The Fangs form a Bantu ethnic group that is found today in Central Africa. The fang languages come in several dialects and creoles. The appropriate name would be “m’fan” commonly used in the expression “m’fan mod” whose meaning would be close to the word “Bëti”. “M’fan mod” means “True Men” while “Bëti” means “Lords”
Demography and Geographic Distribution
Three quarters of the 4,800,000 Fang recorded in 2013 live in Cameroon where they represent 20% of the population with 3,200,000 individuals. However, they are the majority in Equatorial Guinea where they represent 80% of the population with 450,000 people, and in Gabon with 480,000 people representing 37% of the population. A small number of them also live in Congo-Brazzaville, the Central African Republic and Sao Tome and Principe.
Although official population statistics are a taboo subject in Gabon, the fang ethnic group is numerically the largest in the country. Its geographical area extends from the northern part of Gabon (Woleu-Ntem province) to the centre (Middle Ogooué province), passing through the north-east (Ogooué-Ivindo province) and the North-West (Estuary province).
Many theories concerning the origin of the fang group have been developed in recent years. Two hypotheses can be identified: The historical hypothesis shows a migratory movement that would have continued until the beginning of the 20th century. As early as 1840, the Mpongwè traders dispersed on the Gabonese coast and inland. The Fangs reached the Middle Ogooué in the early nineteenth century, and their arrival in the estuary of Komo would be around 1850. In 1885, they are known to the Germans in Cameroon under various names: Bulu Ewondo, etc. All these populations were walking towards the coast at an estimated average speed of 10 km per year.
• This hypothesis also places the origin of the Fangs in Upper Egypt. Several sources indicate a migratory origin that would start on the shores of Lake Victoria then called Lake Tanganyika. The dates are uncertain but the story of the Mwett recounts these origins of nomadism with multiple variations
• The hypothesis inspired from the traditional fang mythology describes an area in East Africa, an elevated region, where lakes are surrounded by a fauna very different from the fauna of Gabon. This hypothesis suggests a myth called Afiri-Kara’s Children’s Walk, which chronicles the perilous march of a people in its migratory advance. Fleeing wars and conflicts with other peoples, this group will progressively penetrate into the forest of Equatorial Africa.
The Fang group is composed by subgroups that are installed in the different countries mentioned above. The internal structure fang is presented in this way: at the top of the pyramid is the ethnic group (fang), then it is divided into main subgroups, which, in turn, are divided into other sub-groups, groups (ayong), in tribes, which are still divided into clans, then into families (in the sense of extended family). The clan is the core of this structure.
The Beti and Bulu groups are very close to the Fang group. The Beti appellation applies to the different tribes: Fang, Okak, Mvaï, Betsi, Ntumu or Osa’a nanga, Bulu, Okak, Ìtón (or Eton), Kóló (improperly called Ewondo, Yewone or Yaoundé), Maka, Yebekolo … Beti gives, in the singular, Nti, which signifies the man, the vir, the lord, the city dweller, as among the Bantu (Bantu) where ntu means man and bantou men. In the Fangs, the original designation of the whole group is beti, the virs or the lords.
The Mvet (a stringed musical instrument) was revealed to a man (Oyone Ada Ngone) during the migration. But the Mvet as it is practiced today has been revealed to Ebang Ely Mintem. Indeed, according to the grand master of the Mvet Eyi Mone Ndong, there were two big schools, the Ngwéza School invented by Ebang Ely Mintem (Oyeck clan) and the school of Meye Me Nguini of Effandène Mve (Essandone clan). The school of Ebang Ely Mintem and Menguire M’Edang (Essokè), whose major style is Angonemane Ekome (cousin of Ebang and Great Mistress of Mvet), has emerged. This migration is often described as Mbil ayong in fang language (“flee”, “escape” of the tribe)
The Mvet is above all a cosmogony, since it explains the formation of the universe from an initial explosion; it is then a wonderful story of epic adventures of imaginary characters: mortals combating with the immortals to try to rob them the secret of immortality, compete in bravery, strength, courage and intelligence, wisdom and prosperity. By its content, the Mvet is a mythology that explains the cosmos and also rules the relationship between existing beings, between the living and the dead and between man and God. The Fangs are monotheistic: the supreme creator is Eyoh or “The Naming”, that is to say “He who, when speaking, creates”.
Ondzabogha means A bôk adzap, “dig the adzap”, adzap being the name of a particularly huge tree; this word would sum up the fang people’s determination to overcome the obstacles set in their path to discovery of their “promised land”, Central Africa.
On the aesthetic level, the Fangs produced masks and original “byeri” statues which are very popular in museums and among collectors
The Fangs also have very unusual weapons, of which a large collection exists at the Natural History Museum of Lille (not open to the public), the former Ethnographic Museum Alphonse-Moillet (now closed, but whose collections have been inventoried and restored since the 1990s).