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The Grassfields of Cameroon

- Who are the Bamum?
- Royal palace
- Serpent
- Kings & queens
- Room for a king
- Cermonial items


The Land
- The Great Sahara Desert
- Two ways to count to 10

Welcome to the House of the Country

The picture shows the Royal Palace of the Bamum (baa-MOOM) people of Western Cameroon. They call this building Nda Ngu (hn-DA On-COO), or the house of the Country. Nda Ngu is the king's residence; it also contains the most sacred objects, of the Bamum kingdom. The people who became Bamum brought little with them when they settled this land. As they traded with some neighbors and conquered others, they acquired new ways of making things. The architecture of the Royal Palace shows how the Bamum combined influences from other peoples to make a building uniquely their own. As you explore Bamum artwork and architecture in this presentation, think about yourself. What influences made you who you are?

Classroom Activity: Community & Architecture

Before 1910 the sacred objects used to install the fon (FOHN), or king, were kept by specially chosen Bamum noblemen and members of secret societies. All other ritual objects were kept in the palace compound. After a fire burned down the old palace in 1913, King Njoya ordered his people to build a new kind of building. They fashioned the red and yellow clay of Cameroon into bricks and tiles and used hardwoods for floors, which they covered with clay. When the Royal Palace was completed in 1922, Njoya ordered his followers to bring most of the sacred objects there for safekeeping. Today these objects are displayed, when not in use, as a testimony to the achievements of the Bamum people.

See these kinds of sacred objects.

From bamboo raffia to brick

In the past, the Royal Palace was a complex of bamboo raffia buildings connected by many hallways and courtyards. Whenever fire or another disaster destroyed a palace compound, the Bamum built another palace of the same design in the same area. The central turret always faced northeast because the first Bamum king came from that direction.

 King Njoya took inspiration from the brick home of a German colonial official when he designed the first fireproof palace. At first his followers laughed at his design-they couldn't imagine building such a large structure out of bricks. Eventually they helped Njoya build a palace that blended new materials with customary Bamum architecture. 

Like the old palace, the new palace has turrets topped with rounded sloped roofs. Palm fronds covered the old palace's roofs; the new roofs are tiled. Both palaces have arched doorways and large wings flanking the central turret. 

The old palace's elaborately carved posts were replaced by smooth brick posts in the new palace. Geometric patterns replaced the old palace's carved figures in every place except one, the double-headed snake on the railing over the central entrance. 

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