Cameroon: The Tombel Massacre of 1966

+The reasons for the massacre were complex.


According to Victor T. Levine’s, The Cameroon Federal Republic (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971).

Levine depicts the Tombel Massacre (pp. 155-157)

On December 31, 1966, a mob of Bakossi in Tombel ran riot and slaughtered as many Bamileke as it could find. Tombel is located a short distance into West Cameroon on the Bamenda-Babadjou-Dschang road.

First reports indicated that 68 people had been killed, but at the subsequent trial of the persons accused of participation in the massacre, the larger figure of 236 deaths was officially established.

The government immediately rushed troops to the area, clamped down on movement and communication lest the Bamileke come across the state frontier to aid their ethnic brethren. Within two days tensions had abated and order was restored.

One hundred and forty-three Bakossi were eventually brought to trial before a military court: 17 were condemned to die by a firing squad, 37 were sentenced to be detained for life, 38 to be imprisoned for life; 10 were jailed for ten years, and 4 were detained for twenty years; 36 were freed, and one man died during the trial (West Africa, May 20, 1967, p. 672).









The reasons for the massacre were complex but this much seems to have been established: the immediate catalyst for the violence was the robbery and murder of four Bakossi, including a schoolteacher, by a group of bandits shortly before Christmas.

It was widely assumed that the bandits were Bamileke, and that this act represented a deliberate provocation of the Bamileke against the Bakossi. Tensions were already high in the area because of what many Bakossi styled a Bamileke “invasion” of their area.

Bamileke had in fact come in numbers to settle and buy land in the Tombel-Bamenda area, and had begun to control commerce in the area as much as had the Nigerian Ibo the Kumba area to the South. In any case, it was the old “probleme Bamileke” in a new and more deadly guise.

This was the first serious mass violence involving Bamileke since early 1960, when in retribution for the death of some Bamun, an armed group of Bamun crossed the Noun River and killed over one hundred Bamileke.

Unlike the later massacre, perpetrators of the 1960 killings were never brought to justice. One story I heard from a reliable source was that the raid had been sanctioned by the sultan of Bamun and that he had subsequently received several severed Bamileke heads as a token of success.

Sources: Jakiri Media

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