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The Vame-Mbreme (Cameroon)

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The first mentioning of the Vame-Mbreme is by Denham 1826, who speaks of ‘The lofty peaks of Vahmy’ (1985:175). Rolhfs (1875:50) mentions the ‘Wame’ (Vame). Mouchet 1947:129) speaks of the mountains of the ‘Vame’ and the ‘Mbreme’ as being a physical feature of the Mora massif. Mouchet (1947:137) translates the name ‘Vame’ as a Wandala expression by referring to Vame as being on the meridian of a long journey. However, the local name is not Vame, but ‘Ndreme’ (ibid) what is the same as Barreteau’s ndreme (1984:187). Mouchet (ibid) explains that ‘Ndreme’ is the name of the son of the ancestor ot the Vame founding lineage ‘Gemje’. The name ‘Mberme’ (Mbreme) is the name of their local ancestor, who is of ‘Muktele’ origine (Mouchet, ibid).


The Vame-Mbreme live on the northeastern heights of the Northern Mandaras, only 5 km west of the inselberg Hurza forming a narrow peninsular, stretching south. Nyssen (1990:217) counts six local groups: the Zule, the Ndreme, the Dumwa Ndakwaza, the Mbreme, the Mabar and the Afam. The Vame-Mbreme settlements are found at an altitude of between 450 and 950 metres. Their neighbours to the north are the Mora, with whom they share the same massif - the Mora-Massif. Their nextdoor neighbours to the west and southwest are the Uldeme. Vame-Mbreme belongs to the department Mayo-Sava, arrondissement Mora.


Nyssens (1990:217) estimates for 1985 about 3,500 Vame (Vame-Mbreme), that is excluding the Mora. Boulet et al (1984:119) estimate for the Vame- Mbreme only 1,400 and for the Mora 2,300. SIL (1992) counts 8,500 for all pelasla speakers by including the Mora under pelasla, naming them Vame-Mora. Hallaire (1991:24) estimates for the whole of the Mora-Massif 3418 inhabitants (ibid, tab3) with 2000 for the Mora and 1418 for the Vame-Mbreme (ibid, tab4). Population density is according to Hallaire (ibid:fig5) 100 to 139 individuals per square km.

According to Barreteau (1984:167ff), the Vame-Mbreme speak ndreme, which is a dialect of mafa-northeast, as do the Hurza, while the Mora (to the north on the same massif) speak a dialect of wandala-east and the Uldeme speak a dialect of mafa- south. Ndreme is the general name for all dialects which Barreteau (ibid) classifies under mafa-northeast, and which was originally referred to as pelasla (Plata) by Dieu and Renaud (1983:33), and Colombel (1982:117). Barreteau gives the reason for the change to ndreme the sociological and geographical unity he believes this name stands for. This argument is contested by Nyssens (1990:229).


The Atlas Regional Mandara-Logone (Hallaire and Barral 1967) identifies the Vame-Mbreme as an ethnic group. Nyssens (1990:230) suggests Vame to be the ethnic name for the Vame-Mbreme although it is a Mandara word, while he admits at the same time that the six local groups who speak ndreme/pelasla don’t refer to themselves as Vame. According to him, the Mora, the Vame (Vame-Mbreme), and the Hurza share common cultural features, like similarities in pottery, architecture, and certain rites and customs (ibid). However, the three ethnic groups claim to be politically separate units in terms of their ritual commitments to local territories. Among the Vame (Vame-Mbreme) it is the lineage Zulge which owns the religious guardianship of these rights (ibid).



Nyssens’s article (1990) gives a review of the literature about the Vame- Mbreme among whom he conducted over two years of fieldwork, from May 1981 to May 1983, plus two months in 1986. the most important reference is Mouchet (1947). Nyssen’s refers (1990), like Mouchet before him, to the importance of the ‘Zalidava’ (Zelidva) and ‘Ngoulele’ (Ngololo) tradition of the Vame-Mbreme, and so does MacEachern (1990). The Hurza, Mora and Podoko too have a Zelidva/Ngololo tradition. Muller-Kosack (1996:141f) explains that the Zelidva of the Gwoza Hills trace their ethnic origin via the high valley of Ndololo back to the Dughwede and that they link it further with the Hide/Tur tradition of the Gvoko, Chikide-Chinene, Guduf and Wandala (click the approriate web pages to find out more).

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