The Duala today are divided into the urban and rural. Those who live in the cities, particularly Douala itself, earn a living at a number of skilled and unskilled professions. Many Duala proper still own parts of the city, allowing them to live off of rents and development. The rural Duala, in contrast, work as fishermen and farmers, mostly at the subsistence level. Among the Duala proper, Isubu, Limba, Mungo, and Wovea, fishing is the trade of choice, while the Bakole, Bakweri, and Bamboko make use of Mount Cameroon´s fertile volcanic soils to cultivate cocoyams, maize, manioc, oil palms, and plantains.
Traditional Duala society was divided into three strata. At the top were the Wonja, native Duala, with full rights of land ownership. The next tier consisted of the Wajili, either non-Duala peoples or the descendants of slaves. Finally, the Wakomi, or slaves, made up the bottom rung. Chiefs and headmen sat at the pinnacle of this hierarchy in the past, though today such figures have very little power in their own right. Instead, such individuals are more likely to own property and to have inherited wealth. Councils of elders and secret societies allow communities to decide important issues.
Duala peoples - Language
Each of the Duala ethnic groups speaks a distinct Duala language, except the Mungo, who speak a dialect of Duala. The Duala languages are: Bakole, spoken by that people; Bubea, spoken by the Wovea; Duala, spoken by the Duala proper and the Mungo; Isu, spoken by the Isubu; Malimba, spoken by the Limba; Mokpwe, spoken by the Bakweri; and Wumboko, spoken by the Bamboko. The Duala languages are very closely related, and may represent a dialect continuum. Mokpwe, Bakole, and Wumboko may be intelligible with one another, for example, and linguists sometimes classify Wumboko as a dialect of Mokpwe. In addition, Malimba speakers have little difficulty understanding Duala. The Duala languages are part of the Bantu group of the Niger-Congo language family.
The Duala and neighbouring peoples often utilise Duala and Mokpwe as trade languages, due largely to the spread of these tongues by early missionaries. This is particularly true among the Wovea, many of whom speak Duala in lieu of their native tongue, and the Isubu, many of whom are bilingual in Duala or Mokpwe.
In addition, individuals who have attended school or lived in an urban centre usually speak a European language. For the Duala, Isubu, Limba, and Wovea this is French; for the Bakole, Bakweri, and Bamboko, it is Cameroonian Pidgin English or standard English; and for the Mungo it is one or the other. A growing number of the Anglophones today grow up with Pidgin as their first tongue. The rate of literacy is relatively high among the Duala, though this is for reading and writing European languages.
At least until the German period, Duala men used a kind of "drum language", tapping out coded messages to communicate news over long distances. The Bakweri also utilzed horns to this end.
Duala peoples - Marriage and kinship patterns
Duala inheritance is patrilineal; upon the father´s death, his property is split among his male heirs. The Duala have traditionally practiced polygamy, though with Christianisation, this custom has become rare, particularly among the Bakweri. The Duala have never barred marriage between sub-lineages of the same group, nor have they ever put much restriction on inter-tribal marriage. In fact, today, such unions have grown increasingly common, particularly in urban centres like Douala. Children of such marriages become full members of their father´s ethnic group.
Duala peoples - Religion
The Duala proper and the Isubu have been mostly Christianized since the 1930s and the other Duala groups since the 1970s. Evangelical denominations dominate, particularly the Baptist church. Christianity plays an important role in Duala lives, especially in the Anglophone region, where music played over the radio is as likely to be the latest from Nigerian gospel singer Agatha Moses as it is the latest hit by an American hip hop star.
Nevertheless, remnants of a pre-Christian ancestor worship persist.
Traditional Bakweri belief states that the ancestors live in a parallel world and act as mediators between the living and God ("Owase" to the Duala proper and "Jengu" to the Isubu). As might be expected for coastal peoples, the sea also plays an important role in this faith. Belief among the Duala proper, for example, is that their ancestors live in the sea. In this worldview, demi-human water spirits known as Miengu (singular: Jengu) live in the waters and mediate between worshippers and God. Other, evil sprits live in the forests and the sea, and many Duala believe that witchcraft holds a malign influence on everyday life. Traditional festivals held each year serve as the most visible expression of these traditional beliefs in modern times.
Duala peoples - Arts
The Anglophone Duala, particularly the Bakweri, still practice arts and crafts handed down for generations. The Bakweri are known to be skilled weavers of hats and shirts, for example. They also construct armoires, chairs, and tables.
A lively heritage of music and dance most visibly expresses the Duala´s colourful culture. Ambasse bey, a style of folk music marrying guitar with found-object percussion, developed in the 1950s in the Mungo area. Makossa, a popular musical style in West and Central Africa, originated with the Duala proper around this same time. The style mixes jazz, highlife, and soul with African traditional music. Manu Dibango popularised it in the mid-1970s with Soul Makossa, also a pioneering Disco album. Salle John followed with a rejuvenation of both makossa and ambasse bey.
Duala dances serve a number of purposes. The Bakweri Male Dance, for example, demonstrates the performers´ virility. The Esséwe funeral dance re-enact the life of the deceased. The Duala proper perform the Abélé dance after a wedding to accompany the newlyweds to their home. Other dances are purely for enjoyment, such as the maringa and the ashiko, which arose in the 1930s, and the makossa and ambasse bey dances that accompany those musical styles.
The greatest venue for Duala music and dance are the two major festivals that take place each year in December. The Ngondo is a traditional festival of the Duala proper, though today all of Cameroon´s coastal peoples are invited to participate. It originated as a means of training Duala children the skills of warfare. Now, however, the main focus is on communicating with the ancestors and asking them for guidance and protection for the future. The festivities also include armed combat, beauty pageants, pirogue races, and traditional wrestling.
The Mpo´o brings together the Bakoko, Bakweri, and Limba at Edéa. The festival commemorates the ancestors and allows the participants to consider the problems facing the Duala and humanity as a whole. Lively music, dancing, theatre, and recitals accompany the celebration.
Duala peoples - Sports
Pirogue racing has traditionally been the most important sport among the Duala. The sport reached its peak during the German colonial period, when organisers held races annually on 27 January (the Kaiser´s birthday). Under the French, they became biannual, occurring on 14 July (Bastille Day) and 11 November (Armistice Day). A typical Duala racing pirogue is 20-28 metres long with no keel and a bow carved with intricate designs. A team of 40-50 canoeists, mostly men who make their livings as fishermen, mans each vessel. In the past, diviners used the results of these races to predict the future, but today a Christian priest presides instead. Up to the late 1930s, a family on Jebale Island claimed to be able to summon the Miengu water spirits to help favoured participants.
Beginning in the 1930s, football has grown to eclipse other sports in popularity.