A Nation's Stronghold
By Jheri St. James
is well known for its native styles of music, particularly
the most popular makossa and bikutsi, and for its successful
national football team. Oku Juju Dance, a ballet company from
the Oku region, a very fertile cultural melting pot in the
northwestern part of Cameroon, is famous for extraordinary
choreography incorporating masks, inspired by the forest,
the fauna (juju) and their mysteries. The masks represent
various wild animals (lions, leopards, elephants, buffalos,
etc.) as well as extraterrestrial beings (Dracula, ghosts,
dragons) which are part of the mysteries of the fauna of the
Oku mountain. The music combines ritual and play, with a charming
beauty. The ballet is divided into dances from the northwest
(Njang, Ndongo, Febien, Mfuu, Nokang), the west (Bend skin,
Mangambeu), Pygmee (the longest continuous inhabitants of
Cameroon) dances from the east, Assiko and Makossa from the
coast, and is considered an initiatory trip into the origins
of traditional Cameroon history.
is home to over 200 styles of dance. Traditional dances separate
men and women and are highly choreographed. The goals of dances
range from pure entertainment to religious devotion. Musical
accompaniment may be as simple as clapping hands or stomping
feet, but traditional instruments include bells worn by dancers,
clappers, drums and talking drums, flutes, horns, rattles,
scrapers, stringed instruments, whistles and xylophones. Prince
Nico Mbarga’s highlife hit “Sweet Mother”
is the top-selling African record in history.
of Cameroon Fabric for sale, Kila market, near Rhumsiki,
Traditional arts and crafts are practiced
throughout the country for commercial, decorative and religious
purposes. Woodcarvings and sculptures are especially common.
The western highlands have high-quality clay suitable for
pottery and ceramics and the Bamum are known for beadworking.
Other crafts include basket weaving, brass and bronze working
calabash carving and painting, embroidery and leatherworking.
Traditional housing styles make use of locally available materials
and vary from temporary wood and leaf shelters to rectangular
mud and thatch homes and materials such as cement and tin
are increasingly common.
Collection Site Clay of Marenbouom, used in Much Pottery
you ask questions, you cannot avoid answers.
of Cameroon is a unitary republic of central and western Africa,
bordering Nigeria west, Chad northeast, Central African Republic
east, and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and The Republic of the
Congo south. Cameroon’s coastline lies on Bight of Bonny,
part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country
is called “Africa in Miniature” for its geological
and cultural diversity including beaches, deserts, mountains,
rainforests and savannas. The highest point is Mount Cameroon
in the southwest and the largest cities are Douala, Yaounde,
and Garoua. Home to over 200 ethnic and linguistic groups
(the five main ones being Bamileke, Bamoun, Fulani and Kirdi
and Ewondo). Bamileke is the most populous group and rules
much of Cameroon’s economy. The two main languages are
English and French, with Bamileke, Ewobdi, Bamoun, Fulfulde
and Arabic also spoken.
of Cameroon has absorbed much political strife, beginning
with the chiefs in AD 500. Portuguese sailors reached the
coast in 1472 and, seeing the abundance of prawns and crayfish
in the Wouri River named the area Rio dos Camaroes, Portuguese
for River of Prawns, and the phrase from which Cameroon is
derived. Over the next few centuries, European interests traded
with the coastal people. Meanwhile Christian missionaries
established operations and gradually moved inland. In the
early 19th century, Fulani Muslim soldiers went on a jihad
against non-Muslim peoples and those Muslims who still practiced
aspects of paganism. By 1884, the Germans claimed the territory
as the colony of Kamerun, moving inland, breaking trade monopolies
held by coastal peoples and expanding their control, establishing
plantations in the south and much infrastructure, using the
native people as slaves. With the defeat of Germany in World
War I, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate territory
and was split into French Cameroun and British Cameroons in
1919. France improved the infrastructure with money, skilled
and (again) slave labor and French Cameroun eventually surpassed
its British counterpart in gross national product, education
and health care services. Conflicts among the British, the
French and the Germans created much turmoil for decades and
much blood was shed onto the earth of Cameroon.
began its independence with a bloody insurrection which was
suppressed only with the help of French forces. There followed
20 years of repressive government, even with investment in
agriculture, education, health care and transport. In 2006
an international court ruling awarded sovereignty to Cameroon
in an oil dispute with Nigeria. Cameroon has one of the highest
literacy rates in Africa, however, the country’s progress
is hampered by a level of corruption that is among the highest
in the world.
today, Cameroon is a region of much ferment and dissent about
many human rights issues existent today: forced forensic physical
examinations of men; use of child soldiers; landmines, and
freedom of press and other media. As of this writing, Cameroon’s
leader Paul Biya entered the list of The World’s Worst
Dictators, as compiled by David Wallechinsky (Tyrants: The
World’s Worst Living Dictators (Regan Books).
By trying repeatedly, the monkey
learns how to jump from the tree.
the midst of turmoil, there are those who revere the earth,
all living beings upon it, and are acting to preserve them.
“The Elephants of Cameroon” is part of “Field
Trip Earth", the North Carolina Zoological society’s
newest online learning project. One may support this project
by adopting an elephant or by giving a donation: http://www.nczooeletrack.org/adopt.html
Canadian-led team hopes to unlock mysteries of Cameroon’s
granite strongholds. In 2002, a University of Calgary archaeologist
began the expedition to excavate the Strongholds of Cameroon,
which are some of the most remarkable stone-built structures
anywhere in Africa. Located in the Mandara Mountains of northern
Cameroon, the strongholds range in size from small stand-alone
structures to complex, castle-sized fortresses with platforms,
terraces and covered passageways. The curving walls on some
of the larger strongholds are over six meters high and strong
enough to serve as defensive barricades, although their exact
function is still unknown.
are 11 stronghold sites. “We really don’t know
much yet about these amazing structures,” says Dr. Nicholas
David, U of C archaeology professor. “One local story
has it that they were used by groups who were almost constantly
at war. People of the area relate fantastic legends involving
men with coppery skins, horses, cannibals and slaves, although
the architecture of the strongholds seems quite unsuitable
for trade in slaves.
Major Dixon Denham, a British explorer, met a group of chiefs
on horseback from the area of the strongholds who were paying
tribute to a local sultan. He described the chiefs as wearing
animal skins, bone jewelry and “one to six strings of
what I was assured were the teeth of the descendants of the
people who built the strongholds.”
they are likely over 300 years old, the strongholds have never
before been the subject of scholarly inquiry. Dr. David says,
“The colonial period resulted in Africans being denied
their history, but of course knowing that history is a vital
part of nation-building. Archaeologists, by uncovering information,
make a real contribution to the building of stable nation-states.
These stone-built strongholds build Cameroonian identity.”
matter how fast a man is, he cannot outrun his shadow.
Photo from Soil Collectors
soil collection was a combined effort between Mrs. Gladys
Viban and Mr. Mathias Tientcheu, of the Public Affairs Section
of the American Embassy in Yaounde and the Honorable Adamou
Ndam Njoya, the Mayor of Foumban who is also a Cameroonian
member of parliament. The location was a place called Marenbouom,
which literally means "where clay is collected"
in the Bamoum language.
Marenbouom valley is one of the most fascinating natural sites
of Cameroon. At the beginning of the 20th century, clay of
various textures and colors from this valley was used to produce
bricks and tiles for the construction of the Bamoum Sultan
Palace, one of the most outstanding historical landmarks of
Cameroon. Cameroonians and foreigners who visit the Marenbouom
site all marvel at its extraordinary beauty and the many manifestations
of the ingenuity of the Cameroonian people it reflects.”
story of the soil collection of Cameroon is populated with
people, places, art and music. People in positions of power
destroying other people; people in positions of power helping
to collect soil for an art project. Places of horror; places
of beauty. Art and music past and present. It is the combination
of these elements that constitutes a nation’s stronghold,
its home land, the dna of Cameroon. We thank all those who
contributed to our art project in such a kind and generous
way. The soil of Cameroon will not be forgotten as it becomes
one unique part of the final production of the 50’
x 50’ fresco uniting all the soils of the world as
one. The word for peace in Cameroon, a land of 280 languages
is varied, but in Mr. Tientcheu’s language Bafang,
they say “Mbouani”.
heart of a wise man lies quiet like clear water.
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