My favourite place: Yaoundé, Cameroon

In the Christmas 2017 issue of BBC History Magazine, Olivette Otele selects Yaoundé, Cameroon, as her favourite place. History Extra caught up with her to find out more...

A view over Yaoundé © Getty

When did you last travel to Yaoundé and why were you there?

I was last in Yaoundé a couple of years ago. I went there to see my extended family. I used to go there twice a year since I was a child until my grandmother passed away. Going back after that was an emotional moment but the luxuriant vegetation, the proximity of the rainforest and the beautiful seaside kept calling me. I had to go back.

 

Why do you love the city?

It is a boisterous, noisy and warm, a city where on the one hand new technologies have allowed the population to engage with global matters and to stay in touch with families abroad, while on the other, Cameroonians have kept ancestral ways of life such as hospitality and traditional fetes alive.

 

What top 3 sights would you recommend people visit there, and why?

Le Marché Central – one of Yaoundé’s largest markets – which is located in a strange concrete building. Visitors are plunged into what looks like organised chaos among established and temporary vendors. The place is a great way to experience Cameroonian spirit.

My second recommendation is Mefou National Park. It is a wonderful way to see and understand why primates need to be protected. The beauty of its setting presents the visitor with a rich an array of equatorial vegetation.

The third site is the Musée d’art Camerounais. It holds a great number of objects that tell the story of the country through sculptures, masks, pottery, etc. The museum sits in a Benedictine monastery on top of one of the city’s seven hills.

 

During what period of its history would you most wanted to have visited Yaoundé and why?

For me, Yaoundé’s most interesting and safe period would be the last 30 years. The country has a long history of colonisation, resistance, silenced war of decolonisation. In addition, it is really in recent decades that women had had the opportunity to play more public and stronger political roles.

 

Where else in the world would you most like to visit and why?

I would love to visit Vietnam. I have, like many people born in Africa, always admired Vietnam’s history of resistance to foreign occupation. I have seen outstanding images of the landscape and Vietnam’s biodiversity in films and documentaries. I must admit that the film, The Scent of the Green Papaya, also enthralled me in 1994.

 

Olivette Otele is reader in history at Bath Spa University. Her forthcoming book, Afro-Europeans: A Short History, will be published in 2018 by Hurst

You can read more about Olivette's adventures in Yaoundé in the Christmas issue of BBC History Magazine – on sale now
 

 

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