Field Mission to Bafut, Cameroon: Part 3, Queen's Houses
On the final day of our visit to Bafut, we drove up into the green rolling hills of the Cameroon Highlands that surround the town to visit the Prespot tile factory. Conservation at the palace has so far focused on re-roofing the Queen's houses. As the most visible aspect of the intervention, the appearance of the new tiles is all-important. Only concrete tiles could be sourced in local markets, which were too heavy and not a bit like the originals.
To solve this problem, the project team went into partnership with a small local pottery business, Prespot, and helped it set up a tile manufacturing process at an existing pottery workshop. Through this initiative, a local business has found a new market (which they intend to expand into the rest of the country), a significant number of jobs have been created and wealth generated in the local economy.
Back in the capital city, Yaounde, I was struck by how uniformly modernist the buildings are. I could have been in any African city. Cameroon is doing well. GDP growth was poor in 2009 (-1%), but like the rest of the continent it is expected to rebound strongly in 2010, exceeding growth rates in the developed world. Although poor, Africa is a continent of entrepreneurs, creating wealth on every street corner. But the more quickly economies develop, the greater the risk that something will be lost. Africa is the most culturally diverse region of the world. Cameroon along has 24 major language groups, and each community has a unique way of viewing and creating their world. In the rush to develop, they risk losing this extraordinary diversity, which is why projects such as that at Bafut Palace are so important.
The significance of Bafut Palace is not in doubt for the Bafut people; as well as being the fulcrum of their community life it is an important source of income, attracting up to 40,000 visitors a year, and generating jobs and wealth in the local economy. Preservation of Bafut Palace will help ensure that it survives and prospers, protecting a unique way of life.