Cameroon’s ‘material of kings’ torn over future

Wambesso Fankam stands out elegantly from the group at a funeral ceremony in western Cameroon. As a prince, he’s amongst a choose few who’re historically entitled to put on an attention grabbing material of vivid indigo with intricate white patterns. “It’s an ndop, not everybody can put on it,” he stated with satisfaction, to the beat of tam-tam drums and the balafon, a sort of xylophone, within the western city of Batie.

The ceremonial material was as soon as the protect of chiefs, dignitaries and members of secret societies within the central African nation. However the tradition round it’s now being threatened by low-cost imitations and crude rip-offs. Ndop’s distinctive motifs-often animals or geometric shapes-are drawn on cotton material then embroidered with raphia earlier than the fabric is dyed blue. Its richness is right down to the numerous completely different mixtures of symbols that may be designed on the ndop. Cameroon is believed to have 13,500 conventional chiefdoms throughout its 10 areas.

And it’s the north and the mountains of the west the place chiefs are seen as all however divine guardians of custom, the place ndop and its tradition is the strongest. As soon as warlords and masters of justice, today chiefs’ powers are restricted to inheritance or matrimonial disputes. Even so ndop is “an important ritual ingredient” among the many primary western tribal group, the Bamileke, stated Hermann Yongueu, head of the Sauvons le Ndop (Save the Ndop) group, which is making an attempt to protect its heritage.

Making the fabric is a expensive affair that takes a number of days’ work and requires specialised information. Costs for a chunk of ndop material can go as much as 100,000 CFA francs (about 150 euros) — a small fortune in Cameroon the place a 3rd of the inhabitants lives on lower than two euros a day.

Royal garb

Again in Batie, an ndop material is symbolically held on a wood fence on the primary entrance to the funeral. One girl is carrying a protracted costume fully in ndop. “She is among the few to put on an ndop outfit as a result of she is a queen,” stated Gisele Monkam, who accompanies the normal chief.

Ndop largely options “drawings that symbolize our lifestyle”, stated Arsene Ngandjouong, head of a museum within the village of Bangoua within the west of the nation. One of many principal motifs is “a circle which represents the duality of the Bamileke world, a communication between the dwelling and the lifeless,” he added.

Sitting close to the door of her home make of baked mud bricks in Baham, the primary city excessive on the western plateau the place ndop continues to be made, craftswoman Solange Yougo, 52, is busy on a chunk of cloth she’s been engaged on for over every week. Making ndop is extraordinarily laborious, with some lengthy items measuring as much as 15 metres taking as much as a month to finish.

“I’m including the ending touches,” she stated. The completed merchandise shall be white with an indigo tint. On a bamboo bench, her cousin, Sylvie Momo, 50, holds an already dyed piece. Cameroon’s Ministry of Arts and Tradition declared ndop part of its official nationwide heritage in February 2020 and a few additionally need it to be given UNESCO standing as additional safety.


For hile it was as soon as strictly reserved for royals and nobles, ndop has been quick dropping its exclusivity, a lot in order that a few of its motifs are actually turning up on bottles of beer in addition to low high quality wraps and boubous, the free unisex garment standard throughout West Africa. “It’s even changing into a bit vulgar,” complained museum head Ngandjouong. “Up to now when somebody who hadn’t the proper to put on ndop wore it, they needed to pay a positive,” stated Prince Fankam.

“However an important factor is that we go on information of the best way to make it,” stated Hermann Yongueu. “Earlier than ndop material was managed by the chiefs and the kings made certain that the savoir-faire was handed on to the makers’ youngsters. From the age of seven, youngsters started their apprenticeships.”

However as we speak few younger individuals are ready to take that on, preferring extra profitable jobs like driving motorcycle taxis. Others hope that a bit of the mirrored glory the material is selecting up overseas would possibly tempt them again, with the French luxurious vogue home Hermes utilizing ndop motifs in considered one of its silk scarf collections 4 years in the past. – AFP


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