The Ngondo Festival is the major cultural celebration that takes place yearly by the Wouri river, in the city of Douala, Cameroon. This traditional and mystical feast is a yearly ritual around water which is held by and brings together the Sawa ethnic groups who are defined, by name and relation, as the people from the coastal regions, in this instance, of Cameroon. The twenty Sawa ethnic groups represented are, in alphabetical order, the Banen people, the Bankon people, the Bakoko group, the Bakole, the Bakossi, the Bakweri, the Bassa, the Batanga, the Bonkeng, the Douala, the Ewodi, the Subu, the Limba, the Mbo, the Mboko, the Mungo, the Nyamtan, the Pongo, the Wovea and the Yabassi.
The high-profile event is organised by highly-ranked personalities of Greater Douala. The participants are local Sawa people but foreigners are welcome to watch. This unique event identifies itself as artistic, cultural, and mystical, as well as political. The entertainment fills the streets with music, sports, colours, dance, fashion, pageant, a blend of positively animated atmospheres and fun. This is playing an increasing role in the region’s cultural tourism beyond its primary goal to promote harmony among and between the coastal ethnic groups and assemble major tribe chiefs for the purpose. The coastal fashion gets a full display, in particular, the loin cloth but also the Kaba, a traditional maxi dress from the Duala tribe dating back to the times of the British protectorate. The local beauties appear as part of the selection of the year’s Miss Ngondo, the celebration’s own pageant. Besides the beauties competing are the cooks challenging each other over the rainbow of Sawa creative tastes and textures. Finally, showcasing the richness of the Sawa culture are the trade fair and the sports, including traditional wrestling matches and long canoe races along the Wouri river.
Starting at dawn, the meeting takes initiates to perform the traditional practices to commune with the water spirits from the Wouri river that protect the groups. The Jengu ritual is the crown of this adult-only ceremony. An initiate dressed in traditional clothings enters the water carrying sacred pots to collect the sacred message from the underwater Jengu (or plural Miengu) kingdom. He dives into the Wouri river and is said to be able to stay there in apnea for a long time only to come back carrying the message, with his clothing as dry as if it had never touched the water.
The celebration has been occuring annually since 1914 although after 1981, the ritual was banned by the authorities until it came back to life in 1991, swapping its 12th of July celebrations for the month-long period of November to December. Indeed, what better time it is to get a message for the year to come.
Below is the announcement for the 2018 event, in French, that takes place from the 2nd of November to 2nd of December. The theme is Moto mô, Mboa pò, i.e. One People, One Nation.