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Cameroon: A Theology Student Sees Similarities between Tribal and Christian Reconciliation Processes

The Reconciliation Process in the Papiakum Tribe

In Papiakum tribe reconciliation is something of value. There are different types of reconciliation in Papiakum. These reconciliation types are: family reconciliation, clan reconciliation, quarter reconciliation, and tribal reconciliation. All these different types of reconciliation have different processes, methods, and approaches. My sharing will be based on the family type of reconciliation.

The family reconciliation process normally begins when the guilty person acknowledges his or her crime. A crime is an offense committed against another person or against the fundamental value of the family like failing to fulfill one’s obligation during family rituals. Once, the person has acknowledged his or her crime the leader of the family invites the person to the family home.  Every family has a leader who presides over rituals and functions in the family as well as outside the family.  There is a hierarchy of leadership in this tribe. The head of the family who has title in the kingdom is Moh, while the head of the family without the title in the kingdom may either be Nah or Tita. The title Moh is either given by the Fon (king) of the kingdom or inherited. The second title Nah or Tita only comes when one is a successor.

As mentioned above the reconciliation process in the family begins when the person acknowledges the crime. Once the crime has been acknowledged the head of the family, either Moh, Tita, or Nah invites the person for reconciliation ceremony. The person has to prepare some items for the ceremony.  These items are: palm wine and cola nut. These items must be presented on the day of the reconciliation. The reconciliation cannot take place when these items are not presented. Before the day of the reconciliation, the head of the family will invite a few elders who will join him during the ceremony. When all the items are presented the head of the family, Moh, then invites the guilty person to narrate all his or her crime. When he or she has finished Moh then pours some palm wine into the traditional cup which is always in his possession.

He will then invite every member in the house to stand while he invokes the ancestors to cleanse the person from his or her crime. After the invocation of the ancestors Moh pours the palm wine thrice at the door as a symbol of opening the door for the person back into the family bond. He subsequently drinks from the cup and then he gives it to the person to drink before giving it to the other elders in the house as a symbol of solidarity and union in the family bond. The other elders share the palm wine from the same cup before they can use other traditional cups in drinking the remaining palm wine. Moh splits one of the cola nuts and shares it with everyone in the house, before everyone can then begin to pick their shares of the cola nut from the traditional plate. The cola nut symbolizes peace and also solidarity.

From this reconciliation process in the Papiakum tribe I can see many elements which are connected with our Christian tradition of reconciliation. The family reconciliation process begins with the acknowledgment of the crime and it is the same in our Christian tradition in regard to reconciliation. The procedure for Christian reconciliation begins with Bless me, Father of I am a sinne. It has been…… since my last confession. These are my sins[1].  The priest is the main presider over the reconciliation process. This is also similar to the family reconciliation where Moh, Tita, or Nah is the presider. The priest is the presider because of the authority which he holds in the church, like the head of the family. The sinner narrates his or her sins to the priest in a similar way the family reconciliation also does this.

Reconciliation is something which is continuous both in the family as well as in the church so long as one has either committed a crime or a sin. Besides, only a man who is a priest can listen to a confession in the same why only a man who is the head of the family can preside over the ceremony of reconciliation. All elders are allowed to be present in the home where the reconciliation process within the family takes place. Furthermore, the aspect of preparation for reconciliation within the family is similar to the Christian examination of conscience before confession. Finally, reconciliation in the family is a way in which one who has broken the family bonds is brought back into the family where he or she can experience love  and care. In a similar way reconciliation in the Christian tradition is a way of turning back to God ( Acts 3:19, Lk 9:23-24, Mk 1:15).

In conclusion: there are important elements in this traditional ceremony which have a connection with our Christian teaching.

Nobert Yarshikeh mhm (student of theology)


[1] Wilfred D’Souza, A Family Catechism,( Daughters of St Paul : Nairobi, 1990),17

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