Bafut Palace has invited Better World volunteers CM Justice, Elke Cole and Luke White with guidance of Joshua Konkankoh to document the rare event of roof restoration of the central sacred building. Both an honor and a challenge, this is an eye opening time for those involved.
Our goal with this effort is to create video and images to document the process of the work as well as interviewing old and new builders along the way. In our conversations we are learning about the degree of importance this building has to the people of Bafut. They call it the “heart”- this is where the ancestral spirits reside.
An intervention of this scale is prepared by much ceremony and ritual that is conducted by the secret societies of the palace. These are private events, not witnessed by outsiders. We were told that the ancestral spirits have to be moved out for the time of the work. This is unsettling them and they must be treated carefully and respectfully so that they stay peaceful until their return to the home.
The community is asked to show their respect by stopping all work that involves hoe and cutlass: harvest, farming and some building activities are not allowed to go on until further notice. The ban was lifted on the day before market, allowing people to harvest food again.
The restoration of the roof had become necessary when consistent leakage occurred during rains. The US Embassy in Cameroon stepped up and funded this project, and local contractors are onsite to execute the work with support from advising engineers and traditional craftsmen.
What was traditionally done as community work is this time in the hands of a much smaller number of workers this time. During the take-down a number of women carried the old grass into the woods for composting. Now, for the re-build, we see mostly men on site- builders and craftsmen that have been hired to do the work.
A team of Archeologists and Anthropologists are using this opportunity to create a catalog of artifacts. Our documentation will support efforts of documentation for display and record-keeping.
As the many layers of old grass roofing exposed the raffia frame of the structure, the damage became drastically obvious. Part of the frame had collapsed and had created a dish on the south side of the roof. This would have created a “puddle” dripping into the building, further rotting structural members.
The original structure was completely built with Raffia poles. An inner core “pyramid” was supporting the larger pyramid shaped frame. In Bafut tradition these frames are pinned and tied together on the ground as large triangles, and the lifted onto the roof, leaning into each other and tied along the hips.
The new engineered (a Swiss/German engineering team provided drawings)version of the structure will have additional carved posts supporting the existing beam. The 3-dimensional sketch shows the trusses that will be made of wood to support a new raffia frame, which is expected to last “hundreds of years” with annual maintenance of the grass cover.
It is expected that the project will be completed by the 31st of January, and the ancestors will be home again.
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