From The Hippo’s Ears: Cameroon
Facts you may not have know about Cameroon:
Cameroon (Cameroun), officially the Republic of Cameroon (République du Cameroun), is a country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west and north; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south. The country is sometimes identified as West African and other times as Central African due to its strategic position at the crossroads between West and Central Africa. The country is often referred to as “Africa in miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity.
Cameroon has a population of around 23 million, is a unitary dominant-party presidential republic under an authoritarian dictatorship, and gained independence from France in 1960.
1. When you first meet someone, how do you greet them?
A handshake is a very common greeting in all areas. In Francophone areas, kissing cheeks may also be used as a greeting. Greetings should not be rushed – it is important to take time to inquire about the person’s family and other matters of general interest when greeting someone. Greetings in French include ‘Bonjour’ (good day) and ‘Comment allez-vous?’ (how are you?)
2. What languages are spoken in the country?
Both English and French are official languages, although French is by far the most understood language. Cameroonian Pidgin English is the lingua franca in some areas. A mixture of English, French, and Pidgin called Camfranglais has been gaining popularity in urban centres since the mid-1970s. The government encourages English and French bilingualism, and official documents are published in both languages.
3. Do you use a twelve hour clock, or a twenty-four hour clock?
We use a 24-hour system.
4. What side of the road do people drive on? What do we need to know about driving in the country?
We drive on the right side of road.
5. How important is punctuality?
Time is flexible in Cameroon. People don’t always arrive on time for meetings – this is part of the culture.
6. Which types of music are popular? Who are some of the most popular musicians?
Popular music styles include ambasse bey of the coast, assiko of the Bassa, mangambeu of the Bangangte, and tsamassi of the Bamileke. Nigerian music has influenced Anglophone Cameroonian performers. The two most popular styles of music are makossa and bikutsi. Makossa developed in Douala and mixes folk music, highlife, soul, and Congo music. Performers such as Manu Dibango, Francis Bebey, Moni Bilé, and Petit-Pays popularised the style worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s. Bikutsi originated as war music among the Ewondo. Artists such as Anne-Marie Nzié developed it into a popular dance music beginning in the 1940s, and performers such as Mama Ohandja and Les Têtes Brulées popularised it internationally during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.
For a taste of music from Cameroon, listen to Anne-Marie Nzié’s Beza Ba Dzo.
7. Are there any Traditional Dances?
Dance is an integral part of Cameroonian ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings, and storytelling. Traditional dances are highly choreographed. 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. Traditional dances segregate dancers based on age, occupation, sex, social status, and other factors. Some dances require special costumes and props such as masks or fans. Professional dancers make a living among some ethnic groups, and other professionals perform at national festivals and for tourists. Popular dance, wherein men and women dance together, is found in Cameroon’s bars, nightclubs, and private parties. This style is closely tied with popular music, such as makossa, bikutsi, highlife, and hip hop. Dancing is an important avenue of social protest and political rallying in the country. Cameroon is home to more than 200 different traditional dances.
Watch traditional Assiko dancing here.
8. What traditional Festivals are celebrated in the country?
Held during July in Ngaoundéré, a city in the Adamawa area, the Nyem-Nyem Festival is held to commemorate the resistance movement of the Nyem-Nyem people against German control. Locals come out in full force, showing their support for those who fought for the region’s independence. The occasion is marked by cultural dances with full traditional attire.
Observed in either August or September, Culture Week takes place all over Cameroon. The youth travel back to their villages to pay respect to their families and ancestors. The week also involves music shows, wrestling matches, sports games and traditional dances that involve sacred masks.
African Theater Festival for Children and Young People (FATEJ)
November in Cameroon marks the exciting arrival of the FATEJ. Held every two years in Yaoundé, the festival brings together young people from across Africa and around the world to participate in theatre workshops delivered by industry professionals. The event is a great opportunity for troupes around the country to hone their craft in a cosmopolitan and collaborative environment.
Festival National des Arts et de la Culture (FENAC)
FENAC is the largest festival in Cameroon that has no religious affiliation. Simply a celebration of the country’s vibrant arts scene, artists from all over help to grow the event and promote the rich heritage of the region. Taking place in Moroua in December, FENAC is characterized by lively parades, colorful music and dance shows.
9. What are the seasons like?
The climate varies with terrain, from tropical along the coast to semiarid and hot in the north. Exceedingly hot and humid, the coastal belt includes some of the wettest places on earth. For example, Debundscha, at the base of Mt. Cameroon, has an average annual rainfall of 10,300 millimetres (405 in). Almost everywhere, there is a dry season in winter and a rainy season in summer due to the African monsoon, which is shorter in the north and longer in the south, while along the coast, even in winter there can be some showers. The northernmost part of the country, on the shores of Lake Chad, is the driest area, where less than 600 millimeters (23.5 inches) of rain fall per year
10. What are some interesting facts about the President?
President Paul Biya has been the President of Cameroon since 1982. A native of Cameroon’s south, Biya rose rapidly as a bureaucrat under President Ahmadou Ahidjo in the 1960s, serving as Secretary-General of the Presidency from 1968 to 1975 and then as Prime Minister of Cameroon from 1975 to 1982. He succeeded Ahidjo as president upon the latter’s surprise resignation in 1982 and consolidated power in a 1983–1984 staged attempted coup. The regime is supported by France, which supplies it with weapons and trains its repressive forces. France is the leading foreign investor, ahead of the United States.
Biya introduced political reforms within the context of a one-party system in the 1980s. Under serious pressure, he accepted the introduction of multiparty politics in the early 1990s. Opposition politicians and Western governments have alleged voting irregularities and fraud on numerous occasions. President Biya is currently the longest-ruling non-royal leader in the world.
11. What are the country’s major industries?
Cameroon’s main industries are petroleum production and refining, aluminum production, food processing, light consumer goods, textiles, lumber, and ship repair. Its major exports include crude oil, cocoa beans, coffee, and cotton. France is Cameroon’s main trading partner and source of private investment and foreign aid.
12. What are some of the things visitors can look forward to experiencing?
Major tourist attractions include Mount Cameroon, Dja Faunal Reserve, Lobé Falls, Korup National Park, and the National Museum in Yaounde.
13. What is a popular local drink?
Water, palm wine, and millet beer are the traditional mealtime drinks, although beer, soda, and wine have gained popularity.
14. What is a popular local dish?
Cuisine varies by region, but a large, one-course, evening meal is common throughout the country. A typical dish is based on cocoyams, maize, cassava (manioc), millet, plantains, potatoes, rice, or yams, often pounded into dough-like fufu. This is served with a sauce, soup, or stew made from greens, groundnuts, palm oil, or other ingredients. Meat and fish are popular but expensive additions, with chicken often reserved for special occasions.Dishes are often quite hot, spiced with salt, red pepper sauce, and noodles. French bread is widely consumed as part of breakfast in Francophone areas.
15. What do you pay, on average, for the following?
Cameroon uses the Central African CFA franc. (1 USD = approximately 588 CFA).
3 Course meal: 6,000 CFA
Domestic beer: 600 CFA
Cup of coffee: 700 CFA
Coca cola (330ml): 470 CFA
Milk (1l): 1,200 CFA
Loaf of white bread: 300 CFA
Apples (1 kg): 1,400 CFA
Water (1.5l): 400 CFA
16. Any general safety tips?
- Travel to the far north, within 40 km of the Nigerian border, within 40 km of the Chad border, and within 40 km of the Central African Republic border is not advised.Travel is also not advised in the towns of Buea, Muyuka, and Tiko.
- There are Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa terrorism risks in Cameroon, especially in the northern regions.
- Health authorities have classified Cameroon as having a risk of Zika virus transmission.
- Be vigilant and aware of your surroundings.
- Travel at night should be avoided.
17. In conclusion, famous (and sometimes infamous) people from the country include:
- Richard Bona, a Grammy Award-winning bassist.
- Marc-Vivien Foé, a footballer who played as a midfielder for both club and country.
- Véronique Mang, a track and field sprint athlete, competing internationally for France.
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