Fang people

This article is about a central African people. For other uses, see Fang (disambiguation).
Fang people

4-faced Ngontang mask of Fang people
Total population
~1 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 Equatorial Guinea (85%)
Fang language aka Pahouin or Pamue or Pangwe (Niger-Congo)[2]
Christianity, some syncretic with Traditional religion
Related ethnic groups
Beti people, Yaunde people

The Fang people, also known as Fãn or Pahouin, are a Central African ethnic group found in Equatorial Guinea, northern Gabon, and southern Cameroon.[3][1] Representing about 85% of the total population of Equatorial Guinea, concentrated in the Rio Muni region, the Fang people are its largest ethnic group.[4] In other countries, in the regions they live, they are one of the most significant and influential ethnic groups.[5]


The Fang people speak the Fang language, also known as Pahouin or Pamue or Pangwe. The language is a Southern Bantu language belonging to the Niger-Congo family of languages.[2] The Fang language is similar and intelligible with languages spoken by Beti-Pahuin peoples, namely the Beti people to their north and the Bulu people in central. Their largest presence is in the southern regions, up to the Ogooué River estuary where anthropologists refer them also as "Fang proper".[3]

They have preserved their history largely through a musical oral tradition.[6] Many Fang people are fluent in Spanish, French, German and English, a tradition of second language they developed during the Spanish colonial rule in Equatorial Guinea, the French colonial rule in Gabon and the German-later-British colonial rule in Cameroon.[4]


The Fang people are relatively recent migrants into the Equatorial Guinea, and many of them moved from central Cameroon in 19th century.[4]

Early ethnologists conjectured them to be Nilotic peoples from the upper Nile area, but a combination of evidence now places them to be of Bantu origins who began moving back into Africa around the seventh or eighth century possibly because of invasions from the north and the wars of West Africa and sub-Saharan Africa.[1] Their migration may be related to an attempt to escape the violence of slave raiding by the Hausa people,[1][7] but this theory has been contested.[1]

The Fang people were a victim of the large transatlantic and trans-Saharan slave trade between the 16th and 19th century. They were stereotyped as a cannibalistic society by slave traders and missionaries, in part because human skulls and bones were found in open or in wooden boxes near their villages, a claim used to justify violence against them and their enslavement.[1] When their villages were raided, thousands of their wooden idols and villages were burnt by the slave raiders.[4] Later ethnologists who actually spent time with the Fang people later discovered that the Fang people were not cannibalistic, the human bones in open and wooden boxes were of their ancestors, and was a part of Fang people's method of routine remembrance and religious reverence for their dead loved ones.[1][4][8]

Society and culture

A head dress of the Fang people with embedded artwork.

They have a patrilineal kinship social structure. The villages have been traditionally linked through lineage, they are exogamous particularly on the father side.[3] Polygamy was accepted in the culture of the Fang people.[1] The independence of villages from each other is notable, and they are famed for their knowledge of animals, plants and herbs in the Equatorial forests they live in.[1][9] They are traditionally farmers and hunters, but became major cocoa farmers during the colonial era.[4]

During the French colonial rule, they converted to Christianity. However, after their independence from colonial rule, their interest in their own traditional religion called Biere (also spelled Byeri) has returned and many practice syncretic ideas and rites.[3][4] One of the syncretic traditions among Fang people is called Bwiti, a monotheistic religion that celebrates Christian Easter but over four days with group dancing, singing and psychedelic drinks.[10]

The art works of Fang people, particularly from wood, iron and steatite, are regionally famous.[3][4] Their wooden masks and idol carvings are on display at numerous museums of the world.[11][12]


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. pp. 415–419, 460. ISBN 978-0-19-533770-9.
  2. 1 2 Fang, Ethnologue
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Fang people, Encyclopedia Britannica
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Jamie Stokes (2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. Infobase. pp. 225–227. ISBN 978-1-4381-2676-0.
  5. Equatorial Guinea People and Society; [h Cameroon] People and Society; Gabon People and Society; CIA Factbook
  6. Alexandre, Pierre (1974). "Introduction to a Fang oral art genre: Gabon and Cameroon mvet". Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies. Cambridge University Press. 37 (01): 1. doi:10.1017/s0041977x00094799.
  7. Gebauer, Paul (1971). "Art of Cameroon". African Arts. UCLA Press. 4 (2): 24–35. doi:10.2307/3334518.
  8. John A. Shoup (2011). Ethnic Groups of Africa and the Middle East: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 60–61. ISBN 978-1-59884-362-0.
  9. Guyer, Jane I.; Belinga, Samuel M. Eno (1995). "Wealth in People as Wealth in Knowledge: Accumulation and Composition in Equatorial Africa". The Journal of African History. Cambridge University Press. 36 (01): 91. doi:10.1017/s0021853700026992.
  10. J. Vansina (1984), Review: Fang Religious Experience, The Journal of African History, Cambridge University Press, Vol. 25, No. 2 (1984), pages 228-230
  11. Chinua Achebe (1977), An Image of Africa, The Massachusetts Review, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1977), pages 782-794
  12. Guyer, Jane I. (1993). "Wealth in People and Self-Realization in Equatorial Africa". Man. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. 28 (2): 243. doi:10.2307/2803412. Retrieved 2016-11-11.


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