Toghu (also called Atoghu) is a multi-coloured, well-embroidered attire, typically made by creating red and white patterns on a heavy black velvet fabric. The attire originates from the North West Region of Cameroon, where it was traditionally reserved for royalty.
Today, it has become the very identity of Cameroon to the world, and it is now worn at every occasion—from weddings to traditional festivals — by anyone who can afford it.
To those in the North West Region of Cameroon, the Atoghu is a symbol of wealth, status, and power, and was typically worn by Kings, elders, and other important figures.
The fabric has become a national and international symbol for Cameroon, and people from all works of life, age groups, and statuses celebrate and wear this unique attire.
Toghu has become a way of live. It is designed in varied ways, worn in every occasions (MMI Pictures, 2023)
The origin of the attire is not entirely clear, but it is believed to have stemmed from the Kingdom of Bamum in the 19th century. The first Toghu was made from imported fabrics, but, over time, the people from the grassfield (North West and West Regions) developed their own unique style of embroidery.
The patterns and symbols used in the embroidery are often based on traditional and natural symbols such as the sun, moon, stars, and animals.
The Atoghu is typically worn with a matching wrapper, called a “pagne”. The pagne is wrapped around the waist and falls to the ankles. It can also be worn with a variety of accessories, such as a headdress, necklaces, and bracelets.
Indigenes and friends of Akum village in the Mezam Division North West region of Cameroon beautifully dressed in the Toghu fabric at the 2023 international convention of the Akum Welfare Association UK (AWA-UK) UK.
The outfit is a reminder of North West heritage and identity, and it is a symbol of pride and respect.
The embroidery on the Atoghu can take several weeks or even months to complete. The Atoghu is a very expensive garment, and it is often passed down from generation to generation.
The popularity of Toghu has given rise to several fashion designers who specialised in designing the fabric in different ways.
Among them is Claude Taku, President of the Cameroon English Fashion Designers Association, an association he and other designers founded last month to popularize Toghu.
During one of their meetings in Douala in August 2023, he told journalists the demand for Toghu designs has been high and many Cameroonians are using it for special occasions such as weddings, parties, and other celebrations.
“I think the value of Toghu today is very, very high, and of course, I must admit that every English-speaking Cameroonian that would want to stand out in an event would always want to go for Toghu,” he said.
Mimi Mefo Takambou, CEO of Mimi Mefo Info dressed in a beautifully designed Toghu fabric on her traditional wedding day. “This fabric is an identity, it is who we are. The uniqueness of this fabric tells the unique history of Cameroon, it is all we have left,” Mimi Mefo
Solange Njullah, a Toghu Fashion Designer, is a member of the Toghu Designers Association. She considers the fabric as a heritage that “needs to be guided and given more value”. They are not the only people seeking to attach more value to Toghu.
The Toghu Army Movement (TAM), describes the fabric as a “cultural force for solidarity”. The movement founded by Cameroonian blogger, Maybelle Boma, has been taking action to valorise Toghu and put it on a global pedestal.
The outfit has long travelled across Cameroon’s national borders and has become the face of the country to the world. Cameroonians all over the world use Toghu to give themselves an identity.
“It is a regalia that carries and commands a lot of respect. It gives an instant kind of identity to anyone who wears it and that is one thing that makes it different from other cultural dresses,” says Lucas Mbenjou, a 78-year-old lover of the Toghu regalia.
Among the many traditional attires existing in Cameroon, Toghu was selected to represent Cameroon at the 2022 African Fashion Week in Lagos.
The Atoghu has appeared as the face of Cameroon on the international scene on several occasions.
This goes back to the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games when the team representing Cameroon used the outfit in the vibrant parade. It became Cameroon’s international uniform again when Toghu animated the 2012 London Olympics.
Many people still have vivid memories of the London 2012 Summer Olympics, when Team Cameroon in Toghu regalia stole the stage at the opening ceremony.
Team Cameroon, adorned in the colorful attire, held spectators spellbound with one of the best attires that featured in the parade.
Toghu again became Cameroon’s official attire at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2013 and at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021.
Cameroon’s glowing attire made waves at the opening ceremony of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, England.
The attire went viral after a group of Cameroonian athletes, clad in Toghu, posed for a picture with King Charles III of England.
Many celebrities, tourists, diplomats, and other personalities who have travelled to Cameroon have identified proudly with Toghu.
This is the case of renowned Pan-Africanist Prof. PLO Lumumba, who has posed in a Toghu outfit on several international occasions, the most recent one being during his visit to the Wisconsin International College in Ghana in August.
Nollywood actor, Charles Awurum is also among the many international celebrities who have featured in Toghu.
Symbol Of National Pride and Unity
In the country, Toghu has served as a symbol of national unity. The attire has been used to represent the country on several national occasions, including the 2022 Africa Cup of Nations, where the football was designed like Atoghu.
Joceline Nimbong, a lover of this unique outfit, based in the North says she has been exposed to the outfit since childhood when she used to watch her parents dress in the spectacular outfit during special occasions. But she only knew it was called Toghu after she came of age.
“Growing up, I always watched my parents step out in style during each cultural event and it was always a spectacular moment for me because their outfits made of Toghu was always unique one and they both wore it so nicely each time,” says Nimbong.
Aside from Toghu, there are many other cultural regalia the country is made of like the Kabba, Sanja, Turbins, Eyasu and other body dresses worn by both men and women of different ethnic backgrounds.
For example, the Kabba is mostly worn among the Duala, Bakweri, Bakossi, Bassossi and other groups in the South West and Littoral Regions of Cameroon.
Toghu has stood out among the plethora of cultural attire in Cameroon.
“I prefer Toghu. It is much more classy and it is easy to sew unique styles with it. It gives so many options when it comes to styling. I will choose Toghu over any other regalia,” says Chimene Sih, a lover of the outfit.
Toghu is one of those dresses that has a great number of reviews from internet users. A lot of netizens from different cultural backgrounds have shown so much interest in it that it is nowadays worn even by Muslims, Ewondos, and even Europeans.
This is MMI’s series on culture and tradition. This segment will bring
Cameroon’s untold customs to light and celebrate its uniqueness.
Tata Mbunwe contributed to this piece.