The Bamum Tapestry-Crochet

Hats of Foumban

Carol Ventura Apr 1, 2024 - 7 min read

The Bamum Tapestry-Crochet Primary Image

Left: A Bamum leatherworker hammering nails into the sole of a shoe wears a tapestry-crocheted hat. Foumban, Cameroon. 2000. Right: A Bamum woman tapestry-crochets a hat in Foumban, Cameroon. 2000. Photos by the author unless otherwise noted

Situated along the inside corner of the western coast of the continent, Cameroon is geographically part of both Central and West Africa. Cameroon’s art and culture have absorbed a variety of influences as the country has for centuries been a crossroads linking North, South, East, and West Africa, and it was colonized by the Germans, French, and English.

Diversity is key in this independent nation. Animism, Christianity, and Islam are practiced side by side, with one or another predominating in any given region. Cameroonians are multilingual, speaking not only their own native tongue but also several others. Many speak French or English as well.

Although men in certain parts of Africa wear turbans, hats are far more common. For the most part, it is Muslim men who wear hats, but not all Muslim men wear hats, and not all men who cover their heads are Muslim. In addition to possibly indicating the wearer’s religion, hats may denote a hometown or high status or may be worn for a certain special event; some are worn simply for fashion. Most African women prefer vibrant printed cloth head wraps to hats.

The assortment of shapes and bold patterns found on men’s knitted, coiled, woven, embroidered, and crocheted hats (many of them embellished with feathers, quills, or spikes) is mind-boggling. Let’s look at the tapestry-crochet hats worn by men of the Bamum ethnic group in Foumban, a city in the French-speaking western province of the Cameroon Grasslands. Thanks to the inspired actions of the Bamum people’s most famous leader, King Ibrahim Njoya (ruled 1867–1933), who, during his long reign, invited artisans from around the region to set up studios there, Foumban became and still is an artistic center. The workshops that he established continue to train new generations to carve wooden drums and furniture, cast brass jewelry and statues, embroider clothing, craft leather shoes, cover stools and sculptures with beads, weave cloth, and more.


Both imported steel crochet hooks and hooks made from old bicycle spokes are found in the hands of male and female crocheters in many African countries. Although some yarn is purchased new, much is obtained by raveling recycled knitwear. Men crochet in other parts of Cameroon, but in Foumban, it is women who tapestry-crochet hats with single, doubled, and tripled cotton and acrylic yarns. The most popular style is cylindrical with a flat top and a buttonlike embellishment in the center of a large monochromatic circle. Bold geometric motifs and occasionally words and dates are incorporated into the sides with tall, tight tapestry-crochet stitches in contrasting colors.

The words and date on the Bamum hat shown at left commemorate the biennial Nguon Festival celebrated in Foumban, Cameroon. 2000. The knob on the top and the heavy crocheted fabric of all three tapestry-crocheted hats identify them as having been made in Foumban, Cameroon. Collection of the author. Photo by Joe Coca

The button is crocheted first; next, the rounds are tapestry-crocheted without joining. Randomly placed increases keep the top flat and circular. The cylindrical sides begin when the increases stop. Colors are changed after the completion of each stitch so that the top loop of the previous stitch lies over the bottom part of the next stitch. Charts and patterns are not used, but sometimes another hat serves as a model. If a decorative repeat doesn’t work out perfectly, a partial motif is included at the end of the round. (I find this relaxed attitude quite refreshing!)

Cloth hats (with and without embroidery), hats crocheted elsewhere, and even baseball caps are other popular men’s head coverings in Foumban. Tapestry-crocheted hats from outside Foumban are made with thinner yarn and smaller stitches and sometimes include a crocheted embellishment on top. The thin fabric of the imports is starched, but Bamum crocheters commonly carry synthetic sack fibers along with the yarns to produce a rigid fabric with a distinctive spiraling ridge.

There is a lot of speculation as to the origin of tapestry crochet. My own theory is that crocheted hats evolved from looped hats. Looping is a much older technique and is very time consuming because the working strand has to be pulled all the way through each loop to make a stitch (without a tool). Compare that with the ease of working crochet, in which a hook pulls a short section of fiber through another loop on the hook. I suspect that loopers were the first to embrace crochet simply because of its greater efficiency.

Looped hats made from twisted black raffia fiber, traditionally worn by nobles to denote their high rank, are still popular in Cameroon. Black nylon single-crocheted hats that resemble the looped hats are worn by men of all ranks, in addition to black and/or colorful nylon hats that incorporate single, double, half-double, and treble crochet stitches. As long as men continue to wear tapestry-crocheted hats, the tradition survives.

Interested in learning more about crochet traditions around the world? This article and others can be found in Crochet Traditions Fall 2012.

Also, remember that if you are an active subscriber to PieceWork magazine, you have unlimited access to previous issues, including Crochet Traditions Fall 2012. See our help center for the step-by-step process on how to access them.

Further Reading

  • Knöpfli, Hans. Crafts and Technologies: Some Traditional Craftsmen of the Western Grasslands of Cameroon; Part 4, Music and Musical Instruments, Traditional Religion, Native Laws and Customs. Basel, Switzerland: Basel Mission, 2001. (This volume contains text and interesting photographs of many types of crocheted hats.)

Carol Ventura is Professor Emerita of Art History at Tennessee Technological University. Her interest in art, crafts, and history have led her to document craftspeople in the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Europe. Colorful shoulder bags tapestry-crocheted by Mayan men in Guatemala in the 1970s inspired her to not only research this medium, but also begin exploring the design possibilities. Carol’s tapestry-crocheted wall pieces, felted accessories, and beaded bags and baskets have been widely published and exhibited. Visit Carol at