Cameroon: History, Culture & Economy

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The Republic of Cameroon (French: République du Cameroun) is a country of central and western Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon’s coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is called “Africa in miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity. Natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas. The highest point is Mount Cameroon in the southwest, and the largest cities are Douala, Yaoundé, and Garoua. Cameroon is home to over 200 different linguistic groups. The country is well known for its native styles of music, particularly makossa and bikutsi, and for its successful national football team. English and French are the official languages.

Early inhabitants of the territory included the Sao civilisation around Lake Chad circa AD 500 and the Baka hunter-gatherers in the southeastern rainforest. Portuguese explorers reached the coast in the 15th century and named the area Rio dos Camarões (“River of Shrimp”), the name from which Cameroon derives. Fulani soldiers founded the Adamawa Emirate in the north in the 19th century, and various ethnic groups of the west and northwest established powerful chiefdoms and fondoms. Cameroon became a German colony in 1884.

After World War I, the territory was divided between France and Britain as League of Nations mandates. TheUnion des Populations du Cameroun political party advocated independence but was outlawed by France in the 1950s. It waged war on French and UPC militants forces until 1971. On January 1, 1960 the French administered part of Cameroon became independent as the Republic of Cameroun under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. The southern partof British Cameroons merged with it on October 1, 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.

Compared to other African countries, Cameroon enjoys relatively high political and social stability. This has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, railways, and large petroleum and timber industries. Nevertheless, large numbers of Cameroonians live in poverty as subsistence farmers. Power lies firmly in the hands of the president, Paul Biya, and his Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party. The English speaking territories of Cameroon have grown increasingly alienated from the government, and politicians from those regions have called for greater decentralization and even the secession (e.g.: the Southern Cameroons National Council) of the former British-governed territories.

The country consists of the former French Cameroons and the southern portion of the former British Cameroons. The French, or eastern, section constitutes four fifths of the country and supports the bulk of the population. With more than 200 ethnic groups, Cameroon has one of the most diverse populations in Africa. Bantu-speaking peoples, such as the Douala, predominate along the southern coast and in the forested areas. In the highlands are the Bamiléké. Important northern groups include the Fulani and the Kirdi. French and English are the official languages, but there are also 24 major African language groups in the country. About 40% of the people follow traditional beliefs, while another 40% are Christian and about 20% are Muslim; Islam is the dominant religion of the northern regions.

Each of Cameroon’s ethnic groups has its own unique cultural forms. Typical celebrations include births, deaths, plantings, harvests, and religious rituals. Seven national holidays are observed throughout the year, and movable holidays include the Christian holy days of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday, and Ascension; and the Muslim holy days of Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Adha, and Eid Miladun Nabi.

One Cameroon langauge has become the object of international attention though the efforts of an interactive langauge learning website at http://www.busuu.com/enc/home. The language is called Busuu language and is an unclassified Southern Bantoid language of Cameroon with just 8 speakers left.

Music and dance are an integral part of Cameroonian ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings, and storytelling.Traditional dances are highly choreographed and separate men and women or forbid participation by one sex altogether.The goals of dances range from pure entertainment to religious devotion.Traditionally, music is transmitted orally. In a typical performance, a chorus of singers echoes a soloist.

Musical accompaniment may be as simple as clapping hands and stomping feet, but traditional instruments include bells worn by dancers, clappers, drums and talking drums, flutes, horns, rattles, scrapers, stringed instruments, whistles, and xylophones; the exact combination varies with ethnic group and region. Some performers sing complete songs by themselves, accompanied by a harplike instrument.

Offshore oil deposits exploited since the early 1970s have made Cameroon one of the most prosperous nations in tropical Africa. Oil refining and the production of crude oil products lead the nation’s industries. Before the advent of the petroleum business, agriculture was the country’s economic mainstay, and it still contributes about 45% of the country’s gross domestic product and employs about 70% of the people. The north, where cattle raising is the chief occupation, is the least economically developed part of Cameroon, whose regional disparities pose a major problem for the government.

Cameroon is one of the world’s leading cocoa producers; coffee, rubber, bananas, palm products, and tobacco, all grown mainly on plantations, are also commercially important. The principal subsistence crops are bananas, cassava, yams, plantains, peanuts, millet, and sorghum.In spite of this diverse agricultural production, only a small percentage of the country’s land is cultivated, but food production in Cameroon meets domestic demand despite the occurrence of periodic droughts.

Fishing and forestry follow oil and agriculture as leading occupations. Cameroon’s mineral resources include bauxite and iron ore. The Edéa Dam on the Sanaga River provides the bulk of the country’s electricity and powers a large aluminum smelter; finished aluminum is exported. Food processing, sawmilling, and the manufacture of light consumer goods and textiles are important industries.

Cameroon’s exports include crude oil and petroleum products, lumber, cocoa beans, aluminum, coffee, and cotton. France, Spain, Italy, and Nigeria are the major trading partners. The country is a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Notes from Wikipedia and Answers.com

A'Keiba Burrell
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