Cameroon 101

Recently, I've noticed what a difference it makes to know even a little bit about a topic. There are so many things to know about in this world, things you can research and delve into - and one person can't possibly know it all. But if you know just a little bit about something, it becomes much easier to connect with people who know a lot and have deeper conversations with them and learn things.

My goal with this post is to give you a bare-bones education on Cameroon - its history, its demographics, what it's like to live there, etc. Hopefully by the end, you'll have a better understanding of this unique African country.

Fast Facts

Location and size: Cameroon is located in Central Africa. It is not landlocked, but hugs the ocean on the western side of the continent. It is bordered by Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. In terms of size, it is slightly larger than California.

Languages spoken: There are 230 different languages spoken in Cameroon, but the official languages are French and English. The rest can be broken down into several main groups, the largest of which is the Niger-Congo group that is made up of 169 languages. This group can be divided further and then further into smaller groups. Although the country aims for all of its citizens to speak both French and English, very few speak both and some don't speak either. German used to be the official language during the German colonial period (1884 - 1916), but it is rarely spoken nowadays. However, it is a popular language to be learned in school.

Population: 23,739,218. (For comparison, California's population is 38,802,500.)

Religions: Mostly Christian, with 38.4% of the population being Catholic and 26.3% Protestant. The next largest religion represented is Islam, 20.9%. The rest of the population is either animist (5.6%), atheist (3.2%), or other (1%).

Climate: Cameroon is generally hot and humid in the South, and hot and dry in the North. It is tropical along coasts.

Ecological zones: Cameroon is often called "Africa in miniature" because it has a little bit of everything the continent has to offer in terms of landscape. Its six ecoregions include dense rainforest, forest/ savanna mosaic, highland savanna, shrub/ tree savanna, woody steppe, and anthropogenic vegetation. Because of this variation, Cameroon hosts many endangered and protected animal species. Gorillas are protected in the lush jungles and large reservations are home to giraffes, lions, elephants, hippos, etc.

Life expectancy: 58 years. Females live a few years longer than males on average.

Expected years of schooling: 9.5 years for females, 11.2 for males. So if a child starts school at age 4, they will leave school around age 14.

History

Cameroon was originally inhabited by tribal peoples, mainly the Pygmies (who, to this day, still inhabit the forests in the east and south provinces). The region was conquered in the late 1770s by a pastoral Islamic people called the Fulani.

The Portuguese then arrived in the 1500s, but mainly stuck to the coasts due to the threat of malaria. However, European settlement of the inland region eventually did take place in the 1870s when malaria suppressant became available. Missionaries spread Christianity throughout the area during the 19th century, the impact of which is clear today.

In 1884, all of Cameroon became the German colony of Kamerun. After World War I, the country was partitioned between France and Great Britain, although France received the larger geographical share.

The people of Cameroon began organizing and fighting for independence in 1955. A rebel group formed, called the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC). They achieved independence in 1960 and became the Republic of Cameroon. A French-educated Fulani named Ahmadou Ahidjo was appointed President in 1961. Ahidjo was eventually succeeded in 1982 by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, who is currently the President of Cameroon.

Culture

Cameroonian culture places a large focus on family, including extended family. One's family takes precedence over pretty much everything else in life. The younger members are expected to care for the elderly members as they age, and as such, the family is typically very close. Nepotism is not frowned upon, but actually encouraged, as it implies that individuals are working with those that they know and trust.

Society in Cameroon is very respectful of elders and one's superiors. Showing respect is apparent in other ways; for example, greetings are considered very important and not to be rushed. Cameroonians can be very formal, and practice many rituals to honor their guests.

Because the nation is so diverse, cultural norms and practices vary greatly from region to region.

I hope that this information has taught you a few new things today - and will help you to impress any people you come across that know a thing or two about Cameroon. :)

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