Architecture and the Use of Space

The major cities include Douala (the shipping and industrial centre), Yaounde (the capital), Nkongsamba (the end point of the railroad through the southern plantations of the colonial period), Maroua, Garoua, Bertoua, Ebolowa, Kribi, Ngaoundere, Bafoussam, Bamenda (the regional capital North West Region), Buea, Kumba, and Limbe. Yaounde has several monuments related to national unity.

Most villages and small towns in rural areas have a marketplace in a central location that may house a weekly, biweekly, or daily market, depending on their size. Most markets have separate areas for women’s products (basic food produce and palm oil), and men’s products (livestock and bush meat). Official buildings are often located near these markets or along the central axis leading through smaller towns.

Architecture varies by region. In the rain forest and the Grassfields, poto-poto (earthen plaster on a wooden frame) and mud brick rectangular buildings roofed in palm thatch or corrugated iron are common. Traditional Grassfields architecture are constructed with “bamboo” (the spines of raffia palm fronds). Square or rectangular buildings with sliding doors are topped by conical thatched roofs. The doorposts of royalty had elaborate carvings. Traditional architecture in the north includes round mud buildings crowned with thatch. Walled compounds usually include a separate granary. Throughout the nation, structures built of concrete bricks, corrugated iron roofs, and iron grillwork have replaced other forms of housing.

Much of daily life occurs in public areas such as the courtyards of polygamous compounds. Privacy is often suspect, especially among peoples with a strong belief in malevolent and occult powers.