1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cameroon

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CAMEROON[1] (Ger. Kamerun), a German protectorate in West Africa, bounded W. by the Atlantic, N.W. by British Nigeria, N. by Lake Chad, E. and S. by French Congo, save for a short distance on the south where it is conterminous with the Spanish Muni river settlement.


Boundaries and Area.—The sea frontier extends from the Rio del Rey, just where the great bend of the coast-line east to south begins, forming the Bight of Biafra, to the Campo river, a distance of 200 m. The north-western boundary, laid down in an agreement between Germany and Great Britain on the 15th of November 1893, runs from the mouth of the Rio del Rey to the “rapids” of the Cross river in 8° 48′ E. Thence it is continued in a north-east line towards Yola, as far as the confines of that town. The boundary is then deflected south so as to leave Yola in British territory, turning north again to cross the Benue river at a spot 3 m. west of where the Faro joins the Benue. From this point the frontier goes north-east to the border of Lake Chad, 35 m. east of the meridian of the town of Kuka. The southern shores of Lake Chad for a distance of some 40 m. belong to the protectorate. The south and east boundaries were laid down by agreements between Germany and France on the 24th of December 1885, the 15th of March 1894 and the 18th of April 1908. The south boundary runs in a fairly direct line from the mouth of the Campo river to the river Dscha (or Ngoko), which it follows to its confluence with the Sanga. The eastern boundary runs from the Sanga irregularly north to 10° N., where it approaches the British frontier at Yola, so that at its narrowest part the protectorate is little more than 50 m. across. From 10° N. the frontier turns eastwards to the Logone, thence going north-east to the Shari river, which it follows to Lake Chad. The protectorate has an area of about 190,000 sq. m. Estimated population (1908) 3,500,000, of whom 1128 were whites.

Origin of the Name.—The name Camarões was first given by the Portuguese discoverers of the 15th and 16th centuries to a large bay or estuary, lying south-east of a great mountain close to the sea, met with after passing the Niger delta. This estuary they called the Rio dos Camarões (the river of Prawns), from the abundance of the crustacea found therein. The name Camarões was also used to designate the neighboring mountains. The English usage until nearly the end of the 19th century was to confine the term “the Cameroons” to the mountain range, and to speak of the estuary as the Cameroons river. Locally it was often called “the Bay.” On their acquisition of the country in 1884 the Germans extended the use of the name in its Teutonic form—Kamerun—to the whole protectorate.

Physical Features.—Cameroon forms the north-west corner of the great Central African plateau. This becomes evident in its eastern section, where are wide-spreading plains, which farther west assume an undulating character, and gradually merge into a picturesque mountain range. This range, running from north to south, is flanked by a parallel and lower range in the west, with a wide valley between. In the north-west the Upper Guinea mountains send their eastern spurs across the boundary, and from a volcanic rift, which runs south-west to north-east, the Cameroon peak towers up, its summit 13,370 ft. high. This mountain, whose south-western base is washed by the Atlantic, is the highest point on the western side of Africa, and it alone of the great mountains of the continent lies close to the coast. From any vantage point, but especially from the sea, it presents a magnificent spectacle, while some 30 m. westward rises Clarence peak, the culminating point of Fernando Po. With an area, on an isolated base, of 700 to 800 sq. m., Cameroon mountain has but two distinct peaks, Great Cameroon and Little Cameroon (5820 ft.), which is from foot to top covered with dense forest. The native designation of the highest peak is Mongo-ma-Loba, or the Mountain of Thunder, and the whole upper region is usually called Mongo-mo-Ndemi, or the Mountain of Greatness. On the principal summit there are a group of craters. In 1909 the mountain was in eruption and huge streams of lava were ejected. Inland the Chebchi and Mandara mountains indicate the direction and extent of the rift.

The mountains of the plateau sweep grandly round to the east on reaching the eighth degree of N. lat. Here they give rise to a number of small rivers, which collect in the rift and form the Benue, the great eastern affluent of the Niger. This part of the protectorate is known as Adamawa (q.v.). Farther north, beyond the Mandara mountains, the country, here part of the ancient sultanate of Bornu, slopes to the shores of Lake Chad, and has a general level of 800 to 1000 ft. The greater part of Cameroon is thus a mountainous country, with, on the coast, a strip of lowland. In the south this is very narrow; it widens towards the north save where the Cameroon peak reaches to the sea.

At the foot of the Cameroon peak a number of estuaries cut deep bays which form excellent harbours. The small rivers which empty into them can be ascended for some miles by steam launches. The principal estuary, which is over 20 m. wide, is called, as already noted, the Cameroon river or bay. The term river is more particularly confined to a ramification of the estuary which receives the waters of the Mungo river (a considerable stream which flows south from the Cameroon mountains), the Wuri, a river coming from the north-east, and various smaller rivers. Under the shadow of Cameroon peak lies the bay of Ambas, with the islands of Ndami (Ambas) and Mondola. It forms a tolerable harbour; capable of receiving large vessels.

Traversing the central portion of the country is a large river known in its upper course as the Lom, and in its lower as the Sanaga, which enters the ocean just to the south of the Cameroon estuary. Both the Lom and the Nyong (a more southerly stream) rise in the central plateau, from which they descend in splendid cascades, breaking through the parallel coast range in rapids, which indicate the extent of their navigability. The Lokunja and Kribi are smaller rivers with courses parallel to and south of the Nyong. In the south-east of the colony the streams—of which the chief are the Dscha and Bumba—are tributaries of the Sanga, itself an affluent of the Congo (q.v.). About 100 m. of the right bank of the Sanga, from the confluence of the Dscha upwards, are in German territory. In the north the country drains into Lake Chad through the Logone and Shari (q.v.). Including the headwaters of the Benue the colony has four distinct river-systems, one connecting with the Niger, another with the Congo, and a third with Lake Chad, the fourth being the rivers which run direct to the sea. The Niger and Shari systems communicate, with, at high water, but one obstruction to navigation. The connecting link is a marshy lake named Tuburi. From it issues the Kebbi (Mao Kebi), a tributary of the Benue, and through it flows a tributary of the Logone, the chief affluent of the Shari. The one obstruction in the waterway is a fall of 165 ft. in the Kebbi.

Geology—The oldest rocks, forming the greater mass of the hinterland, are gneisses, schists and granites of Archaean age. Along the Benue river a sandstone (Benue sandstone) forms the banks to 14° E. Cretaceous rocks occur around the basalt platform of the Cameroon mountain and generally along the coastal belt. Basalt and tuff, probably of Tertiary age, form the great mass of the Cameroon mountain, also the island of Fernando Po. Extensive areas in the interior, more especially towards Lake Chad, are covered with black earth of alluvial or lacustrine origin.

Climate.—The country lies wholly within the tropics and has a characteristic tropical climate. In the interior four seasons can be distinguished; a comparatively dry and a wet one alternating. July to October are the coldest months, and also bring most rain, but there is hardly a month without rain. On the coast the temperature is high all the year round, but on the plateau it is cooler. Malarial fever is frequent, and even the Africans, especially those coming from other countries, suffer from it. The middle zone of the Cameroon mountain has, however, a temperate climate and affords excellent sites for sanatoria.

Flora and Fauna.—The southern part of the low coast is chiefly grass land, while the river mouths and arms of the bays are lined with mangroves. The mountainous region is covered with primeval forest, in which timber and valuable woods for cabinet-making are plentiful. Most important are the Elaeis guineensis, Sterculia acuminata and the wild coffee tree. On Cameroon peak the forest ascends to 8000 ft.; above it is grass land. Towards the east the forest gradually grows thinner, assumes a park-like appearance, and finally disappears, wide grass uplands taking its place. The country north of the Benue is rich and well cultivated. Cotton and rubber are found in considerable quantities, and fields of maize, corn, rice and sugar-cane bear witness to the fertility of the soil.

Animals are plentiful, including the great pachyderms and carnivora. The latter prey on the various kinds of antelopes which swarm on the grass lands. Two kinds of buffaloes are found in the forests, which are the home of the gorilla and chimpanzee. Large rodents, like the porcupine and cane rat, are numerous. Of birds there are 316 species, and several of venomous snakes.

Inhabitants.—The north of Cameroon is inhabited by Fula (q.v.) and Hausa (q.v.) and allied tribes, the south by Bantu-speaking races. The Fula came from the north and north-east, gradually driving the Bantu-negroes before them. They brought horses and horned cattle, unknown in these regions until then, and they founded well-organized states, like that of Adamawa, now divided between Cameroon and the British protectorate of Nigeria. In the vicinity of the rivers Benue, Faro and Kebbi, the people, who are good agriculturists, raise cereals and other crops, while on the plateaus stock-raising forms the chief pursuit of the inhabitants. In this northern region villages are built in the Sudanese zeriba style, surrounded with thorn fences; more important places are enclosed by a well-built wall and strongly fortified. Of martial disposition, the people often waged war with their neighbors, and also amongst themselves until the pacification of the hinterland by Germany at the beginning of the 20th century.

The Bantu-negroes inhabit the country south of about 7° N. Chief among the tribes are the Dualla (q.v.), the Ba-kwiri (q.v.), the Ba-Long, the Ba-Farami, the Wuri, the Abo and the Ba-Kundu. They build square houses, are active traders and are ruled by independent chiefs, having no political cohesion. Among the Dualla a curious system of drum signals is noteworthy. In the coast towns are numbers of Krumen, who, however, rarely settle permanently in the country. The Fula, as also most of the Hausa, are Moslems, the other tribes are pagans. Missionary societies, both Protestant and Roman Catholic, are represented in the colony, and their schools are well attended, as are the schools belonging to the government. In all the schools German is taught, but pidgin-English is largely spoken at the coast towns.

Chief Towns.—Duala, the chief town in the protectorate, is situated on the Cameroon estuary at the mouth of the Wuri river in 4° 2′ N. 9° 42′ E. It consists of various trading stations and native towns close to one another on the south bank of the river and known, before the German occupation, as Cameroon, Bell town, Akwa town, &c. Hickory, on the north side of the stream and the starting point of the railway to the interior, is also part of Duala, which has a total population of 22,000, including about 170 Europeans. Duala is the headquarters of the merchants and missionaries. The principal streets are wide and tree lined, the sanitation is good. The government offices are placed in a fine park in which are statues of Gustav Nachtigal and others. The port is provided with a floating dock. The seat of government is Buea, a post 3000 ft. above the sea on the slopes of the Cameroon mountain. Victoria is a flourishing town in Ambas Bay, founded by the British Baptist missionaries expelled from Fernando Po in 1858 (see below). Batanga and Campo are trading stations in the southern portion of the colony. On the route from Duala to Lake Chad is the large commercial town of Ngaundere, inhabited chiefly by Hausas and occupied by the Germans in 1901. Another large town is Garua on the Benue river. Farther north and within 30 m. of Lake Chad is Dikwa (Dikoa), in Bornu, the town chosen by Rabah (q.v.) as his capital after his conquest of Bornu. Gulfei on the lower Shari and Kusseri on the Logone are also towns of some note. Ngoko is a trading station on the Dscha, in the south-east of the protectorate, near the confluence of that river with the Sanga.

Products and Industry.—Cameroon is rich in natural products, one of the most important being the oil-palm. Cocoa cultivation was introduced by the Germans and proved remarkably successful. Rubber is collected from the Landolphia and various species of Ficus. Palm-oil, palm kernels, cocoa, copal, copra, Calabar beans, kola-nuts and ivory are the principal exports. There are several kinds of finely-grained wood, amongst which a very dark ebony is specially remarkable. Cotton, indigo and various fibres of plants deserve notice. The natives grow several kinds of bananas, yams and batatas, maize, pea-nuts, sugar-cane, sorghum and pepper. Minerals have not been found in paying quantities. Iron is smelted by the natives, who, especially amongst the Hausas, are very clever smiths, and manufacture fine lances and arrow heads, knives and swords, and also hoes. Dikwa is the centre of an important trade of which the chief articles are coffee, sugar, velvet, silk and weapons, as well as gold and silver objects brought by caravans from Tripoli. The natives round the Cameroon estuary are clever carvers of wood, and make highly ornamental figure heads for their canoes, which also sometimes show very fine workmanship. In the interior the people use the wild-growing cotton and fibres of plants to manufacture coarse drapery and plait-work. Plantations founded by German industry are fairly successful. Large reserves are set apart for the natives by government [sic] when marking off the land granted to plantation companies. The best-known of these companies, the Süd-Kamerun, holds a concession over a large tract of country by the Sanga river, exporting its rubber, ivory and other produce via the Congo. The principal imports are cotton goods, spirits, building material, firearms, hardware and salt. The annual value of the external trade in the period 19001905 averaged about £800,000. In 1907 the value of the trade had increased to £1,700,000. Some 70% of the import and export trade was with Germany, the remainder being almost entirely with Great Britain. The percentage of the trade with Germany was increasing, that with Britain decreasing.

Communications.—There is regular steamship communication with Europe by German and British boats. On the rivers which run into the Cameroon estuary small steam launches ply. The protectorate belongs to the Postal Union, and is connected by cable with the British telegraph station at Bonny in the Niger delta.

An imperial guarantee of interest was obtained in 1905 for the construction of a railway from Hickory to Bayong, a place 100 m. to the north, the district traversed being fertile and populous. From Victoria a line runs to Soppo (22 m.) near Buea and is continued thence northward. Another line, sanctioned in 1908, runs S.E. from Duala to the upper waters of the Nyong. In the neighborhood of government stations excellent roads have been built. The chief towns in the coast region are connected by telegraph and telephone.

Government Revenue, &c.—The administration is under the direction of a governor appointed by and responsible to the imperial authorities. The governor is assisted by a chancellor and other officials and an advisory council whose members are merchants resident in the protectorate. Decrees having the force of law are issued by the imperial chancellor on the advice of the governor. In Adamawa and German Bornu are various Mahommedan sultanates controlled by residents stationed at Garua and Kusseri. Revenue is raised chiefly by customs dues on spirits and tobacco and a general 10% ad valorem duty on most goods. A poll tax is imposed on the natives. The local revenue (£131,000 in 1905) is supplemented by an imperial grant, the protectorate in the first twenty-one years of its existence never having raised sufficient revenue to meet its expenditure, which in 1905 exceeded £230,000. Order is maintained by a native force officered by Germans.

History.—Cameroon and the neighboring coast were discovered by the Portuguese navigator, Fernando Po, towards the close of the 15th century. They were formerly regarded as within the Oil Rivers district, sometimes spoken of as the Oil Coast. Trading settlements were established by Europeans as early as the 17th century. The trade was confined to the coast, the Dualla and other tribes being recognized intermediaries between the coast “factories” and the tribes in the interior, whither they allowed no strange trader to proceed. They took a quantity of goods on trust, visited the tribes in the forest, and bartered for ivory, rubber and other produce. This method of trade, called the trust system, worked well, but when the country came under the administration of Germany, the system broke down, as inland traders were allowed to visit the coast. Before this happened the “kings” of the chief trading stations—Akwa and Bell—were wealthy merchant princes. From the beginning until near the end of the 19th century they were very largely under British influence. In 1837 the king of Bimbia, a district on the mainland on the north of the estuary, made over a large part of the country round the bay to Great Britain. In 1845, at which time there was a flourishing trade in slaves between Cameroon and America, the Baptist Missionary Society made its first settlement on the mainland of Africa, Alfred Saker (18141880) obtaining from the Akwa family the site for a mission station. In 1848 another mission station was established at Bimbia, the king agreeing to abolish human sacrifices at the funerals of his great men. Into the Cameroon country Saker and his colleagues introduced the elements of civilization, and with the help of British men-of-war the oversea slave trade was finally stopped (c. 1875). The struggles between the Bell (Mbeli) and Akwa families were also largely composed. In 1858, on the expulsion of the Baptists from Fernando Po (q.v.), Saker founded at Ambas Bay a colony of the freed negroes who then left the island, the settlement being known as Victoria. Two years after this event the first German factory was established in the estuary by Messrs Woermann of Hamburg. In 1870 the station at Bimbia was given up by the missionaries, but that at Akwa town continued to flourish, the Dualla showing themselves eager to acquire education, while Saker reduced their language to writing. He left Cameroon in 1876, the year before George Grenfell, afterwards famous for his work on the Congo, came to the country, where he remained three years. Like the earlier missionaries he explored the adjacent districts, discovering the Sanaga in its lower course. Although British influence was powerful and the British consul for the Oil Rivers during this period exercised considerable authority over the native chiefs, requests made by them—in particular by the Dualla chiefs in 1882—for annexation by Great Britain, were refused or neglected, with the result that when Germany started on her quest to pick up unappropriated parts of the African coast she was enabled to secure Cameroon. A treaty with King Bell was negotiated by Dr Gustav Nachtigal, the signature of the king and the other chiefs being obtained at midnight on the 15th of July 1884. Five days later Mr E. H. Hewett, British consul, arrived with a mission to annex the country to Great Britain.[2] Though too late to secure King Bell's territory, Mr Hewett concluded treaties with all the neighboring chiefs, but the British government decided to recognize the German claim not only to Bell town, but to the whole Cameroon region. Some of the tribes, disappointed at not being taken over by Great Britain, refused to acknowledge German sovereignty. Their villages were bombarded and they were reduced to submission. The settlement of the English Baptists at Victoria, Ambas Bay, was at first excluded from the German protectorate, but in March 1887 an arrangement was made by which, while the private rights of the missionaries were maintained, the sovereignty of the settlement passed to Germany. The Baptist Society thereafter made over its missions, both at Ambas Bay and in the estuary, to the Basel Society.

The extension of German influence in the interior was gradually accomplished, though not without considerable bloodshed. That part of Adamawa recognized as outside the British frontier was occupied in 1901 after somewhat severe fighting. In 1902 the imperial troops first penetrated into that part of Bornu reserved to Germany by agreements with Great Britain and France. They found the country in the military occupation of France. The French officers, who stated that their presence was due to the measures rendered necessary by the ravages of Rabah and his sons, withdrew their troops into French territory. The shores of Lake Chad were first reached by a German military force on the 2nd of May 1902. In 1904 and again in 1905 there were native risings in various parts of the protectorate. These disturbances were followed, early in 1906, by the recall of the governor, Herr von Puttkamer, who was called upon to answer charges of maladministration. He was succeeded in 1907 by Dr T. Seitz. Collisions on the southern border of the protectorate between French and German troops led in 19051906 to an accurate survey of the south and east frontier regions and to a new convention (1908) whereby for the straight lines marking the frontier in former agreements natural features were largely substituted. Germany gained a better outlet to the Sanga river.

The ascent of the Cameroon mountain was first attempted by Joseph Merrick of the Baptist Missionary Society in 1847; but it was not till 1861 that the summit was gained, when the ascent was made by Sir Richard Burton, Gustav Mann, a noted botanist, and Señor Calvo. The starting point was Babundi, a place on the seashore west of the mountain. From the south-east the summit was reached by Mary Kingsley in 1895.

See Mary H. Kingsley, Travels in West Africa (London, 1897); Sir R. Burton, Abeokuta and the Cameroons Mountains (2 vol., London, 1863); E. B. Underhill, Alfred Saker . . . A Biography (London, 1884); Sir H. H. Johnson, George Grenfell and the Congo . . . and Notes on the Cameroons . . . (London, 1908); Max Buchner, Kamerun Skizzen und Betrachtungen (Leipzig, 1887); S. Passarge, Adamaua (Berlin, 1895); E. Zintgraph, Nord-Kamerun (Berlin, 1895); F. Hutter, Wanderungen und Forschungen im Nord-Hinterland von Kamerun (Brunswick, 1902); F. Bauer, Die deutsche Niger-Benue-Tsadsee-Expedition, 19021903 (Berlin, 1904); C. René, Kamerun und die deutsche Tsâdsee Eisenbahn (Berlin, 1905); O. Zimmermann, Durch Busch und Steppe vom Campo bis zum Schari, 18921902 (Berlin, 1909); also British Foreign Office Reports. For special study of particular sciences see F. Wohltmann, Der Plantagenbau in Kamerun und seine Zukunft (Berlin, 1896); F. Plehn, Die Kamerunküste, Studien zur Klimatologie, Physiologie und Pathologie in den Tropen (Berlin, 1898); E. Esch, F. Solger, M. Oppenheim and O. Jaekel, Beiträge zur Geologie von Kamerun (Stuttgart, 1904). For geology the following works may also be consulted: Stromer von Reichenbach, Geologie der deutschen Schutzgebiete in Afrika (Berlin, 1896); A. von Koenen, “Über fossilien der unteren Kreide am Ufer des Mungo in Kamerun,” Abh. k. Wiss., Göttingen, 1897; E. Cohen, “Lava vom Camerun-Gebirge,” Neues Jahrb. f. Min., 1887.  (F. R. C.) 


  1. This English form of the name, adopted in the 10th ed. of the Ency. Brit., from the German, appears preferable both to the un-English Kamerun and to the older and clumsy “the Cameroons.”
  2. On the 26th of July a French gunboat also entered the estuary on a belated annexation mission.