Cameroon has 10 distinct regions with different cultural, religious, and political traditions as well as ethnic variety. The partition of the country into British- and French-ruled League of Nations mandates after World War I created Anglophone and Francophone regions. The English-speaking part consists of the Southwest and Northwest regions, where Pidgin English is the lingua franca and English is taught in school.
The educational system and legal practices are those derived from Britain. The French-speaking part consists of the remaining eight regions, where Franglais is the lingua franca and French is taught in school. The French school system is used, and the legal system is based on the statutory law of continental Europe. This part is dominant in numbers and power.
The Administrative repartition of Cameroon is quite simple. The English-speaking part is divided into two cultural belts. The Grassfields peoples of the Northwest Region made up of nearly one hundred chiefdoms each ruled by a divine king known as a Fon. Most of these chiefdoms have patrilineal or dual lineage kinship systems, although some groups, such as the Kom, are matrilineal. Polygyny and fertility are important cultural values, although this varies by wealth and education. The social organization and culture of the Grassfielders are closely related to those of the French-speaking Bamiléké peoples of the West Region.
Like the Bamiléké, Grassfielders often are in opposition to the central government. The peoples of the South West Region had less hierarchical systems of governance and social organization. The British appointed warrant chiefs to aid their colonial rule, and in many instances, the population rallied behind those chiefs in the postcolonial period. The peoples of the South West Region include the Bakossi, Bayangi, Bafaw, Bangwa, Mbo’o, Aboh, Akwaya, and the Bakweri who live along the slopes of Mount Cameroon. The Bakweri practice rites of healing and initiation in associations of spirit mediums and they distinguish between male and female roles and between village and bush settings.
In the French-speaking part, the largely Muslim and animist north is culturally distinct from the largely Christian and animist south. The northern area includes three regions: Adamawa, North, and Far North. Since the jihad led by an Islamic cleric in 1804, the northern region has been culturally dominated by the Fulani. Urban Fulani are renowned as clerics in the Sunni branch of Islam. Most Fulani is cattle herders.
An important subgroup is the Bororro, noted for the size of their cattle herds. With their Hausa colleagues, they engage in long-distance trade comprising of cattle. Other northern ethnic groups include the Mandara, Kokoto, and Arab Choa. Major crops include cotton and millet. Most of the southern peoples are Christians or engage in traditional, animist religious practices. The Center, South, and East regions are characterized by dense tropical rain forest. The Center and South are culturally dominated by the Beti peoples, which include the Ewondo, Eton, and Bulu, and are linguistically and culturally related to the Fang people of Gabon. They are patrilineal, grow root crops and peanuts for their own consumption, and grow cocoa as a cash crop. T
he Ewondo were early converts to Catholicism. The current president, HE Paul Biya is Bulu, and many prominent authors are Beti. Peoples in the East include the Maka and Gbaya, both with relatively egalitarian forms of social organization in Cameroon which reciprocity is a key value. Forestry and tobacco farming are important sources of income. The East Region is also home to the Ba’aka, a tropical forest scavenger (pygmy) group of about thirty thousand to forty thousand living in small camps that exchange forest products with nearby farmers. The Littoral Region is in the coastal rain forest belt in the southwest. It includes the largest city, Douala, and the industrial, hydroelectric, and bauxite mining area near Edea. The major ethnic groups are the Duala and Bassa.
The southern part of the French-speaking area includes the high plateau region of the West Region, which includes the Bamiléké and Bamoun peoples. Both are culturally similar to the Grassfielders. The Bamiléké constitutes roughly 25 percent of the population. In rich volcanic soils they grow food crops and coffee. The population is dense, and the Bamiléké served as a labor reserve population in the twentieth century, resulting in large, entrepreneurial urban expatriate population. The large urban population is prominent in commerce and higher education. Since the conversion of Sultan Njoya to Islam early in the twentieth century, the Bamoun have been a largely Muslim people. Sultan Njoya, a man of unusual intellect, developed an original alphabet and wrote a history of his people and dynasty.
In general, a sense of a common national culture has been created through shared history, schooling, national holidays and symbols, and enthusiasm for soccer. However, ethnic distinctiveness still remains, and ethnic identity became an increasingly important source of social capital during the 1990s.