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.
Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and its second largest city after Douala, is often known as “the city with the seven hills” because of the hills surrounding it… but what does it really mean? Does its name refer to its hills?
In Béti, Yaoundé is often called, Ongolo-Ewondo, or the Ewondos’ enclosure (la clôture des Ewondos). The city was born around 1889, when the German traders implanted a camp in the Ewondo region and called it Sono station after a local Ewondo chief Essono Ela who had offered them hospitality (the Germans had encountered a strong resistance in the Vouté and Eton regions). Hearing locals from the coast refer to it as Ya-Ewondo or Among the Ewondo (chez les Ewondos), the Germans called it ‘Jaunde’ and it later turned into ‘Yaunde’, and in French Yaoundé. The station later turned into an administrative region under the leadership of the botanist Zenker who established a detailed map of the area in 1890. Upon its creation, it was first a scientific post (probably because of the botanist), and later in 1895 became a military and trading post for ivory and rubber.
Yaoundé was not always the country’s capital. After the 1909 volcanic eruption of Mt Cameroon in Buéa (Gbéa) which was then the capital, and the humid climate of Douala, the Germans decided to move the capital to Yaoundé because of its central location and its milder climate (and of course, no volcano). After Germany’s defeat in World War I, Cameroon was placed under French (the eastern regions) and British protectorate (the western regions). Yaoundé consequently became the capital of French Cameroon, and continued as the capital of the Republic of Cameroon after independence (it was first the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961, then The United Republic of Cameroon in 1972, which then officially became the Republic of Cameroon in 1984). From 100 inhabitants on 2 acres on land at the end of the 19th century, Yaoundé is today a vibrant city home to almost 2 million inhabitants.
Yaoundé lies at the center of the nation, at about 600 – 1000 m above sea level. The city first grew around the Mfoundi river. A network of hills make up its landscape such as Mts Mbam Minkom (1295 m), Nkolodom (1221 m), Messa, Fébé, Akokdoué in the North and West, and Mt Eloumden (1159 m) in the south. The rivers are the Mfoundi, Ekozoa, Biyeme, and Mefou. Today, Yaoundé is the siege of power, the presidential palace, the house of parliament, all ministries and embassies. Please enjoy this song of one of Cameroon’s great singers: André-Marie Tala about Yaoundé, and its beauty. What I have always liked about Yaoundé are its hills (and the red soil): from the top of one them, other parts of the city can be seen; it gives a feeling of “breathing in” or “taking in” the beauty of the entire city. Feel the joy of visiting this city which, like Rome has 7 hills. Enjoy the Rome of Africa!
Today, I would like to talk about one of the heroes of Cameroonian history, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, who stood against the Germans in the 1910s in Kamerun. His courage, and strong determination earned him the right of martyr and hero in the history of the Douala (or Duala) people, and thus of Cameroon.
Rudolf Douala Manga Bell was born in 1872, and studied in Cameroontown (modern-day Douala). He was the first son of King Manga Ndumbe Bell, of the Douala people. After completing his primary education and part of his secondary school in Cameroon, he went to study at the Lycée of Aalen in Bonn (Germany) finishing secondary school. He later went on to study law at the university there.
Manga Bell married Emily Engome Dayas, the daughter of an English trader and a Douala woman after his return home in 1896. He also became a civil servant. On 2 September 1908, he succeeded to his father as Paramount Chief (Chef Supérieur) of the Bell dynasty (founded since 1792) which encompassed the Bonamandone, Bonapriso, Bonadoumbe, all owners and inhabitants of the Plateau Joss in Douala. In those days, Douala was composed of several tribes: Bakole, Bakweri, Bamboko, Isubu (or Isuwu), Limba (or Malimba), Mungo, and Wovea. Among those chiefs, some of them including the famous King Akwa, signed a Germano-Douala treaty on 2 July 1884, which placed Cameroon under German protection. Cameroontown thus became Kamerunstadt.
In 1910, the German governor of Cameroon, Theodor Seitz, approved an urbanization project for the city of Douala (Kamerunstadt had been renamed Douala) set to turn it into one of the largest ports of Africa. The project outlined a plan to relocate the Douala people inland from the Wouri river to allow European-only settlement of the area. Neighborhoods such as Neu Bell, Neu Akwa, and Neu Deido were to be created for the indigenous people; these new allotments were going to be separated from the ‘European city’ by a barrier 1km wide (early version of apartheid!). The expropriations affected most of the Douala clans, who were angered and formed a united front behind Manga Bell. Rudolf Douala immediately refused, and told the Germans that the treaty signed in 1884 did not stipulate the removal/expulsion of the locals from their lands, and that this separation constituted a form of apartheid. Manga Bell then enlisted the help of Hellmut von Gerlach, a German journalist. Gerlach managed to secure a suspension order from the Reichstag Budget Commission in March, but the order was overturned when Colonial Secretary Wilhelm Solf convinced elements of the press, businessmen in the colony, politicians, and other groups to finally rally behind the expropriation. Manga Bell and the Douala requested permission to send envoys to Germany to plead their case, but the authorities denied them. In secret, Manga Bell sent Adolf Ngoso Din to Germany to hire a lawyer for the Douala and pursue the matter in court.
Manga Bell then turned to other European governments and to leaders of other African ethnic groups for support. His envoys to other Cameroonian leaders reached Bali, Balong, Dschang, Foumban, Ngaoundéré, Yabassi, and Yaoundé. Charles Atangana (Karl Atangana), leader of the Ewondo and Bane peoples, kept Manga Bell’s plan secret but urged the Douala leader to reconsider. In Bulu lands on the other hand, Martin-Paul Samba agreed to contact the French for military support if Manga Bell petitioned the British. However, there is no evidence that Manga Bell ever did so. In Foumban, Ibrahim Njoya, sultan of the Bamum people, rejected the plan and informed the Basel Mission on 27 April 1914 that Manga Bell was planning a pan-Kamerun rebellion. The missionaries alerted the Germans.
Noticing the German lack of respect of the signed law, who started removing locals from their lands, Bell allied with other chiefs of Cameroon to counter the colonial plans. During the mutiny, the Germans arrested the Douala leader and Ngoso Din on 10 May 1914 accusing him of high treason. Their trial was held on 7 August 1914. World War I had just begun, and an attack by the Allied West Africa Campaign in Kamerun was imminent; accordingly, the trial was rushed. On 8 August 1914, Rudolf Douala Manga Bell and Ngoso Din were hanged.
Let us all celebrate Rudolph Douala Manga Bell, the Tét’èkombo (the king of kings in Douala), the first, the uniter of Cameroon (already reaching out to other kings), and one of Cameroon’s biggest resistant. Enjoy this old rendition by Charles Ewandje (probably recorded in the 70′s) of Tet’Ekombo an ode to resistance and to the land. The song was written in 1929 in memory of Rudolf Douala Manga Bell.