Sunday, January 20, 2013

Bamenda Traditional Regalia-Cameroon’s most beautiful traditional dress



 Bamenda Traditional Regalia-Cameroon’s most beautiful traditional dress



 The Bamenda traditional regalia of the Grassfield people in the North-West region of Cameroon, is one of Africa’s most beautiful and highly respected traditional dresses.


Bamenda, the capital of the North-West region of Cameroon, perfectly exemplifies Cameroon’s vibrancy, dynamism, ethnic and artistic diversity. Titivated by enchanting hills and a rolling topography, Bamenda is home to some of the most hospital and productive people in Cameroon. Affectionately known as Abakwa, Bamenda also has one of the most organised socio-traditional administrative structures in Cameroon. Bamenda is a town of spectacular ethnic and artistic wealth. Amongst some of the most impressive artistic marvels of Bamenda is the traditional regalia, a majestic and exquisite traditional costume, held in high regard all over Cameroon; and regarded as one of Africa’s most beautiful and elaborate traditional dresses.



 
 The Bamenda traditional regalia had always been an artistic and cultural hallmark of the vibrant people of the North-West region of Cameroon since time immemorial. In common with other cultural values, the very elaborate art of producing the dress had always been well preserved, and passed on from generation to generation. Over the years, some minor modifications have been inculcated on the dress, but its fundamental design and core cultural value had always remained intact.


To produce the dress, the essential fabric is acquired. A tailor then cuts, patterns and sews it according to designated cultural standards. The design artist then maps out a complex pattern of how the dress will be embellished; and this is then implemented using a needle and various colours of wool fibre. This then results in a colourful and elaborately embellished regalia. People can order a particular design of the regalia, tailor-made to suit their needs or preferences; but the fundamental pattern and design of the dress remains the same. Designers have made small modifications to the dress; so as to broaden the scope of its cultural value; for instance, the gong has been added; to assert the gong’s cultural value, as one of the most popular musical instruments in the North-West region of Cameroon. A sign of love has also been inculcated to the dress, as a mark of peace, mutual sympathy and respect in the community. The central portion of the dress is sometimes decorated with a star, both to enhance its beauty and to recognise the prevalence of a higher power to humans. In most cases, the neck of the dress is additionally elaborate and therefore, it is the most difficult part to implement, in terms of design.



Traditional administration is still very much alive in the North-West region of Cameroon; for, in numerous instances, each ethnic group or clan is headed by a traditional ruler known as a Fon or chief, whose duty is to cater for the welfare of the entire group; while also ensuring that long-standing cultural values and traditions are adhered to, preserved and imparted upon successive generations. The traditional regalia won by the Fons is designed slightly different from that won by ordinary people in that, it’s fitted with a symbol of the sun in front and behind. This symbolises that their benevolent authority shines over the territory of their jurisdiction, with a generosity as mighty as that of the sun
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The design for women is also slightly different from that for men. The women put on the female regalia with a headscarf, while the men put it on with a colourful cap. Both men and women put on collated beads with the dress, worn around the neck. More often, the men also carry a traditional bag when dressed in the traditional regalia.
The dress can be worn by any member of that ethnic, tribal or cultural entity. Putting on the attire can be an expression of one’s dignity; a manifestation of one’s ethnic identity, or symbolic acceptance and satisfaction with one’s culture. On putting on the Bamenda traditional regalia, one is expected to conduct oneself with dignity, self-respect and decorum, amongst one’s counterparts or companions. One is not expected to dress in this traditional wear and conduct oneself in an impertinent and casual manner. Such conduct may be viewed as disregarding the intrinsic cultural value of the regalia; and may result in one being viewed as a cultural non-conformist. The dress can be won during solemn occasions such as cultural festivals, ceremonial events or any other activity which calls for cultural pride.

The Bamenda regalia is not just a dress, but a very powerful component of cultural identity for the people of the North-West region of Cameroon. Therefore, when someone puts on the Bamenda traditional regalia, it’s highly likely that the individual hails from the North-West region of Cameroon.



In the North-West region of Cameroon, there are always high profile and extensive annual cultural festivals that take place in the palaces of the traditional rulers known as Fons. During these exhilarating and splendid cultural festivals, the whole clan or ethnic group celebrates various aspects of their culture, including traditional dances and a display of artistic cultural treasures. On such occasions also, one can view the colourful processions that are performed with this traditional regalia. It is on such events that one can actually capture the cultural elegance of this exquisite cultural dress. Prominent examples of such festivals include that in the palace of the Fon of Mankon and also in the palace of the Fon of Bafut.



Even though the Bamenda traditional regalia is associated with the Grassfield people in the North-West region of Cameroon, it has acquired national recognition by Cameroon’s ministry of culture, as one of Cameroon’s rare and distinctive artistic cultural designs.

Therefore, in some international cultural events, the Bamenda regalia is displayed or showcased, as one of Cameroon’s unique cultural artistry. To this effect, the Bamenda traditional regalia is known all over the world. 

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