Tikar people

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Total population
Regions with significant populations
The Adamawa Region of Cameroon
Related ethnic groups

The Tikar (also Tikari, Tika, Tikali, Tige, Tigare and Tigre)[1][2] are a Central African people who inhabit the Adamawa Region and Northwest Region of Cameroon. They are known as great artists, artisans and storytellers.[3] Once a nomadic people, some oral traditions trace the origin of the Tikar people to the Nile River Valley in present-day Sudan.[4][5] Such ethnic groups were referred to in the 1969 official statistics as "Semi-Bantus" and "Sudanese Negroes."[6] They speak a Northern Bantoid language called Tikar. One of the few African ethnic groups to practice a monotheistic traditional religion, the Tikar refer to God the Creator by the name Nyuy.[3] They also have an extensive spiritual system of ancestral reverence.[3]

The current population of the Tikar in Cameroon is approximately 170,000.[2] This is a vast difference from other enslaved and trafficked ethnic groups such as the Kirdi, who still number around 15 million people.[7] This could be due to the high number of Tikar people who were kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Americas.[8] The Bamum people and other ethnic groups have also asserted their link to the Tikar people through Tikar rulers in the Kingdom of Bamum.[3] However, the Kom, Nso, Bamum, Ndop-Bamunka and Bafut peoples are the only ethnic groups who anthropologists and historians believe have a legitimate claim to Tikar lineage.[9][8]

There are currently six adjoining Tikar kingdoms: Bankim (Kimi), Ngambé-Tikar, Kong (Nkong/Boikouong), Nditam (Bandam), Ngoumé, and Gâ (Ntchi). The boundaries of these kingdoms have remained since German colonizers arrived in Cameroon.[8]


During the reign of Sultan Njoya, ruler of the Kingdom of Bamum, French missionary and translator Henri Martin documented that the Bamum people translated the word Tikar as "those who wander."[10][11]

Who are the Tikar?[edit]

These Madou-Yenou thrones were ordered to be created by the Tikar chieftaincy of Rifum. They were created by Njikam Isidore, grandson of the great sculptor of King Njoya’s reign, Nji Gbetom Salifou. As was the custom, two thrones were made at the same time; the second as a backup, in case anything should happen to the primary throne.

Today, there is some debate over whether the Tikar should be considered an ethnic group, like the Hausa people, or rather a blanket term for multiple groups, due to the fact that some smaller groups argue that they descend from the Tikar people. While the legitimacy of their claims are strongly disputed, there is a single ethnic group in Cameroon today who are called Tikar and actually descend from the original Tikar people.[12]

Debates are ongoing on the topic of the broader use of the name Tikar/Tikari to identify many villages and towns in north-western region of Cameroon. There are also a number of ethnic groups in the region who claim Tikar descent through royal bloodlines. However, oral tradition and DNA testing by companies such as African Ancestry, Inc. have proven that they are different ethnic groups genetically, with some testees receiving Tikar of Cameroon results and others receiving Bamileke of Cameroon results.[13][14]

The Bamum people and other ethnic groups have also asserted their link to the Tikar people through Tikar rulers in the Kingdom of Bamum. According to Molefi Kente Asante, the "Bamun and the Tikar are known as great artists creating enormous sculptures of bronze and beads. In many ways, the flow of the culture between the Tikar and the Bamun is one that has enriched both groups. The Bamun essentially adopted many words from the Tikar language. They also adopted words from other people, including the Bafanji, Bamali, and Bambalang."[3] While cultural elements do show similarities between the Tikar and Bamum, cultural anthropologists maintain that those similarities are due to proximity. As the Bamun people are located near the lands of the Tikar geographically.[3] E. M. Chilver and Phyllis Mary Kaberry concluded that smaller groups made such claims of a dynastic connection purely as a political statement.[15]

Groups who also claim descent from the Tikar fondoms include the Bambili, Oku, Kom, Bum, Bafut, Nso, Mbiame, Wiya, Tang, War, Mbot, Mbem, Fungom, Weh, Mmen, Bamunka, Babungo, Bamessi, Bamessing, Bambalang, Bamali, Bafanji, Baba (Papiakum), Bangola, Big Babanki, Babanki Tungo, Nkwen and Bambui.[12] Small communities of Hausa peoples in Cameroon also identify as Tikar.[8]

However, the Kom, Nso, Bamum, Ndop-Bamunka and Bafut peoples are the only ethnic groups who anthropologists and historians believe have a legitimate claim to Tikar lineage.[4][9][8]


Tikar Throne, Tikar Bamum artist, Wooden, 42' high; 27" deep, 38" wide, Photo by Bruno Kemayou, Released by David W. Reed, PhD

Oral tradition states that the ancestors of the Tikar people originally inhabited the Nile River valley in present-day Sudan.[4][5] Some sources further state that the ancestors of the Tikar migrated from Kingdom of Kush.[16] For unknown reasons, possibly war or famine, their ancestors entered Cameroon and settled the Far North Region, where they built a kingdom.[17][18] Upon arrival, they were viewed as "Sudanese conquerors," reshaping all of northern-central Cameroon, and became renowned in the region for their ironmaking skills.[19][20] Professor and social anthropologist David Zeitlyn studied the Tikar origin theories of several historians, including Eldridge Mohammadou. Exploring those origin theories, Zeitlyn stated that "The main question at issue is the origin of the founders of the dynasties and the palace institutions of the different Tikar-speaking groups. How much credit is to be given to claims of Mbum origin? To answer this, a variety of evidence must be considered, including oral tradition and historical linguistics."[1] While some argue that there's no evidence that the Tikar people ever lived along the Nile, others agree and maintain that there's also no evidence that the Tikar didn't. They cite oral tradition, as well as the uncertainty of Tikar origin as evidence, considering there isn't much debate about where the ethnic group originated. Researchers also agree that the current theory has cause of further exploration.[1]


There are currently six adjoining Tikar kingdoms: Bankim (Kimi), Ngambé-Tikar, Kong, Nditam (Bandam), Ngoumé, and . The boundaries of these kingdoms have remained since German colonizers arrived in Cameroon.[8] Today, the Tikar people inhabit the Adamawa Region and certain regions of Bamenda Province. The Northwest is composed of the Fungum, Bum, and Kom. The Northeast is composed of Mbem, Mbaw, Wiya, War and Tang. The Southeast is composed of Banso (Nsaw), Ndop and Bafut.[2]


This is a picture of the late fon (king) of Ngambe. Ngambe is one of the Tikar villages. Around his neck is an ivory collar made of elephant tusks. He carries it only once per year, during the time of the festival called "Sweety". It is a traditional Tikar festival during which one calls upon the spirits of the ancestors and asks them to bless the community.

According to Mbum oral tradition, after entering and settling the Far North Region of Cameroon,[10] the Mbum ancestors of the Tikar people were ruled by Nya Sana. Little is known about him and his reign, but it is said that from Nya Sana arose a royal lineage that begot Took Gokor.[17]

Another Mbum Fon (or king) and Yesum/Yelaa (or queen consort)[2] are said to have founded the Kingdom of Nganha. Their daughter, Princess Wou-Ten (also called Betaka or Belaka), left her parents' kingdom and traveled to the Adamawa Region, where she founded the Kingdom of Tinkala, the first official Tikar fondom, or dynasty.[17][21] She is believed to have ruled the Tikar people as Fon from 1201-1246.[17]

In the late 14th century, two Tikar brothers, Tinki and Guié, established two autonomous Tikar kingdoms: the Kingdom of Bankim (also called Kimi) at Rifum and the Kingdom of Ngambé-Tikar, respectively. From their lineage, Tikar princes and a princess are believed to have journeyed out of Bankim to create legacies of their own in two great migrations.[8] In the first wave: Prince Ncharé (also called Njáré) founded the Kingdom of Bamum; Prince Doundje founded the Kingdom of Nditam (also called Bandam)[8] and ruled with Queen Mother Nduingnyi;[22] Prince Kpo left Nditam and founded the Kingdom of Ngoumé; Prince G'Batteu founded the Kingdom of Gâ; and Princess N'Gouen (also called Nguonso) founded the Kingdom of Nso (also called Banso).[8] In the second wave, Prince Mbli left Bankim and founded the Kingdom of Kong. Prince Indie and Prince Ouhin also ventured out of Bankim, and settled to the south at We and Ina, respectively. However, their villages never fully developed into kingdoms.[8]

The majority of the Tikar people would later be kidnapped by Chamba and Fulani traffickers in the 18th and 19th centuries, who were envious of the Tikar's thriving trade deals through iron-working and mask-making.[23] While many enslaved Cameroonians and Nigerians were shipped from the Bight of Biafra, many Tikar and Duala were sold up the river to Sierra Leona and down to Angola, where they were then sold into slavery and forcibly transported to the Americas in the Atlantic Slave Trade. Records show that the Tikar accounted for most of the stolen Cameroonians disembarking on ships for the Americas, leading to the drastic decline of the Tikar ethnic group on the African continent.[23] The remaining Tikar kept an oral account of the history and did what they could to keep Tikar traditions alive.[2]

Alternate oral tradition[edit]

Another account says that Chief Tinki would eventually become Fon and rule until his death in 1387, which marked a series of deadly battles for the right to the throne at Rifum.[19][21] In the end his son, Mveing, ascended the throne and ruled until 1413. However, many believed Tinki's other son, Nchare Yen, was the rightful heir.[21] In this telling, Nchare Yen and his siblings, Mbe (also called Morunta) and his sister Ngonnso (also spelled Nguonso), feared for their lives and fled. At Mbam, the three went their separate ways. Mbe traveled east and founded the Nditam Kingdom at Bandam. Ngonnso head west and founded the Nso Kingdom at Kumbo.[17][19]

Bamum connection[edit]

Fon Nchare's founded the Kingdom of Bamum at Foumban sometime between the late 14th century and the early 15th century. [19][8] According to King Idrissou (Ibrahim) Mborou Njoya, it was a later Bamum king named Manju who gave the Bamum people their name.[2] As the kingdom expanded, Foumban would become the capital, and Bamum would become one of the largest kingdoms to emerge in the grasslands of Cameroon. Both the kingdom and its capitol are believed to be named after Nchare Yen's mother, Mfoumban.[19][21] Despite the long history between the Bamum and Tikar people, they are considered different ethnic groups today.[3]


The Tikar people speak a Northern Bantoid, semi-Bantu language called Tikar, which is hypothesized to be a divergent language in the Niger-Congo language family.[24] The Tikar language (also called Tigé, Tigré or Tikari) has four regional dialects, including Túmú, which spoken in Bankim and Nditam.[8] Linguist Roger Blench stated that the Tikar language has always been somewhat problematic in terms of its classification because the Tikar language is very remote from other Benue-Congo languages and Bantu languages in the region and differs from a classical Bantu noun-class system.[24] One theory is that the original Tikar language was Sudanese and that it was affected by the Tikar appropriating aspects of other languages on their journey to Cameroon.[5]


Bronze figurines of four enslaved Tikar being marched by a Moorish colonial guard and a Mboum royal guard toward the coast to be exported to the Americas, by Nji Gbetkom Salifou, a Bamoun sculptor from Cameroon’s Grasslands, 1946-1950, Photo by Bruno Kemayou, Released by Chief Mongbet Vessah Ibrahim and David W. Reed, PhD

Genetic testing found that many Tikar belong to Haplogroup L3e, which is prevalent in Central and North Africa.[25][26] Haplogroup L2a1* was also found amongst Central African people, including the Tikar people of Cameroon and the Bubi people of Bioko Island.[27][28]

A 2010 study showed that the Tikar are a genetic outlier to peoples of Nigeria's Cross River region, Igboland and Ghana, showing significant differences.[27] Similarly, a 2023 study found that self-identified Tikar who live in the Adamawa region and speak the Tikar language belong to a different genetic cluster than the self-identified Tikar who live amongst other Grassfields ethnic groups and don't speak the Tikar language. It concluded that persons from Cameroon and Sudan "showed the greatest reduction in genetic similarity with distance, which remained even after only comparing people belonging to the same ethnic group."[29]

The same study found Tikar-related genetic variations amongst the Bakongo people of Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kikuyu people of Kenya, and the Himba people and Damara people of Namibia.[29]

Through DNA testing with African Ancestry, Inc., founded by geneticist Dr. Rick Kittles and entrepreneur Dr. Gina Paige, people of African descent across the United States, South America and the Caribbean have been able to trace their lineages to the Tikar people of Cameroon.[30] Genetic testing showed that the descendants of these stolen people of the Tikar-Bamileke-Pygmy cluster translocated the mtdna Haplogroup L3 to the Americas when they were forcibly taken. As a result, L3 is fairly common in the region today.[31]


A Tikar man (wearing Toghu cloth) plays the end-blown horn, an traditional instrument from the Northwest Region of Cameroon

The Tikar are an artistically and culturally significant people.[3] The design of Toghu and Ndop cloth print became a cultural marker of the Tikar and Grassfields peoples, creating a unique style that made them easily distinguishable from other peoples outside of the region. This intricate design is still used today for clothing, architecture, art and to demarcate royal ritual spaces.[32]


The Tikar are renowned for their highly detailed masks. Their artistry put the Tikar people at the center of trade and politics in Cameroon and made them a force to reckoned with in the eyes of neighboring ethnic groups, especially considering they are thought to be the only people in the region who were skilled in iron-working. Their masks are often characterized by their strongly-defined noses and large eyes. They are also known for their beautifully decorated brass pipes.[33] Along with the Bamileke people, the Tikar are also known for their intricate elephant masks, which became renowned in the town Bali.[34]

Tikar horns and trumpets play a significant role in spiritual and cultural ceremonies with each design being purposefully sculpted for a specific event.[35] The same can be said for elaborate grassland palaces, which feature hand-carved pillars supporting the roof overhangs, an ensemble of door posts, lintels and sills framing the entrance, as well as the interior doorways facing the open courtyards.[36]

Cultural beliefs[edit]

Surrounded by great grasslands, the Tikar people developed a unique understanding of nature and performed planting rituals to bless seeds and work implements. Other ethnic groups in the region were known to offer animal sacrifices when it was time to plant.[3]

The Tikar also had their own cultural beliefs regarding birthing. It was once believed that during pregnancy, the blood that the woman would normally release during menstruation forms parts of the fetus. This blood was said to form the skin, blood, flesh and most of the organs. The bones, brain, heart and teeth were believed to be formed from the father's sperm.[37] In the case of a son, the masculinity also came from this.


The Tikar people predominantly practice Christianity today. However, there are a small number who practice traditional religions and Islam.[38] Despite the differences between the spiritual practices, the Tikar are known to refer to God the Creator as Nyuy, and the Bamileke people refer to Nyuy as Si.[3] Both groups, along with the other peoples of the Grasslands, believe God requires them to reverence their lineage ancestors. This is pivotal to their spirituality; as they traditionally believed their ancestral spirits were embodied in the skulls of the deceased ancestors and still present.[3]

"The skulls are in the possession of the eldest living male in each lineage, and all members of an extended family recognize the same skulls as belonging to their group. When a family decides to relocate, a dwelling, which must be first purified by a diviner, is built to house the skulls in the new location. Although not all of the ancestral skulls are in the possession of a family, they are not forgotten. These spirits have nowhere to reside, though, and may as a result cause trouble for the family. To compensate when a man's skull is not preserved, a family member must undergo a ceremony involving pouring libations into the ground. Earth gathered from the site of that offering then comes to represent the skull of the deceased. Respect is also paid to female skulls, although detail about such practices is largely unrecorded." -Molefi Kete Asante[3]

Much of Tikar oral tradition speaks of their journey to flee the spread of Islam. After they settled in Cameroon, the Tikar people soon found themselves fleeing northern Cameroon for Adamawa to avoid forced-conversion to by Muslim Fulani invaders, who moved southward into Cameroon to take advantage of the lucrative, west-central trade route.[8] The Tikar then migrated southward to what would become known as the city of Foumban in Northwest Cameroon. Once the Fulani followed to the south, war began, forcing some ethnic groups to flee yet again. Others, like the Bamun, remained, hoping to resist Islam. The Fulani conquest was brief and did not result in Islamization, although this faith was accepted by a later Bamum ruler, Sultan Ibrahim Mbouombouo Njoya, in the early 20th century.[33] This created the division between the Bamum and Bafia people, two peoples who claim descent from the Tikar people.[19]

Notable people of direct Tikar descent[edit]

Notable people of Tikar descent in the Americas[edit]


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External links[edit]