Captain J W H D Tyndall wrote this letter to Sultan Njoya of Bamum (pronounced Pa-mom) to thank him for his hospitality towards his military unit, during the Cameroon campaign of the First World War. It provides insights into the rule of King Njoya and European colonisation of the region.

Cameroon and the First World War

In the late 19th century, Germany colonised kingdoms and areas within (present-day) Cameroon, as well as parts of (present-day) Nigeria, Chad, Gabon, the Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic, forming the colony of German Kamerun. Their rule was implemented through aggression and violence, typically removing all powers from local leaders. However, the Kingdom of Bamum negotiated a form of indirect rule, whereby Njoya retained some autonomy.[1]

During the First World War, European belligerents instigated military campaigns that drew large regions and thousands of people across Africa into the conflict. In German Kamerun, British, French and Belgian colonial forces invaded the colony in an attempt to gain control of the region. What followed was an 18-month campaign (August 1914–March 1916), resulting in German surrender and a partition of the colony between Britain and France.

The British forces consisted of the West African Frontier Force, with detachments of the Indian Expeditionary Force arriving to provide additional support in November 1915. Tyndall was the Captain of the 5th Light Infantry detachment. In the final months of the Cameroon campaign, German forces began to evacuate and retreat from previous strongholds – including the capital of Bamum, Fumban. In fear for his life, Njoya approached the advancing British forces in December 1915, offering hospitality and tactical advice in exchange for protection.[2]

In this letter dated 30 January 1916, Tyndall thanks Njoya for ‘the supply of rations and assistance in all matters relating to the comfort and well being’ received by the men of the 5th Light Infantry of the Indian Army.

The letter also highlights the continuation of colonial rule in Cameroon. Tyndall wishes Njoya ‘a long life to enjoy the benefits and security of British rule in this country’. After Bamum was placed under French colonial rule, however, Njoya was forced into exile. Present-day Cameroon gained independence in 1960–61.

The Endangered Archives Programme

This item was digitised as part of the Bamum script and archives project (EAP051), supported by the Endangered Archives Programme.


[1] Kenneth J Orosz, ‘Njoya’s Alphabet: The Sultan of Bamum and French Colonial Reactions to the “A ka u ku” Script’, Cahairs d’Etudes Africaines, (55:217, 2015), pp.45-66

[2] F J Moberly, History of the Great War: Military Operations: Togoland and the Cameroons, 1914-1916, (1931), pp.367-371