Beyond the belly of the house
The northeastern Mandara Mountains of Cameroon and Nigeria are occupied at high population densities, with households spread across an abrupt mountain landscape. Ritual and political power in this area inheres to a great extent to the physical being of the mountains themselves. The exercise of such power is dispersed within mountain households, with few opportunities for aggregation of authority through control of communal activity in public spaces. The plains around these mountains are occupied at lower densities, by nucleated Islamic communities integrated within the Wandala state. Fewer roles for household ritual remain, and communal activity in public spaces is controlled by Wandala elites. Archaeological data indicate that the predecessors of both mountain and plains societies were iron-using communities in the plains around the massif. This article discusses the evolution of ritual and political systems over the last two millennia, from the plains to the mountains above them, and the implications of those changes for our understanding of how prehistoric groups in this area would have used public and private spaces.
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