The East Region (East Province until 2008; ) occupies the southeastern portion of the Republic of Cameroon. It is bordered to the east by the Central African Republic, to the south by Congo, to the north by the Adamawa Region, and to the west by the Centre and South Regions. With 109,011 km² of territory, it is the largest region in the nation as well as the most sparsely populated. Historically, the peoples of the East have been settled in Cameroonian territory for longer than any other of the country's many ethnic groups, the first inhabitants being the Baka (or Babinga) pygmies.
The East Region has very little industry, its main commerce consisting of logging, timber, and mining. Instead, the bulk of its inhabitants are subsistence farmers. The region is thus of little political import and is often ignored by Cameroonian politicians. This coupled with the low level of development in the province have led to its being dubbed "the forgotten province".
Early population movements
Archaeological finds around Batouri, Bertoua, and Bétaré-Oya attest to human presence in the territory of the East Province since prehistoric times. The earliest inhabitants of the region are commonly assumed to have been the Bambenga pygmies, part of the larger Twa group who may be descendants of the pygmies mentioned in Egyptian and Classical sources. The pygmies were followed by waves of migrating Bantus in the 17th and 18th centuries. The Maka stayed to occupy the territories surrounding what is now Massaména and Abong-Mbang, and the Njem settled around present-day Mindourou and Lomié. The Kaka settled in the territory that is now Ndélélé. A later wave of immigration came in the 19th century when the Beti-Pahuin pushed in from the west to escape pressures from the Babouti. This second Bantu invasion did not get far, however, as the Fang-Beti soon encountered the Maka and Njem and were unable to press on further. Of these, the Maka-Njem moved into the territory first, after being forced from their home north of the Lom River by migrating Beti-Pahuin peoples, themselves fleeing the Vute, Mbum, Gbaya, and, ultimately, the Fulani. The Maka stayed to occupy the territories surrounding what is now Massaména and Abong-Mbang, and the Njem settled around present-day Mindourou and Lomié. The Kaka settled in the territory that is now Ndélélé.
The Adama-Ubangi peoples came into the territory as part of this same general migration, though they were usually the ones pushing the Bantu peoples further south. Gbaya tradition says that they moved into the region of Bertoua under a leader named Ndiba. His son, Mbartoua, was in power when the Germans arrived.
The coming of the Europeans
For the five centuries or so since the Portuguese first reached the coast of present Cameroon, European explorers made little attempt to push into the intererior. The region was a source of slaves, which were shipped out via the port at Douala or via the Congo River, though the numbers of natives taken were much smaller than in areas closer to the coast.
The French were the first Europeans to enter the region when they began exploring the Congo basin in the mid-19th century. It was the Germans, however, who first gained formal control over the area, establishing the eastern border through negotiations with France between 1885 and 1908. Ironically, the earliest German colonists to the eastern forests were largely entering unknown territory. The Germans set to work building roads and establishing plantations, both endeavors requiring forced labor by the natives. This often led to violence, such as when the Gbaya under Mbartoua led a rebellion in the Bertoua region in 1903. Another revolt occurred when the Kaka protested their loss of lucrative trade opportunities that they had enjoyed in pre-colonial days.
At the end of World War I in 1916, Germany was forced to cede its colony to France. The French divided Cameroon into nine administrative areas, and most of what is now the East Province fell into the Doumé-Loume-Yokadouma district with its capital in Doumé. The French largely continued the colonial practices of the Germans, with forced labor continuing into the early 20th century. They made further infrastructure improvements, as well, such as improving the road from Yaoundé to Bertoua and on to Garoua-Boulaï.
The boundaries of the East Province were finalised after Cameroon gained independence in 1961. The capital was moved from Doumé to Bertoua in 1972.