King Njoya of Bamum's Private Army 1904-09

Figure 1
Royal Bodyguard
Bamum 1906

Figure 2
Cavalryman of the Guard
Bamum 1907

Figure 3
King Njoya
Bamum c.1908

Figure 4
Bamum c.1908

Figure 5
Foot Soldier
Duala 1908

Uniforms of King Njoya of Bamum's Private Army 1904-09
The tribal kingdom of Bamum, in the Western grasslands of Cameroon, was flourishing when the Germans first came into contact with it in 1902. Unlike many other tribes, the Bamum under King Njoya initially embraced German colonialism. To impress both the Germans and neighbouring tribes they adopted German style uniforms and drill patterns from 1904 onwards. Some weapons, uniforms and stocks of cloth were received as gifts or trade from the Germans but many of the uniforms were made by Bamum's own skilled tailors in imitation of pictures they had seen. The myriad varieties of uniform created by the craftsmen also included aspects of traditional Bamum artwork and embroidery. At first the Germans were flattered by the attention to detail and also found the Bamum useful allies in the 1906 campaign against the Nso' people, to which Njoya supplied 100 soldiers and personally led them on campaign. Later the Germans felt threatened by the independent native army and ordered them to disarm in August 1908. King Njoya then rejected all German customs and neither he nor men wore uniform after 1909.

NB. These illustrations are all based on black and white photos and simple descriptions of the uniforms. Some colours have necessarily been added based on the best assumptions available.

The Illustrations

Figure 1 is based on a photograph of a Bamum Royal Bodyguard in parade dress. King Njoya was given a gift of at least a dozen elaborate eagle helmets, cuirasses and swords from the Prussian Garde du Corps  Cuirassier Regiment (see right) by their colonel in chief, Kaiser Wilhelm II. These items were much prized by the Bamum and were worn by Njoya and his bodyguard on parades.

This guardsman wears one of the Garde du Corps helmets (see right). The Garde du Corps were unique in that they replaced the helmet spike on parade with a metal Prussian eagle. The eagles of the Bamum guard in photographs appear to have been damaged and some (like this one) are bent slightly backwards or sideways. The cuirass is again the Prussian cavalry model.

The tunic is Bamum-made based on the style of the Prussian cuirassiers with the striped front but without Swedish style cuffs. In the original photograph the tunic appears to be of a dark shade. It may possibly have been made from red velvet, of which the Bamum had received some quantity from trade. Bamum guardsmen were also described by the German missionary, Martin Göhring in 1906 as wearing uniforms of red velvet. The trousers are also Bamum made and appear white in the original photograph.

This guardsman is barefooted as were many of the Bamum army. He is armed with a German Cavalry sword, the scabbard of which is incorrectly fixed to the retaining belt of the cuirass.

Figure 2 is based on a photograph of a Bamum Cavalryman of the Guard. Their uniforms were based on photographs King Njoya had seen in the magazine 'Die Woche' of the Prussian Leib-Hussars (1st and 2nd Imperial German Life-Hussar Regiments). At first glance the uniforms appear to be genuine German hussar tunics (see right) but closer examination shows the tunic length is too long, the braiding is more elaborate, larger and slightly sloped and uneven. The braiding itself while based on the German (or originally Hungarian design) incorporates aspects of Bamum artwork especially in the additional sleeve embroidery and may have had glass  beadwork incorporated into it. The tunic may also have had Bamum style embroidery on the back. The shoulder straps are of coloured beadwork. This cavalryman has been awarded a Bamum medal, worn in imitation of German medal ribbons on the left breast. These Bamum medals were larger than German medal ribbons, of three coloured stripes (the darker in the centre) and more rigid than normal medal ribbons.

The imitation hussar busby is decorated with a looping pattern of Bamum design (which is repeated on the sides and possibly rear) and appears to be beaded as are the badges and insignia on it. The white plume was based on the German design. Although German hussars wore riding boots, the Bamum cavalry had only short ankle boots. German boots were highly prized but the Bamum tailors also made leather boots for Njoya and his army. This cavalryman is armed with a sabre, probably of German origin.

Figure 3 is based on a photograph of King Njoya of Bamum in 1914. King Njoya owned several uniforms, including a simple khaki tunic with white tropical helmet, peaked field cap, Garde du Corps uniform and helmet and even had a crown made in imitation of the German imperial crown. All these items were often worn with a mixture of the richest Bamum traditional clothing and jewellery. On other occasions he often wore simple Islamic white robes, as worn by the Hausa (see right). After 1909 and the disarmament of his army he (and his cavalry) always wore Hausa robes.

In the photo upon which this illustration was based, King Njoya wears the an officers uniform of the Prussian Garde du Corps Cuirassier Regiment. The tunic was white (or cream-white) with a red collar and red Swedish style cuffs with white metal buttons, both with silver double Litzen. The front of cuirassier tunic had concealed buttons and a red false front with silver lace. Over the tunic he wears a richly embroidered Bamum-made waistcoat. It is reasonable to assume the plant-like patterns may have been in plant-like coloured silk such as green, brown and red and decorated with coloured glass beadwork. On the waistcoat Njoya wears two Bamum medals, one hanging on a ribbon is clearly based on German designs. He wears a coloured sash at the waist and what may be a white leather cross belt from the Garde du Corps. Njoya also often wore a coloured sash cross the shoulder decorated with leopard's claws as a sign of his royalty. His hat is a Bamum design, richly decorated with beads and jewellery all of Bamum design and topped with a black plume. Although the original photo only shows Njoya from the waist up, I have illustrated him wearing leather riding boots with stirrups as he is seen in several other photos. These were probably of German origin.

King Njoya, Fon of Bamum (18??-1933, reigned 1886-1931) was in every sense of the term an enlightened despot. He inherited the kingdom from his father Nsangu, in 1886 and immediately encouraged arts and building projects. He had an ornate brickwork palace built in Foumban based on German designs (see above right). Perhaps his greatest achievement was to invent and introduce the first written alphabet for the Bamum language. He was keen to learn from neighbouring cultures and assimilate them into Bamum culture. He converted to Islam which he learned from Hausa contact in the North, although he blended it with the old tribal ancestor worship. He welcomed German and Swiss missionaries and regularly attended their meetings although never became a Christian. When the French took over most of Cameroon in 1916, they considered Njoya a trouble maker. In 1931 he was arrested, deposed and exiled for life by the French. The monarchy was later restored in Bamum and Njoya's descendants still reign to this day, albeit with no political power any longer.

Prussian Garde du Corps Helmet

Musée Royale de l'Armée Collection

Njoya's Helmets Today
(See Photos from Foumban Page)
Photo copyright Arne Schöfert

Genuine German Hussar Tunics

Musée Royale de l'Armée Collection

A Monument to Njoya in Foumban wearing Islamic Hausa robes
(See Photos from Foumban Page)
Photo copyright Arne Schöfert

Njoya's Palace in Foumban
(See Photos from Foumban Page)
Photo copyright Arne Schöfert

Figure 4 is based on a photograph of a Bamum Officer. He wears a surprising amount of German uniform although Bamum equivalents of most of these items were also made. The hat appears to be a genuine Schutztruppe Südwester with Cameroon red edging and hatband. Not fully visible in the original photo is the badge holding up the right side of the brim. It may have been the original German black/white/red cockade or a Bamum design. Bamum-made Südwesters were less rigid in shape.

The tunic is a genuine German white tropical tunic as issued to the Schutztruppe, or possibly the Cameroon police as this tunic has no Schutztruppe blue piping. Bamum-made white officers' tunics were longer with no pockets, and some had elaborate embroidery on them. Note the medal similar to that worn by the "hussar" in figure 2. Again it is of three striped cloth, this time worn tucked into the front of the tunic between the second and third buttons. The trousers are Bamum made and of dark material. The puttees may have been early Schutztruppe issue in dark blue/grey, or have been Bamum-made in a variety of colours. The original photos shows them to be darker than the khaki uniforms worn by others around them.

Figure 5 is based on a photograph of a Bamum Foot Soldier taken during King Njoya's visit to Governor Seitz in Duala, the capital of Cameroon, in January 1908. He wears a Bamum made khaki uniform closely modelled on that of the Schutztruppe. Note however that the tunic is longer and has six buttons down the front (as opposed to the four or five worn by Cameroon native Schutztruppe). The shoulder straps are darker than the tunic (possibly red) with a beaded trimming. NCOs wore chevrons similar to those of the Schutztruppe but again made from coloured beads. The trousers are matching and tucked into ankle boots with socks. Many Bamum infantry were also barefoot.

The hat is a fez or tarbush in khaki with Bamum emblems decorated on the front, sides and probably back. The emblem of Bamum was a two headed python, with a head at both ends of its body. On top of the fez is a curious point with a coloured top. Other photos of Njoya's foot soldiers show them wearing similar khaki uniforms with various headgear. A fez or tarbush similar to the one shown here is sometimes seen with a dark band of braid sloping diagonally across it. A tall grenadier style mitre cap (possibly copied from photographs of the Prussian Guard Grenadier Regiments on parade) is worn by some soldiers in khaki with similar decorations to the fez in this illustration. In other photos Bamum soldiers wear peaked field caps with light coloured hatbands or Bamum-made slouch hats similar to the Schutztruppe Südwester.

Bamum foot soldiers were armed with a variety of rifles, mostly obsolete percussion cap or flintlocks with only a few dozen breech loading rifles between them.

Period Photographs

These photographs originally appeared in "African Crossroads: Intersections between History and Anthropology in Cameroon" (see Book Reviews Page) and more recently have been seen on WikiCommons.

Three photographs of King Njoya in Uniform.

The photograph above left shows King Njoya c1907. He wears a locally made uniform in imitation of European military fashions with a German heavy cavalry sword.
Photograph by Martin Göhring.

The photograph above centre shows King Njoya in his German dress uniform c1907. He wears a genuine Prussian Cuirassier helmet and tunic with locally made decorations.
Photographer unknown.

The photograph above right shows King Njoya outside the Old Palace of Foumban, Bamum c1906. He wears a uniform closely based on the Schutztruppe 1896 khaki tropical uniform with officers shoulder boards and a tropical helmet. It most likely locally made by the Bamum tailors but may include genuine Schutztruppe items received as gifts.
Photograph delivered by Friedrich Lutz, May 1906.

King Njoya receiving an oil painting of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Bamum in 1906. The gift was in return for his support in the German campaign against the Nso. Njoya wears traditional Cameroon robes while his bodyguard wear Prussian Cuirassier helmets and cuirasses. The two Schutztruppe officers wear the white 1896 uniform with tropical helmets.
Photograph by Martin Göhring or Lieutenant Edler von der Putlitz.

The old Prussian Guard du Corps helmets and cuirasses once worn by King Njoya's bodyguard, now gathering dust in a storage room in the palace museum. Note the Prussian eagle that can still be made out on the helmet on the far right.
© Arne Schöfert

King Njoya (far left) and his bodyguard soldiers in Bamum c1906. Their pose is in imitation of a picture of Crown Prince Wilhelm of Germany and his comrades in the Prussian Leib-Husaren. Njoya and his bodyguard wear hussar uniforms locally made to match those of the Prussian Hussars.
Photo by Rudolf Oldenburg

King Njoya and his bodyguard c1906/07. In this photograph their uniforms show less European influence and more creativity from the tailors of Bamum.
Photograph by Adolf Diehl.

King Njoya with some of his soldiers in Duala, January 1908. In this photograph the European and directly the Schutztruppe influence is clear (in fact a Schutztruppe African soldier has wandered into the picture, second from right and is almost indistinguishable from Njoya's men). By parading his men in such a similar fashion to the Schutztruppe through the streets of the capital of German Cameroon, King Njoya appeared as real threat to future peace in the colony. It was this appearance that caused the German authorities to demand that Njoya disarm his troops in August 1908.
Photographer unknown.


Interesting Links about King Njoya and Bamum

Basel Mission Picture Archive- featuring many photos of King Njoya and his entourage.
Bead Bugle - African Bead History- Featuring an article on Bamum beadwork.
African Fonts- Bamum Script - King Njoya's own invented alphabet.

Another excellent source of information for this page was "African Crossroads- Intersections between History and Anthropology in Cameroon" edited by Ian Fowler and David Zeitlyn. See Book Reviews Page.

NB If searching the web please note that names such as Njoya, Bamum and Foumban (the capital of Bamum) are sometimes spelled in several different ways (eg. Njoya, Nyoja, Joja, and also Sultan Ibrahim Njoya after his conversion to Islam; Bamum, Bamoum, and Bamoun; Foumban, Fumban and Fomban). This is partly to do with the different eras of German and French colonialism and hence different translations of African words. King Njoya himself of course, would have written them in his own alphabet.



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