The first peoples from the modern Cameroon area to arrive in the United States, came as captured Africans by their cameroon ancestors that were in authority, sold into the British colonies, during the colonial period, as DNA testing suggests. So, the first documented “enslaved” African, in what was to become the US, probably originating from modern day Cameroon and imported to the colonial United States for serving as a “slave” or some other forced laborer, was John Punch. Punch arrived in Virginia in about 1640. Hen is also considered, by some genealogists and historians, like the author of the article “the first African documented to be enslaved for life in what would eventually become the United States.” as the first documented servant, African or European, to be relegated to the status of “slave for life”.
According to DNA testing records, the ethnicities of the Cameroonian slaves in the modern United States were those of Tikar, Ewondo, Babungo, Bamileke, Bamum, Masa, Mafa, Udemes, Kotoko,Fulani and Hausa from Cameroon; however, many Hausa also came from other places, such asNigeria). In what is referred to as “the whole of the Americas“, we find that the majority of captured Africans, sold to the European slave merchants, on the Cameroon coast, came from the inland places; where they were captured by other ethnic groups, through the invasions of these zones, and sold to the Europeans. They came from the people Batagan, Bassa, and Bulu. So, most of the slaves carried out of the River and from Bimbia in those years, were from Tikari, Douala-Bimbia, Banyangi and Bakossi. Most of them were Bamileke (who accounted for 62 percent of the people).
The predominant slave-trading middlemen in modern Cameroon was Douala, but most of the slaves of modern Cameroon who were delivered to Europeans, regardless of the specific origin of them, were sold to the Fernando Po collection center, from where the European merchants took them to the Americas.
Most of the slaves regarded as Cameroonian are of Bight of Biafra, which included countries located at the Bight of Bonny, which is Nigeria (eastern coast), Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea (Bioko Island and Rio Muni), and Gabon (northern coast) “with many of them hailing from the Cameroon itself” These African “captures” arrived in the modern United States and were sold in Virginia (which had 60% of the slaves of that region, of the then United States. In addition Virginia and South Carolina accounted for 34% of the Africans arriving from Bight of Biafra. Virginia and South Carolina together held 30,000 slaves, hailing from the Bight. These colonies were followed mainly by, Maryland (where another 4% of the Biafra´s captives arrived in the United States, representing another more than 1,000 people of the Bight). Normally, the slaves from current Cameroon were bought cheap, because these slaves preferred to die rather than accept slavery.
The first Cameroonians who voluntarily arrived in the US immigrated to this country in the 1960s, pursuing educational opportunities which were lacking in their own country. During the 1990s many other Cameroonians immigrated as political refugees, fleeing political turmoil. To avoid imprisonment, torture and political repression, many citizens decided to emigrate.
Most Cameroonian immigrants who arrived in the United States were licensed professionals since they were the ones most likely to obtain visas. It is easier for licensed professionals to obtain visas than any other group in Cameroon. Many of them had criticized the government, making them more vulnerable to political repression. Thus, the majority of Cameroonians who settled permanently in the United States were doctors, engineers, nurses, pharmacists, and computer programmers. There are also many Cameroonians who are blue collar workers.
The Bamileke is the native group which is now dominant in Cameroon’s West and Northwest Regions. It is part of the Semi-Bantu (or Grassfields Bantu) ethnic group. The Bamileke are regrouped under several groups, each under the guidance of a chief or fon. Nonetheless, all of these groups have the same ancestors and thus share the same history, culture, and languages. They speak a number of related languages from theBantoid branch of the Niger–Congo language family. These languages are closely related, however, and some classifications identify a Bamilekedialect continuum with seventeen or more dialects.
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.
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.