The earliest Bamiléké kingdoms were formed during the sixteenth century, a result of a complex dynamic of conquest, ruse, and shifting allegiance when population movements in Adamoua pushed the "pre-Tikar" Ndobo into the Bamiléké plateau. Succession disputes, the search for new hunting grounds, and demographic pressure led to the emergence of new kingdoms from the first core polities. The number, size, and shape of Bamiléké kingdoms continued to change until European colonization, when interkingdom warfare was curtailed and the limits of territories were frozen at borders partly determined by the colonizers. This history of shifting borders, alliances, and the influx of refugees from neighboring kingdoms makes each Bamiléké kingdom a political composite of diverse peoples owing allegiance to the king and to established royal institutions.
During the precolonial era, the Bamiléké fought wars among their constituent kingdoms as well as with the neighboring Nso and Bamoun. Relations among kingdoms included economic exchange and cooperation as well as territorial belligerence. German expeditions into Bamiléké territory in 1902 and 1904 found a rich and cultivated territory, maintaining multiple commercial relations, as evinced by paths and markers.
The colonial era began on 12 July 1884, when coastal Duala chiefs signed a treaty with the German Empire. Colonial German penetration into the Bamiléké highlands began in the 1890s and became increasingly important over the next decade. Between 1914 and 1916, Cameroon was conquered by French and British forces. Nearly all Bamiléké kingdoms were subsequently governed by France under League of Nations mandate and, following World War II, under United Nations Trusteeship. Independence was achieved in 1960. Political steps toward independence, especially the outlawing of the trade union-based Union des Populations Camerounaises (UPC), led to civil war in the Bamiléké region from 1958 through 1972. Bamiléké refer to this as a time of troubles; others refer to it as the Bamiléké rebellion. Both personal and political scars remain. The region continues under a nominal state of emergency. Popular discourse surrounding more recent political and economic turmoil in Cameroon makes reference to this history of civil and interethnic strife.