Cameroon is often qualified as Africa in miniature because of its rich cultural and geographical diversity. In spite of this diversity, the country has been demarcated into cultural zones (Spheres). This diversity is manifested in more than two hundred and fifty languages, architecture, social structure, economic organisation, culinary arts, customs, customs and traditions, folklore, dress, dance etc. Indeed, one only criterion is not enough to characterize these cultural zones. These cultural zones for convenience’s sake have been divided in conformity with the administrative structures of the country.
- The Grass field sphere (zone), comprising of North West Regions and the West Regions;
- The Fang-Beti Cultural Sphere, comprising the Centre, South and East Regions;
- The Sawa cultural Zone (Sphere), comprising the Littoral and the South West Regions
- The Sudano-Sahelian Cultural Zone, comprising Adamawa, North and Far North Regions
THE GRASSFIELDS CULTURAL ZONE
Located in the high plateau of the west, the grass field cultural sphere covers the North West and the West Region. Ecologically, this is the highest altitude zone bordering a tropical forest zone. It is here that the Bantu languages of Africa are believed to have their homeland (GREENBERG, 1963; EHRET, 1982).
The grass field zone is therefore characterized by numerous kingdoms of different sizes, origins and complexity, some dating as far back as the seventeenth century (KABBERY 1962). They are governed by a centralized sacred kingship system in which secret societies play an important role. Palaces here are not just the residences of rulers, but they play a prominent role in the social and spiritual life of the people. Important festivals such as “ngoun” of the Bamoun, the “Abin” of the Bafut, the “Lela” of the Bali etc, all take place in the palace at the start of the dry season in December.
Palaces are among the most important monuments in this zone. The West Region alone has about 108 palaces and at least half that number in the North-west Region, and most of them have palace museums.
The traditional architecture of the grass field is characterized by a square bamboo frame plastered with mud and a conical thatched roof.
Patrimonial meals that are common in the grass field cultural sphere, include:
Khati Khati and Njama Njama (Corn Fufu)
As the name implies, it is prepared from corn fufu (maize). It is then ground into corn flour, then cooked in boiled water and a wooden stick is used to stir at regular intervals until it is ready. It is then removed and tied either on banana leaves or polythene papers. Fufu corn can be eaten with a variety of soups (Huckle berry ‘njama njama’) and kati-kati (Roasted chicken). Tomatoes, onion, Maggi and red oil are some of the spices used in preparing vegetables. This patrimonial dish is usually eaten during ceremonies like; death celebrations, born houses, etc. It is common among the Bali Nyonga, Nso, Kom and Ngoketunja) just to name a few. It is important to note that Corn fufu and kati kati has become popular and is eaten in most parts of the Country.
Achu and Yellow Soup
Achu is a meal very common with the Bamenda people. It is the main meal of several villages in the North West region of Cameroon, especially amongst the Ngemba’s (Bafut, Mankon, Bambui etc). Also widely eaten by the Bamilekes in the western region of the country. Achu is made from pounded cocoyam and a bright yellow soup with specific spices to give it a unique flavour. In a typical traditional village setting, the food is served on plantain leaves and eaten with fingers. It is called ‘fufu’ in some places, and ‘taro’ in the French-speaking parts of the grass fields. Achu soup consists of boiled and pounded cocoyams, canwa (limestone), water, spices, and palm oil. The palm oil changes the colour of the soup to yellow, which is the reason why Achu soup is also known as yellow soup.
“Nkui” is a common traditional dish in the “Grassfields”. In Cameroon, the “Grassfield” people of western Cameroon are known for their high reproductive rate. This reproductive success attributed to the “Grassfield” people is due mainly to the content of their food, particularly spices believed to enhance reproduction. “Nkui” is a traditional food highly consumed, especially by women in the last trimester of pregnancy to facilitate delivery.
“Nkui” is eaten with soft fufu corn, and it is usually served hot. It is mostly cooked during ceremonies like; death celebrations, funerals, born house (childbirth celebration), rituals and festivals.
With respect to traditional outfits, the “NDOP” as known in the West Region and “TOGO” in the Northwest, is the common outfit worn by men as well as women in most of the communities within the grass field zone. However, the significance of the markings on the dress (“NDOP”) varies with respect to the various communities. It is an outstanding outfit that easily identifies one as a Grass lander (Grafi)
THE SAWA CULTURAL SPHERE
The Sawa cultural zone roughly corresponds to the Littoral and South-west Regions. These two Regions have played an important role in the making of Cameroon’s history. Buea the Regional capital of the South West Region, and located at the feet of Mt Cameroon was the capital of German Kamerun from 1884 to 1916. The Douala and Limbe sea ports, gates ways into the world are located in these two Regions. The Sawa cultural zone has been in contact with the West for a long time and this is reflected in the numerous and impressive colonial relics that are found in the zone. The major groups that constitute the Sawa cultural zone are the Doula, Bassa, Bakoko, Mbo (in the Littoral Region), Bakweri, Balong and Bafaw (in the South West Region). Owing to their location along the coast, the sea has a big role to play in the cultural, economic and social life of the Sawa people.
With respect to local gastronomy, major traditional meals common in this cultural sphere include: Ndole eaten by the Douala’s, kpwa coco and Timba na mbusa eaten in the entire Fako Division, Esuba Nsanpnge and Mbop eaten throughout Kupe-Muanenguba Division, ABEH NTCHI eaten in the entire Lebialem.
Major folkloric musical rhythms’ that can be found in the Sawa cultural sphere includes; Aziko, Chacha, Bolobo, Njang..etc
The Sawa are fishermen, and some of their important cultural festivals are; the “Ngondo” or the feast of the “Batangas”, FESTAC in Limbe etc….
THE FANG-BETI CULTURAL ZONE
The Fang-Beti cultural area covers the Centre, East and South Regions that make up the equatorial forest region bordered on the north by the savannah. It is inhabited mostly by sedentary Bantu farmers and a few Ubanguian groups. The traditions of these peoples reveal an ancient occupation of the area by nomadic hunters and gatherers who currently make up three groups: the Bakas in the East, the Bakolas in the South and the Bedzans in the Centre, a transition zone between the forest and the Savannah.
The first archaeological evidence for human settlement in the region, visibly by hunters and gatherers dates back to the 4th millennium BC. The first villages inhabited by sedentary farmers, cattle herders, hunters, fishermen and potters appeared during the 2nd millennium BC. Several waves of migratory people from the Adamawa ( Beti, Fang, Bassa’a, Tikar) and from the Congo basin (Batanga, Mvumbo) converged on this region in a chronological order that is yet to be understood. It is probably during this period that the ethnic configuration of the Fang-Beti cultural area was achieved. It is essentially constituted of egalitarian exogamous communities. Religious societies regulate social life in the traditional society and have given birth to a particular artistic expression.
European colonization had political, social, economic and cultural consequences on the native population. Urban centres sprang up as well as communication network along the roads and railways. Colonialist are also to be credited with the building of forts, the development of single crop plantations, Schools, dispensaries and setting up of traditional and modern administration.
The Beti-Pahuin are made up of over 20 individual clans. Altogether, they inhabit a territory of forests and rolling hills that stretches from the Sanaga River in the north to Equatorial Guinea and the northern halves of Gabon to Congo to the south, and from the Atlantic Ocean to the west to the Dja River in the east.
The first grouping, called the Beti, consists of the Ewondo (more precisely Kolo), Bane, Fang (more precisely M’fang), Mbida-Mbane, Mvog-Nyenge, and Eton (or Iton).[inconsistent] The Eton are further subdivided into the Eton-Beti, Eton-Beloua, and Beloua-Eton.
Regarding gastronomy, Manioc and maize form the staple crops with plantains, yams, and groundnuts also playing a vital role (in fact, “Ewondo” and “Yaoundé” mean “groundnut”). Prominent traditional dishes from this cultural zone are; Nsanga, mbem, Kok, etc.
THE SUDANO-SAHELIAN CULTURAL ZONE
The Sudano-Sahelien cultural area comprises the Adamawa, North and the Far North Regions whose characteristics features include the Savannah, the Sahel high plateau and plains (Chad, Benue). It is inhabited by speakers of language that belong to the Afro-Asian and Nilo-Saharan plateau. The Sahelien climate of this cultural zone has had a great influence on the life of the people in this area. This has been manifested in their traditional meals that rotates mostly around millet, sorghum, maize and other cereals.
The “Sao” civilization which is marked by huge funeral urns, ceramic pottery and bronze objects, constitute part of the idiosyncratic values of the people. Prominent groups that can be found in this cultural sphere are; the Mundang, Peuhl, Giziga, Toupouri, Maffa, mbaya, massa and many others.
The Sudano-Sahelien cultural sphere is endowed with diverse natural and cultural heritage, ranging from National Parks, traditional architecture to archaeological sites. Some prominent festivals in this zone are; Tokna Massana festival, the kok festival etc.
It should be noted that the Lamidat plays a central role in the political and social organization of the inhabitants of the various communities.
Traditional meals like; folere, tasba, giliganja, are usually served with fufu made out of grind millet, accompanied with local drinks like; “bilibili”, Arky and others.
With respect to language, “fufulbe” is the main lingua-franca, widely spoken by the inhabitants of this cultural zone alongside other native languages like; Hausa, Arabic, Toupouri, etc. French is widely spoken and English to a lesser extent.