Visiting Foumban and the Sultan’s palace

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Today’s objective: The Sultan’s palace in Fouman, capital city of the Bamum people. Tonight we will sleep elsewhere: at the Villa Boutanga in Bangoulap, close to Bangangte.

The day started with an early morning run on the red dirt road, sometimes paved, sometimes not; my father, Serge, and I returned to the guest house just in time for breakfast, where my mother and my girlfriend were waiting for us.

After two peaceful nights in Tockem, we took our time enjoying our last breakfast on the lovely terrace with a view of the huts below. Then, finally, we left our rooms, returned the keys to the room intendant, and left for Foumban, the city of the Sultan of the Bamum, another grassfield people.

On the way, we said goodbye to the magnificent square in front of the Bafou chiefdom and to its portal topped with triangular capitals so symbolic of the Bamileke notables and chiefdoms.

Tockem chiefdom on our way to the Sultan's palace in Foumban

On the way to Foumban

After bypassing Bafoussam, thanks to the new road build for the AFCON 2021 (Africa Cup of Nations), we continued heading northeast towards Foumbot, then Foumban.

The more we drove, the more landscapes changed. After leaving the tropical forest of Ekom-Nkam and reaching the wooded bush with green grass around Dschang and Bafoussam, we began to witness the sparse savannah around Foumban, where the sun started to yellow the grass.

The climatic gradient according to the latitude is pronounced in Cameroon: In the south, the lush forest characteristic of equatorial ecosystems; in the north, the Sahel, its heat and dust; and in between, a whole range of climates and landscapes. It is not for nothing that we call Cameroon: Africa in miniature.

Not only the climate or the landscapes change. Beliefs and customs also seem to evolve from one “country” to another. The transition is evident between the Bamileke country, globally Christian, and the Bamum country, with a Muslim majority.

Cameroon is a patchwork of languages, beliefs, and traditions that seem to be harmonious. It is clear that tribalism and favoritism according to ethnicity exist and is very present. Nevertheless, I do not see the same discrimination that one can have in Europe with respect to religion. Beliefs do not seem to be instrumentalized in the same way. Indeed, as Cameroonian people still believe quite often in witchcraft, religions do not seem to be used to pit one culture against another, as it can be done with great regret in Europe.

The Sultan’s Palace

After a good two-hour drive from Tockem, we finally arrived in Foumban, the center of the Bamum kingdom, one of the oldest kingdoms in Cameroon. It was founded at the end of the 14th century.

The Sultan’s Palace is near the market in the city’s center. There, we met again the delegation of the French ambassador who most probably followed the same route as us, namely, the tour of the region’s most typical and touristic chiefdoms.

The sultan’s palace is a vast building from 1917 built-in German style. A fire had destroyed the sizeable traditional wooden hut a year before that.

The building is imposing and made of red brick and wood, in front of which a large courtyard housing the tombs of two illustrious Bamum monarchs.

At the entrance of the site, guides will offer their services to visit the palace and the exhibition inside. Access is via a staircase on the court’s left wing.

I highly recommend that you follow the explanations of a professional who will allow you to understand the place and the Bamum culture.

In addition, your guide will be able to narrate many anecdotes about the different chiefs who have succeeded one another and funny details about some of them.

Access is via the staircase

The Sultan’s museum

Sultan's Museum

I haven’t talked about it. yet, but this is the first thing you notice when you arrive near the sultan’s chiefdom: the brand-new museum dedicated to the sultanate and the Bamum culture.

The architecture could not be more in line with the Bamum people. Indeed, it is built to represent the three main Bamum symbols: the spider, the two-headed serpent, and the double bell.

The spider represents patience and meticulousness; the double bell unity and patriotism; and the two-headed serpent strength, victory on two fronts.

One often finds in the symbolism the emblem of the serpent with two heads. It is because it often expresses the duality of things.

Nevertheless, in the case of the Bamum kingdom, this serpent represents the victory in the 18th century of the eleventh king, Mbuembue, over the warriors Pou and Mgbètnka, who had come to attack him on two opposite fronts.

I will not give more details about the exhibition or even the Bamum culture. It will be the subject of a future article that is more in-depth and focused on the history, rites, and traditions of this ethnic group.

When we finished the visit, we went to eat Ndjapche, the famous Bamum dish made from corn and cassava flour, vegetables, smoked fish, and meat.

Before lunch, while the cook was preparing our meal, we took advantage of being close to the town’s forge, which specializes in molding bronze, to visit it.

Visit of the town’s forge

For those who don’t know, bronze is an alloy of copper with other metals, often aluminum or tin. In Foumban, it is a metal that blacksmiths work hot and mold by following a well-regulated process.

The process involves creating a wax casting that will melt when people bake the mold around it. Once the mold is ready, people will pour the boiling metal into the mold, giving shape to the finished product.

Once the metal has cooled, the blacksmiths will give it a patina to stimulate oxidation. This oxidation is the origin of the bronze’s blue color that we know.

Head sculpted in bronze

After about forty minutes at the forge, we returned just in time to taste our Ndjapche and thus regain strength for the road that awaited us to our base for the night: The Villa Boutanga at the Jean-Felicien Gacha Foundation.

At the Villa Boutanga

After driving a little over an hour and a half on an almost perfect road between Foumbot and Bangangte, we finally arrived at the foundation, our base for the night.

The Jean-Félicien Gacha Foundation is a Non-Government Organization that promotes passion in vocations, develops talents, and spreads knowledge. They work in five disciplines: instruction and training, culture and arts, health and social action, environment and agriculture, and tourism.

The site is also known and recognized for the reproductions of traditional huts that it hosts.

This is how traditional habitats from the west, as well as from the far north, coexist.

After visiting the Musgum, Bororo, and Bamileke huts, we settled in our rooms. I had the occasion to fly the drone for a few minutes before sunset and to take some shots of the Villa too.

After having had a good meal, we went to bed early because tomorrow, we would leave early in the morning for the last step of our journey in western Cameroon: The twin lakes of Mt Manengouba, one of my favorite hiking spots in the country. If you haven’t done so yet, I suggest you read this article about the hike we are going to do tomorrow with my father: The Twin Lakes of Mount Manengouba, a lost world.

See you tomorrow for the next and final stage of our journey to the west of Cameroon. Sure, I’m going to bed because it’s getting late, and I must save my energy for tomorrow’s hike. Good night!