Like the history of many African countries, Cameroon’s is one of colonial domination and a period of liberation which has not lived up to the expectations of those who fought for it. That said, despite such turbulent times, Cameroonians have managed to maintain their cultural heritage which is evident in the literature and crafts prominent today.
Prior to colonization, the area known as Cameroon was part of a much greater region that spanned all the way to modern day Nigeria. The Duala people reigned over this land which was home to nearly 200 distinct cultural groups.
Portuguese settlers arrived in the 1400’s and the Germans followed, claiming the area as their colony. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the territory was split between France (who controlled French Cameroon) and Britain (responsible for British Cameroon).
With the wave of decolonization that began to gain momentum in the 1950’s, resistance groups in French Cameroon became more and more active. Under the most radical liberation advocates, Union des Populations du Cameroun, French Cameroon suffered a protracted guerrilla war which ultimately led to full independence in 1960. British Cameroon voted to become part of Nigeria in 1961.
Cameroon’s current president is Paul Biya, who has held the title since 1982. For most of his tenure, Biya ran a single party government and only recently allowed multi-party elections. The government currently faces strong criticism and great opposition from Cameroonians in the north who are predominantly Islamic or Anglophone. They fear discrimination and underrepresentation from a regime which is largely Francophone.
Because Cameroon is home to a large number of rather distinct ethnic groups, the country has developed a diverse, but rich culture. Each group celebrates its own contributions through festivals, literature and handicrafts.
Oral literature is a huge tradition, not only in Cameroon, but throughout the African continent. The passing down of stories and folklore is considered an important way of keeping the culture alive from generation to generation. The Fulani in particular are most well-known for their proverbs, riddles, poetry, history, and legends. In the Southern regions of Cameroon, the Ewondo and Douala are noted for their contributions to Cameroonian literature.
Traditional crafts are also a big part of Cameroonian culture. Whether its pottery, sculptures and textiles which are used in everyday households or elaborate woven clothing or bronze sculptures for ceremonies, these creations are far more valuable than just marketplace souvenirs.
There are a few Cameroonian social conventions which should be loosely followed, especially when visiting private homes. The customary greeting in all non-Islamic regions is a firm handshake. Most people of the Muslim faith will not shakes hands with people of the opposite gender, but this should not be taken offensively.