Cameroon Ethnicity

A Land of Tropical Rainforest and Humid Savanna

Discover more about your ethnicity with AncestryDNA. By comparing your genetic signature to the DNA of people from the Cameroonian region, AncestryDNA can give you a clearer picture of your ethnic origins.

People in this DNA ethnicity group may identify as:
Cameroonian, Gabonese, Congolese, DR Congolese (from the Democratic Republic of Congo)

The story of your ethnicity lives in your DNA.

Cameroon Ethnicity

Because they lie near or on the equator, these nations typically include tropical rainforest and humid savanna. While the Congo takes its name from the old African kingdom of Kongo, Cameroon gets its name from the first Europeans to arrive in the area in 1472. Portuguese sailors found crayfish in the Wouri River and started calling the land the Rio dos Camarões, or River of Shrimp. Eventually, the word Camarões became Cameroon.

Cameroon History

The Congo River Basin has been home to human populations for at least 30,000 years. The first settlers in Cameroon were probably the Baka, groups of Pygmy hunter-gatherers who still inhabit the forests of the south and east, as well as neighboring Gabon and the two Congos. This small group (some 40,000) is actually more closely related to groups found in the deserts of the Africa South-Central Hunter-Gatherers region.

In north-central Cameroon, a high range of rugged mountains stretches across the country from west to east. To the far south and east, in the vast Congo River Basin, the environment consists of dense rainforest and wide waterways. These features have created a degree of isolation and served as a barrier to frequent or large-scale migrations or conquests.

Although the Cameroon/Congo region is incredibly diverse, with more than 200 different ethnic groups, our genetic profile for the region is primarily represented by samples from the Cameroon Grasslands, where the largest populations are subgroups of the Bamileke and Bamum peoples. These tribes’ origins are not known, but it appears that in the 17th century, they moved south into Cameroon in a series of migrations to avoid enslavement—and, in some cases, forced conversion to Islam—by the Fulani peoples. Cameroon’s west and northwest provinces are the country’s most densely populated regions. The populous Bamileke tend to be Christian and live in small fons, or chiefdoms, in highly organized villages led by local chiefs. The less populous Bamum tend to be Muslim and have a more centralized social structure under a high king.

Besides the Grasslands tribes, a smaller number of people live in the southern and central regions of Cameroon and in Congo-Brazzaville (Republic of Congo) and Congo-Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of Congo). However, many of the ethnic groups found in the two Congos are of Bantu origin—meaning they share a common ancestral language and an ancestral homeland on the western border of modern Cameroon and Nigeria. The Bantu peoples began migrating from Cameroon in about 1000 B.C. Some went east across Africa and then south; some settled the Congo River Basin; and some went south along the coast to Angola. These Bantu groups have a genetic ethnicity better represented by the Southeastern Bantu region profile.

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The Slave Trade

The international slave trade in this region began with the Portuguese on Cameroon’s west coast, though it became the practice of many European countries. The threat of malaria prevented any significant settlement or conquest of the interior prior to the 1870s—when an effective malaria drug (quinine) became available. So the Europeans initially focused on coastal trade and acquiring slaves. Most slaves were captured by African middlemen from the interior and taken to port cities to be sold, and the flow of human traffic from many ethnic groups was constant. Around 1.5 million slaves left Africa from this region of Cameroon; combined, nearly half of all slaves destined to work in the Western Hemisphere came from Cameroon and the Congo River Basin. Many slaves from the coastal regions of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea ended up in Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina.


The 19th and 20th centuries

Cameroon 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 control of the remaining 20% (the area adjacent to Nigeria). After World War II the country came under a United Nations trusteeship and self-government was granted. Independence was achieved in 1960 for French Cameroon and in 1961 for British Cameroon.

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