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Probably the first inhabitants of Cameroon were the Pygmies, who still live in the southern forests. Bantu speaking peoples were among the first groups that invaded Cameroon from equatorial Africa, settling in the south and later in the west. The Fulani, a Muslim people from the Niger basin arrived in the eleventh and nineteenth centuries and settled in the north.
European contact began in the 1500s. During the next three centuries, Spanish, Dutch, and British traders visited the area, and there was coastal slave trading. Christian missions appeared in the mid 1800s and are still active in the country. In 1884 by treaty with local chiefs, the German Consul of Tunis, Tunisia, extended a protectorate over Cameroon. Germany strengthened its claim and expanded its territory by treaties with Great Britain and France, but British and French armies invaded the German colony in 1914.
Cameroon was divided between the United Kingdom and France in 1919, with the larger, eastern area under France. A 1922 League of Nations mandate sanctioned the division; in 1946, the United Nations converted the mandates into trusteeships. In December 1958, the French trusteeship was ended; French Cameroon became the Republic of Cameroon on January 1, 1960.
A plebiscite under UN auspices held in February 1961, in British (west) Cameroon determined whether people wished union with Nigeria or with the new Republic of Cameroon. Northern voters chose to join Nigeria; southern voters, Cameroon. On July 1, 1961, the northern area was absorbed by Nigeria. On October 1, 1961, the southern part joined French Cameroon, and the new Federal Republic of Cameroon was created.
From 1961 until spring 1972, Cameroon was governed as a federation, with east (formerly French) Cameroon and west (formerly British) Cameroon having individual governments. Each area had a parliament and ministries, in addition to the federal government structure.
In 1972, President Ahidjo proposed abolition of the federal structure. A referendum held May 20, 1972 gave wide-spread endorsement to the proposal, and a June decree proclaimed the United Republic of Cameroon retroactive to May 20. On January 25, 1984, a constitutional amendment made its official name the Republic of Cameroon.
The population in what is now Cameroon has been as follows:
- 1900 - 4,000,000
- 1960 - 5,000,000
- 1980 - 8,000,000
- 1996 - 14,000,000
- The Family History Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “Family History Record Profile: Cameroon,” Word document, private files of the FamilySearch Content Strategy Team, 1999.