People

PEOPLE

Over 250 ethnic groups live in Cameroon's 10 provinces. Across the different regions, communities have an allegiance to local chiefs as well as being ruled by central government.

 

As might be expected from the large number of ethnic groups, Cameroon’s people follow different religions. Around half are Christian (Catholics and Protestant), mostly in the South. In the North, Muslims dominate, accounting for nearly a quarter of the population. The remaining 25% of the population follow variations of traditional animist beliefs, paying homage to the spirits of ancestors.

 

With so many cultures and traditions, there is general tolerance between groups. Cameroonians tend to be more conscious of a person's region, than their religion. And in some aspects of life, particularly in sport and football, Cameroonians think nationally!

 

 

 

Cultural diversity

 

The different populations of Cameroon can roughly be categorised into groups of the south, west and north.

 

  • In the north, the Fulani are dominant (making up around 1/10 of Cameroon’s population). Originally cattle herders, most of these Islamic people are no longer nomadic, having settled in one place as farmers and merchants. The Choa, Katoko and Kirdi live in the northernmost regions.

 

  • In the western highlands, groups include the Bamoun and the Bamiléké. The Bamiléké are particularly known for their sense of business, their farming skills and their spirit-focused traditional religion.

 

  • Across the south, groups of Bantu-speakers spread into Cameroon over the centuries. They include the Bassa, Douala, Bakweri, Bantanga, Ewondo and Fang, among many others. But the first settlers were the ‘pygmies’, many of whom retain their traditional nomadic lifestyle in the rainforests of the south. Officially known as the Baka (or by the names of other minority ethnic groups such as the BaKola and Bofi) they were called ‘pygmies’ because of their small stature.

 

 

 

A split of languages

 

Reflecting the old colonial split of the country –see History & Politics – Cameroon has two official languages, French and English. French is spoken by roughly 4/5 of the population, while English is practiced daily only in 2 regions out of 10. However, locals often speak both languages.

 

In certain parts of the country (particularly in areas bordering Nigeria), locals may rely on "Pidgin English". In the largely Muslim north, Arabic is sometimes spoken.

The mother-tongue of most children is one of more than 250 African languages native to the region. These include Fufulde, Douala, Ewondo and Fang.

 

But French and English are also learnt from a young age.

 

 

Cultural information & communication styles

 

One of the most well known facts about the diversity of the people in Cameroon can be easily observed in their differences in how comfortable they are with physical and verbal contact, and gestures. The level of comfort naturally varies with the region in which they live and, to a lesser extent, their religion or ethnicity. But in general, no matter where they are, Cameroonians live according to the practises and customs of their environment.

 

Therefore, people will shake your hand and look directly in your eyes while giving you a warm smile and will stand one or two meters away from you when you first meet. The next time you meet, your handshake will always be followed by snapping your fingers, indicating trust, camaraderie, or friendship. Men and women who know each other kiss one another on the cheek (once on each cheek), greeting each other and snapping their fingers.

 

When walking or talking in a public place it is very common to see men or women walk hand in hand or repeatedly touch one another without it bothering anyone. This type of behaviour even exists in the workplace, but depends on the level of familiarity between people. It is best to observe things and go about things gradually, especially if you do not yet fit in.

 

Other than showing someone your extended middle finger (a gesture that would provoke anyone in the world), Cameroonians simply play around a lot with gestures and use them more to communicate or get the attention of the people they are speaking with. That being said, Cameroonians gladly avoid gesticulating with foreigners if they know that they are different from them.

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