restricted access The National Archives of Cameroon in Yaoundé and Buea
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The National Archives of Cameroon in Yaoundé and Buea


Even in learned journals on African and imperial history, few references have been made to the records contained in the archives in Cameroon, West Africa.1 Kamerun was a German colony (Schutzgebiet) from 1884-1916/19.2 In 1911, the Germans took over New Cameroon (Neu Kamerun), 295,000 km2 of land of French Equatorial Africa, ceded during the second Morocco Crisis. After World War I this transaction was reversed and the German colony was separated into French and British League of Nations Mandates in 1919. These mandates were transformed into United Nations Trusteeships in 1946. Finally, French Cameroun became independent in 1960, and after a plebiscite in 1961, one part of the British Cameroons joined Nigeria and the other part reunited with the formerly French part, now the independent Federal Republic of Cameroon.

Due to the involvement of three colonial powers in Cameroon, the national archives in Yaoundé and Buea are an excellent source for the colonial history of West Africa, allowing for a simultaneous analysis of German, French, and British files. Whereas the colonial files in the European [End Page 453] archives mainly give us the point of view of high politics, the archives in Cameroon offer a different dimension. The files reveal the intricacies of the colonial system on the ground, and the problems with which the colonial administrator had to cope in the bush: How did one introduce European legal tender in a territory never touched by Europeans before? How did one cope with the colonial rivals, who were couching at the frontiers to take over the territory? How did one attempt to win peoples' hearts and minds day in and day out? What happened when the new colonial power took over a territory with an already developed administration from another colonial power, as it took place in Cameroon in 1911 and 1916/19? The national archives of Cameroon contain potential answers to these questions. Hence this paper will focus on the sources that are available for the colonial period in these archives.


Due to its history, the country has two official languages, French and English, and is still split into a greater Francophone and a smaller Anglophone part. Hence the national archives are also split into two institutions, the Archives Nationales du Cameroun in the French-speaking capital Yaoundé and their dependence, the National Archives of Cameroon in the English-speaking Buea.

In Yaoundé, one can find the records of the German and the French colonial periods. These give an account of the European colonial societies in Cameroon; their identities, hopes, and anxieties; and the treatment of the European minorities of each other, including, for instance, the "Race to Lake Chad" and the frontier treaties between the Germans, the French, and the British. The files also reveal to us the Europeans' approach to colonial rule on the spot and their understanding of the treatment of the Cameroonians. Reading between the lines, the latter's response and resistance to European domination can also be analyzed; petitions to the respective colonial governments also give a direct insight into African agency. The German sources, class-marked FA, which stands for Fonds Allemands, provide an insight into, e.g., life in the various administrative districts, the legal framework of German Cameroon (court files), and colonial society from the early beginnings of German colonial rule in the mid 1880s until a fully-fledged administration apparatus was in place just before World War I.

The records contain the correspondence of the central Imperial Government (Kaiserliches Gouvernement) in Douala and, after 1901, in Buea with the government of the Reich in Berlin, as well as the correspondence of the government in Cameroon with the officials (civil servants and military officers) [End Page 454] of the administration and military districts (Verwaltungs- and Militärbezirke) in the hinterland. And of course the Christian missions, four of them, also entertained lively exchanges with the colonial administration. The German files in Yaoundé even include documents of the German diaspora that returned to Cameroon after Germany's accession to the League of Nations in 1926.3 These files are also valuable source for...