Marketing systems in rural West Africa continue to be dominated by periodic institutions, though their distinctive identity and function is increasingly being challenged. The dynamic nature of market systems ensures that changes in patterns and periodicity are inevitable, especially in response to population growth, urbanisation and improved accessibility. The conversion of periodic markets to daily affairs is one aspect of the changing retail environment in urban areas, and indeed in rural areas with high population densities (Okafor 1982). At the same time there are powerful forces which suggest that the rural periodic market plays, and will continue to play, an important part in the economic and social lives of farming communities.
The purpose of this paper is, first, to consider why the periodic market occurs and may act efficiently to facilitate commodity distribution. The intention is to add some empirical evidence from West Cameroon to the already well-worked debate on the theory of periodic markets, and on the conditions for periodic marketing. Secondly, the Cameroon experience is examined for evidence of change to see, for example, how resilient the periodic market institution is in the face of modern pressures, and to argue that periodic marketing remains viable because of the continuing relevance of the reasons advanced for its existence in the first place. These related aims can be seen in part as a response to Hay's (1977) observation that periodic market studies have been too dominated by casual empiricism in the field, and by postfield-work hypothesis searching.
A periodic market may be defined simply as an authorised institution or event where people converge to buy, to sell, and to interact socially, at regular intervals of less than daily occurrence. Typically, the interval is governed by the weekly cycle, whether based on the European or Islamic seven-day week or a cycle of greater or lesser periodicity as determined by local custom (Thomas 1924). While few societies today