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Open Access Migration, Architecture, and the Transformation of the Landscape in the Bamileke Grassfields of West Cameroon

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Migration, Architecture, and the Transformation of the Landscape in the Bamileke Grassfields of West Cameroon

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This paper seeks to explore how Bamileke emigrants from the Grassfields region of West Cameroon (re)imagine their community, and how they construct through architecture defensive identities based on communal principles and parochial solidarities. Through the example of some successful Bamileke expatriates, the paper shows how architecture embodies the desire of these affluent emigrants to reconnect themselves to their native village, to assert their ethnic identity, and more importantly to recover their alleged 'lost roots.' It also discusses the use of architecture by successful Bamileke emigrants, who are for the most part former marginalized social juniors, as a means to challenge the dominant regime of chieftaincy and notability that generally excludes disinherited and untitled people from access to lands and wealth. The paper will show how by choosing to construct their imposing houses, not on the depressed or low-lying sites – as the customary elites and the local bourgeoisie used to do – but instead on heightened layouts such as the top of the hills or mountains, well-off Bamileke emigrants have imposed over time new configurations of architecture and dwelling in their native region. More importantly, their actions, which dramatise the 'high' as the new site of power, prestige and majesty, have reversed the traditional Bamileke cosmology that generally gives primacy to the 'low' over the 'high. Ce papier se propose d'explorer la façon dont les émigrés bamiléké originaires de la région des Hauts-Plateaux de l'Ouest du Cameroun ré-imaginent leur communauté, et comment ils construisent, par le biais de l'architecture, des identités défensives basées sur des principes communautaires et des solidarités élémentaires. A travers l'exemple de quelques émigrés bamiléké qui ont réussi dans leur quête migratoire, le papier montre comment l'architecture traduit leur désir de se reconnecter à leur village natal, d'affirmer leur identité ethnique, et surtout de recouvrer leurs 'racines perdues.' Cet article étudie également la façon dont les riches émigrés bamiléké – pour la plupart d'anciens cadets sociaux marginalisés – utilisent l'architecture comme un moyen de contestation du régime dominant de la chefferie et de la notabilité qui, généralement, exclut les personnes déshéritées et sans titres de l'accès aux terres et aux richesses. Le papier démontre qu'en choisissant de ne pas bâtir leurs imposantes demeures en contrebas ou sur des sites aplatis – comme l'ancienne notabilité traditionnelle et la bourgeoisie locale le faisaient autrefois –, mais plutôt sur des sites surélevés comme le sommet des collines ou des montagnes, les riches émigrés bamiléké ont imposé, avec le temps, de nouvelles configurations à l'architecture et aux modes d'occupation de l'espace dans leur région d'origine. Mais, plus important encore, leurs actions qui célèbrent le 'haut' comme le nouveau site du pouvoir, du prestige et de la majesté, ont complètement inversé la cosmologie bamiléké qui, généralement, accorde la primauté au 'bas.'


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