Page 1



Text in Yemba and in English

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This book was prepared on the occasion of the Second Annual Yemba Festival (YAFE) on July 11, 2014, in New Jersey. The YAFE is organized by Yemba-USA, a United States based organization that promotes and preserves the cultural heritage of the Bamiléké people from Cameroon in West Africa.

Copyright © 2015 by Serges Demefack, Author. All rights reserved All drawings by the author unless otherwise noted. Send all inquiries to The first printed copies of this book were made available with the generous support of the New Jersey Performing Art Center (NJPAC)

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To my children Emma Dikah and Sol Victor.

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‘‘Ta’a pu gɔ te kwɛtɛ lepuˊɔ.’’

(You canˊt tie a package with only one hand) - Bamiléké proverb in Yemba -

An Idea

This book was born out of my love of drawing, history and my desire to further expose all children especially children of Bamiléké origin living in the Diaspora, to the rich cultural heritage left behind by their Bamiléké ancestors. The Bamiléké people have managed to build and preserve their traditions, sometimes while facing serious adversity from colonisation, and the spread of modernity. In fact, they’ve use modernity to thrive despite these challenges. Some of the drawings included here were inspired by my childhood memories while growing up in the western region of Cameroon. My creative curiosity pushed me to visit significant palaces in the large area known as the grassfield region of Cameroon.

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The important work of Professor Maurice Tadadjeu and Sylvain Djache Nzefa was very useful while doing additional research. I prepared all the drawings over the course of a 5 year period. I hope without the distraction of colors, these few pages will spark your interest and perhaps be a source of inspiration for you, your friends and family. Thank you,  Serges Demefack M.A. International Affairs

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The Bamiléké is a group of

descendents in Europe and much recently in the United States.

more than 90 (ninety) kingdoms located in the vast grassland region of Western Cameroon. The Bamiléké kingdoms have the same ancestors and thus share the same history, culture, and languages.

The Yemba Annual Festival (YAFE) that I contributed to the 2 creation in 2014 in the United States was conceived in an effort to promote and preserve Bamiléké heritage away from the homeland in Western Cameroon.

Historically, the Bamun and the Bamiléké were united. The founder of Bamun (Nchare) was the younger brother of the founder of Bafoussam, the capital city of the Western Region of Cameroon. There are other ethnic groups that are historically more or less linked to the Bamiléké, such as the Igbo of Nigeria.

The Bamiléké kindoms have been the subjet of numerous studies in recent years. Bamiléké art is collected by major museum in the United States including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Newark Museum of art in New Jersey, the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York, the University of Iowa Museum of Art, the Fowler Museum at UCLA in California just to name a few.

Today there are hundreds of thousands of Bamiléké people throughout the world. There is a growing community of Bamiléké and their Why use the Yemba language in this book? Without the language our understanding of any given culture is limited. Yemba (also known as Dschang) is my maternal language and one of the most spoken languages in the grassfield region of Cameroon and primarily in the Menoua Division of the Western Region of Cameroon. I learned to read and write Yemba on my own. Most drawings in this book are labeled in Yemba.

The Bamiléké people are from the Republic of Cameroon in West Africa




Nigeria The Bamiléké ancestral land


At la

‘‘Ŋgiā lege swia me sisiá puɔ gɔ̄ wu.’’

nt ic

Oc ea


Cameroon Central African Republic



n Equatorial Guinea



Go to for an interactive map about the Bamiléké

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ŋzw i

athʉ̄ fɔ


alá mépfu / ŋzɛmɛ zo

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At the center of each Bamiléké community there is a king. known as fo. The fo rules his kingdom with either 7 or 9 advisors very often his relatives by blood. The fo rules over the land and the people and is the primary responsible for the welfare of his subjects. He is the spiritual and administrative leader of the community with direct connection to god and the ancesters.


In this picture the fo stands at the entrance of his palace. Notice the big tree behind him. It is the tree planted by the first king or the founder of the kindom. Notice the square houses on both sides of the passage leading to the palace. Also notice the tiny house with a gourd next to it. That’s where offerings are made to the long gone ancestors who protect the community and provide good fortune to all.

azaá nɔˊ

ŋzw i

ŋgia si / ŋgia dem



re Bamiléké art explo

r’s note pad

ŋgaŋ thʉ̄

W 123-

tell you fo is carying that e th s ct je ob e th What are . te down 3 things deed a king? Wri 123-

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ee? Look carefully

see under the tr hat else can you

he is in-

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symbols, myths and patterns almost at every turn inspired by nature and the belief system.


General representation of four-legged animals

On the left are a few symbols Bamiléké artists use and what they represent. These symbols are found on religious objets and other items used in everyday life such as kitchen utencils and tools. They may be carved, dyed, painted, sewn or woven.

Woman, procreation

16 Bamiléké patterns Spider, hard work and patience

The sun or social hierarchy 1













Snake skin, power and protection

Turttle, wisdom, patience and long life

The four cardinal points

Crocodile, power and strength


Social classes, lineage The ancestor (empty spaces) and his/her descendents (dots)

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é rs amilék of colo B g e n i h t n a y Me ed b only us m m o c

White - The color of bones; associated with death, ancestors, spiritual forces and is important in medical contexts. Black - The color of night; suggests the relationship between the living and the dead and suffering. Red - The color of blood; symbolizes life, women, and kingship in general. Yellow and orange are considered as red. Blue - The color of spirituality and wealth. s l Motif a m i n é A ing of amilék n B a e e h t m The d by nly use o m m co

and power Elephant - wealth rength, energy Buffalo - power, st ng, patience Spider - hard worki Leopard - power d prudence Turtle - wisdom an of death Lizard - messenger nger of life Cameleon - messe er of good Butterfly - messeng news

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Use these two shapes (diamond and circle) to make your own paterns in the space provided above.

re Bamiléké art explo

r’s note pad

ed in es are frequently us Which primary shap people?

best be used as Which animal could

ké the art of the Bamilé

a symbol for the fo?

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Ndop is the Bamiléké name of the blue indigo ceremonial cloth pictured below.


The motifs used on the ŋdɔp (or ndop) are made out of primary shapes (squares, circles and triangles). For this reason they are very simple to make using some of the most basic computer programs.

Computer generated design of the “ndop” fabric created by the France based Bamiléké cartoon artist Simon Mbumbo.

The Ndop is used during all major ceremonies especially the funerals which for the Bamiléké are celebrated many years after the person had passed away. This is different from the burial ceremony. Community is the base of all ceremonies and traditions for the Bamiléké people. While there is a mix of individualism and collectivity, the contributions of the individual to the community are extremely important in this society.

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Funerals are one of the few occasions when members of a family will all be in the same place at the same time as circumstances of marriage and employment often cause people in a family to live far apart. These reunions help to ease some of the grief caused by the death of a family member. The family also helps to ensure a good performance as they bring the full force of a community’s musicians and dancers together for a particular event.

These performances are crucial to the success of a funeral. The strength that the reunions and the music pass on to the participants of a funeral nurtures the community as a whole. This in turn enables them to properly honor their deceased loved ones. It is not a sorrowful occasion like the burial ceremony but rather one of rememberance, respect and celebration of the person who has passed away.

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What are decorative motifs? It is a way to write messages of tradition and culture onto objects. Many motifs combined help make a pattern. A pattern is something that repeats one or more times. Some are endless. Patterns may be simple of complicated. Most Bamiléké patterns have a meaning as we’ve seen in the previous pages.

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re Bamiléké art explo

r’s note pad

Bamiléké artists Why do you think their art?

like to use patterns


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A cube and a cone make a Bamiléké house!


This drawing shows the making of a typical Bamiléké conic thatched roof. Bamboo from the raphia tree (or raffia) is used to build a tight frame starting with a pyramid lay out.

The drawing on the left shows a meeting house with a thatched roof. Here the walls are made out of basic mud bricks. They are not baked in a kiln but made hard by drying in the sun. The carved posts surrounding the house indicate it is a special meeting house where only nobles and other elite in the community may enter.

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Bamiléké a

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athu kā

athu kā


Mask athu kā (read tuka) that once belonged to a Bamiléké kingdom. The mask is now in the Pierre Harter’s Collection on permanent display at the Musée National des Arts d’Afrique et d’Oceanie in France.

asaŋá lʉ̄o

ŋzhō lekhʉ

ŋnú methu mbiá

re Bamiléké art explo

r’s note pad

e is lephant mask.” H “e e th ng ri ea w l attire at This is a man ay see this specia m ou Y ). m ke ch (ŋ a noble Internet. Just sear e th on or u yo ows a a museum near ask”. The belt sh . The m nt ha ep el é ék l of power for “Bamil s and is a symbo ad he 2 h it w e ak ight colors sn fully beaded in br e ar lt be e th d mask an etric pattern. following a geom

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Mbuˊɔ tɔ̄ ŋghʉ mezeŋɛ mépiá acɔoˊ metɔ̄ŋ ŋgap


amɛt ŋjumba

mō tɔ̄ ŋzhō lekhʉ


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At special events, you can tell someone’s social rank just by looking at the type of stool the person is sitting on. Is there a special seat for someone in your household?


miá kɔˊ / aleŋɛ̄ fɔ / aleŋɛ̀ mekém

Ceremonial stool carved out of a single piece of wood. At the bottom is the representation of a wild cat, typically a panther and at times a combination of a panther and the elephant. Some stools are beaded. In that case they are more expensive to make and are therefore a symbol of wealth. During the old days Bamiléké kings traveled with their stools. Many kings were either sculptors of heavily envolved in all aspects of the kindom’s creative work.

akɔ̄ Ceremonial stool carved out of a single piece of wood. Here there are no animal forms but instead 3 legs. There is one leg behind the two visible on this drawing. Most carved stools are used during religious ceremonies and may also be given out by the king as a thank you present.


This is a peace tree used in many Bamiléké celebrations. It grows easily and is used for hedging around the compound.

mépɔ̄ Stool made out of many pieces of bamboo sticks. Notice that they are assembled in a crossed motif. A system of holes and long wooden dowel pins made with bamboo skins is used to keep the chair together. No glue is applied! It is literally impossible to see through it.

ŋtuˊ meluˊ Beaded gourd

aleŋɛ̄ dēŋ A basic bamboo stool made out of many pieces of bamboo sticks. It is made for anybody who needs a stool. it demands less effort and skill to make one compare to the other stools.

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bamiléké drums The drum is the oldest known intrument in the world. It is widely used by the Bamilékés. Some drums, like the music they create, are sacred. This means that they have to be part of a very special ritual when they are played.

In some cases the public is not allowed to see who is playing the musical instruments or who is singing. This is usually a sign that it is part of a ritual. Some other signs indicating the sacred nature of the music include the kind of people allowed to participate in the event, the involvement of the king and his main advisors or simply the extreme rarity of the event. The design and paterms on the musical instruments can give you a hint... look out for symbols and other clues.

metí metɔ̄ ŋgup tɔ̄

miá tɔ̄̄ mō tɔ̄ mō tɔ̄

akeke / akʉkʉe

ŋtuˊ meluˊ

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Letˊs take a close look at what the decoration (carving) on the big drum represent. The carving is not just for fun. It has a message. It is a unique aesthetic.

The drum is the most widely used musical instrument among the Bamiléké people. It is made out of a single piece of wood and covered on one end with a piece of goat skin. The drawing on the left page represents two popular types of drums. They may come in different sizes.

The diamond shape represents the women. They can be conbined to form other shapes and patterns.

Representation of the frog. symbol of procreation. When combined as shown above they make some fun patterns. What is a ritual? A ritual is a ceremonial act perform according to a prescribed order. Just like in church, or other religious spaces. When is something sacred? Sacred events are connected with God (or the gods). They may also be dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving a great deal of respect. What is an aesthetic? Sets of principles that guide the work of an artist or an artistic communty. Bamileke Art and Activity Book.indd 14

re Bamiléké art explo


r’s note pad re?

Whe a Bamiléké drum? Have you ever seen

s. cal Bamiléké drum pi ty 4 s ow sh ft le e The picture on th before. r drums you’ve seen Compare it to othe

t of three on ecial among the se sp s ok lo at th um Is there a dr page? Explain.

the left

patterns. le has some unique id m e th in um is dr The large Look carefully in th t? en es pr re ey th k What do you thin e meaning. book to find out th the right hand side of e th on r ne ai nt co There is a special t it is made out of ? ha w s es gu u yo an C larger drum. it is used for? What do you think

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mɛnzɔŋ 15

acɔˊ metɔŋ ŋgap / acɔˊ mɛnzoŋ

ŋni mɛnzɔŋ

ŋzhṓ mɛnzɔŋ



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ŋtʉɔˊ 16

moˊo zʉk ŋzhō zeŋ e biŋ zeŋ gwɛ tuˊ pɔ̄ sáŋá lʉ̄ɔ.̄


rer’s Bamiléké art explo

note pad

ké dancers Here are two Bamilé u” or ‘‘ŋtʉɔˊ’’ dancer - On the right a “nte dancer zoŋ” or ‘mɛnzɔŋ’ˋ ad “m a ft le e th n O with dance is associated Can you tell which


ŋzhṓ zēŋ


ing two

swer by provid Please justify your an clues. 12-

miléké ers and add more Ba Color the two danc l ” dancer. The specia motifs on the “nteuh zho ‘‘ŋ here is known as men skirt also worn ge. ʉ’’ in Yemba langua zēŋ’’ or ‘‘ŋzhō lekh



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lekwɛt anā lekwɛt lelup

ŋtsɔˊ ŋguía piŋ

miá tetá

alá mépfu / ŋzɛmɛ zo


mia tɔ̄



ŋdʉ̄ Talking drum

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What happens at any given moment in music depends on 4 fundamentals: beat, rhythm, accent, and meter. This is true for the Bamilékés as well. The drum may be used to send messages to people who are far away. it is a special drum commonly known as the Talking Drum (ŋdʉ̄ˊ). There is one in the picture with 2 rectangular holes on it. Find it. Adults with proper training or initiation are able to understand the message.

The picture shows and exemple of set up. You can see on the top part of the picture the hills and the farm with crops. The instruments are located in a space that looks like a front yard. Typically after the event the instruments are put away.


For big events the stage may be the market place that was in the past located not far from the king’s palace.

ote pad n s r’ re lo p x e rt a é k Bamilé e? ments on the pictur

usical instru Can you name the m

these What do you think

e out of ? instruments are mad

k cial events you thin Name some of the so

ate the Bamiléké celebr

that are next to a house ts en m ru st in e th k Why do you thin different design? looks bigger with a

nd it?

alá mépfú / ŋzɛmɛ zo

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sts arou is one house with po e er th k in th u yo Why do

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Color this Bamiléké compound


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rer’s Bamiléké art explo

note pad

ndscape the kingdom, the la of n tio ca lo t ac e. ex Depending on the re remains the sam ltu cu e th , er ev w ho rent, may look a bit diffe pictures Compare these two be the phia bamboo may ra of y lit bi la ai av For example, the ith bamboo. houses are built w e m so hy w on as re Bamileke Art and Activity Book.indd 20

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Some examples of traditional kitchen utensils.

ŋbuɔˊ ŋtsuiíŋ


ŋchu ŋgía

atetā akɔˊ

lepfuˊ ŋkɛt

ŋgweŋ naˊ ajɔk


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ŋgweŋ mésáŋ


aleŋɛ̄ dēŋ

ŋgweŋ tshi

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This is how the queen mother and oTHER WOMEN OF STATURE dress up.

Maá méfɔ̄ zwīkɛ tʉ̄ŋ e biŋ zeŋ gwiɛ lʉ̄ɔ pɔ ŋkēŋ 22



asáŋà lʉ̄ɔ


Can you draw more patterns on the queen mothers dress? Use blue crayons.

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23 mefhū thʉ̄

ŋtsoˊ ŋgia piŋ

ŋzem ŋgia mezwií fɔ

aleŋɛ̀ ŋdeŋ


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a few things you will find in a Bamiléké household athʉ̄

apá ŋkīŋ

apá ḿbwɛ thʉ̄

ŋbuɔˊ ŋtsuiíŋ

rer’s Bamiléké art explo

note pad


an s. Write them down ge pa 2 e es th on s Look at the item for. are (or were) used find out what they 12345--

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The making of a Bamiléké roof is one of the most complex tasks in the building process. The roof is built with layers of bamboo attached together with freshly peeled green bamboo skin. It is a quite flexible material that can be twisted and 25 woven together for more strength. In my opinion the raphia plant that produces bamboo is the single most important renewable natural resource available to the Bamiléke.́ When the frame is completed, straw is simply tucked between the spaces left by crossing bamboo starting from the bottom. I witnessed

this at my grand father’s compound in Bafou. For big meeting houses, panels are premade on the ground just like walls. The base of the roof that forms the ceiling is generally circular and extends beyond the walls. This protects the walls and create some extra space for the storage unit (ŋkiŋ) featured in this book. The space inside the roof is used as grenary subdivided in 2 levels or more. Access to the grenary is located in the ceiling, inside the house not far from the door. Bamiléké houses have no windows and there are many reasons to this.

me si kwɛtɛ ŋtsɔˊ ŋgia maá oó


ŋ taˊ


Bamboo walls are later covered with mud.

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ana mepu ɔ́

aluŋné pɔ ŋgoˊo atetá


egiŋɛ ̄

afhɔ ŋk

re Bamiléké art explo - Why do dows?

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r’s note pad

uses have no win-

nal Bamiléké ho you think traditio

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ŋzhɛ nɔˊ

Bamiléké art exp lo

rer’s note pad

- Compare both palace entrance s. The picture and the one o on the left n the right - Which one d o you like the most? - Explain.

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lezɛ ŋzhɛ nɔˊ

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This book is made available with the support of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center

Kwanzaa Children’s Festival SATURDAY, DECEMBER 19 • 12PM-5PM New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) and NJPAC’s Center for Arts Education Enjoy hands on activities and performances that share the meaning Kwanzaa. Participate in the celebration of the year’s Country of Honor, Cameroon. Don’t miss the Artisan Marketplace held in Prudential Hall. visit or call 973-353-7058 or email for more information

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Bamileke art and activity book by Serges Demefack  

Activity book about the art of the Bamileke people in Cameroon-west Africa. in English and Yemba language.