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Cameroon: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

Africa, Cameroon, Cultural Sensitivity, Facts and Stats Add comments

Cameroon Hut
Photo by Elin B

CAMEROON: FACTS & STATSLocation: Western Africa. It is bordered on the East by the Central African Republic, on the West by Nigeria, on the northeast by Chad, and on the South by the Republic of Congo. Capital: YaoundéClimate: Extremely hot and humid with plenty of rainfall. Cameroon MapPopulation: 18,060,000 as of July 2007 estimates. Though much better off than its other African counterparts due to thriving agriculture, forestry, petroleum industry, and trade, Cameroon is cursed by corruption and inefficient bureaucracy. According to 2006 estimates, GDP was $42.48, and is predicted to grow by 5.8% in 2008.  Ethnic Make-up: Highlanders 31%, Equatorial Bantu 19%, Kirdi 11%, Fulani 10%, North-western Bantu 8%, Nigritic 7%, Others 14%.  Religions: Indigenous faith 40%, Christian 40%, Muslim 20%. The constitution of this secular state guarantees freedom of religion. About 60 agencies from 27 countries do missionary work in Cameroon. Language: French, English, 24 African languages. 

Government: Republic, headed by President Paul Biya. 

African Lady Carrying BananasTravel Issues: Travel to Cameroon requires a valid passport, visa, and proof of current immunizations including yellow fever vaccination. Your visa application should be send in duplicate to the Cameroon embassy in your country along with two passport sized photos, visa fees, a letter of invitation to visit, a copy of your return ticket, a copy of your current bank statement, and a pre-paid, self-addressed, special delivery envelope without which they may not return your passport to you. You may need to track the progress of your application, as they may not contact you if there is a problem.  

Health & Safety: Yellow fever shots are mandatory for all travellers over a year old. Other immunizations required are Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Malaria, Tetanus, and Typhoid. Rabies shots maybe required depending on season and region of visit. HIV/AIDS is prevalent.

Visitors would do well to not venture outside city limits after dark. This is to minimize dangers arising from factors such as ill-lit streets, unfit vehicles, and armed robbers that make attacks and accidents common.  

Photo by Elin B


The People: About 200 ethnic groups each speaking their own language and having distinct cultural differences make up the ethnic tapestry. The prominent ones are the Bantu, the Sudanic, the Kanuri, the Bamoun, the Kirdi, the Tikar, and the Fulani. About half the population live in the cities, while the other half consist of pastoral communities living in rural areas. 

African Women SingingThe Religion: Roughly 40% of the people follow traditional beliefs if any at all, while another 40% come under various Christian denominations. About 20% are Muslims and they belong to the Fulani tribe. Witchcraft is practised by some as part of traditional beliefs though it is deemed a criminal offense to do so. 

Role of Family: Traditionally, the family imparted a sense of identity and belonging to the individual. All who descended from a common ancestor including brothers and their wives and children belonged together as one unit with the oldest member considered a leader of sorts. Some communities do not have words to signify niece, nephew, uncle, or aunt; all were sons and daughters, fathers and mothers. Modernity has however given rise to a sense of individuality. 

Ancestors: Ancestors are counted among the living and continue as part of the family. As new members arrive, the family grows larger, but death does not reduce the number.  Recreational

Activities: Children in rural areas enjoy a good deal of physical sport in the form of running, jumping, and a kind of hurdle race. In the cities all modern forms of recreation ranging from computer games to organized art and craft work take up their free time. Traditional forms of recreation such as mankala still have aficionados but are few and far between. Football, aka soccer, is of course, a national passion. The Cameroon team places very highly in international competition and is widely esteemed by all Cameroonians.

Anything else important for this culture: Polygyny is widely practised mainly due to the considerable importance accorded to fertility. Fear of divine retribution, the power of occultists, and ostracism from the community are strong governing forces.  

 Cameroon Mountains
Photo by treesftf


Meetings & Greetings: Greet people by name and a handshake. Wait to be seated as there is strict protocol depending on age, status, and hierarchy. If elders are present, speak when you are spoken to. When in the presence of a chief or tribal leader, it is considered impudent to hold their gaze, touch, or appear overly friendly.

Cameroon KidsCourtesy: Do not cross your legs while seated. Always wait for the elder to initiate conversation. Do not take photos of people unless you first ask.

Gift Giving: It is customary to carry a gift when visiting for the first time. Gifts of cooked and uncooked food are highly valued. It is a symbol of kinship and bonding. Fruits, nuts, chocolates, and candies are perfect when visiting families with kids. 

Dress Code: Women wearing trousers invite unwarranted attention and may be considered promiscuous. Long skirts are ideal, and a head scarf is recommended when interacting in Muslim communities. Keep shoulders, arms, and legs covered. Men wear suits or at least long pants. Shorts are frowned upon regardless of the hot weather. Dining

Etiquette: Dining is often a communal affair, seated on the floor and eating off common utensils. In many communities, women and children eat only after the men and guests have eaten. Hands are thoroughly washed before and after meals. Food is eaten with the right hand and never with the left. In the city areas, you may get to use cutlery. 

Cameroon SchoolkidsVisiting a home: Cameroonians are known for their hospitality. They are always ready to welcome visitors; even the ones that drop in unexpectedly. Remember to carry a small gift, especially if there are children in the home. You should not decline the food and drink offered as this may hurt their sentiments.  

Communication Style: A genial handshake and greeting by name is the common method of greeting for both genders. Close relationships warrant a kiss on each cheek. In conversation, adopt an indirect style of communicating rather than overtly stating exactly what you have in mind. Directness in communicating can come across as effrontery. It is wise to keep at least arm’s length between you and others while conversing with unfamiliar people.

Certain gestures might befuddle folks who are not familiar with the lingo. A double click with the tongue is used to convey disbelief. If someone waves their forefinger in a back and forth motion, it means no. To beckon someone closer, you face your palm downwards and motion with the fingers.  Never beckon someone with the palm up.

Cameroon Market
Photo by Elin B

Shopping Tips: Be prepared to bargain when you are out shopping at the markets. If someone offers to show you around and you accept the offer, a small tip is expected. Go with small change instead of large denominations when shopping at small outlets.

Do not flash your money in public. Try to blend in rather than stand out as a foreigner by your way of dressing and behaviour. Backpacks are often targeted by thieves and should never be left unattended. Make copies of all your travel documents including visa and yellow fever immunization and keep separate.

Dos and Don’ts: Avoid travelling alone as much as possible. It is not considered safe for women to be out by themselves after 9 p.m. They are advised against catching a cab at this hour. Try not to get involved in heated discussions on politics, games, and other contentious topics with strangers who appear friendly. Keep away from large crowds, rallies, and gatherings even if your sympathies are with their cause. Avoid photographing military installations and government buildings including airports and post offices.

All photos by Elin B unless otherwise noted

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