Urbanism and Architecture

The major cities include Douala (the shipping and industrial center), Yaoundé (the capital), Nkongsamba (the end point of the railroad through the southern plantations of the colonial period), Maroua and Garoua, Bafoussam and Bamenda (the provincial capitals of the West and Northwest provinces), Kumba, and Limbe. Yaoundé has several monuments 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 (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 was constructed of “bamboo” (the spines of raffia palm fronds); square or rectangular buildings with sliding doors were topped by conical thatched roofs. The doorposts of royalty had elaborate carvings. Traditional architecture in the north includes round mud buildings crowned in 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 polygynous compounds. Privacy is often suspect, especially among peoples with a strong belief in malevolent and occult powers.