interest on the part of their owners, who can obtain other types of cattle and other herders.

18E. Thys assessed the geographical areas of distribution, the numbers and the general external characteristics (with measurements by age category) of the Bakosi and the Bakweri, two cattle breeds in ’western’ Cameroon. The techniques and motivations of these remnant breeds are also mentioned.

On the road to extinction?

19J.-G. Gauthier used an approach that is both anthropological and archaeological to establish a link between the taurines that have recently disappeared from Fali country and those of the former Sao country 400 km to the north. The Fali of Tinguelin still remember their small cattle. Traces of the presence remains in toponymy, the ruins of corrals, musical instruments made of horn and also in certain profane and ritual songs and in certain aspects of funeral rites. Some pre-Sao zoomorphic figurines (third century BC, fifth century AD) represent taurines. Oral traditions and archaeological material thus concur to reveal the long presence of taurines in northern Cameroon.

20The discovery of Bos taurus bones at Gorey (thirteenth century) and Mongosi (fourteenth to sixteenth centuries) enables A. Marliac to confirm the presence of taurines in the Diamaré plains. Unfortunately, as the corpus is small, it is hardly possible to draw conclusions. Nevertheless, one of the intentions of the authors of this work is to make the reader aware that the remains of cattle perhaps hide a taurine, just as horse bones may be those of a pony. Taurines and ponies are good markers of the pre-lslamic civilisations in Lake Chad basin. The description of a Kapsiki taurine was also undertaken in this spirit (P. Ducos).

21E. Thys compares the main body measurements (height at the withers, chest girth and scapula-ischium length) of Cameroon taurine breeds. This comparison tends to confirm that these animals belong to the African shorthorn group.

22The taurine breeding sanctuaries are threatened today, whether the Kapsiki taurines of the Mandara hills, Namchi cattle at Poli and the Alantika mountains or the ’western cattle’ of Cameroon. Presence of taurines in the past has been shown in numerous parts of north Cameroon: the plains of the Chari-Logone system, the Diamaré and the northern part of the Mandara hills. Oral traditions reveal numerous links between this former presence and today’s herds. However, there are several types: chief-tainry monopolies (in the west), the political and social foundation of the aristocracy (Dowayo) and the privilege of the elders (Kapsiki). These differences have probably developed in time. Taurines as attributes of the chief-tainries would appear to illustrate a previous state with more democratically owned herds, although they were dominated by gerontocracies, unless the cattle were simply at the service of different types of political management. At the beginning of the century, the boundary between these two types of cattle rearing ran south of the Poli region in Kolbila country. The obligation to have one’s cattle herded in the chief’s corral prefigured the practices of the neighbouring Duru. Herds were already a royal prerogative for both the Duru and the Mbum. Some techniques or ritual features that were specific to taurines lasted in the new rearing operation when zebus replaced taurines. C. Seignobos mentions as an example the ’maray bull’ of the mountain people in the northern Mandara hills. In contrast, Masa cattle changed radically, becoming desacralised, accessible to everybody and above all a source of milk. Why has there been such a decline of taurines that can only lead to their disappearance? Historical causes are put forward. However, although wars, raids, epizootic diseases and competition with zebu may be the cause of the disappearance of certain rearing zones, these factors do not account for everything. C. Seignobos feels that structural causes are the most meaningful. This markedly sacralised cattle rearing is proving to be incapable of acquiring a ’lay’ character or continuing outside the society that it serves. It is disappearing with this society. When, in other places, it is a chieftainry privilege, it may also disappear with the power of the chiefs. This is the case in west Cameroon. Will the new generation of Dowayo and Kapsiki in the north be able to free themselves of the heritage of their elders and succeed in practising freer management of cattle rearing? The future of taurines is in the balance.

© IRD Éditions, 1998

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