Indigenous culture and nascent tourism in Muanenguba, Cameroon

Ngwese, Ivo Melle (2011) Indigenous culture and nascent tourism in Muanenguba, Cameroon. Doctoral thesis, London Metropolitan University.


This study is an ethnography of the early stages of tourism development (nascent tourism) in Muanenguba - especially in Mwaam, the tourist destination in the Bakossiland - one of the most celebrated mountain regions of Cameroon. It is a narrative on the emerging relationship between local culture and nascent tourism.
The research was carried out through a fieldwork process that can best be described as being sensibly native, through ethnographic interactions with the hosts - indigenes (villagers and elites), developers (councils, hoteliers and hotel staff), regional government department officials and immigrants (nomadic and others) - in order to gain indigenous knowledge, and to capture tourism practices via collaborative, access-point-generated research strategies: checkpoint inquiries and registration, destination tours, questionnaire surveys and visitor monitoring.
The study makes an original contribution to knowledge by discovering that Muanenguba has experienced a century of tourism without progress beyond the nascent stage. Consequently, there is a nascent tourism discourse and practice, featuring the coexistence of exploration and local action with the concept of sustainability understood to varying degrees and mobilised rhetorically and symbolically by various actors for different purposes. As part of an indigenous political ecology of nascent tourism, the factors of status and power ascribed to custodians, and achieved by the developers, bias participation in and benefit from the nascent stages of tourism development. The wider local community is oriented towards both tradition and modernity as values. The dominant processes of change (modernity) comprise, historically, Westernisation, post-colonial government influence and non-tourism-led immigration, and currently, modernisation and in situ shifting conceptions in indigenous culture. Nascent tourism, accommodated by indigenous principles of access, is a marginal but emerging agent of change, exacerbating trivial issues such as access and sanctity, authenticity, ownership, sense of place and aesthetic beauty.
At the early stage of tourism, the visitors are predominantly well-educated, median age professionals and expatriates, travelling as small, short-staying, and male-dominated autonomous groups. They practise - albeit not impeccably - conventional countryside/nature-based tourism, incorporating responsibilities and initiatives that are somewhat consistent with the principles of ecotourism as well as voluntary pro-poor and community-based tourism - that is, niches of nascent tourism. Varied degrees and modes of generally scarce interaction have led to mixed local perception and delineation of tourists as people-friendly and hedonistic. As a traditional outlook of nascent tourism, custodians and hoteliers have formed a symbolic economy by packaging the iconic traditional house both
unintentionally and intentionally for tourism. This contributes to symbolising custodianship, asserting indigenous identity and preserving the image of Muanenguba, and leads visitors to experience local mediation between modem convenience and indigenous tradition. If tourism
eventually advances beyond the nascent stage, the demographic diversity of tourists, local participation, the agency and local perception of tourism would be greater, while symbolism and sustainability might be challenged.
This study sits within the social science academic disciplines of ethnography and nascent tourism research. By mediating in the dual role of indigene and researcher, the study -a graphic demonstration of indigenous wisdom - is a pioneering attempt at profiling and developing a greater understanding of tourism development in the Bakossiland, and in other volcanic mountain areas of Cameroon. Its approach would be equally valuable for other West African, tropical mountain and nascent tourism destinations.

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