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Early History of Cameroon

The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Bakas (Pygmies). They still inhabit the forests of the south and east provinces. Bantu speakers originating in the Cameroonian highlands were among the first groups to move out before other invaders.


Throughout history the region witnessed numerous invasions and migrations by various ethnic groups, especially by the Fulani, Hausa, Fang, and Kanuri. Contact with Europeans began in 1472, when the Portuguese reached the Wuori River estuary, and a large-scale slave trade ensued, carried on by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, and English.

Bantu speakers were among the first groups to settle Cameroon, followed by the Muslim Fulani in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.

Arrival of the Europeans

The Portuguese were the first to arrive on the shores of Cameroon in the 1500s and they established sugar plantations and began to trade slaves from the region.

Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon's coast in the 1500s, the Dutch took over the slave trade in the 1600s and in 1884 the region became a protectorate of Germany. Malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria suppressant, quinine, became available.

The early European presence in Cameroon was primarily devoted to coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network.

The land escaped colonial rule until 1884, when treaties with tribal chiefs brought the area under German domination. After World War I, the League of Nations gave the French a mandate over 80% of the area, and the British 20% adjacent to Nigeria.

Last Updated on Friday 13th November 2009