Chapter II





BAMENDA, or the "Grassfields" of the Cameroons, lies about 280 miles by motor road north of the port of Victori. It is bounded on the east by the French Cameroons; on the north by the Adamawa Province; on the north-west by the Benue Province; and on the west by the Mamfe Division. It lies between 9045' and 11010' east longitude and 5040' and 70 north latitude, and is some 6,932 square miles in area. Its dominant geographic feature is the high grassy plateau which sweeps from the north-east and east over the centre of the Province at an average height of 4,500 feet above sea-level. Above this again hills and ranges rise another 1,00 to 2,500 feet to culminate in Mount Oku at 7,000.

Except for the forest clad slopes of Mount Oku there is very little timber on the plateau, though at one time it probably fell within the belt of high forest. Local methods of cultivation and the annual burning of vast tracts of country have gradually denuded the region of most of its trees. Green hills trace a clear line against the skies; but, in the shallow valleys and on the rising ground, the landscape presents an aspect of alternating woodland and meadow. Compact villages are overshadowed by groves of tall dark kola trees; along the streams are plantations of raffia; and beyond the compounds, with their red walled huts and grey thatch, lie strips of cultivated ground which impose their small regular patterns on hill-top and slope.

In the north the Plateau drops precipitously into the lowlying forests of Mbembe which slope down to the Donga River - the northern boundary of Bamenda. In the north-west it descends more gradually into the orchard bush of Fungom; while in the west and south-west it again plunges into hill-forest, where the Ngie build their compounds in small clearings in the steep valleys, or perch them precariously on narrow ledges of rock on the sheer slopes.1 A description given of travelling in parts of New Guinea might be aptly applied to ones progress through Ngie and Beba in the wet season, for it is indeed a matter of "up on one's hands and knees, and down on one's backside!"

The southern escarpment at Nsaw and Oke rises sharply from the Ndop Plain - a relatively lowlying area with an average elevation of some 3,000 feet above sea-level. This region of Bamenda is sparsely covered with small timber and scattered oil palm, and is punctuated by massive outcrops of basalt and granite. Under another name the plain might be regarded as extending west across the Province to Batibo, but it is broken by the Bakanbi Pass - a spur which runs out from Mount Oku to link the central tableland with the high grasslands which lie behind Bamenda Station and stretch south into the French Cameroons. Bamenda Station - the administrative headqarters - is situated on the edge of the escarpment of this more southern range and, to the traveller returning from trek in the outlying parts of the Province, it seems a miniature metropolis with its cluster of European houses, its old German fort (now functioning as a district office), its hospital, school, post office, police station and cemetry! At the foot of the hill sprawls Abakpwa - a mixed

1 At Ngwo on the western boundary there is a tract of grassy upland at some 5'000 feet above sea-level. In the east of the Province, Mbem and Mbaw lie below the escarpment.


community of Hausa and members of surrounding tribes. Here the Roman Catholic and American Baptist Missions have their headquarters, while close to the African market a U.A.C. caters for the material needs of the populace. All roads converge on Bamenda Station: from Santa in the south on the international boundary, 12 miles away; - from Mamfe, 90 miles to the west; from Bafut and Njinikom in the north; and from the east one which passes through Nsungli and Nsaw and which will eventually encircle the whole Province.1 According to the last report (1950) this ring road (130 miles) is almost completed.

The Province is well-watered: streams in the east - the Nun and the Mbam - flow into the Sanaga River in the French Cameroons; the Donga, Katsina Ala and Metchem flow west to join the Benue in Nigeria; while the Ma and the Momo flow into tributaries of the Cross River in Mamfe. The rainfall varies between some 65 inches in Nsaw and 124 inches in Kom.2 The wet season begins about the end of March and finishes early in November, the heaviest precipitation occurring between August and mid-October. From December until March the harmattan from the north envelops the country in a dim red haze of dust. As might be expected, temperatures vary considerably. On the Grassfields it rarely rises above 84° F. in the shade in the hottest time of the year; while during the rains it often drops to 65' F. during the day and much lower at night,3 when one is glad to huddle over log fire or brazier, and sleep beneath four blankets. Mists drive down the valleys; gales carry away branches and beat down groves of plantain; and houses are frequently struck by lightning. In the lowlying forest areas and on the plains one is reminded that Bamenda is, after all, only some 6° north of the Equator. Afternoon temperatures soar to 92° F. in the shade; nights encourage mosquitoes and other insects, but bring little respite to human inhabitants of the region.

Bamenda has frequently been cited as one of the most fertile areas of West Africa and certainly one that offers great potentialities for development. In the low forest belt, which fringes the north and west of the plateau, oil palm flourishes; on the uplands there is not only excellent pasture, but also a soil and climate favourable to the production of coffee, pyrethrum, linseed and quinine, not to mention local subsistence crops.4 No survey has yet been made of the Province, but the following figures, though only approximate, convey some idea of the variation in natural resources. It has been estimated that out of a total area of just under 7,000 square miles, there are some 3,000 square miles of arable land (including hill-grazing); some 1,432 square miles of pasture (not devoted to agriculture); and some 2,500 square miles of forest.5 Existing forest reserves totalled only 508.5 square miles in 1948, or 7% of the Province. Until a survey has been made, figures are apt to be misleading; but the area under cultivation has been placed at some 220 square miles.

1 Until the end of 1945 the main road east of Bamenda Station terminated at Ndu in Nsungli; but since that date it has gradually been extended north and, by the middle of 1948, had reached Misaje. It will pass through Bum and link up with a road which is under construction north of Bafut at Befang. In 1948 there were some 220 miles of motorable road in the Province, as compared with 165 in 1945. The great majority of Bamenda villages can only be approached by native footpaths.

2 Between the years 1944 and 1948, the annual rainfall at Bamenda Station ranged from 87.35 inches to 115.13 inches; and at Banso (Kimbaw, in Nsaw) from 63.09 to 78.13 inches. Vide, Report on the Cameroons under United Kingdom Trusteeship, 1948, p. 151.

3 At Bamenda Station in 1945, the minimum mean air temperature was 48.7
° F. and the maximum 81 2° F. Vide, op. cit.

4 A sugar-crusher has been installed at Ndop and sugar cane is bought from the surrounding area. Cakes of brown sugar were sold at about 5d. a lb. in 1948.

5 Report on the Cameroons, op. cit., p. 78.



In general, much the same range of food stuffs is grown throughout Bamenda, - namely, cereals, tubers, plantains, pulses, gourds, greens and sugar cane; but there is some variation in their importance in particular areas. Maize (Zea Mays) is grown everywhere and is one of the preferred foods except in Ngie, where cocoyams and plantains take its place as staples. Guinea corn (Sorghum Vulgare) was at one time cultivated in large quantities in most tribes except those to the west, but its production has fallen off in late years owing to the difficulty of enlisting the help of small children to scare away the birds which ravage the crop. Bulrush millet (Pennisetum Typhoideum ?) is confined to Mbembe; while finger millet (Eleusine Corocana) is grown only in Nsaw and a few villages in Nsungli.

Almost equal in importance to Maize as a staple is cocoyam (Colocasia Antiquorum) which is harvested during most of the year and planted at any time during the rains. Yams (Dioscorea Dumetorum) and the native white carrot called rizga in Hausa (Coleus Dazo) are a sustaining contribution to the food supply from October to February; while sweet potatoes (Ipomoea Batatas) eke out slender resources in January and again before the harvest of corn in August since they are planted twice a year in some tribes. Irish potatoes were introduced during the German regime and of late years their production has increased in all tribes, with the exception of the forest areas and the remote north-west. Cassava (Manihot Utilissima) is also of recent adoption and, though it does not rank high in terms of native food preference, it is valued because it is easy to cultivate, is resistant to locusts, and a standby when farm and larder would otherwise yield nothing.

Next in importance are the various pulses,- dwarf lima and sword beans, pigeon and cow peas, the leaves of the latter being used as an alternative to other relishes such as native spinach (Solanum Nodiflorum), okra (Hibiscus Esculentus), and egusi (Lagenaria Vulgaris). Groundnuts (Arachis Hypogea) and bambarra nuts (Voandzeia Subterranea) flourish chiefly in the lowlying areas such as Ndop and Mbem. Where available in sufficient quantity they may form part of the relish; but more often they serve as sweets for the children and adults. The Hausa express groundnut oil in small quantities, but it is expensive and rarely within the means of the local inhabitants. In addition to these crops, there are plantains, bananas, avocado pears, mangoes, sugar cane, pumpkins and peppers. Within the last few years a number of Africans have begun to grow oranges, grapefruit, guavas, pawpaws, soya beans, cabbages, tomatoes and pineapples; while in Kom and the Metchem Valley brown rice has done particularly well and finds a market among road labourers and Europeans. Of increasing importance as cash crops are castor seed and coffee (mainly the Arabica variety), some 14 tons of the latter being exported in 1947,1 while in 1950 two co-operative societies marketed 18 tons.

The list is by no means exhaustive, but the diversity of the foodstuffs already mentioned gives some idea of the economic potentialities of the Province, though it should not be taken to imply that the present standard of living is a relatively high one. A number of factors operate to keep production at subsistence level and even below it in certain cases. Not all parts of Bamenda are equally fertile and this factor, linked with losses caused by depredation of pests, birds, wild animals and sometimes cattle; inadequate methods of cultivation and storage; and, finally, soil depletion result in a period of seasonal scarcity in many tribes. Fortunately, some villages have a small surplus of grain - in particular Ndop, Mbaw, Misaje, and also Bamum in the French Cameroons, and this is disposed of in the large markets along the motor road

1 Vide, Annual Report, Bambui, 1947.


or just off it. Methods of agriculture and standards of nutrition will be discussed later. Here we are mainly concerned with the general distribution of resources and its bearing on the development of trade and the division of labour between the sexes.

In this respect, the short period of scarcity in foodstuffs accounts for but a small proportion of the total volume of trade which is such a feature of Bamenda economy. Much more important is the dependence of some 70% of the population of the uplands and plains on the people of the forests for a supply of palm oil.1 Palm oil is a most valuable nutritional element in the diet and is used everywhere as a sauce or relish for porridge and boiled tubers which are of stodgy consistency, and require considerable lubrication for their passage down the throat. The oil is produced, as a rule, by men of the forest tribes and is bought up by middlemen from the surrounding areas, who then retail it, usually in small quantities (25% or 50% of a pint), in the central markets. The uplands and plains people, on their side, derive much of their cash income from the sale of kolas (which grow well in Nsaw, Nsungli, Oku, and Bali), livestock, honey, tobacco, and various tools and utensils.


As in other parts of Africa, the diet is deficient in first class animal protein. The forest areas are better off for game and fish especially in the dry season. On the uplands and plains a little game and fish is sold in the markets at certain seasons, but for the great majority these are luxuries. A few bush rats transform an ordinary repast into a banquet! Nowadays, the Fulani occasionally sell what I should judge to be their more decrepit beasts to local butchers, who retail them at a considerable profit. But their main customers are those in the higher income group, and the average householder thinks twice before he spares threepence or sixpence for a few ounces of offal or poor beef. Though fowls, sheep, goats, and pigs are reared, they are killed as a rule only for sacrifices, ceremonies, house-building, or to honour a special visitor.


Finally, the environment provides materials for housing, utensils, furniture, tools, weapons and ornaments. On the uplands and plains, the houses have a framework of light poles which are obtained from raffia palm midribs. There is only a small trade in this commodity among neighbouring villages, and the great majority of men depend on gifts from relatives and friends though it may take them two years to accumulate a sufficient number to build a house.2 A man may cut thatching grass anywhere, but if he requires extra bundles he buys from someone who has a surplus to dispose of. Raffia, besides providing poles, is also tapped for wine; but here again the sale is limited as a rule to the village of production or to neighbouring villages. In the forest areas, where there is little raffia, oil palm is tapped for wine.

Deposits of clay are worked in Bamessi, Bali, Mbembe, Mfumte, Misaje, Mbem, Meta, Esimbi, Munkap and Fungom villages. With the exception of Mbem and Munkap, pottery is a woman's craft, while pipe making is in the hands of the men. In the forest villages a woman makes what she requires for the house, keeping a few extra ones which she will barter for small necessaries

1 The most important centres for oil production are Misaje, Mbembe, Mfumte, Bafut, Mogamaw, Ngie, Meta, Esimbi and some of the Fungom villages near the Katsina Ala River. A little oil palm grows in Lassin, Ndop, and Bali, but in the latter area oil is not manufactured. The method of expressing oil is described later.

2 One informant who had just built a house estimated that he had used 500 raffia poles for the walls and about 150 for ceiling and roof. A house built of sun-dried mud bricks thus represents a saving of some 500 poles.



in cases of emergency. In Meta, and especially in Bamessi, nearly all women fashion large quantities of pots in the dry season, disposing of some in the home market. Pots sold outside the village are carried and retailed by the men. Blacksmithing is a male craft and, like pottery, is confined to certain villages, the most important being Bamungo, Oku, Mbembe, Mfumte, and some of the Fungom villages of the north-west. Nowadays, smiths smelt down scrap iron instead of ore for their knives, spearheads, matchets and hoes. Other specialist occupations are the manufacture of caps, bags, baskets, mats, umbrellas, stools, hoe-handles, wooden food receptacles, mortars, fishing nets, and so on, - some tribes having a reputation for finer work than others and exporting a large quantity of their goods over the adjacent region.

The amount of cloth woven is negligible and poor in quality. Hand-woven Hausa cloth from Northern Nigeria is imported and worn by boys and men as a loose loin covering; but most women are content, or have to be content, with a small strip of cloth or beaten bark for a pubic covering; while in other areas a string fringe or a bunch of leaves suffices. Nowadays, many of the men buy European cloth, singlets, shorts and overcoats; while the wrap or dress has become of the badge of Christian womanhood. Finally, there are ornaments of which camwood is of the most traditional importance. It is pounded up by the women and smeared over the skin for festive occasions. Beads and coils of wire (for necklaces) are prized by the women of some tribes, and the more sophisticated flaunt disused cartridge cases in their pierced car-lobes; or buttons or screws in their lower lip.1


We have already surveyed in brief the nature and distribution of natural resources and types of production. For their role in developing trade the main points may be summarized here. Agriculture is carried on at subsistence level by the vast majority of inhabitants and, apart from very small quantities of grain brought in from Bamum and Maidaguri, Bamenda may be regarded as self-sufficient in foodstuffs. Within Bamenda, however, most of the tribes of the uplands face a period of scarcity from April to the end of July; while others. who live in the plains, notably Ndop, are able to plant maize twice and may have a small surplus. But it should be emphasized that there is no deliberate cultivation of additional plots with the object of disposing of the crops in the markets.2 Most families consume all that they produce and a small surplus is in the nature of a windfall. In a good year a Bamessi woman may be able to hand over to her husband 30 to 70 lbs. of maize to sell, or perhaps the same quantity of groundnuts. The following year she may have at most only a few pounds; or may even have to buy a little extra food for the family.

Most of the petty trade in foodstuffs is in the hands of the women. The quantities involved are small and bring in only a few pence. Most women do not trade regularly, but only when they need the cash for the purchase of a pot, basket, hoe-handle or seed. Those who depend on trade for all house-hold necessaries buy maize, cassava or beans, cook them in various ways or make flour, and retail the product at a small profit. Men who traffic in maize or groundnuts buy up small quantities from a number of individuals until they have accumulated one or more bags (20 to 60 Ibs.), which they sell

1 In Aderi, some of the women only had a pubic covering of plantain leaves. In Nsaw, wives of the Føn and Councillors wear no covering at all.

2 In a recent verbal communication from the Senior Agriculture Officer 1 learnt that, within the last year or so, a few returned soldiers have settled in Ndop and are cultivating maize for export to the plantations in the south.


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