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'The World in Miniature': Cameroon in World History as seen through Documents, Film, Literature and Photographs

Marc Gilbert
North Georgia College and State University



In remote southwestern Cameroon, historian Martin Njeuma (right) talks with a farmer who is wearing an American souvenir Apollo XIII Mission Control jacket. Though taken almost two decades ago to illustrate the global reach of changing styles of Western dress, this picture can now be better used to illustrate what has been only recently recognized as a prime early example of the globalization of the modern economy: much of the discarded or donated used clothing in the United States has long been bought in bulk by American surplus clothing companies and resold by the shipping container to African middlemen in port cities. These middlemen then resell large lots to merchants in the countryside, who re-sell them in small bundles to individual clothing salesmen who in turn set up shop in village streets and offer them to customers such as the one pictured here. Such a jacket today would sell for between seventy-five cents and a dollar and a quarter in sub-Saharan Africa (author's photograph). For a recent, classroom ready illustration of this process including color photogrpahs, see George Packer, Adventures of an Old Shirt, _The Week_, no. 124 (September 26, 2003), pp. 40-41.

    Africa presents special difficulties for instructors responsible for survey courses in world history. Since there are almost no themes and few moments in world history in which Africa does not figure, Africa's place in world history is difficult to encapsulate. Africa is, moreover, resistant to a "regional" approach to world civilizations. Unlike sub-continental Europe or South Asia, Africa is a continent with a variety of large and distinct regions of its own. In the early 1980s, the American Historical Association (AHA) hoped to address the difficulty of placing all of Africa within the most common macro-historical approaches by sending a group of 12 American scholars to study in the Republic of the Cameroon, which has long been reputed to be "Africa in miniature." Cameroon had come by this sobriquet honestly, due to its varied geography (ranging from rainforest to savannah to desert), ethnography (from Fulbe/Fulani to Pygmy), languages (both French and English as well as traditional Central and West African languages) and religions (Christianity and Islam as well as indigenous belief systems). It also possesses an archetypical experience of indigenous state formation, of colonial conquest and administration, of the First World War, of the Mandate System, of Negritude, of Afro-Asian independence movements, of the Cold War, and of post-colonial society, economy and polity.
    It was the AHA's hope that its "Cameroon Study Group" would re-conceptualize the rich content of African history along broad themes that might be used to improve the teaching of Africa in the United States. This project succeeded insofar as it helped convince these scholars that a broader approach to all of world history, not merely Africa, was required in school curricula: many of the so-called Cameroon group were among the founding members the World History Association, including Kevin Reilly and Marilyn Hitchens, who served as its president, the late Ray Lorantas, who served as its first Executive Director and others, including Dana Greene and this writer, who served on its initial Executive Council.
     Thanks to the efforts of the WHA and the pioneering work of African and world historians such as Philip Curtin, Pat Manning, and most recently, Eric Gilbert and Jonathan T. Reynolds (authors of Africa and World History, 2004), Africa now occupies a larger place in the world history curriculum than ever before. However, even the best of world history surveys today tend towards regional grand tours (West African constitutionalism, South and East African resistance movements) or thematic treatment (the era of independence) that are often conducted on the very cusp of teacher preparation (few teachers have in-depth training in one region of Africa, let alone all of them) and are often wanting in lecture exemplification, classroom activity and student learning opportunities beyond one or two issues, such as the slave trade. 4
    It is here that Cameroon, with its above-mentioned reputation as "Africa in miniature," may be of service. Indeed, its place in African and modern world history is easily and quickly grasped and its parallels with other African and non-African environments are easily drawn. The resources for accomplishing the latter are readily available: students engaged in two hours of work with the resources offered below will leave them feeling confident in their command of the major problems not merely of modern West or Central African history, but how some major themes of modern world history play themselves out across a continent. As a result, students will be better able to recognize familiar issues such as patron-client systems and "indirect rule" because they better understand their context in a terrain that has become familiar by close study. Stephen H. Rapp Jr., a historian of the place of Inner Asia in world history, has argued that knowing well the patterns of world history in one small locale can help give a student the confidence needed to address the larger canvass of world history. Cameroon may serve that goal from global epidemics (AIDS), to travel writing, to the role of women in African society.
    It is hoped that even those instructors with neither the time nor the inclination to use Cameroon as such a touchstone for world history will find the following sources for documents and images associated with Cameroon's colonial and post-colonial experience useful for classroom activities and student research. It closes with a review of resources for such activities.
Starting Out  

Those with no acquaintance with Cameroon or West Africa may wish to first visit brief user-friendly overviews at and or They might also wish to consult Martin Njeuma's Introduction to the History of the Cameroon in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1989).

The University of Pennsylvania maintains a good introductory website with links to information about Cameroon. A large unannotated bibliography of Cameroon Studies can be found at See also Mark DeLancy's Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon (Metuchin, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 3rd edition, 2000). Unfortunately, most of the image links at, the comprehensive Stanford site on Cameroon Studies, are broken. Instructors may wish to go, which has large number of links and considerable image data on Cameroon.

The on-line WHKLMA Historical Atlas/History of the Cameroon website at is simply the best source for maps on Cameroon. It includes links to such map resources as the University of Texas at

Pre-Modern Cameroon  
Cameroon is famous for its ceremonial wooden masks. The people of western grassfields (North West and West Province) are known as the finest wood carvers. The mask on the left is from Oku in North West Province, and the mask to its right is from Bamoun or Bamum in West Province (author's photographs).  
    Though as a practical matter the following essay is devoted to modern Cameroon, there are a number of issues in Cameroon's pre-modern history that illustrate major world history themes. These include world art (see P. Gebauer, Art of Cameroon, New York: Portland Museum & Metropolitan Museum, 1979 and T. Northern, The Art of Cameroon Washington DC: Smithsonian Institute, 1984); pre-colonial African polity (see R. G. Dillon, Ranking and Resistance: A Precolonial Cameroonian Polity in Regional Perspective, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990); slavery (see E. M. Chilver, and P. M. Kaberry, "Sources of the Nineteenth-Century Slave Trade: The Cameroons Highlands," in the Journal of African History, Vol. 6 no. 1 (1965), pp. 117-20); the proliferation of gun technology (J. P, Warnier, "Trade Guns in the Grassfields of Cameroon," Paideuma Vol. 26 (1980), 79-92); relations between humans and nature (C. Geary, "Elephants, Ivory, and Chiefs: The Elephant and the Arts of the Cameroon Grassfields," in D. Ross (ed.), Elephant: the Animal and *Its Ivory in African Culture (Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of Cultural History, University of California, Los Angeles, 1992); religion (see and the nature of pre-modern state formation (See M. J. Rowlands, "Local & Long-distance Trade & Incipient State Formation in the Bamenda Plateau in the late 19th Century," in Paideuma, Vol. 25 (1979), pp. 41-52 and his "Power and Moral Order in Precolonial West Central Africa," in E. M. Brumfiel and K. E. Earle, Specialization, Exchange, and Complex Societies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
    The role of woodcarving among the Nso people, much like metal-working in other African states and elsewhere around the world, was closely related to the power and authority of the Fon or chief (see for the life and work of one such carver, Daniel Kanjo Musa, and a superb panoramic picture of his work). 9
    The region of the Mandara Mountains on the Nigerian-Cameroonian border, inhabited by highland peoples worthy of comparison to those in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, was raided by Muslim Fulani/Fulbe warriors for slaves from the 16th to the 19th century. The last of these raiders, Hamman Yaji, was arrested perhaps because colonial authorities identified him with the much earlier Usman dan Fodio (see below) and Muhammad Achmed (Al-Madhi) of Sudan. He thus bears comparison with those movements. His diary is a noteworthy source for the region. See J. H. and A. H. M. Kirk-Greene, (eds.), The Diary of Hamman Yaji: Chronicle of a West African Muslim Ruler (Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995). His story and the still living psychological, social and political legacy of the slave trade in the region are explored at (click on the "slavery" link in the first paragraphs of the text). This site identifies publications on a host of other topics relevant to the study of world history, including terrace farming and ethnogenesis among the people of the region.
    The Hausa/Fulani/Fulbe jihad of Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) mentioned above, led to the establishment of the Sokoto Caliphate in the early nineteenth century, one well-known to world historians (see and This Caliphate's largest and richest emirate was Adamawa, which extended across northern Cameroon. This "jihad" is briefly summarized at Historian Mark DeLancey maintains a very full bibliography of sources on the Fulani/Fulbe at As in Nigeria, the descendants of the Fulani/Fulbe Sultans (Lamidos) remain politically influential in Cameroon.

Cameroon and the Literature of Colonialism and Post-Colonialism in West Africa  
    An introduction to the nexus of literature and politics in Cameroon is provided by Richard Bjornson in The African Quest for Freedom and Identity: Cameroonian Writing and the National Experience (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991). It is a source worth exploring, due to the importance of the region's literature to modern world history. When the literature of European imperialism is mentioned, several works usually come to mind (all still in print): Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere (1887) Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (1902), Multatuli's Max Havalaar: The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company (1860), George Orwell's Burmese Days (1944) and Pan Boi Chau's Prison Notes/Ho Chi Minh's Prison Diaries (combined in a 1978 edition). However, two Cameroonian-born authors, Mongo Beti (pen name of Alexandre Biyidi Awala), and Ferdinand Oyono, have produced core works not merely of the African literary canon of colonialism, but which also belong in the world canon of such literature.
    Mongo Beti's Mission to Kala (1964) is a critically admired, amusing and popular short novel on the dislocating effects of Western culture on African identity. Beti's The Story of the Madman (Charlottesville, V. A.: University of Virginia, 1994) is an attack on the postcolonial state, while Christ of Bomba (English trans. 1971, sexual themes) and King Lazarus (New York: Heineman, 1960, 1981) are more direct attacks on Christian Mission culture. As the title of his Rape of Cameroon reaffirms, he was also a noted anti-neocolonialist writer (he passed away in 2001). 13
    As a West/Central African writer on the African colonial experience, Beti is second only to Nigerian Chinua Achebe. Achebe's Things Fall Apart (New York: Heineman Educational, 1958 and current imprints) and, specifically, his Arrow of God (New York: Anchor, 1964, 1989), with its bearing on indirect rule in the Nigerian-Cameroonian borderland), has application to the Cameroonian colonial experience. Beti himself also wrote about Nigeria. Their joint transnational approach is a potent political statement in and of itself as to the legitimacy of colonial boundaries.
    Cameroonian writer Ferdinand Oyono is as accessible as Achebe and Beti. His most famous work, The Old Man and the Medal (New York: Heineman Educational, 1956, English trans. 1967) is something of a colonial-themed version of Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, in that it is tale told from the perspective of a victim lost in the system. Oyono's novel, Houseboy (New York: Harcourt Education/Heineman, 1960, 1990), written in the form of a houseboy's diary, describes the arc of the life of Toundi, a naïve Cameroonian boy who lives in awe of his colonial masters. When he is placed in service as the houseboy for a local commander, his vision of relations between the colonizer and the colonized becomes too acute for his own good.
    Since young readers find Beti and Oyono's works, like Achebe's, very accessible, excerpts of each are widely anthologized, such as Leon Clark's two-volume edited work, Through African Eyes, Volume 1: The Past: The Road to Independence, and Through African Eyes Volume 2, Culture and Society: Continuity and Change (Black Point, Nova Scotia: Fernwood Books 1988, 1991). These publications are accompanied by a Teaching Strategies volume (2000). Instructors can thus, if they so choose, easily expose students to these authors via sampling (of course all are readily available in paperback). Fernbank Publishers can be reached at 32 Oceanvista Lane, Site 2A, Box 5, Black Point, NS B0J 1B0, phone: (902) 857-1388, fax: (902) 857-1328.
    Also available in paperback are the works of Cameroon's premier woman writer, Calixthe Beyala, who also stands out as that country's truest poet of global multicultural experience, as indicated by the following brief publisher's synopsis of one of her best known works, Your Name Shall be Tanga (New York: Harcourt Education/Heineman, 1996). This work tries to subvert the image of African womanhood created by Negritude authors via a narrative technique similar to Ignmar Bergamn's film, "Persona," whereby the protagonists, one a young incarcerated woman and the other her half-mad older female cellmate, fuse identities. In the process, the author "underlines the solidarity that unites women across racial, religious, class and national lines" (description from publisher's webpage at
    Synopses and appreciations of all these works, biographies of the authors and lesson plans/student activities for use with their novels can be found at the following web sites.  

For Chinua Achebe, see:

For Mongo Beti: (biography) (in French)

For Calixthe Beyala:

For Ferdinand Oyono: (Study questions) (Oyono as part of a lesson plan on Africa and Negritude (as part of a lesson plan on French literature)

Colonial End Game and Post-Independent Cameroon  

National Flag of Cameroon

    Since the British Mandate in western Cameroon was, against that mandate's provisions, managed from Muslim-majority Nigeria, while the rest of the country was administered by France, the struggle for independence and of shaping post-colonial Cameroon's boundaries was very difficult. Indeed, Cameroonians were forced to choose and develop national and even ethnic identities that were more products of colonialism than would have been otherwise the case. The French and British colonial authorities were quick to exploit these divisions and successfully "spun" Cameroonian resistance to the partition of the region as communist in nature. A standard account of this process is provided in Victor Le Vine, The Cameroons: From Mandate to Independence (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1964).
    There is thus an interesting parallel between events in Cameroon and Indochina, though in Cameroon France was victorious in installing a friendly authoritarian regime led by Amadu Ahidjo, which soon made French paratroopers unnecessary. See two works by Richard Joseph, Radical Nationalism in Cameroun: Social Origins of the U..P.C. Rebellion (Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press. 1977) and Gaullist Africa: Cameroon under Ahmadu Ahidjo (Enugu, Nigeria: Fourth Dimension Publishing Co. Ltd., 1978). The events of the period may be personalized by reading Alan F. Rowbotham's short personal account of military operations in Cameroon between 1959 and 1961 against African foes, whose motives he could hardly understand. His story, a useful and immediate one for students, is at (click on "Your Stories" at top of file). 20
    The most recent events in post-colonial politics in Cameroon are given a brief survey at (which notes that Paul Biya, Ahidjo's successor, has hardly been seen for years, even though he is currently up for "re-election'), and at http://www.CCSU.EDU/AFSTUDY/fall96.html. The former includes a photograph of the "White Palace," one of the great monuments that Africa's so-called "Wizards" (the first generation of independent Africa's authoritarian rulers) built as symbols to their achievement and status at the expense of their impoverished people. See also Greg Asuagbor's Democratization and Modernization in a Multilingual Cameroon (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, 1998). The standard source on post-independent Cameroon is Mark DeLancey, Cameroon: Dependence and Independence (Boulder: Westview Press, 1989). Also useful is N. Kofele-Kale, "Ethnicity, Regionalism and Political Power: a Post-Mortem of Ahidjo's Cameroon," in I. W. Zartman and M. Schatzberg (eds.), The Political Economy of Cameroon (New York: Praeger, 1986). A Gramscian view of Cameroon is offered by P. Geschiere, "Hegemonic Regimes and Popular Protest: Bayart, Gramsci and the State in Cameroon," in W. van Binsbergen, R. Reyntjens and G. Hesseling (eds.), State and Local Community in Africa (Brussels: Afrika Studie en Dokumentatiecentrum, 1986).

The Legacy of the Colonial Mapping of Africa  
    Perhaps the most fateful damage European colonial rule inflicted in Africa was its drawing of colonial boundaries to suit European needs, and with disregard for African realities. Cameroon, parts of which were administered at different times by Germany, France and Britain, remains haunted by this legacy. An excellent series of maps traces the changing pattern of colonial rule. It also establishes the currently disputed borders at Links to the right of the map provide a excellent commentary on Cameroonian colonial history. 22

    Early resistance to Cameroon's partition was traced by V. G. Fanso, Interfrontier Relations and Resistance to Cameroon: Nigeria Colonial Boundaries, 1916-1945 (Doctorat d'Etat: Yaoundé, 1982), a source not likely available to the non-specialist. However, see also M. Barkindo, "The Mandara Astride the Nigeria-Cameroon Boundary," in A. I. Asiwaju (ed.), Partitioned Africans: Ethnic Relations Across Africa's International Boundaries 1884-1984 (London: Hurst & Co., 1985), pp. 29-49 and I. Kopytoff (ed.), The African Frontier: the Reproduction of Traditional African Societies (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987). For the continuing Bakweri land dispute see For the Bakassi Peninisula case, which is still before the World Court, see, http://www.virtual-institute.dede/en/wcd/wcd.cfm?dec0301.Cfm and

Women's Studies  
    Cameroon offers numerous opportunities for the study of gender relations, including women's studies. These range from Shirley Ardener's "Sexual Insult and Female Militancy," in her edited work, Perceiving Women (London: Malaby Press, 1975), to J. A. Mope's "Royal Wives in the Ndop Plains," in the Canadian Journal of African Studies 25(3), 418-431, supplementing P. M. Kaberry's earlier work, Women of the Grassfields (London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1952.) Anthropologist Mitzi Goheen of Amherst College, author of Men Own the Fields, Women Own the Crops: Gender and Power in the Cameroon Grassfields (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1996) offers an accessible and valuable analysis of gender relations in Cameroon on-line at 23
    There are two separate searchable databases for the study of the women of the Cameroon: the over 30,000 citations of the African Women's Bibliographic Database (, and the Africana Periodical Literature Bibliographic Database, with citations to journal articles from the mid-19th century to date (which includes e-journals) at http://WWW.AfricaBib.Org. A very useful, if slightly slow-loading bibliography on the women of the southern Cameroon is offered on­line at

Cameroon and Contemporary Global Issues  

Map Source: the World Bank (

      The building of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline is a major controversy with parallels to the Narmada Dam building project in India, especially in terms of the lack of political voice permitted to those most deeply affected. Labor has been exploited and the environment damaged. Inaugurated on 14 June 2004, it is currently ramping up to its expected rate of 250,000 barrels per day over 25 years. The pipeline is expected to generate $12 billion over its lifetime, out of which Chad will receive 12.5 percent of the revenues and Cameroon will receive even less. The problem is best outlined, with maps and illustrations, at three sites:;; and The Catholic Relief Service provides an activist's analysis entitled "The Bottom of the Barrel" at For the World Bank position on the project, see or call them at (202)473-4467. 25
    Cameroon is also a major battleground of environmental resistance against rainforest loss, with much of its pristine rainforest having been sold off to French industry. One book that places this process in global context is available in pdf format on-line at See also another site at http://www. (For lesson plan, see below)

    Immediate threats to the health of Cameroonians that have a wider dimension include the ravages of the Tes-Tse fly (, the HIV/AIDS epidemic (see http:// or, search key word "Cameroon") and volcanic action (see E. Shanklin, "Beautiful, Deadly Lake Nyos; The Explosion and its Aftermath," in Anthropology Today, Vol. 4, no. 1 (1988).
Teaching Guides, Lesson Plans and K-12 Activities  
    A very useful guide to teaching guides, lesson plans and K-12 classroom activities for African history is maintained by Stanford University at A similar site is hosted by the University of Pennsylvania at This is very large site, but the indexing is to links that deal with other subjects as well as Africa. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS) offers 56 resources from lesson plans to games for teaching about Africa at 28
    The Southern Center for International Studies offers a superb VHS video and an accompanying 20-section lesson plan/workbook entitled "Africa in Transition" that addresses most of the subjects addressed here, from colonialism to slavery. The workbook also includes several sections placing Africa in the context of world geography and cultural representation. For pricing and further information, call 800-261-5763 ext. 145 or visit 29
    For West Africa generally, see Misty L. Bastian and Jane L. Parpart, "Great Ideas for Teaching About Africa" (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publications, 1999), named an "Outstanding title" by Choice.

A short article, "Focusing the African Kaleidoscope," published in American Historical Association's Perspectives, Vol. 21, no. 5 (May-June 1983), is devoted to teaching African historical themes in a global context using Cameroonian examples. A copy of the article is available by e-mailing a message with a mailing address typed in the form of a mailing label to

The most active learning site may be the Natural History Museum education site, which offers an exercise in which students design their own palace at Bamum.

Indiana University and Fulbright scholars to Cameroon have combined to produce four Middle School and High School lesson plans addressing Cameroonian culture, including a guide to introducing Francophone Cameroon into courses in the French language. Free printer-friendly versions of the curriculum materials and lesson are available on-line at For many other classroom activities, lesson plans, and curriculum development materials, see; and the ERIC Digest report on Africa at The University of Kansas maintains a useful African Studies Resource Center (KUASRC) site at

    There is an excellent lesson plan requiring only the pictures from the children's book "The Fortune Teller" by Lloyd Alexander and Trine Schart Hyman, a Dutton paperback reprint of a 1992 edition available for less than a dollar from on-line booksellers. The detailed lesson plan stands alone from the text of the book. This is important to note as the book itself contains fairy tale stereotypes of Cameroonians and its value beyond its illustrations resides only in the opportunity it offers for practice at cultural deconstruction! This lesson plan is aimed at younger readers, but it is still worth a look at
    A lesson plan on the Baka people of the Cameroonian rainforest is described at There is a delightful "Field Trip Earth" interactive site on the endangered elephants of Cameroon at featuring an interactive project to track and study elephants in northern Cameroon as well as lessons, K-12 activities and links to related sites.
    Though mentioned above only in the context of the Slave Trade, one of the most breathtakingly beautiful regions of Africa are the Mandara mountains on the northern-western border of Cameroon, part of which which American vistors often describe as Africa's "Monument Valley." It is considered very good luck to take a piece of earth or rock from this stunning region, as it will help visitors to find their way back. It is hoped that this essay illuminates both the benefits of engaging this land and its people in the world history classroom and also the reasons why so many world historians who have had the good fortune to have worked there wish to return.

Biographical Note: Marc Jason Gilbert is Professor of History at North Georgia College and State University, and is a University System of Georgia Regents Distinguished Professor of Teaching and Learning. He is also co-director of the University System of Georgia's programs in India and Vietnam. He has published several books about Vietnam, and is co-author with Peter Stearns, Michael Adas and Stuart Schwartz of the third revised edition of the world history survey text, World Civilizations: The Global Experience (2000).


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