Globalization and Cultural Identities: An Ethno-Historical Survey of the Decline and Resilience of the ‘Country Cloth’ Culture in Cameroon, C. 1850-2015


University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon


The importance of cultural studies in the reconstruction of African history cannot be overemphasized especially in this era of globalization. African history can be recounted and rewritten purely from African perspective using music, dance, funeral, and enthronement ceremonies as objects and artefact to write African history. Drawing from an afro-centric view point, this paper examines the influence of globalization on indigenous African identities, focusing on the decline and resilience of African cloth culture or ‘traditional regalia’ in this era of globalization. Scholars have argued that culture remains the most influential mark of identity of a people and hence must be protected or preserved. Several ethnic groups have through western contacts and other forms of globalization lost their cultural identity or become acculturated and this affects their identities in different ways. This paper uses the Sawa Sanja country cloth pattern and the grassfields attires of Cameroon as case studies to elucidate the impact of foreign cloth culture and popular media on their identity over the years. The study adopts a historical approach, while relying on both primary and secondary sources of information.

Key Words: Culture, Identity, Globalization, Country cloth/regalia


Social history as a branch of history focuses on patterns and dynamics of social interactions, identities, clothing, dancing as well as the historical interconnection of change, continuity and the influence of globalization in society. A retrospective look at Cameroonian historiography indicates the sheer dominance of themes researched in areas such as religion, ethnicity, inter-ethnic quarrels, corruption, gender and conflicts as well as the political history of Cameroon. While it can be assumed that previous studies on Cameroon’s history focused around issues related to politics and colonialism, the same cannot be said of the nexus between globalization and country cloth culture and identity as a subject of historical research within the specialty of cultural history.

The role of country cloth as pathfinder of Africa cultural identity has not received enough scholarly attention despite the continued impact of globalization on African heritage and identity over the last few years. However, the role of traditional regalia in magnifying ethnic identities in a multiethnic country like Cameroon has played out in economic, social and political arenas at different periods in the history of Cameroon (Kah, 2014). Cloth or dress has influenced the political, cultural, social and behaviour or thinking of many Cameroonians especially during periods of national elections in the country.

at various periods before and after the Cameroon became independent. For instance, in his study of “Sexuality and Women Revolt in Colonial Laimbwe Land, Cameroon”, Kah demonstrated the encapsulating significance of dress and other bodily insignias by Laimbwe women as a sign of their disapproval of either male or colonial overrule within the Laimbwe polity. The extract below clearly depicts this:

The wearing of torn male dresses, shirts, trousers, dry banana leaves, fresh creeping plants and the painting of faces with charcoal and wood ash were intended to send a message of liberation…one of the reason for the body adornment and the wearing of shirts and trousers were to prevent men from subjecting women to their authority during the period of the revolt. The wearing of different material on the body of the ehzeleghalu…symbolized disapproval of the actions of and their support of the colonial administration (Kah, 2014:114-115).

From the above quotation we can deduce the potency of Country cloth, not only as a dress, but also as an instrument to resist oppression by a superior authority in society. It was through the wearing of trousers, gowns and other bodily expressions that the Laimbwe women of the North West Region of Cameroon were able check the oppressive male domination and British colonial rule in their land.

In the same vein, traditional cultural regalia (in this sense Country Cloth) used by cultural associations (dance groups) such as Maloba, Ahon, Egbe, Manjong, and Male societies members and masquerades also amplifies cultural identities of ethnic groups through their aesthetics paraphernalia . It is within context to suggest that Cameroon harbours diverse ethnic principalities. In the different regions of the country, that is from the south west, east, west, north west, centre and the Far North one could easily distinguish the people not only by their language, but more so through the cultural regalia or attire that somebody wears. The attire therefore helps to describe the bearer of a particular cloth and this links him or her up to a particular ethnic group. Although one could wear a traditional cloth which is not of his ethnic background as it is commonly observed today.

In the ten administrative regions of Cameroon: the North West, Littoral, West, and South West, Far North Regions of Cameroon are in many ways different from one another in natural and socio-cultural characteristics. These differences are clearly pointed out in their dressing habits (CRTV, 7.30 pm TV News, 8th March 18, 2016). Reading through news papers and Television broad cast over the years it has became clear that journalist and observers quickly distinguished their guest based on the type of dress one wore. In honouring state protocol in Cameroon for example, the department in charge usually insist that members of government could either dress in traditional attire or formal outfit.

Formal outfit in this context simply denote western wear like suit. The different country cloths are clearly singled out during special occasions like National Day and ‘New Year’ wishes to the Head of State and other hierarchies in government. During such events, one is opportune to take stock of an avalanche of different country cloth which demonstrates the multi-ethnic nature of Cameroon. In many instances traditional regalia speak volumes about any group of people and this demonstrates resilience in culture history, not only as a source of history, but also because country cloth stands out as a mark of cultural identity (cultural patrimony or heritage) and unity among groups over time and space (Personal Observation by the author, 2015).

The Bakossi, Bafaw, Bassossi, Duala, Bakweri and Bakundu groups of the South West and littoral Regions of Cameroon are generally referred to as the Sawa1 people because of their ways of life, especially their country cloth or dress culture. In many other of ways, the Sawa group shares certain similar features (dress Style and language construct) which distinguishes them from the other groups of Cameroon.

Language, like dressing also constitutes tangible elements in the construction of a people’s identity and culture. “Country cloth” remains a valuable mark of cultural identity among several ethnic principalities in Cameroon and the world at large. In seeking to collaborate the influential role country cloths plays in society Ekinde (2014) has argued that cloth serve as identity pathfinder or simply put, they are like ‘flags’ of countries because they suggest to the seer or viewer many things such where person comes, his cultural affiliation, whether he loves Pan-African values of renaissance among others.

This paper documents the relevance of country clothes culture as pacesetter and bolster of a people’s cultural identity, while arguing the impact of globalization on the country clothes culture. The study uses the SawaSanja and the North West Gowns as befitting examples to illustrate the decline and resilience of the country clothes culture in Cameroon over time.

  1. Country Clothes: An Overview

Before the advent of colonialism in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa, country cloth had been used as a people’s way of life. Although, pre-colonial Cameroonians did not possess textile factories, at least in the modern sense of the word, they devised sophisticated techniques to weave dresses to meet their immediate needs. Cloth making was an important domain in the pre-colonial period with men and women specializing in different domains of weaving, knitting, embroidery and decoration (Rodney, 1972). Rodney has argued that dress making like other sectors in pre-colonial period were at their height of production prior to colonial rule.

With the arrival of European explorers, traders, missionaries and later the colonialists, the clothing industry began to experience some transformation due to technological advances brought by western civilization. This contention has been supported by Mokake in the following words:

Prior to the arrival of Europeans the indigenes had designed certain forms of dressing styles with the use of local material. These ranged from leaves, bark of trees, and animal skins and raffia-skirts…other forms of dress included ngwashi, a traditional dress worn exclusively men. Similarly, among the Bakweri women a small skirt-like dress called wanda was very trendy. The history of these early dresses, though unclear, points to the fact that different modes of dressing had evolved over a long period…other dressing patterns were in vogue other than those mentioned above. By the 19th C. trading had become characterized by exchange of European goods for African raw materials such as cotton, ivory, rubber and palm oil…generally before such exchange took place, it was not unusual for traders for traders to induce the local rulers with gifts such as mirrors and loincloth…(Mokake,2010:72-73)

The influence of the early Christian missionary evangelical societies had a twofold impact on Africans, that is, mentally and behaviourally. Initially, Africans who were converted into Christianity were distinguished from non-converts by dressing because the missionaries though preached equality of all men before God, Africans who were not converted to Christianity were regarded with despise. Consequently, Africans who had not been converted into Christianity had to modify their dressing habits which missionary sometimes considered as fetish because of their aesthetics and paraphernalia attached to cultural attires of many African dress cultures. The use of cultural attires on certain occasions among the Bakossi group of Cameroon almost caused serious conflicts between the Basel mission authorities and the Bakossi people of Cameroon during their evangelization crusades in the area (Balz, 1984) because country clothes were generally regarded as cult attires since a majority of the indigenes were acquainted to dressing in Sanja (men) and Kabba (women).

Trousers, gowns, shirts, other kinds of dressing were gradually introduced by the missionaries as way to ‘solve’ the problem of ‘scarcity’ of clothes among Africans at the time as a preventive measure to contain the spread of diseases like scabies and chicken pox (S.N. Ejedepang-koge, 1975). The introduction of trousers, gowns, shirts, coats and ties were a clear indication of the spread of westernization and globalization and this had an early impact on the cloth culture of the people in diverse forms.

This is noticeable among different cultural groups like the pigmies of the East Region of Cameroon and the Masais of East Africa whose culture has to an extent has remained resilient in this era of globalization. However, despite the resilience of country clothes of the Masais and pigmies population of Africa, it cannot be disputed that these have not undergone some significant modifications in terms of fashion and design.

The first impact of this was the acculturation of African attire into western styled dress code. Converts and followers of the missionaries were transformed mentally and materially and this set the pace for change in the country cloth culture. In the same vein, colonialism also fostered the country cloth culture at one point and in another discouraged it (Rodney, 1972). The British colonial authorities like their French counterparts ordered appointed local village representatives called chiefs under the colonial situation to choose special dresses that distinguish them from the ordinary subjects in society. Hence, in French Cameroon for example, all recognized chiefs were given uniforms and this culture which started under colonial rule has survived to this day in some regions of French Cameroon

This culture of wearing uniform or dresses designed by the colonial administration finds currency within the context of social history of Sierra- Leone. The nature of this cloth culture has been enunciated by Arthur when he pointed out the preponderance of country cloth in the historiography of Sierra Leonean pre-colonial and colonial history, arguing that country cloth served not only the royal lords but also the grassroots as a way of life of the local people (1976).Country cloth was produced by the local artists or designers to meet growing demand among rural and urban Sierra Leonean population.

Traditionally, several African communities had attached to so much importance country cloths in many parts of Africa in the past as it is still the case today in some parts of Africa including Cameroon. In some communities in Africa, particular cloths were used as a trading commodity and often exchanged for other goods (1976: 45).The significance that was attached to country cloth was not only a portrayal of an African identity, but was also considered as a measurement of wealth. The relevance of this has been aptly summarized by Aurthur in the following words:

.country cloth had a variety of uses besides serving as wearing apparel for both men and women. It was used as blanket, and was strong enough to make hammocks…the gift of white country cloth was a symbol of peace. Similarly, in 1892, the Governor received a present of a white country cloth from the Warmen of Gola, east of Mende country who were apparently proclaiming their peaceful intention. Country cloth was even a currency. In Wende country in the nineteenth century, a slave was valued at twelve country cloth…as late as 1906, the annual Report for Bandajuma-Railway District noted: “Native cloths are still in many parts a medium of exchange and fines and debts may be paid in country cloths…(1976:44-45)

As seen above, the importance of country cloth as a way of life among African has long been documented. In many parts of Africa besides serving as dress or apparel for covering one’s body, country cloth has served as a medium of exchange in trade for many years even after the introduction of currency.

The production of country cloth in many parts of Africa depended and still relies largely on ecological and climatic factors. These factors in themselves accentuated the demand and supply market forces of sellers and consumers in any given location. In certain parts of the African continent there are some crops that do well in some areas like cotton which is widely used in the dyeing of cloths. Some of these areas include Chad, Morroco, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Sierra Leone. These regions are among the highest producers of cotton in the world and this explains why country cloth or ‘African wears’ such as gowndorras are largely manufactured from these ecological zones. All these tend to emphasize the overall significance of country cloth as a priceless durable product among indigenous African industries.

In some parts of Cameroon, Sanja (loin) and shirt has long been the traditional regalia of most ethnic groups of the South West Region of Cameroon (Interview with Mola Ngomba, Buea, 2015). For example, a typical Bakossiman dresses in a Sanja and white shirt, a broom, calabash and a woven bag hung on the shoulder. However, this may differ sharply from one ethnic group to another. Culturally, the Bamileke of the West Region and the Mankon, Bafut and sisterly clans of the North West Region of Cameroon also share a similar traditional country cloth culture or traditional regalia which is different from the SawaSanja dress pattern in its entirety.

All these country clothes are significant in personifying the background identity of a people in various ways. The people from the North West and West Regions of Cameroon are known for their stripe red and decorated knitted gown worn both by men and women on ordinary and extra- ordinary occasions. The Hausas and Fulani groups of northern Cameroon also dress in country cloth called Aqwada, or gowndorra. The decorations made on the grassland country clothes of Cameroon goes a long way to elaborate the different strata of society of grassland societies which is sometimes only displayed by regulatory societies in the forest and coastal or Sawa cultures of Cameroon. The grassland regions of Cameroon country clothes have embodiments that depicts priest caste, royalty, wealth, messenger caste, and nobility class systems within society (see plate below).Historical evidence shows that country cloth culture is as old as the origin of most ethnic groups because dressing has been central to African civilization (Arthur, 1976; Basil, 1965).

However, Africa is currently at the crossroads of globalization where different cultures of the world converge and interact under the premise of globalization (Taiwo, 2010: 3-5). In Cameroon, traditional regalia are trapped in a world of cultural diffusion and integration. The country cloth culture is at the threshold of rapid technological and communication pathways (Jong, 2014). The internet and audiovisual media have provided comfortable avenues for the country cloth culture to be persevered, transformed, transmitted or valorised in different ways. Yet, the spread of Asian, American and European cloth or dress patterns and cultures have not gone unnoticed, however, scholarship on this aspect of Cameroon’s history is very minimal and scanty.

0.2. Conceptual Discussions and Explanations

This study focuses on country clothes of the Sawa and grassland peoples of Cameroon. We use the term ‘country clothes’ to denote specific African dress patterns worn by a given group of people. This paper focuses on the country clothes of the Sawa and grasslands peoples of Cameroon and tries to showcase how these attires have survived in spite of the influence of globalization. The concept of culture has come to the forefront of social sciences and social policy discourses to address issues of human diversity and change in society. Debates about the role of culture in our society today has sparked controversies over the resilience of cultural insignia and the influence of information super high way on cultural identities like cloth. In this perspective, culture is defined as societal customs and values of a people. Some authors define it as a people’s way of life over time (Cooper and Denner, 2009).

According to Jong (2014) we are presently at the crossroads where different cultures of the world inter-mix by the influence of globalization. In Cameroon, as elsewhere, country clothes have been strangled in a net of acculturation and are merely struggling to survive in the midst of different civilizations that have been enhanced by recent technological developments propelled mainly by the television, internet, and other mediums of social media such as facebook, whatsaps, youtube, skype and other forms.

Because culture is dynamic, it involves certain processes of social interaction through which cultural values are embedded and exposed through a symbiotic process of linguistic connotation, dress pattern, dance and other ways of life. Culture is affected by the forces of globalization, modernity, religion and other human and ecological dynamics. According to Shah (2006:393-408) globalization refers to the diverse technological, economic, social and cultural processes that have made it possible to imagine the world as a global space. Globalization like other human factors of change has affected the country cloth culture of most ethnic principalities of Cameroon and Africa in various ways. In this study, we describe country cloth as ‘traditional regalia’ or cultural attire of a group of people sharing a common history, language, and dressing habits.

This paper is situated within the social identity theory. According to social identity theorists members of all societies engage in social categorization and re-categorization (Cooper and Denner).These scholars argued that social identity is constructed in the context of dressing and language (John Berry, 1993; Marilynn Brewer, 1995). Triandis and his colleagues distinguished groups on the basis of individualist and collectivist values and distinguish individuals on the basis of allocentrism and idiocentrism (1988, 1996). Triandis has defined these as multidimensional “cultural syndromes”, seen in shared attitudes, beliefs, norms, dressing codes, and self definitions and values of members of each culture organized around a theme”. The social identity theory is best suited to explain the dynamics of cultural change and in this case the resilience and decline of country cloth culture among Cameroonians of the coastal and grassfields regions over time and space.

0.3. Appropriating the Country Clothes Culture in Cameroon

Culture is not static rather; culture denotes an amalgamation of the traditions and customs of a people. Researchers have argued that different facets of the culture of Cameroon are witnessed or exhibited in the language, literature, music, art, religion, cuisine and dress of the country. Since Cameroon has several ethnic groups with more 250 dialects or linguistic tongues. Cameroon clothing has long been influenced by western designs. Through Christianity and colonialism, clothing culture has evolved over time from traditional to modern forms or patterns.

Traditional clothing in Cameroon includes the Kabba, Sanja, Turbins, and other body dresses worn by both men and women of different ethnic backgrounds. For example, the kabba is mostly worn among the Duala, Bakweri, Bakossi, Bassossi and other groups in the South West and Littoral regions of Cameroon. Hence, Kabba unlike Turbins or veils worn by a vast majority ofthe Muslims, Bororo, and Bamoum populations of Cameroon; kabba can be described as the cultural attire of the female coastal Sawa segment of the population of Cameroon from a gender perspective.

In the grassland regions of Cameroon, the traditional attire among the people of this region is unique because of the people attach special traditional and cultural significance to the clothes they produce. These grassland country cloths are made of cotton after it has been dinned. Local weavers specialized in dressmaking are talented in designing embroidery fashion of various colours on the dresses. They dresses produced are of different categories. Some are specifically designed for the royal class, elites and king makers, while others are reserved for ordinary people in society.

Plate 1: Showing a Fon from the North West Region in His traditional regaliaSource: Profile International Magazine, Issue 23 September-October (2010), pp.10-15.

Plate 2: Chief Nfon V.E Mukete (Kumba),Fons Agwafor III and Chaffah in Country Cloth or Royal attires of Grassfields and Sawa

Source: Profile International Magazine, Issue 23 September-October (2010), pp.10-15.

The photos in plates 1 and 2 clearly illustrate the degree to which traditional regalia or country cloth magnifies a people’s cultural identity which is incarnated in traditional rulers of the land. The chief and fons shown in the photos exemplifies of the traditional value of country clothes cultures of both the Sawa and the grasslands traditional attires of Cameroon. Worthy to mention here is the fact that in spite of globalization, traditional rulers in many parts of Cameroon still stick to their country clothes as depicted in the photographs above. As we have mentioned earlier, country cloths are landmarks and amplifiers of cultural identity among several ethnic groups and cultural associations in Cameroon and elsewhere in the world.

There are general designs worn by nobles and commoners of society and sacred dress fashioned for royal and other high dignitaries of society. The amount per cloth ranges from 20,000 to 50,0000CFA. The sale of such fabric is regulated by traditional and public demands (Conversation with a North West dress maker in Buea, March 19, 2016). However, with globalization many people have been purchasing and wearing such grassland and west region traditional country cloths without resonance to traditional authority. Many North and West Regions country cloths have been preserved despite the influence of modernity and globalization.

One factor that helps to explain the resilience and significance of the country cloth culture in these parts of Cameroon is the element of culture and tradition of the people which particularly encourages the resilience of country clothes culture through annual cultural manifestations (Personal observation by the author during the Lelah festival in Bali, 2015). This is contrary to what obtains in the South West and Littoral regions of Cameroon where Sanja (loin) and white shirt is known as their traditional regalia is worn by men and women on daily basis as way of life (see plate 3 below).

Plate 3: A man dressed in the Sawa Country Cloth (Sanja and a white long Sleeve Shirt)

Source: Field photo by the author, December 2015.

Chiefs and other notables from the coastal littoral and forest Sawa regions of Cameroon wear Sanja and white shirt as their official attire in this part of Cameroon. But every other male could dress in loin cloth and shirt as their traditional regalia. The loin is manufactured by the CECAM factory in Douala and cut into sizeable pieces for sale. The Sanja is worn by men on ordinary occasion as dress and also on special periods like enthronement, feast, birth and other parties. It also helps differentiate a person from the South West and Littoral Regions of Cameroon from other Cameroonians in different regions.

A major difference between royal dressing pattern and ordinary dressing styles among the Sawa people is that the chiefs wear Sanja (loin) and white shirt with a special design that curves like a bold, a hat decorated or embroiled with cowries as a mark of royalty. Added to these insignia are royal broom, staff of authority, tiger skin and royal bag. These are special symbols that indicate royalty and traditional authority among the coastal peoples of Cameroon.

Generally, cotton is used to make most of the clothing in Cameroon. Cotton is grown in Garoua where it is processed and dyed into cloths. It is locally produced at the CECAM factory. Embroidery and basain are frequently used in Cameroon clothing. Basain is a cotton fabric held in a single color with a pattern woven on it. The embroidery inscribed on the clothes reflects various colours and styles from which the clothes are named.

For instance, the Afritude style of clothing (dress) is gaining currency in Cameroon’s modern dress culture in recent times. It is a more contemporary style of dress designs and is reflective of the modern life in Cameroon. A popular male out-fit designed in Afritude pattern is called ‘un boubou avec pantalon’. This type of clothing is basically fashioned with large pockets and is equally a free flowing out-fit preferred by males. Another type of AfritudeQuatrepoches’ is two pieces clothing and is worn mainly by males. This kind of dressing is very popular among ethnic groups of the centre region of Cameroon. It resembles the patterns of West African mud cloth designs worn by East and West African peoples (personal observations; See plate 2 below).

Plate 4: Simple Afritude female and male Designs

Source: Field photo by author, compiled from field work, January 2016.

0.4. Significance and Symbolism of CountryClothes, Culture, Dance and Language

In examining the resilience and decline of country clothes as instruments of cultural formation, diffusion and identity re-incantation, scholars have recognized psychological and anthropological factors like attitude, perception, colour, religion, experiences and globalization as determinants of identity and culture of any given group (Arthur, 1976; Kah, 2014; Ekinde, 2014).In Sri Lanka for instance, Wickramasinghe (2003) has discussed the importance of clothes within the Sri Lanka state after colonialism, arguing that strides were made to adopt a national cloth code as veritable way to cement and symbolize unity after independence.

In addition, clothes have provided a base for the explanation of many social phenomena in Africa and the world in general in different ways. Yenshu has argued that colours and clothes also influence human imagination, success or failure in any undertaken. This was the case of the football encounter between Cameroon and Egypt. In the encounter Cameroon lost to Egypt by 5 goals as against 2. Yenshu agreed with a vast proportion of the population that the choice of jersey that the Cameroon National Football team wore might have influenced their dismal performance, hence suggesting that certain dresses or colors could hinder or enhance progress of an individual or group (Conversion, with Yenshu, 2014, Buea).Let us consider each of these as factors in defining the identity of a people through dress, dance, and language.


It is a common belief that clothing is not only a necessity but that clothing represents one’s culture and belief system. Time also serves as a constant factor in which the fashioning of clothes evolves progressively from traditional to modern patterns. In fact, most African dresses have evolved with changing times (missionary, education, migration, climatic changes, globalization and modernity).

In colonial Algeria, for example, the wearing of turbins by Muslims was forbidden by the French colonial administration and this contributed to the outbreak of the Algerian revolution of 1830s (F.K Buah, et al, 1975).In Cameroon, the political elites of the 1950s and 1960s often dressed in their country clothes on both official and unofficial ceremonies as way of identifying with their kin of the same region. In 1959 for instance, Foncha, Muna and Jua, used country clothes at the peak of political rallies in Southern Cameroons in 1959 elections and plebiscites campaign to drum up grassroots and urban support for their political manifesto at different times (Photo excepts these politicians in the National Archives Buea; See also Ngoh, 1996 ).

The wearing of country clothes therefore became an indispensable politico-cultural weapon used by North West politicians to win minds of supporters across ethnic boundaries as a winning strategy for the grassland politicians before and after the independence of Cameroon (author’s view and observation). When a politician dressed in North West or west region’s gowns he or she was easily identified as one of theirs. With such thinking, it was possible to play on the listening and hearing psychology of the people. For example fons and other traditional dignitaries of the North West fondoms of Cameroon were conspicuously identified when president Paul Biya of Cameroon visited their region. See plates below.

On the contrary, a very narrow line could be drawn between North West political leaders and coastal politicians. This was because whereas North West politicians were dressed in robes or gowns patterned traditionally, southern or coastal Sawa people are identified in Sanjas for men and Kabba for women as a mark of cultural identity. This section therefore demonstrates the influence of clothes in the community as an instrument of social construction and nation-building in various ways. The Sanja and grassfields gowns are today produced and sold everywhere in different parts of Cameroon and abroad. Although the clothes produced carry great cultural significance they nonetheless, inculcate in Cameroonians a sense of multi-culturalism and the spirit of living together and this has enhanced national integration at different areas.


Dance is the art form in which human movement becomes the medium for sensing, understanding and communicating ideas, feelings and experiences. Dance provides a way of learning —one that develops communication abilities, problem solving techniques and creative and critical thinking skills along with aesthetic abilities. A typical example of African dances includes the Chitonga dance in Mozambique and Isukuti dance in Kenya (Adebayo, 2014).

In Cameroon, dances are signposts of cultural identity and often depict certain traits of the culture history of the people through poetic songs and drum bits. The most influential mark of dance is the attire of the various actors and actresses (masquerades). Each dance has its cultural insignia which distinguishes it from the other dances. There are several dances in Cameroon and they include amongst others the Mal dance, Ahon, Obasinjom dance, the Ngondo, and the Manjong (Author’s personal view). In all these dances, language, culture and traditional regalia (dress) varies according to region and ethnic grouping. The importance of dance in social history lies in its fervent contribution in identity making and preservation of a people’s heritage over time as seen below.

Plate 5: The Procession of Behon and Bepie Masquerade of Bakossi

Source: Video Tape of the 2006 Coronation of Chief Ntoko in Nyassosso

0.4.3. Language

Language is described as the most complex form of communication used by individuals or groups in a community. Language facilitates communication between peoples and enhances the survival of material and cultural heritage within which clothes and dances plays an indispensable role as identity pathfinders (Chiatoh, 2008). Nfi (2014: 121-129) in his study of “the Anglophone cultural identity in Cameroon” , argues that culture is the key of a people’s identity construct through patterned behaviors which are supported by given social, physical and cultural values like language, way of dressing, talking and responding to social and political events.

By way of analysis, I argue that culture is exhibited in language stock and language is housed in clothes to represent an outwards conceptualization of who we are. Although this assumption, may fall short of theoretical validation, it rekindle the fact that language, dance, and clothes can sufficiently provide evidence to examine any given group in a delimited geographical space such as the Sawa and Grasslanders. In addition to its strictly communicative uses such as signifying group identity, social stratification as well as social grooming and entertainment; Mokake (2009:74-75) has further argued that besides the communication abilities of dress (Kabba) there were marked differences between the dresses worn by early Christians and the ‘pagan’ women which Mokake dubbed as mukanja women.

According to Mokake, a critical observer could depict in the wearer his or her language (in this context mother tongue), status, belief and family background. In Cameroon, there are diverse ethnic languages (more than 250) which find expression in culture and music. Although people are easily known through their attire, language makes it easier to define whom we are and where we are coming from because it serves as a bridge between an actor and his audience in any given circumstance. Although, clothes, dance, and language have influenced civilizations and society from time immemorial, the impact of westernization and globalization have stifled their viability over time and space. From a close scrutiny, one can conclude that country clothes are at the crossroads of globalization and modernity which have continued to redefine, modify, and recreate country clothes culture in Cameroon in particular and Africa in general.


In this section, we focus on the ongoing debate about the decline of Country Clothes culture in Cameroon. We shall focus on the influence of globalization and modernity as agents of change. While there are numerous benefits or significances attached to country clothes from different perspective. Yet, despite its resilience since the colonial era, country clothes in Cameroon as elsewhere in the world are trapped in a world of continuous competition, innovation, modernity and imitation. These changes have influenced modifications in the cloth making industries of many communities in Cameroon in recent years. We argue that the change is largely enhanced globalization.

0.5.1. Globalization, Modernity and Decline of Country Clothes/Dress Culture

Globalization and modernity are controversial concepts in social sciences and are sometimes used interchangeably because of their perceived influence of change they bring in society through contacts. Scholars have agreed that globalization is one of the most sensitive and controversial subjects in development studies and contemporary African social and political discourses (Taiwo, 2010; Tove, 2008; Shah, 2006). This is partly because of its multifaceted manifestations which transcend political, economic, technological and cultural frontiers of knowledge.

0.5.2. Globalization and Country Clothes

In this paper, I argue that globalization is a process whereby change and modernization are propelled by innovations in science and technology. This is championed by the telephone, internet and the television as well as other forms of cultural and technological interconnections through which cultures and human behavior or society in general is largely influenced by changes occurring from one part of the country to another. In this sense, the paper shows how country clothes of the Sawa and grasslands areas of Cameroon have been preserved, modified, and fashioned in this era of globalization.

The impact of globalization and cross-cultural collaboration within and without the continent has ushered in changes which are discernible in cloth pattern of African societies in recent years. This change is clearly observed in the new hybrids of country clothes that have recently flooded domestic markets in shops and streets in Cameroon today. They are fashioned or styled and nick-named as Afritude. We consider this brand of dresses as offshoots of the international global cultural assimilation process of Asia, Europe, America, and the Arab world.

The new dresses are a mixture of the foreign and Cameroonian designs. This really shows that cultures are indeed at the centre of international development and yet at the crossroads of modernity or contemporary times with lots of mutations and adaptations. For instance, Africans are becoming very accustomed to western-made clothes which before the establishment of missionary and colonial enterprise in Africa were largely unknown. European missionaries introduced dresses like jeans, velos, suits and other types of dresses were foreign to Africans in many ways.

The acquisition and utilization of these European designed clothes have survived the post colonial state in Africa and this has remained one of the Pandora boxes of African cultural and developmental challenge and dilemma over the decades. These cultural entanglements imposed by the global world order are certainly not unconnected to the idiosyncratic nature of the “new” African generation caught between the process of indigenization of African cloth culture and western civilization.

One important feature of cloth culture is its ability to communicate or reveal the identity of its bearer in terms of his or her origin. This means that clothes are entities and amplifiers of human dignity and cultural values in different ways. However, Africans in this century remain the net consumers of globalization because the west through its superior technologies in cloth industry has continued to determine the pace of exchange in the international economy where culture meets. The breaking down of international and inter-continental artificial boundaries has impacted negatively on traditional African cloth manufacturing enterprises over the years.

Through international trade, country cloths have encountered renewed competition with western designed dresses. This has culminated in dumping of excess and old-fashioned European clothes and replaced African clothes hence killing the indigenous African clothes industries. In this light therefore, many infant and private individual cloth designers in Africa are gradually becoming discouraged in spite of current high demands for Afritude dresses from Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa. These dresses have different names depending on where they are made and the material used in designing them, this makes the study of African clothes culture specifically relevant and this stands out as a call for the valorisation of this aspect of social history dealing with African regalia as way of rekindling its lost or vanished glories in the history of fine arts.

Psychological Imaginations and the wearing of Country Clothes

In examining clothes as identity bolster we argue that human imagination or his psycho-motor determines one action and this is often represented in what we reproduce as brain work. This is also true with any human endeavour directed at meeting expected demands like clothing, eating, reproducing, speaking and walking. These human perception have influenced human development especially arts and craft in various ways through ingenuity or creativity. It is often said that necessity is the “mother of invention” this means that without proper creativity we cannot achieve our inner minds.

Globalization of culture through technological advances has impacted on the psychology of weavers of country cloths and consumers of these products over time. This is through television; (music, films and the internet) were different cultures meet and are diffused through globalization. The consumption and spread of the cloth making industry has long been distorted under colonialism and has over the years dwindled through multiple forms of globalization. The contemporary people are reluctant to buy or use old-fashioned dresses because of the negative perception they have about traditional regalia as spiritual or devilish attire.

Some consumers of country cloths have a negative perception about them for different social and psychological reasons and this has contributed negatively to the decline of country cloth culture in Cameroon. The negative perception held by modern African youths is coupled with the complex posterity or dexterity of globalization which imposes on us values which are alien to us and which we are still grappling with today. These alien clothes have amounted to what society generally describes as indecent dressing patterns. These kinds of dresses exposes technical or sensitive body parts of humans to the outside on face book and other social media.


In this study, I have attempted to argue that traditional regalia remain an indispensable pathfinder of African identity in various ways. The study made panoramic review of the Sawa and grassland traditional attires of the Republic of Cameron and Africa in general. From the findings of the study, it can be deduced that country clothes play significant cultural and political roles in society, despite the impact of modernity and globalization which the study argues places country clothes at the crossroad of western civilization over the years.

The paper has pointed out that country cloths are of different kinds and these reflect class structure and societal organization. It in this connection that I found out in the study that as a mark of nobility and royalty in Cameroon’s Northwest region fons wore the cumbersome robes called tohu which are typically black with brightly coloured embroidery inscribed on the dresses to differentiate the subjects from the nobility and royal class within the North West society. This pattern of dressing and design could be replicated in other parts of Cameroon as regard country clothes culture within the framework of identity making. The study concludes that there is a dire need to valorize this aspect of social history as way to encouraging the preservation and sustainability of the country clothes culture and industry in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa, challenges notwithstanding.


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1The term Sawa from the early beginnings was limited to the immediate coastal clans of Cameroon and specifically the Dualas, Bakweri, Mungo, Bakoko, Balong of Mbango and Clans around the coastal mangroves areas of Cameroon. These clans historically share a lot of similarities in their cultural and linguistic identity. However, due to either connection established during the slave trade era or by way of acculturation, the concept of Sawa today engulfs other ethnic groups of Cameroon and specifically the Bakossi, Mbo, Bayang, Balong and Bafaw groups because of their traditional regalia, language and beliefs systems which are very similar. The Bafaw, Bakossi and the rest of the forest groups of the south west region of Cameroon can also be described as the forest Sawa people of Cameroon because they are found in the forest region of Cameroon.

1Ngome Elvis Nkome, holds an MA Degree from the University of Buea, Cameroon. He is currently working on his PhD thesis at the University of Yaounde 1, Cameroon. This paper was presented at the international conference organized by the Humbolt-DAW and the Faculty of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences, University of Yaounde 1, April 2016. This has been considered for publication.