Cameroon Ethnic Groups

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In Central Africa is the nation of Cameroon, which is home to some incredible diversity. In this lesson, we are going to talk about this diversity, and see what ethnicity means in Cameroon.


A list of the top 100 baby names in the African nation of Cameroon reveals the diversity of the nation, including its many years spent as a colony of various European empires. However, one name is notably absent. Cameron is not a popular baby name in Cameroon, which is really a shame. So, if the Cameroon aren't Camerons, who are they? Well, there are actually several ways to answer this. If we're talking about international soccer, then all people in Cameroon consider themselves proudly Cameroonian. However, within the nation itself, things get a bit more complex. There are roughly 250 distinct ethno-linguistic groups in Cameroon. Most of the time they get along, but not always. Let's take a closer look at Cameroon. We can talk about what it means to be Cameroonian, but if you want to understand the Camerons of this world, sorry you're on your own.


Western Highlander Ethnic Groups

Okay, so how do we begin to talk about 250 ethnic groups? Obviously, we won't have time to talk about all of them, but we can group them into larger categories. The largest ethnic group in Cameroon is…not Cameroonian. That's a nationalistic, not ethnic term. Actually, the largest broad ethnic category in Cameroon are the Western Highlanders. This large group is made up of various ethnic populations mainly located in the northwestern highlands of the nation, which has some very fertile agricultural soils. These cultures belong to the Semi-Bantu language family, a unique language group borrowing from many central African language families, and generally practice traditional religions that worship nature and ancestor spirits. About 38% of Cameroonians fall into this broad ethnic category, with the largest specific ethnic groups being the Bamileke and Bamoun.

The Southern Forest Groups

The next overarching ethnic category of Cameroon are the various people living in the southern part of the nation, in the tropical forests. Their languages come from the Bantu language family, and for most of their history they lived in hunter-gatherer societies that moved about the jungles. Some of these ethnic groups still maintain these traditions to this day. About 40% of people in Cameroon identify religiously as Christian, and they make up the majority of the people in the south. Some of the larger Bantu-speaking ethnic groups in the southern jungles include the Bassa, Douala, Beti, and the Baka, called Pygmies by European explorers due to a relatively small stature developed from generations living in the jungle. All in all, about 30% of people in Cameroon identify with one of these ethnic groups.

There are many in Cameroon who choose to maintain more nomadic lifestyles
People in Cameroon

The Northern Groups

Last, but certainly not least, we've got the various cultures of the northern region of Cameroon. There are a great number of people in this part of the country, and these groups can also be further organized by religion. About 14% of the nation's total population are Muslim, and nearly all of them live in the northern deserts. The largest ethic group of these are the Fulani, who alone make up about 10% of Cameroon's population. The Fulani were once nomadic cattle ranchers, but now the vast majority live in settled communities as farmers or merchants.

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