Njoya the Great

Updated: May 26

King Ibrahim Njoya
King Ibrahim Njoya

  • Full name: Ibrahim Mbouombouo Njoya

  • Born: 1876, Fumban (present-day Cameroon)

  • Died: 1933, Yaoundé (Cameroon)

  • Occupation: King of the Bamum Kingdom

  • Primarily known for*: Inventing the Bamum language and developing Bamum maps.

Born in 1876, King Ibrahim Mbouombouo Njoya was the 17th Mfon (king) in the Ncharé Yen dynasty and King of Bamun from 1886 to his death in 1933. Njoya was a pacifist ruler of many talents, who managed to maintain the autonomy of his kingdom at a time when the German Empire was imposing itself in West Africa, in present-day Cameroon.

King Njoya was a philosopher, innovator and writer. In 1915, he created a religion that was inspired by Islam, Christianity, and traditional beliefs. The principles of "njoyaism" were transcribed in the book, "Nkuet Kwate" (pursue and achieve). The book is written in "a-ka-u-ku", a writing system derived from the shü-mom language and developed by Njoya himself. The script contained 80 characters and its name derives from the first letters of the alphabet. In addition, Njoya wrote fifteen books all using the Bamum alphabet (including romance novels and the "History and Customs of the Bamum People") and an encyclopaedia on traditional pharmacopeia.

King Njoya developed close ties with the German colonists. In 1906, the Bamum people allied with the Germans during the war against the Banso Kingdom. In 1908, King Njoya gifted a beaded throne to the German Emperor, which can be found today in the Ethnological Museum of Berlin. King Njoya established schools in his kingdom where children were taught German and Bamum culture. Children learned to read and write using the Bamum alphabet.

Bamum Map
Map of the kingdom of Bamum. Source: Library of Congress

King Njoya also created many maps. In 1912 and 1920, he ordered that surveys be taken of his kingdom. Officially, these were intended to resolve land disputes. One of these surveys, which involved assessing distances and the names of different points of interest, took 52 days to complete. The result of the survey was to develop the kingdom's standards in mapping settlements, natural elements and boundaries. Rivers are purple, mountains are green and two disks (representing the sun) define the map orientation. All descriptions on the maps were written in Bamum characters.

King Njoya's political clout weakened as German West Africa was transferred to the French after the German defeat in the First World War. The French colonists stripped him of any political power over his kingdom and forced him into house arrest in the capital of the colony, Yaoundé, in 1930. King Njoya died three years later, in 1933. The Ncharé Yen line survives to this day. The 20th Mfon, Nfonrifoum Mbombo Njoya Mouhamed Nabil a descendant of King Njoya, ascended to the throne in 2021.


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* Please note that this list is not exhaustive.


Geary, Christraud M. Images from Bamum: German Colonial Photography at the Court of King Njoya, Cameroon, West Africa, 1902-1915. National Museum of African Art, 1988. Ngoh, Victor Julius. History of Cameroon Since 1800. Presbook, 1996. Njoya, Sultan of Bamoun. ‘[Bamum]’. Image. Accessed 23 May 2022.



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