Bamiléké - Settlements



Bamiléké kingdoms are divided into quarters, villages, compounds, and houses. The "quarter" is a territorial unit of traditional kingdom government. Both "quarter" and "village" are units of Cameroonian state administration. Family compounds may be monogamous (consisting of a conjugal house, a kitchen, and an outhouse) or polygynous (consisting of the husband's house surrounded by either a single semicircle or two rectangular "quarters" of his wives' kitchen-houses. All Bamiléké royal compounds are built on slopes and follow a prescribed layout. Below an entry gate made of spines of the raffia palm ("bamboo") and either thatch or corrugated iron, a wide path (the "foot" of the compound) divides the two wives' quarters, each quarter ruled by titled queens. A second gate leads to the king's palace, a variety of meeting houses of secret societies, a traditional court building, and a sacred water source used only for the king's meals. The area above the second gate is considered dry and infertile; the area below it is regarded as moist, rich, fertile, and spiritually complicated.

Each wife in a polygynous compound lives in her kitchen-house with her children. Both boys and girls live in their mother's compound until they go away to school or get married. Child fosterage is common. Most kitchen-houses have one room, with a hearth in the middle and a granary of raffia bamboo above the hearth; usually they are built of mud bricks and roofed with thatch or tin. Previously, houses were square, constructed of raffia bamboo, with sliding doors and thatched, conical roofs. Rural compounds were surrounded by fences or hedges during the precolonial and early colonial periods, but now rarely are.

Before the UPC-related civil war, settlements were dispersed, and compounds were built near cultivated land. During the time of troubles, the French authorities resettled Bamiléké in villages along roads.


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