IBRAHIM Njoya was the 17th king of the Bamun, a large ethnic group whose people sill inhabit the grasslands of western Cameroon. He was king from 1889 until his death in 1933. It was during his reign that Germans and the French were attempting to Colonize the area.
From his youth Njoya showed himself to be a highly intelligent and intuitive man and he surrounded himself with like-minded intellectuals and innovators who shared his vision. The magnificent palace he built testifies to his expertise in architecture. He is also credited with the invention of a mill used for grinding corn. Especially noteworthy however, is his development of a new system of writing the BAMUN LANGUAGE. How was he able to make possible a written record? Well, at the end of the 19th century, the history of the Bamun people was being preserved mainly by oral transmission from one generation to the next. Njoya recognized the danger of details being omitted or added.
He was familiar with the Arabic language after obtaining books in that language from traders and traveling merchants who passed through his kingdom. He was also probably aware of the earlier vai script which at the time was being used in Liberia. So he set out to develop a system to write his own language.
Njoya started with several hundred signs, mostly pictographs and ideograms.
That system required his subjects to memorize what each subject depicted. Over the years, with the help of his trusted courtiers, he was able to simplify the system. They helped in minimizing the number of signs necessary by using a system of syllables. Through combining a number of the signs, or letter of his new script, specific words were formed. The reader had to memorize far fewer letters and their corresponding sound. When Njoya finished, his new writing system, called A-Ka-u-ku, had 70 letters. Njoya encouraged the use of the Bamun script by requiring that it be taught in schools and used at all levels of government. He directed the writing of an impressive history of his dynasty and his country in his new script; thus, for the first times, Bamun people could read about their traditions, laws, and customs. Njoya even had phamacitical recipes recorded using the new Bamun script. Over 8, 000 of those original documents are still preserved in the palace archives.
An advantage of this system of writing became evident shortly after the arrival of German colonialists in 1902.
Although Njoya profited from the economic development, he did not always see eye to eye with German authorities. So he used his new invention, which the Germans had not yet deciphered. How enduring then has Bamun been?
During World War 1 (1914-18), Germanly lost contral of Njoya’s domain. Eventually the newly formed League of Nations transffered the mandate of Bamun territory to France. Although Njoya was open to new ideas, he was proud of his heritage and desperately wanted to preserve and develop the culture of his people. This inevitably led to his opposition to French colonial rule over his realm. As was the case with chiefs who did not demonstrate loyalty to the colonialists , in1931 he was deposed by the French. Two years later in 1933, however, Njoya died in excile.
Now with a French ban against the use of Bamun script in schools and without Njoya to promote the script, it soon fell into disuse and was forgotten by the majority of the Bamun people.
When missionaries of Christendom arrived on the scene, they studied the spoken language of the Bamun people and prepared a grammer to be used in their schools. Unlike Njoya,  they borrowed most elements from the already existing Roman alphabet and its phoneties.
Recently, efforts have been made to renew interest in the Bamun script. That present-day Sultan, Ibrahim Mbombo Njoya, (Ibrahim Njoya’s grandson) has opened a school in the palace that his grand-father built. Here local school-children are once again learning this writing system so that it will not fall into extinction. Now why is a man, a king such as Ibrahim Njoya worthy of celebration? Simply put, a king with many accomplishments! Ibrahim Njoya must have also had a hand in the booming culture of the Bamun people and their art works which includes brass casting and wood carving. This is based on the fact that before western education, brass works were produced for the sultan who put these brass figures in altars to which sacrifices were usually made. It was only in 1930 that a few brass casters in Bamun went into voluntary exile, and this was three years before his death in 1933.
Frankly, if we can have people like Ibrahim Njoya who are ready for reformation in Africa, then our culture can be revived.
Were it not for his high intelligence and intuition that made him surround himself with like-minded intellectuals and innovators who shared his vision, a development of a system of writing his language would not have been possible. He was only a king and not a president. We need people like him so that our African culture and languages can thrive. The younger generation can imitate this great reformer since the youth are refered to as the leaders of tomorrow.