While many Royal Dynasties operate in secrecy, few are as welcoming as the Bamoun (or Bamum) Kingdom. Founded in the 14th Century, the Bamoun Kingdom is nestled in the Northwest Grassfields region of Cameroon. Foumban is the city hub of the Bamoun Kingdom and attracts world-travelers for its chic design in fine arts, craftsmanship, music, dance and festivals. The high design, art and storied Royal Palace architecture draw visitors from across Cameroon and the world. With such a long, fabled history, the Bamoun Kingdom has had a succession of 19 men crowned King. Each King has made his mark and the current Sultan is no exception. His Majesty Ibrahim Mbouombouo Njoya, the 19th king of the Bamoun Dynasty launched a world-class project which is nearing completion.
The upcoming Bamoun Museum will house more than 13,000 Bamoun, Tikar and related artifacts. Part of the lure of the Bamoun Kingdom is its fusion of cultures with Fulani and Hausa influences and historical migratory roots from Sudan. The Bamoun Dynasty is primarily Islamic yet lives harmoniously with significant traditional animists and Christian influences from German and French colonization. The Royal Palace serves as the current museum for textiles, masks, jewelry, statues, thrones and documents dating from the birth of the dynasty more than 600 years ago.
YOUNG ARCHITECT LEADS DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION
The Sultan of this historic dynasty chose one of its own young architects for the historic landmark. Mr. Mbouombouo Issofou is the talented architect appointed by the Sultan to conceptualize, design and build the new Bamoun Museum. Mr. Issofou, as a young man, won the coveted design contest for this museum project. The Bamoun Kingdom has other notable architects including Ousman Moluh, but decided to give this landmark project to a young man to inspire others in the Kingdom. The Museum’s architectural design is inspired by the three primary symbols of the Bamoun Kingdom. King Mbuem bue, of the 11th Dynasty, expanded kingdom borders.
His Majesty then endowed his kingdom with mythical symbols: a double-headed snake, illustrating the successful army who endured simultaneous battles and the double bells, which is ubiquitous of Cameroonian Nationalism and the spider. The spider represents the nimble dexterity and fine production of the famed Bamoun artisans. These three elements are referenced in the body of the building, the archway and the aerial view, respectively. The museum is supported by the government of the Republic of Cameroon under the Ministries of Culture and Tourism. Supporters and champions of the museum extend beyond the continent, as The Bamoun Kingdom has been welcoming back its long lost relatives who survived the Middle Passage.
AFRICAN-AMERICAN LINKAGES With the development of more detailed DNA testing, many African Americans and others of the diaspora in the New World have traced their heritage to the Tikar, inclusive of this Kingdom. The migratory origins of the Bamoun people, known as the Tikar, hailed from Sudan to the fertile Grassland Region of Cameroon more than half a millennia ago. The Tikar split into three major tribes which became three separate Kingdoms. Since 2010, the Bamoun Kingdom has welcomed its long-lost African American relatives of the larger Tikar origin through organized trips and welcome ceremonies.
Numerous black celebrities of Tikar heritage include: astronaut, Mae Jamison; actors, Taraji P. Henson, Blair Underwood and Anthony Anderson and music legends Quincy Jones, Nas, Erykah Badu and Stevie Wonder. Condolezza Rice and Oprah Winfrey are also connected. Many African- Americans and Afro-Caribbeanswho return are in awe of the design and art displayed in the famed Artist Mar ket next to the Royal Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
FAMED ART AND ART COLLECTORS
Avid collectors of African art learn two facts. One, the famous animator, Walt Disney, was an avid African art collector and lured other collectors toward the historic, spiritual and financial value and prestige of African art and design. Secondly, no major African art collection is deemed complete without a fine art piece from the Bamoun Kingdom. Even the Chief Curator, Ms. Christine Mullen Kreamer, of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, DC has publically shared special fondness of a Bamuoun mask that was donated by the private Walt Disney collection into the Smithsonian’s permanent collection.
If the museum, ancestral reconnection and an ancient Kingdom excites you, Foumban will welcome you like the thousands of visitors who come annually. The Ngouon Festival celebrates and exhibits Bamoun culture and tradition. The next Ngouon will be held 4-9 December, 2016, but a visit any time is worthwhile. The 2014 Ngouon Festival was featured on CNN and is often referred to as one of the Top 10 Festivals in Africa by numerous travel sources. Centered around the Royal Palace, the Bamoun people, tourists and dignitaries descend from all corners of the world. A visit to Foumban will be memorable for its art, culture and the nearly completed façade of the museum. The Museum is focusing on partnerships, conservation and exhibit design.
Completion is estimated by Ngouon to be in 2018. Much respect to an ancient dynasty for showcasing and preserving the talents of its people. And bravo to the young, ambitious architect, Mr. Issofou Mbouombouo, for his extraordinary design and vision of the 19th King, whose museum will marvel for the next 600 years. Kelley Page Jibrell, Founder of Sachem Global, is known as “The Visionary’s Change Agent.” She is an award-winning global advisor to leaders and organizations providing expertise in strategy, collaboration and implementation across five continents. Prof. Jibrell is Adjunct Professor at Howard University teaching international business to MBA candidates and contributes to international publications.