Cameroon / Cameroun: Country of Contrast
Bicycle Africa / Ibike Tours

  Dispatch 3 - Bamenda  

Mbouda‑Bamenda (56km, 35 mi)  Homesteads dot the rollercoaster hillsides, the soil is very fertile.
Points of interest: Bamenda crafts; musical instruments, brass, baskets, traditional gowns.  African Tulip Trees, widow birds, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, market in Babadjou.  Embroidered traditional gowns. 
Cycling conditions: paved, roller coaster and climbing; 32km rollercoaster, 7km climbing, 17km descent.


Mbouda-Bamenda road: African tulip tree in bloomThe clear skies were excellent conditions to start of our first full day of exploring Bamileke country.  The sun light on the African Tulip Trees made their large orange flowers look brighter than usual.

Mbouda-Bamenda road: Bamileke chieftancy gateThough there are dozens of languages in this area the people seem to be culturally fairly homogeneous, including architecturally.  A prominent feature of Bamileke architecture, especially for chieftaincies, is multiple high pointed roofs.  Traditionally these roofs were covered with thatch.

Mbouda-Bamenda road: Modern adaptation of tradition Bamileke architectureThe modern adaptation is corrugated metal roofing.  This feature is consistently used over the gate/entrance.  To a lesser extent it is used on back buildings.  While Mbouda-Bamenda road: Bas relief decoration on exterior of Bamileke chieftancythe architectural feature is definitely associated with a chiefs compound, it also seems to be being incorporated into the architecture of large private residences, though these could be chieftaincies as well.  Mbouda-Bamenda road: Bamileke chieftancy decorated exterior wallThere is other common decorative motifs as well.  Carvings or drawing frequently contain double gongs, spiders, turtles, lizards, snakes, lions, leopards, elephants and other symbols of power, wisdom, longevity and health.


Babajou: weekly pepper market

Babajou: weekly pepper market It was market day in Babajou when we arrived.  One of the major commodities this week was peppers.  Despite some trepidation carried from Douala about pulling out a camera, this group was very welcoming about being photographed.  The mix of vibrant red, yellow, orange and green peppers, and shear volume ofMbouda-Bamenda road: weekly market in village peppers was very impressive.  The people we talked to felt good about the agricultural production for the year in the area.

Babajou: traditional, embroidered Bamileke cloths for saleNext to the road in Badajou is a shop selling traditional Bamileke formal wear.  They are identifiable by their colorfully embroidered geometrics designs on black cloth.  The shirts and pants are traditionally worn by men.  Women wear an embroidered piece of cloth that is wrapped as a skirt.

Mbouda-Bamenda road: palm and banana grove in Bamenda highlands Mbouda-Bamenda road: countrysideTraveling along at the speed of bike is provides a kaleidoscope of images.  This road doesn't disappoint.  A lot of the way is dotted with homesteads and various kinds of agriculture: coco yams, casava, sweet potatoes, onions, cabbage, bananas and other crops.Mbouda-Bamenda road: cattle walking to market  Mbouda-Bamenda road: coco yams growing under bananasEvery few miles there is a cluster of houses that are concentrated enough to constitute a village.  Along the road, itself, people sell things like wood and fresh farm produce.  And fresh farm produce, like cows, are walked to market.

In Santa, jet lag, culture shock or fatigue from having not cycled enough recently (or all three things) were catching up with  members of the group. While we were looking for a car that might take them to Bamenda we met Daniel who interestingly for a Cameroonian thought it would be better for everyone to ride.  His pitch was, "its just another mile of up hill and then it was downhill to Bamenda."  After nineteen mile of ups and downs, with more ups than downs, the "downhill to Bamenda" was music to our ears and just the kind of encouraging message a couple people needed to keep going.  The is always the chance that motorist don't see the road like bicyclist, but worse case scenario was catching a lift from the side of the road.  The last mile of climb turned out to be closer to three miles but none of it was too steep and there was the promise of a long downhill.  When downhill came it lasted for ten miles.  The descent is dream come true.  Memories of fatigue mostly vanished and everyone was so glad that they were on bikes.  No one criticized Daniel for being off about the last mile of hill, but rather praised him for encouraging them to stick with it and do it on the bicycle.

Mbouda-Bamenda road: collecting and selling fire woodBafoussam-Bafut road: entourage of childrenAs much as bicycling is a religion of downhill's, it is on the climbs that you find out where the hearts of the other people are:  As we climbed women call out "du courage" and other encouraging comments.  Kids run along side and offer to help push your bike.  Men waved and offered salutations.  And, other motorist give a flash of their headlights in greeting.  It is a very welcoming and encouraging roadside environment.

BamendaRight before the last drop there is a nice over look from which you can survey Bamenda.  Although Bamenda is known for its tourist handicrafts BamendaI didn't find most of them very interesting.  The full size traditional art is another story but it is hard to pack on the back of a bicycle.

Along the way we continued our pursuit of identifying local languages.  When asking local what language was spoken in the village, the initial answer was usually, "English" or "French". At which point we had to explain that we were in interested in the indigenous language.  Often they seemed so surprised at the question that we had to repeating our selves a couple time.  Out of Mbouda the next language seems to be Ngombale, which was spoken around Babajou (also a Bamileke language).  Ten mile down the road is the bigger town of Santa.  A man we spoke to there confirmed that bigger towns tend to attract diversity.  Our informant said they were eight language spoken in the separate neighborhood of Santa, but he was certain of the spellings and he didn't know anything about the next language in either direction along the road.  He identified the language spoken in Santa as; Baba, Awing, Pinyin, Baligam, Akum, Mbu, Baforchu and Mbei.  Wow, would have found out all of this if we had gone speeding by in a van!

Baba is a Mbam-Nkam>Nun language.  Awing and Pinyin are Mbam-Nkam>Ngemba languages.  Baligam may be a dialect of Mbam-Nkam>Nun Mungaka.  Akum is probably the Bagangu dialect of the Ngemba language.  This Mbu is an alternative name for Nagamambo of the Momo group.  There is another very small and isolated Mbu language over by the Nigerian border but it is unlikely to have speakers in Santa.  Baforchu, and Mbei are a bit of a mystery.  Most of the language not only have a primary name but also sometimes a dozen alternations name and numerous separately named dialects.  In my references Baforchu and Mbei are no-shows in all of the categories on the academic lists.  When we ask how everyone communicated with each other the answer was, "English!"  In Bamenda, itself, multiple languages are present, most of the Mbam-Nkam>Ngemba group (15 languages), but again English is the lingua-franca.


A side trip out of Bamenda is a visit to the palace of the Fon of Bafut, in Bafut.

Fon of Bafut palace:

Fon of Bafut palace:

Of the palace in the area it is perhaps the most formal and aesthetic. The houses are in rows, connected by defined paths, and there are many full trees providing shade.

Fon of Bafut palace:

The building with the main throne is also very impressive created by the proportions of high portico accentuated by the vertical pieces in the wall and then an equally high traditional thatched roof.

Fon of Bafut palace:

Fon of Bafut palace:

There are parables and symbolism in much of the carving.

Fon of Bafut palace:

The seat of the chair are held up by people.  On the arm rest are men with pipes.  Behind the chair is some detail on how the wall is constructed.

Fon of Bafut palace:

Fon of Bafut palace:


Next dispatch.



Please contact us if you would like to be added to Ibike's mailing list or have questions, comments, corrections or criticism. (Also, please let us know how you learned about us and found this site.) Privacy policy.

  IBF Homepage           Ibike Programs            Ibike Schedule            Search

"Hosted by DreamHost - earth friendly web hosting"
Created by David Mozer
Copyright ?1993-2018 Ibike LLC. All rights reserved.