Kam

Jakob Lesage

Kam (glottocode: kamm1249) is a language spoken in some 27 villages, in Bali Local Government Area, Taraba State, Nigeria. The biggest Kam village is Mayo Kam. My estimate (based on interviews with 16 village heads) is that there are currently (May 2017) somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 Kam speakers. The name Kam is an exonym of unknown origin. Speakers call themselves and their language Nyiwom (pronounced [ɲĩ́ w̃ɔ̃̀m], and in English spelled as Nyingwom), meaning 'Kam people'. The language is still very much alive, especially in the more remote villages, but most aspects of traditional culture, (including, for example, traditional stories), are now rarely performed and are no longer transferred to future generations. Since Greenberg (1963), Kam has been classified as an Adamawa language, but its relationship with the Adamawa group and other surrounding languages has not been studied in detail and requires much more scrutiny.

Borehole Rice farming

Traditionally, the Kam were mountain dwellers, who according to oral tradition, settled in the mountains north of the Kam River more than one thousand years ago. The traditional capital of the Kam country, Kamajim (or àngwōk nyī, meaning 'house of the people'), is located at the western feet of these mountains and is still the place where the traditional king of the Kam resides. It is off-limits to outsiders and guarded by Sarkin Dawa, the political king of the Kam, who arranges political matters and settles issues with other tribes. Today, the Kam are mainly farmers and fishermen. Their main and most important crop is guinea corn, but rice, maize, beans and potatoes are also grown. The Kam also occasionally hunt for game. The lion is an important symbol to the Kam, and lions are said to still dwell in the mountains, as guards to the Kam traditional king. They can be summoned by the king in times of need. The Kam claim close association with the Jukun and the historical Jukun kingdom of Kororofa. Meek (1931) draws some parallels between Jukun and Kam traditional culture.

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Before the AdaGram project, very little work on Kam had been done. Some words were collected by Charles Meek (1931), and some more by Ulrich Kleinewillinghöfer (2015). Within the framework of the AdaGram project, I started working on a grammatical description of the Kam language. In July 2016, Tope Olagunju and Bitrus Andrew completed a lexical and grammatical survey of a number of Adamawa languages including Kam, which provided some preliminary data to work with. In November and December 2016 I went for fieldwork to Sarkin Dawa, the political king's village, where I was generously hosted by the king, Isa Sarkin Dawa, and his family, especially by Jauro Babangida. I had the pleasure of having Isa Sarkin Dawa, Garba Abu Bakar Bako, Muhammad Bose Yuguda, Babangida Audu and Solomon Ahmadu as my main collaborators.

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I also had the pleasure of working with several other speakers, including Adamu S. Baka, Yuguda Manti, Danjuma Bello, Awunu (Shawulu), Jauro Babangida, Daniel Yahuma, Usman Bitrus Danfulani, and Sani Bello. In May and June 2017 I worked in Jalingo with Babangida and Solomon. I also visited 16 Kam villages, where I met the village heads and many other people, who provided me with much valuable material. I would like to thank all of them collectively here.

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I would also like to extend my thanks to A.D. Usman, Maigandi Kaigama, and Prince Sambo Chamba for their generosity and help, and to Hassan Jaae for his help in navigating through and getting settled in Jalingo.

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