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Togo and Cameroon - Expo Paris 1931

Togo and Cameroon at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1931
© Boldo
Architect(s) : Boileau

The first question that arose, once the participation of the African countries under French mandate was decided, was that of the style and character to be given to the buildings to be erected.

From this point of view, it was necessary to create, as Togo and Cameroon were participating for the first time in a major international exhibition. In 1922, in Marseilles, Togo was in the A.O.F. section and Cameroon in the A.E.F. section. It was therefore not possible to adapt, develop and improve an architectural type which had already been popular with the general public. On the other hand, Togo and Cameroon are countries with primitive populations: the art of building has remained basic.

If the Commissariats of Indochina and A. O. F. can find, in the first case, in the pagoda of Angkor, and in the second, in the mosques of Djenné and Timbuktu, models for their palaces at the Exhibitions, it is far from being the same for the African countries under mandate.

However, in certain regions of Cameroon, in particular in Bamoun, populations that are more evolved than others have given their constructions a personal character that is not lacking in a certain grandeur. It seemed interesting, in order to avoid the cliché of palaces inspired by Greek art and to avoid the futuristic exaggerations of the young schools, to seek in this local architecture, in the absence of a model, an inspiration which, corrected by a stylization with a modern tendency, would be likely to give the section of the African countries under mandate an original character.

In order to realise this idea, a competition was held between architects with a reputation for previous work.

The programme included

1° The development of the 4,000 square metre site which was originally separated from the lake by a strip of land, but which the Commissioner was able to have extended to the shore and which is reserved for the African territories under mandate;

2° The construction of a main pavilion of 500 square metres of covered area, without floor.

3° The construction of five small pavilions representing, between them, 700 square metres of covered area.

The jury had to choose between a number of particularly interesting projects. Messrs. Louis-H. Boileau and Carrier, already known for their collaboration at the 1925 Exposition des Arts Décoratifs, were ranked first. They were fortunately inspired by native architecture, which they were able to strip of everything that evoked the Negro village of the Exhibitions of the past.

The choice of a style, the appointment of an architect and the development of building and design projects were only part of the programme to be completed. It remained to provoke the cooperation and emulation of the exhibitors, to distribute the documentation that had to be collected and above all to make this documentation attractive and lively, because it was a question of reaching a public that was very varied and very unequal in terms of culture and curiosity. This is what was done.

The Commissioner for the participation of African countries under French mandate, Governor André Bonamy, had local committees set up by the chiefs of the territories. These committees, which included representatives of the public services, traders, planters, industrialists, missionaries and indigenous notables, had the task of identifying and pointing out what, in our colonisation work, deserved to be developed from an economic and social point of view.

The participation of Togo and Cameroon includes 6 pavilions, near the southern bank of Lake Daumesnil.

The main pavilion, a large hall of 500 square metres, 28 metres high and preceded by a vast portico, brings together everything that is likely to evoke, in their personality, Cameroon and Togo and to highlight the practical usefulness for France and the civilised world of the colonising action in African countries.

Everything is presented in such a way as to capture the attention and stimulate the curiosity of the mass of visitors. Besides paintings and photographs, the public will find two dioramas by the painter de la Nezières: a scene of the dance among the Kon-Kom-Bas, a scene from the court of the sultan Kotoko; wax reproductions of indigenous works of art, and everything that can evoke local life, exhibitions of products in their raw state, data on the activity of indigenous and immigrant producers.

The participation of private companies adds variety to this central part of the Exhibition of African Countries under Mandate.
In addition, for each product, a sort of illustrated monograph shows the various transformations and manipulations it undergoes from the moment of its production to the moment of its consumption and industrial use.

Next to this summary pavilion is the pavilion reserved for the Administrative Service of the Commissariat and the Documentation Pavilion. The latter is an Information Agency organised in a practical and modern way.

The visitor, who has easy access to it, can find, without any formality, all the information he may need on Cameroon and Togo. Clear and precise notices are distributed there and a sales library is installed.

The fourth pavilion is, like the main pavilion, intended for the general public. An exhibition of Tourism, Fishing and Hunting is installed here. The entrance to this pavilion is surmounted by a buffalo head, a very remarkable work by the sculptor Gustave Le Sage. A large glass frieze by Le Sage is the main decorative element of the pavilion. Folklore has a large place here, as well as all the natural curiosities and the evocation of the rich African fauna. Naturalized animals are displayed, as well as weapons and hunting and fishing gear used by the natives.

Finally, the last two pavilions aim to retain the educated elite of colonial and social issues without, however, ceasing to present the documentation in a lively and evocative form. It is in these two pavilions that everything that has been done for the well-being and development of the populations under French mandate is concentrated.

This part of the Exhibition is a sort of illustration of the reports that France sends annually to the League of Nations. The Commissariat considers this to be an essential part of its work.

In another pavilion, everything concerning the major works carried out in Cameroon and Togo in the interest of civilisation is brought together: railways, roads, ports, telegraphs, T.S.F., aviation, electrification, housing, drainage, etc. Graphs, plans and photographs show the results obtained and the difficulties overcome.

©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale Internationale - Paris 1931