Rudolf Duala Manga Bell (c. 1873-1914)

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell, a Cameroonian elite educated in Germany, became a hero to the Duala people for his brave resistance to German colonialism. He courageously led one of the first resistance movements in German colonial history, ultimately giving his life for his cause.

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell was born around 1873 as the grandson of King Ndumbe Lobe Bell, a signatory of the 1884 treaty that gave Germany colonial control over Cameroon. Manga Bell was educated extensively in both Douala and Germany, finishing secondary school and studying law at a German university in the 1890s,where his education was funded by German authorities in exchange for the family’s support of colonization. Manga Bell lived with a German family in Aalen, where he converted to Christianity and was baptized. Upon his return to Cameroon, he married Emily Engome Dayas, the daughter of a European trader and Duala woman, and worked as a civil servant while continuing to make visits to Germany and England.

In 1908, following the death of his father, Manga Bell became the King of the Dualaand initially maintained a positive relationship with the German colonial authorities. The situation changed dramatically in 1910 when the German Governor of Cameroon, Theodor Seitz, approved a new plan for the city of Douala to forcibly relocate the indigenous population away from the Wouri River and establish new segregated European zones and railway lines. Manga Bell was outraged by these plans and, with the support of the Duala people, appealed to the German authorities, claiming their plan violated the 1884 treaty.

Initially, his resistance was successful and, with the help of German journalist Hellmut von Gerlach, Manga Bell obtained a suspension of the plans from the German government. When this order was overturned, however, Manga Bell was forced to search for other avenues of resistance. By 1914, German officials had begun the forced relocation and Manga Bell was mounting a large opposition force of African allies  around Cameroon. The Germans responded by arresting Manga Bell, charging him with high treason, and executing him on August 8th, 1914. Rudolf Duala Manga Bell has been revered as a martyr by Cameroonians ever since due to his courageous resistance to the oppression of German colonialism.

– Sarah Schuermann (University of Missouri)