Pilot Project: exploratory research on archival sources for Mambila demography.


This pilot project will establish which demographic measures can legitimately be established for the Mambila village of Somié, Cameroon (pop. c.2000) on the basis of existing sources. Rich demographic data is available covering the period 1945 to date which I have collected during my own anthropological fieldwork in Somié village which began in 1985 and continue to date, most recently December 1996-January 1997. Such rich data is extremely rare for sub-Saharan Africa, although most studies in historical demography usually involve a longer time period.
The pilot project will evaluate to what extent archival data is sufficiently robust to sustain valid demographically-grounded research. Evaluation will use internal tests and a small amount of test data to be collected during fieldwork (already planned and funded as part of a different project). If shown to be adequate, this data will form a basis for further research. For example, I intend to design research to ground qualitative medical anthropological research on their belief systems and attitudes to health, connecting them to wider issues of health planning, epidemiology and population structure.

The aims of the project are thus in accord with the programmatic statements of Jack Caldwell and his colleagues. The pilot project has been designed in response to referees' comments to a previous proposal to provide guidance as to which questions can legitimately be pursued in future research.

I note that many anthropologists have high quality ethnographic data plus other disparate archival material which is often not fully analysed. This project will act as a pilot in a wider sense to demonstrate to the profession means by which they can exploit such data for population studies.


I propose to create a database of all available data drawn from a range of archival sources (as well as, of course, my own primary data) and to make links between the various sources based on nominal and temporal information. From the linked data I will estimate basic demographic measures and also examine kin availability and marriage practices. The existing data will permit the scale of the problem for demographic measures posed by migration to be assessed. Researchers at UKC have significant experience in dealing with automated record linkage, including work with life-event archives from French administrations.

The principal purpose of the pilot project is to establish the quality of existing data for demographic purposes. This is not only dependant on the consistency of reporting but also on the suitability for linkage. This cannot be assessed until the data has been entered and different strategies of record linkage attempted.

The second, consequent, purpose is to establish what diachronic demographic measures would be possible using this data. Temporal considerations would be of great importance here. For example, the earliest available birth cohort will include many people who are still alive today.

Once the demographic measures have been established we will be able to assess the practicality of using the existing data as the basis for further anthropological field research, concentrating on medical issues.

One set of issues of great importance concerns the impact of public health measures which have been implemented in the area since the 1960s; another set relates to the impact of the HIV/AIDS pandemic which, according to qualitative evidence, was in the area in the early 1990s. Although a broad range of epidemiological data is now available there is still little information from this area which relate to the relevant behaviours, or which investigate the connections between social factors and health issues.

The outcomes of the pilot project will comprise:

1) a database of all existing demographic data on the Mambila in Cameroon (with particular reference to the village of Somié).

2) The results of record linking between the separate files in the database.

3) A set of demographic analyses of the data, with particular reference to the possibility of assessing changes in age-related morbidity and mortality in conjunction with new field data.

4) Evaluation of the quality of the data comparing the results of analysis of different subsets of the existing sources and by using them to analyse some pilot data which will be collected during further fieldwork to be undertaken in July 1997.

The Mambila People and Somié village

The Mambila are representative of a large number of smaller, and relatively under-researched groups between the north and the south of Cameroon and Nigeria. The results of the analysis will be relevant to many countries in West/Central Africa and will invite comparison with demographic data from around the world. 100,000 Mambila are estimated to live in Nigeria and Cameroon. This research will concentrate on data from the Cameroon village of Somié and one census from the nearby village of Atta whose population inter-marry with Somié. The population of Somié village was recorded in the 1987 national census as 2,113. The number of individuals is therefore sufficient to permit a statistically valid analysis, while small enough to enable the census data to be validated by anthropological research. The research of Jean Hurault (1969 and 1970) contains the only published demographic analysis of the Mambila but it is based on a single survey. However, as he has not conducted long-term research with the Mambila, some of his statements are unreliable. Rural villages are not closed entities, and migration is a problem for the preparation of accurate demographic measures. Existing data collected from over ten years of anthropological fieldwork will permit assessment of the scale of the problem posed by in and out migration. The data from the neighbouring village of Atta will help give further information about local migration and intermarriage.

The Data - Evaluation - VIMS