Originally named Rio dos Camarões (Prawn River) by Portuguese explorers, “Cameroon is the opposite of Canada” describes Mimmie Claudine. “The French part of Cameroon represents a majority compared to the British provinces”. However, they are united under one parliament where both parts of Cameroon share political power fairly between the President and Prime Minister. As such Cameroon is member of the Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie. Just like the country, Mimmie’s name also demonstrates the existing bicultural aspect of Cameroon, Mimmie for the English and Claudine for the French.
Mimmie is a Lecturer in Community Health at Victoria University and she proudly talks about her native country and the solidarity of Cameroonians.
Let’s start first with her origins. Mimmie belongs to the Ngemba tribe and hails from the village of Akum, near the town of Bamenda in East Cameroon. Also called ‘Little London’, Akum possesses a unique European lifestyle brought by the British after World War I. “I am proud of being from Akum and I have built a strong identity from where I was brought up”, she says. She carries on by explaining the strong cultural values that makes Akum a very special place, “April is the month of the end of financial year and all Akum citizens, wherever they reside in Cameroon, organise little gatherings in cities. At the end of the month, altogether we meet with great pomp and go through balances. Nationally and internationally, Akum citizens send money as a contribution, depending on what they can afford, for the development of the village”.
This alternative way of development that has allowed her to grow up with running water makes her extremely proud of Akum and its citizens’ contributions to welfare. “Not contributing is a problem for any Akum inhabitant, therefore if you’re unemployed you give what you can afford”. It is such an embedded custom that her children are growing up in Australia knowing that they will one day contribute to the development of Akum.
What Mimmie also tries to tell is that Cameroonians don’t identify with religion or with tribe, but with their villages. Tribalism doesn’t exist and the main religious Catholic group live without tensions with Muslims. They invite each other to religious celebrations regardless on how strong their beliefs are. She adds “people are very interdependent in villages, they support each other, tell you off if you do something wrong”. Home to over 200 ethnic and linguistic groups, this diversity of tribes shapes harmoniously the country. All that remain is the cultural pride between the French and the British provinces.
The myriad of tribes and the European influences have given Cameroon a rich and diverse food culture. Mimmie brings our attention to the natural beauty of her country, “the volcanic lands are very fertile and lush where you can grow anything”. The country provides food to so many neighbouring countries. “If someone is hungry in Cameroon, it’s because they are lazy”, she says kiddingly.
Cameroon is famous for being the ‘miniature’ of Africa culturally and landscape wise. You will find arid conditions in the north, green rainforest in the south and a beautiful coast in the west where Douala, the main city of Cameroon is located.
Although the English provinces are always willing to secede, Mimmie reminds us that “Cameroonians aren’t interested in civil war, they have learnt from other African nations which have suffered from it”.
Mimmie is as passionate about Akum and Cameroon as she is about her research work on teenage pregnancy, contraception, motherhood and culture issues among African-Australian teenager mothers with a refugee background in Greater Melbourne. She completed a Master’s Degree at the University of Melbourne and a PhD at Latrobe University both in Public Health. She wishes to contribute to the African-Australian community and identity. Between Australia and Cameroon, “there are some great cultural aspects and I try to take the best of both cultures”.