As we drove through the lunar landscape of the Rhumsiki hills, in the Extreme North Province of Cameroon, the lone woman wrapped in bright red and yellow Kanga cloth stood out against the hazy horizon, which blurred the dusty earth and the clear blue sky.

The valley below was cast in shadow as the sun rose across the vast plane and at 7 am in the morning, the temperature was already rising. The car’s air-con blew the faint smell of dust through the grill as we drove slowly over the rocky track that wound its way out of the village from which the area takes its name. We were heading towards the market town of Tourou, on the Nigerian border, where once a week the local market drew tribes from the surrounding hills and valleys to trade goods and gossip over a bowl of local beer and on arrival, it seemed an oasis of colour, after the barren landscape of the mountains.

Sudanese, Nigerian, Chad, Cameroonian – people from across the Sahel coming together, bartering, catching up with friends, checking out the competition. Many of the older women had long, fine scars on their faces, others faded tattoos on their cheeks and brow – both purely decorative (unlike the Ba’Aka tribes in the south who scar their faces to mark significant moments during their life).

The most striking sight, however, where the calabashes worn on the heads of female members of the Kridi community to denote their marital status. Hollowed out vegetables, dried then decorated, before being rubbed with oil until they shone like varnished wood. They walked unselfconsciously past Fulani tribal elders, themselves in heavy, flowing robes and colourful skull caps, complete with mirrored shades. The goods on sale were equally mesmerizing – dazzling rolls of cloth, ripe avocado, fat, juicy pamplemousse and pots of beer, the spouts stuffed with leaves to keep out the dust and flies.

Along with rice, meats of all descriptions were being sliced and cut, with nothing going to waste. Many of the traders were across the border from Nigeria and it was their money being used rather than Central African Francs (borders are far more porous in such remote areas). There was even a money changer here for those who did not have the correct currency – who took his cut of course. In many ways, the market represented Cameroon itself, vibrant, colourful, chaotic with its own spirit and sense of self but above all, just such great fun.

Find out more about our ‘Prides and Tribes’ group tour

Thanks for reading

Chris Johnston

Author: Chris Johnston