THE Baka—also known as Pygmies—were likely the first inhabitants of Cameroon. Then, in the 1500’s, the Portuguese arrived. Several hundred years after that, the Fulani—an Islamic people—conquered northern Cameroon. Today, 40 percent of Cameroon’s inhabitants claim to be Christian, 20 percent are Muslim, and the remaining 40 percent practice traditional African religions.
The people who live in the rural areas of Cameroon are particularly hospitable. Visitors are greeted and welcomed inside the home, where they are served water and food. To refuse the householder’s hospitality is considered an insult, while accepting the offer is a compliment.
Conversation begins with greeting the family members and asking about their welfare. It is even customary to ask how the animals are faring! “When a guest leaves a household, it isn’t enough to say, ‘Good-bye,’” says Joseph, a native of Cameroon. “Often, the host will accompany the guest partway down the road and continue conversing with him. Then, at some point, he will bid the visitor farewell and return home. A guest who does not receive this treatment may feel unappreciated.”
When sharing a meal, sometimes a group of friends will eat from the same plate—at times, with their hands. In Cameroon, this custom is a powerful symbol of unity. In fact, on occasion it has been used to bring together people whose friendship has faded for some reason. In a sense, a communal meal is a way of saying, “We are now at peace.”