Ibrahim Njoya, the African king who created his own writing system that was destroyed by the French

King Ibrahim Njoya

King Ibrahim Njoya was between the years 1860 to 1933, the 17th ruler of Bamum, a large ethnic group located within what is now western Cameroon.

Before his reign at the end of the 19 century, the history of the Bamum people was preserved primarily through oral transmission from one generation to the other.

Out of fear that important historical facts of the Bamum could be erased or corrupted, Njoya introduced an alphabet that could be used to write down the history of his people.

King Njoya

His alphabet began as pictograms and ideograms but these subsequently shaped into about 70 characters that were fused from Arabic and Vai scripts.

At the end of the day, the A-ka-u-ku script was introduced and it has since preserved the rich traditions of the Bamum better than the previous oral narratives.

Njoma, as part of ways to ensure the written language was widely adopted, established schools and directed that the language is used as a form of instruction.

Bamum script

He further ordered all levels of government to use the language.

King Njoya has been commended in history books not only for his writing system but also for his brilliance and things that he invented, including a corn grinder.

He was also said to be affable, making himself available to his people and always giving a listening ear to their problems.

During that same period, Njoya came into contact with the German and French colonisers.

He was, however, friendly with the Germans but after World War I, the French took over German territories and subsequently took control of Cameroon.

King Njoya

The French who felt threatened by the achievements of King Njoya banned the use of his writing system and destroyed his printing press, libraries and several books he had written.

He was later in 1931 sent into exile in the capital of Yaoundé where he died in 1933.

Fumban, the capital city of his kingdom was also raided by the French, but it is still present today with the current sultan, Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, the grandson of King Njoya, playing a ceremonial role.

Njoya’s writing system, A-ka-u-ku is being taught again in classes in Fumban.


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