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Bafut Palace is located in the heart of the Bafut kingdom in northwest Cameroon. The palace has been the fulcrum of political power for over 400 years, and is still a center for religious rites and traditional ceremonies. The site comprises over 50 buildings arranged around a central shrine, which are used by the Fon (king), his wives, and the royal court. The Achum Shrine is the spiritual core of the site and houses an important fetish. Built entirely of wood and bamboo, and covered with thatch, the shrine is an impressive example of traditional religious architecture. The entire site is surrounded by a sacred forest in which medicinal plants are gathered and offerings are made to spirits and ancestors.
HOW WE HELPED
The houses that form the outer perimeter of the site were rebuilt in the early twentieth century following a disastrous fire, and are constructed of fired brick with clay roof tiles, revealing both vernacular and German colonial architectural influences. Many of the roof structures had become dilapidated; sections had collapsed and others were leaking badly, affecting the structural integrity of the buildings.
In 2007, WMF, working closely with local partners and stakeholders, embarked on a conservation project. The roofs of the most seriously affected buildings were reconstructed and the work became the basis for training local artisans and workers to address ongoing maintenance and rehabilitation of the buildings in the palace complex. Because traditional tiles were no longer available, local artisans learned to produce exact replicas using traditional techniques. Facilitating the creation of a small-scale business to produce the tiles is an important outcome of the project.
Phase 2 will focus on conservation of the Achum Shrine at the center of the palace complex.
WHY IT MATTERS
Bafut Palace stands at the center of the Bafut community. Not only does it represent many centuries of history, bearing witness to the power and importance of the Bafut people, it also remains the site of very significant traditional ceremonies and religious rites. It embodies Bafut cultural identity.
The palace complex and the Achum Shrine at its center are important elements of the built heritage of Cameroon, and West Africa more broadly. Globalization is slowly leveling cultural expression, reducing the built environment in Africa to simple, ordinary boxes. A relatively small grant has assured the survival of a particularly rich and meaningful piece of architectural history.
IN WMF JOURNAL
Field Mission to Bafut Palace
Stephen Battle, WMF’s Program Specialist for African Architectural Heritage, embarks on a field mission to inspect the ongoing conservation work at Bafut Palace.