Cameroon: A Magical Blend of Wonders

Imagine a giant hand tearing off tiny pieces of every country in Africa, then collecting all the pieces in one place – well, that’s Cameroon. Known as “Africa in Miniature” – not for its size, which at over 475,000 km2 makes it the 53rd largest country in the world – but for its incredibly diverse geography, people, languages ​​and culture.

Even its history is diverse, undergoing many influences starting with Portuguese explorers in the 15th century, becoming a German colony towards the end of the 19th century, and then split between Britain and France after the First World War. It became a federation and then finally, the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.

Triangular in shape, sitting at the crossroads of Central and West Africa, it neighbors Nigeria to the northeast, where Cameroon’s ever-changing landscapes meet the Atlantic Sea with a magical mix of mountains, desert plains , dense forests and mangroves.

To the east, it borders the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, where the backdrop once again changes to tropical rainforests and savannah woodland. It is the largest but least populated region of the country. To the south, it borders the Republic of the Congo where the humid tropical forests and the plateau of southern Cameroon predominate.

This glorious chameleon-like environment, where every ecological and climatic system is embodied, comes with a multitude of flora and fauna. Over 8,000 types of plants have been recorded, along with over 400 species of mammals, and according to last year’s edition of the bible for twitchers – The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World – 965 species of birds were found. Add to that 250 reptiles and 200 amphibians and its biodiversity will take your breath away.

So who are the human inhabitants of this African gem? Of a population of over 27 million, only 10% are classified as indigenous peoples – the Pygmies, Cameroon’s earliest hunters and gatherers who still live in the slowly declining rainforests, the Mburo, who reside mainly along borders with Nigeria, Chad and the central region. African Republic, and finally the Kirdi communities, who live high up in the Mandara Mountains.

Add to that a melting pot of over 250 ethnic groups, including significant numbers of migrants from Nigeria and beyond, and you find a people as diverse as the country in which they live.

In a nod to its colonial past, English and French are the main official languages, but with so many ethnic groups, there are also over 250 dialects spoken. Its verbal diversity has earned it UNESCO classification as “distinctive cultural density on the linguistic map of the world”.

Rhythms as varied as the people

With such a disparate population, the beats and rhythms of Cameroon are as varied as the people, but among the many musical traditions, some have gained popularity across the country. Makossa, which originated in Douala – Cameroon’s largest city, perched on the Wouri River and one of Central Africa’s most prolific industrial centers – means “dance” and its funky sound, which has since developed the late 1960s, is exactly what it makes you do. . Over time it merged with the sounds of Congolese rumba and, like the rest of modern African music, was influenced by new styles imported from the west.

Bikutsi music is also popular, with roots steeped in the traditional music of the Beti and Ewundo peoples, who live around the southern capital of Yaoundé. Wild and catchy dance music, it got its start outside Cameroon in the 80s and 90s when the legendary Têtes Brulées, with their half-shaved heads, stark white body paint and punchy electric sound, first appeared. on national television and then went on to perform across the world, including the rest of Africa, Europe, the United States and Japan, despite the untimely death of their bandleader and guitarist.

Perhaps the most famous representative in the world was Manu Dibango, who died two years ago. The charismatic jazzman, who excelled on the saxophone, became a star in France but also in Belgium, where he bonded with some of the giants of Congolese music.

Today, the urban music scene is dominated by Locko, who first rose to prominence as the first Cameroonian to post cover songs on YouTube. In 2020, his aptly named seven-track album Locked Up kept him in the public eye.

With a claim to fame as Cameroon’s fastest rapper, KO-C made a bid for international fame with their first-ever UK tour last year. Cameroon still has a long way to go on the international scene, but emerging artists are starting to make an impact.

Eruption of contemporary art

The artistic influence of such a culturally rich country ranges from traditional royal woodcarvings including thrones, figures and ceremonial masks, crafted with infinite skill by the Bamileke people, to an eruption of contemporary art that has received international acclaim.

Artists like Angu Walters, whose abstract and surreal drawings, mostly family-themed – showing in particular his reverence for mother figures and traditional village life – are exhibited around the world and his colorful and joyful canvases are a complete contrast to what is happening in front of his studio, based in the city of Bamenda.

Last year, the prestigious Goethe Institute honored Cameroonian Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, the great-granddaughter of King Rudolf Douala Manga Bell, for her “highly valued ideas for overcoming colonial injustice and consolidating Cameroon’s own identity”.

She co-founded the Doual’art center more than two decades ago with her art historian husband and has been responsible for funding many important artistic projects, including the imposing sculpture The New Freedom, which rises 12 meters above the ground. high on Douala’s busiest roundabout. Created by the artist Joseph-Francis Sumégné, it addresses the contemporary issue of the environment and is entirely made from recycled materials.

There is a good literacy rate in Cameroon and it is no surprise that the country has contributed some of the continent’s leading thinkers. Authors like Imbolo Mbue, Patrice Nganang and the winner of the Prix Goncourt des Lycéens 2020, Djaiili Amadou Amal have successfully presented their stories outside of Africa. Food also plays an important role in Cameroon’s heritage, whether it’s the recipes passed down from generation to generation of people living off the land in rural communities or the migrants who cook their food as a way to preserve their culture. in a new country.

Most varied cuisine

Unsurprisingly, its cuisine is one of the most varied in Africa, from the traditional fufu, a dough-like dish made from fresh or fermented cassava, popular throughout West Africa, to the cultures brought by the colonization such as potatoes, tomatoes and sweet peppers.

One of Cameroon’s unofficial national dishes is Ndole, a belly-warming stew originating from the Douala tribe, traditionally prepared from boiled bitter leaves and groundnuts with seasoning and the addition of meat or fish.

Another is Kondre, from Bafang, a city at the heart of the Bamileke people. Originally a ceremonial food reserved for special occasions, its ingredients include plantains, tomatoes, onions, spices and meat.

Cameroonians, like most West Africans, love their food hot, but it seems Cameroon wins by producing the most mouth-watering pepe sauce, made with scotch bonnet peppers, tomatoes, garlic and garlic. other ingredients. It is used to give any dish or snack a zing that will blow your mind, but is delicious in fish or meat soup.

Finally, I must mention the national sport of Cameroon – football. Although they came late to the game in historical terms, they have qualified for the FIFA World Cup more often than any other African nation and have hosted the AFCON this year.

This article is part of a special feature supported by Stratline Communications and Editorial content was commissioned separately and produced independently of any third parties.