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Tuesday, October 03, 2017 by Brian
Local vs. national
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.
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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!
The different populations of Cameroon can roughly be categorised into groups of the south, west and north.
Along the rocky Nigerian border, the Kirdi live in round homes with pointed grass roofs, with some villages built along the sides of cliffs. They retain their traditional religious beliefs.
In the north, the Fulani are dominant (making up around a tenth 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 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.
Dwelling in the forests, the Bakas and other ‘pygmy’ groups use traditional hunting and gathering methods, living off wild pigs, antelopes and monkeys, and edible plants. Sometimes they trade bushmeat for cultivated crops from farmers outside the forests. But mostly, the groups live in the forest, moving around and using its resources in a sustainable way. Conservation organisations welcome their presence.
A split of languages
Bi-lingual early on
The mother-tongue of most children is one of more than 250 African languages native to the region. These include Fulfulde, Douala, Ewondo and Fang. But French and English are also learnt from a young age.
Reflecting the old colonial split of the country – see History & Politics – Cameroon has two official languages, French and English. French is spoken by roughly four-fifths of the population, English by a fifth. However, locals often speak both languages.
In parts of the country, particularly in areas bordering Nigeria, locals may rely on pidgin English. In the largely Muslim north, Arabic is sometimes spoken.