Have you ever wondered about the meaning of the name of the largest city of Cameroon, Douala? For the longest time, I always wondered why it was named after the people of the locality, the Douala people, and it seemed odd that a people arriving somewhere would name the locality after themselves as a group, not the king, not something to do with the environment, but themselves… I wondered if the name was not a heritage of the European colonization instead.
Before falling under German rule in 1884, the town was known as Cameroons Town, and later became Kamerunstadt (Cameroon city), the capital of German Kamerun. On January 1st 1901, the city was renamed Douala by decree of the German governor of the colony, and the original name Kamerunstadt was transfered to the entire territory of Kamerun.
For many of the indigenous inhabitants of the city of Douala, the name comes from a phonetic change of the name of their ancestor Ewalé, who upon arriving on the shores of the Wouri River around the 16th century called it Madu M’Ewalé or the mouth of the watercourse of Ewalé. Madu M’Ewalé is the plural form of Dul’Ewalé which later became Duala. Yet others believe that Duala comes from the exclamation “Dua, Ala!” (“Start, go!”) which has nothing to do with the arrival of Ewalé.
On 12 July 1884, the Germano – Duala Treaty was signed between the Douala kings and a representative of the German firm Woermann. On 14 July 1884, Gustav Nachtigal landed in Cameroons Town to take possession of the territory. The city then became known as Kamerunstadt, the capital of the territory from 1885 to 1901.
Today, Douala is the largest city of the country, and its economic capital; it is in essence the economic lung of the entire country, and is one of the major cities of the CEMAC zone. If you ever visit Douala, do not forget to go by the port, and visit Bonanjo with all its relics from colonial times, a blend from German, French, and modern architectures. Also, on a clear day, one can catch a glimpse of Mt Cameroon, Africa’s 3rd tallest mountain.