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A Recapitulation On Nkwen Language


The idea of reading and writing in Nkwen Language (Nkwen Mother Tongue) came as a result of the appearance of the Calasanzian Fathers, who arrived Nkwen land in December 1987 and took over the Futru Catholic Mission. During the occasion of raising the Futru Mission station to a Parish in 1989, the Fathers requested that the readings of the inauguration Mass be translated and read in the Nkwen language. This was not an easy task for the leaders who were present at the time. They only tried to use the English language alphabet to translate the readings as requested. This was the very first time an attempt was made to put the Nkwen Mother Tongue in written form. After this significant occasion, when Futru Mission finally became a parish, the Calasanzian priests were so interested in developing the Nkwen Mother Tongue, for they believed it was an excellent means of evangelizing the people of Nkwen. They formed a committee known as the Nkwen Language Translation Committee (NLTC). The aim was to translate the Gospel into the Nkwen Mother Tongue for the purposes of evangelization.

 A big opportunity came in 1994 when the Cameroon government organized the National Education Forum. The importance of developing the numerous national languages found in Cameroon and using them as a medium in the teaching/learning process was discussed.

S.I.L. (société International de Linguistique) and PROPELCA (Operation Research Project for the Teaching of Cameroonian Languages) started organizing summer linguistic classes, where enlightened members of some villages were encouraged to come up and develop or select alphabets for their various mother tongues. They were to choose from a list of sounds used by Cameroonian languages that could enable them to write and read the mother tongue they are already speaking.

The Nkwen language committee members were the first people to be sent to this training that took place at our lady of Lourdes College Mankon and after at Aghiati Bafut. This committee resumed work immediately after their training by translating some Gospel readings, songs, and prayers. They also organized summer classes for the adults who were interested. Nkwen people were trained in reading and writing in Nkwen. During these courses, PROPELCA, on a special note, stressed the fact that a child who is already speaking his mother tongue, if educated in it to a certain level before introducing him to a second or foreign language, is better placed to do well in education. Concepts already formed in the mother tongue can be easily translated into the second language. Their focus was on the use of the Mother Tongue in teaching the young ones in the infant section of the Primary schools in Cameroon. It should be noted that they were out to experiment at that time, but now it is a policy that has been authorized in Cameroon’s educational systems. The celebration of the National Mother Tongue Day by primary schools and colleges now is to show the importance of this aspect in the educational systems in Cameroon.

After sending many of the teachers who were teaching in the primary schools of the parish; who were of Nkwen origin, to be trained on how to read and write the Nkwen Mother Tongue, the program of instructing kids in primary one to three in the Mother Tongue then experimented in the Futru Parish schools. A program that was termed, ‘From Mother Tongue to English.’ Here, the pupils were supposed to learn in their mother Tongue until they reached primary three, the transition stage. With the aid of materials produced, such as the Prima One and Two, this program commenced very well for some years. This experience did not last up to date because of the following reasons;

  • Lack of competent teachers as some of the trained teachers were transferred.
  • Some teachers working in the schools were not of Nkwen origin, so they could not go for the training since they could not speak the Nkwen MT.
  • There were limited funds to send more teachers to be trained as the Calasanzian Fathers were the sole sponsors.
  • Compared with other schools around that were using only the English language as a medium of instruction, parents of pupils in this experimenting classes were discontented as their children continued to speak the M.T. for some time before the full transition into the foreign language.
  • The fear that parents may withdraw their children from these schools and render them a low enrollment also contributed to the discontinuation of the program.
  • With the coming of the Nursery schools, and as a prestige, some parents were deceived to speak only the foreign language with their children at home instead of their M.T. They deprive the very tender ones of their M.T., thereby causing them to forget it totally by the time they reach the primary level. The parents take this as some sort of pride, not knowing how much damage they are causing to their children and their culture. In fact, this is a severe threat to the Nkwen Mother tongue today that if care is not taken, it will entail the death of the Nkwen MT. Nkwen people need a lot of education on this. If we lose our language, we have lost our culture, identity, and dignity. Watch out! It is dangerous and disgraceful if you cannot speak your Mother Tongue, and worse still, it is more shameful if your children cannot express themselves in your Mother Tongue. Nkwen people need to stand up and work hard on this, or else the disappearance of the rich culture that is embedded in their language.

The above reasons caused the program to be discontinued in the Futru parish schools. However, the Nkwen language committee continued working. They had revised the Nkwen alphabet several times, and the final touch was given during the Discover Your Language Summer Linguistic Course offered by S.I.L., where three teachers were sponsored by the Calasanzian Fathers attend; Tandia Barnabas Atondia, Taminang Theresia Ngeche, and Ngwatung Calister Ngewung. Dr. Eliseberth Awambeng was one of the lecturers in this course. During this course, these participants gave another touch to the Alphabet, carried out discourse analysis and brought out some grammatical aspects of the Nkwen MT, and also learned translation skills. Until this moment, the Alphabet is made up of 31 sounds; 24 consonants, six vowels, and a glottal. They were advised to develop different materials on the language. To this, one of them has produced three small booklets on the Nkwen language Alphabet, some grammatical aspects of the Nkwen Language, and Nkwen Language for the kids.

     By the year 1998, The Calasanzians had sacrificed much financially as far as the development of the Nkwen Mother Tongue is concerned. They decided to hand over the project to the Nkwen community. They shared their intention with Fon Ngufor the III of Nkwen at the time and proposed that a Nkwen Language Committee be formed. The Fon welcomed the idea, and this was done. This committee did not do much. However, some of the trained teachers who were still in the catholic schools continued to gather children and teach them the M.T. and also organized holiday classes with the help of Dr. Ngu Awantang, son of the soil residing in the U.S.

     It was on Wednesday the 9th of April 2014 that His Royal Highness Fon Azefor III, the newly installed Fon of Nkwen, called a meeting involving some of the members of the committee to whom he expressed his desire for work to start immediately on the teaching, learning and speaking of the Nkwen M.T. He was anxious that the language is fast disappearing, especially at those quarters situated at the out sketch or boundaries of the Fondom. Views were shared at this meeting by former members of the Nkwen Translation Committee, who were invited. Some materials on work already done were examined and appreciated. At the end of this meeting, it was resolved that all the members of the language committed who are around and all those who had been trained earlier should be invited. A technician on this from the University of Yaounde earlier consulted by the Fon was to also come to the meeting. A second meeting was scheduled for Saturday the 19th of April 2014.

Below is a speech that was presented at a Nkwen Students Cultural Week celebration in 1996 by the Chairperson of the Nkwen Language Translation Committee (NLTC) Late Mr. Tandia Banabas Atondia. May his gentle soul Rest In Perfect Peace.


  • His Royal Highness, the Fon of Nkwen,
  • The EXCO of N.S.U.,
  • Distinguished Guests
  • Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Nkwen Language Translation Committee, I thank the organizers of the cultural week and all present here today for making us part of this occasion.

     At the National Education Forum held in Yaounde, among others, one important aspect of education discussed, was the development of our National Languages. Why promote the teaching of national languages in Cameroon? Prof. Maurice Thadadieu, Elizabeth Gfeller, and Gabriel Mba in the Training Manual say, “First of all, the very fact that this question should have to be asked demonstrates a negative attitude towards the teaching of national languages. This attitude shows clearly that, consciously or unconsciously, we have come to accept as natural something that is unnatural while as in most countries throughout the world, including Africa, this would be considered an unnatural situation.”

     Why are our languages not taught? The above writers hold the following view,” in the so-called developed countries, there is no question of teaching in any other language than the one spoken in that particular country, especially at the primary level. Many third-world countries teach in an official (foreign) language. This unnatural situation can only be explained by the policy of the colonizers, especially the French. They pursued a policy of assimilation, trying to turn the Africans into a sort of French citizens. This proved possible for a few people, but for the average African, who spent his life in his own country immersed in his own culture, it was impossible. In receiving the kind of education created for French culture, he was taught things that had no relationship to his life and thus were of little value to him.

      In recent years, however, many countries have changed their language policy, and the trend toward the use of the mother tongue now seems to be irreversible. It is now understood that national languages are indispensable if a society based on consumption and importation is to change into a society oriented towards development and education designed to meet the needs of the communities involved.”

     From above the development of our mother tongue is a necessity and needs to be given priority. Consequently, the Nkwen language committee created in 1989 was in a bit to improve on better evangelization process and to meet up some of the needs of the Nkwen population in communication.

     Since the creation of this committee and with the help of the Calasanzian Fathers of Futru – Nkwen who greatly assisted the committee financially through SETEM (N.G.O.) based in Spain and their keen interest and moral support and also, Dr, Elizabeth Awambeng of ENS Bambui, who has also worked enormously with the said committee, we have achieved the following:

With the help of the Operation Research Project for the Teaching of Cameroonian Languages,(PROPELCA) based in Yaounde University, some teachers have been trained to teach our language in our schools as we can find around now. we can now be proud that our language is fortunate to be among those receiving massive attention and collaboration from PROPELCA. Hearty thanks to the authorities concerned.

     However, there is still a lot we have to do in the completion, training, and education of people in our mother tongue. These include;

  • The formation of the Nkwen Language Committee.
  • Organization of more seminars and holiday classes in Nkwen Language.
  • The continuation of Nkwen Language teachers’ training by PROPELCA to enable us to be independent in Future
  • The joining of NACALCO (National Association of Cameroon Language committee) may help us in the development of our language.
  • Continue to prepare more reading material for learners and also the completion of Primer Two.
Why develop and teach Nkwen Language?

     Every human society is bounded by a common language or customs linking them together as one people. Hence Nkwen village is no exception. The common language serves as a warrant of cultural preservation (making effective our old good norms, beliefs, and practices). It is also a device best suitable for the identification of us as the same people in communication. The cosmopolitan nature of our area makes it even more imperative for the teaching of our language in schools and the entire village at large.

     Dear students, our innermost appeal is to you, to promote the learning of our language in your various domains. Your task is to practice using the language every day in your communication and show a general interest in it. Encourage and help your weak colleagues even when they don’t speak correctly in pronunciation and use funny accents. It would also be very important if you could join the holiday program in Nkwen Language and the several seminars organized periodically. Your interest is greatly counted as some of you may leave your universities as Nkwen Language graduates and come back to work for its continuation and success within and without the Nkwen village.

     Thanks once more and I wish you an unsurmountable cultural week. May the Lord bless you.

Long live N.S.U.

Long live the development of the Nkwen Language.

Signed: Tandia Barnabas – for the NLTC Futru.

As we speak, the re-organized Nkwen Language Committee has done much despite the country’s poor socio-political nature. They had worked so hard to come up with a Study Guide for the teaching of the Nkwen Language. This book was realized with the help of NCDA USA with help donated by Dr. Anthony Mbisah and Dr. Ngu Awantang, who are also members of the Nkwen Language Committee. This committee is intending to come out with more articles on different aspects of the Nkwen culture.


Taminang Theresia Ngeche

CAPIEMP/Member of former NLTC

More on Nkwen Language

Use your booklet to read along with the video on these links:

Nkwen Language Handbook Audio Version

Nkwen Language Handbook Audio Version on Youtube

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