The Gemjek (Cameroon)

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Gemjek like to refer to their ethnic name as the name of the mother of the ‘true’ Gemjek. The ‘true’ Gemjek are a clan which came about by a marriage between a ‘daughter’ of Makabay and a ‘son’ of Mada. Makabay was the ancestor of the man who settled first in Gemjek land. Although the Gemjek say that the Makabay found terraces already in existence when they arrived, they claim that there were no other people living on their land when they first arrived. The clan of the ‘true’ Gemjek is called kla mada and is the largest of the Gemjek clans (Graffenried 1984:57).


The Gemjek hills are found on the 800m high plateau of the eastern ranges. The highest mountain in Gemjek land is Mont Fret with 943m above sea level. Situated between the small rural centres Tokombere and Meri, it belongs administratively to canton Serawa (Mayo-Sava Division). Gemjek is part of the departement Mayo-Sava, arrondissement Tokombere.


Graffenried (1984:27) counts about 4,000 Gemjek. SIL (1992) estimates 8,000 to 10,000. Boulet et al (1984:119) count 8,000 Zulgo and Gemjek. (Hallaire 1991:26), speaks of 4,000 Gemjek and 8,000 Zulgo. Population density is, according to Hallaire, (1991:fig5) between 100 and 139 inhabitants per square km.


According to Barreteau (1984:168), gemzek is a dialect of zulgwa (Zulgo). As such it is classified under mafa-south (b), which implies that zulgwa as a sub-group is close to minew (Mineo) dugwor (Dugur and Mikiri) and merey (Meri). Minew is even closer to zulgwa than gemzek, whereas gemzek is closer to zulgwa than dugwor and merey.


From a point of view of ethnicity, the Zulgo and Gemjek seem to be closer to each other than the Zulgo and Mineo, but the Dugur and Meri are fairly distinct from all of them. However, according to Vincent (1991:60) the Meri are culturally still closer to the Gemjek than the Dugur who are close to the ‘true’ or Mofu proper (see the page dealing with the Mofu groups).



Charlotte von Graffenried’s ethnographic representation of the bull festival of the Zulgo and Gemjek from 1984 is the most complete and comprehensive ethnographic text written so far about the Gemjek. Her fieldwork took place between 1978 and 1980. She gives a review of the existing literature, and describes the bull festival in the context of the social and religious beliefs of the Zulgo and Gemjek.

Early ethnographic literature on the Gemjek is by the french colonial administrator, Mouchet. Bradley is a linguist who provides recent information on the language of the Gemjek. In terms of ethnographic and linguistic information relating to the Gemjek see page Zulgo. In terms of regional views see Forkl, R. Lukas (Wente-Lukas) and Boutrais (ed) 1984.

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