Identification. The name of the country derives from the term used for the Wouri River by Portuguese explorers. Reaching the Cameroon coast near the modern port city of Douala around 1472, those explorers named the river Rio dos Camaroes ("River of Prawns") after the variety of crayfish they found there. This name later was applied to the coastal area between Mount Cameroon and Rio Muni.
Cameroon has distinct regional cultural, religious, and political traditions as well as ethnic variety. The division of the country into British- and French-ruled League of Nations mandates after World War I created Anglophone and Francophone regions. The English-speaking region consists of the Southwest and Northwest provinces, where Pidgin English (Wes Cos) is the lingua franca and English is taught in school. The educational system and legal practices derive from those of England. The French-speaking region consists of the remaining eight provinces, where French is the lingua franca, the French school system is used, and the legal system is based on the statutory law of continental Europe. This region is dominant in numbers and power. Tension between the two regions increased after the introduction of a multiparty political system in the 1990s.
The English-speaking region is divided into two cultural regions. The Grassfields peoples of the Northwest Province consist of nearly one hundred chiefdoms each ruled by a divine king (fon) . Most of these chiefdoms have patrilineal or dual descent kinship systems, although some groups, such as the Kom, are matrilineal. Polygyny and fertility are important cultural values, although this varies by wealth and education. The social organization and culture of the Grassfielders are closely related to those of the French-speaking Bamiléké peoples of the Western province. Like the Bamiléké, Grassfielders often are in opposition to the central government.
The peoples of the Southwest province had less hierarchical systems of governance and social organization. The British appointed warrant chiefs to aid their colonial rule, and in many instances the population rallied behind those chiefs in the postcolonial period. The peoples of the Southwest province include the Bakweri, who live along the slopes of Mount Cameroon. The Bakweri practice rites of healing and initiation in associations of spirit mediums that distinguish between male and female roles and between village and bush.
In the French-speaking area, the largely Muslim north is culturally distinct from the largely Christian and animist south. The northern area includes three provinces: Adamoua, North, and Extreme North. Since the jihad led by an Islamic cleric in 1804, the northern region has been culturally dominated by the Fulani. Urban Fulani are renowned as clerics in the Sunni branch of Islam. Most Fulani are cattle herders. An important subgroup are the Bororo'en, noted for the size of their cattle herds. With their Hausa colleagues, they engage in long-distance trade involving cattle. Other northern ethnic groups include the Mandara, Kokoto, and Arab Choa. Major crops include cotton and millet.
Most of the southern peoples are Christian or engage in traditional, animist religious practices. The Center, South, and East provinces are characterized by dense tropical rain forest. The Center and South are culturally dominated by the Beti peoples, which include the Ewondo, Eton, and Bulu, and are linguistically and culturally related to the Fang of Gabon. They are patrilineal, grow root crops and peanuts for their own consumption, and grow cocoa as a cash crop. The Ewondo were early converts to Catholicism. The current president is Bulu, and many prominent authors are Beti. Peoples in the East include the Maka and Gbaya, both with relatively egalitarian forms of social organization in
The southern part of the French-speaking area includes the high plateau region of the West province, which includes the Bamiléké and Bamoun peoples. Both are culturally similar to the Grassfielders. The Bamiléké constitute roughly 25 percent of the population. In rich volcanic soils they grow food crops and coffee. The population is dense, and the Bamiléké served as a labor reserve population in the twentieth century, resulting in large, entrepreneurial urban émigré population. The large urban population is prominent in commerce and higher education. Since the conversion of Sultan Njoya to Islam early in the twentieth century, the Bamoun have been a largely Muslim people. Sultan Njoya, a man of unusual intellect, developed an original alphabet and wrote a history of his people and dynasty.
A sense of a common national culture has been created through shared history, schooling, national holidays and symbols, and enthusiasm for soccer. However, ethnic distinctiveness remains, and ethnic identity became an increasingly important source of social capital during the 1990s.
Location and Geography. Cameroon is situated by the Gulf of Guinea on the west coast of Africa. Its area is 179,527 square miles (465,000 square kilometers). Nigeria lies to the west, Chad and the Central African Republic to the east, and the People's Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon to the south. The climate is hot and humid in the forested south and west, cooler in the highland Grassfields region of the West and Northwest provinces, and hotter and drier in the savanna and sahel of the north. The capital, Yaoundé, is in the Center province. It has experienced rapid growth and increasing strife between immigrant groups (particularly the Bamiléké) and the native Beti.
Demography. The population in 1987 was 10,498,655; it was estimated to be nearly 14 million in 1997. In 1987, 46 percent of the population was under fifteen years old. The population is growing at an average annual rate of almost 3 percent, with declining mortality and high fertility. Thirty-eight percent of the population lives in urban centers.
There are no reliable population figures for the major cultural groups. The Bamiléké account for approximately 25 percent of the total population, and northerners, including the Fulani, approximately 20 percent. These two groups also have the highest fertility rates.
Linguistic Affiliation. French and English are the official languages. The approximately two hundred fifty local languages include Ewondo and Bulu, Duala, the Bamiléké languages, and Fulfulde. Among the less educated, the Wes Cos dialect of Pidgin English functions as a lingua franca in the English-speaking area and in many neighborhoods in Douala. Both French and English are taught in school, but only those with a secondary education are fluent in both. Most people speak at least one local language and one official language, and many people are multilingual.
Symbolism. The flag has three equal vertical stripes of green, red, and yellow, with a five-pointed gold star in the center of the red stripe. The stripes represent the three major geographic areas: green for the rain forest, red for the laterite soils of the savanna, and yellow for the sands of the sahel. The national anthem begins with the words O Cameroun, berceau de nos ancetres ("Oh, Cameroon, cradle of our ancestors"), reflecting the importance of ancestors and kinship and the desire to forge an imagined community with a common ancestry. The feeling of national unity is strongest among schoolchildren and has been stressed since the end of the cold war.
Emergence of the Nation. Before colonization, Cameroon was a territory of diverse climatic zones populated by a variety of peoples and polities. The Muslim states in the north traded with trans-Saharan merchants and Arabic peoples. The coastal peoples in the south traded with Portuguese and Dutch seafarers beginning in the late fifteenth century. In 1884, Cameroon became a German protectorate (Kamerun). The Germans were defeated by British and French forces in 1916, and the territory was divided between those nations in 1916. In 1922, the French and British zones became League of Nations mandates, with the French controlling over 80 percent of the national territory. Those zones were transformed into United Nations Trusteeships in 1946. The frontier between the French and British zones cut through the territories of several ethnic groups, particularly the Bamiléké and Grassfields peoples of the western highlands. This later served as an impetus for the reunification of those zones at the time of independence. French Cameroon (Cameroun) became independent in 1960, and after a plebiscite in 1961, British Cameroon gained independence. The southern part of the British territory joined the Federal Republic of Cameroon, while the northern part, ethnically united with the Hausa-city states, joined Nigeria. In 1965, Cameroon came under single-party rule. It was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.
National Identity. A national culture was first formed by external powers through colonization. Even regional cultural differences emerged originally during the periods of mandate and trusteeship. A sentiment of common national identity is particularly strong in major institutions of socialization such as schools and during international soccer matches, visits by foreign dignitaries, and times of international dispute. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Muslim from the northern city of Guider, who was president from independence until 1982, attempted to foster national integration by posting civil servants to areas outside their ethnic homelands. His successor, Paul Biya, is a Catholic of the Bulu (Beti) people of the South province. In 1983 and 1984, alleged coup attempts by those loyal to Ahidjo led to martial law and ethnic tensions between groups in the northern and southern regions. Since the legalization of multiparty politics in 1992, political parties have been increasingly associated with specific ethnic groups or regions.
Ethnic Relations. In addition to regional and ethnic distinctions, coalitions and tensions exist on a local level. People from the northern areas are collectively referred to as "northerners" by their southern compatriots and share some cultural attributes related to their Islamic religion. Anglophone and Francophone peoples of the Grassfields (Grassfielders, Bamiléké, and Bamoun) share common attributes and have practiced their own interchiefdom diplomacy for several centuries. In February 1992, violence between the Arab Choa and Kokoto ethnic groups during voter registration led to the death of more than one hundred people. Violence reemerged two years later, leading over one thousand people to seek refuge in Chad. In the Grassfields of the Northwest and Western provinces, interdependence and conflict between farmers and grazers coincide with ethnicity. The ethnicization of party politics and the increasing importance of ethnicity in relation to economic claims have led to conflicts between "autochthonous" (indigenous) and migrant populations.
The major cities include Douala (the shipping and industrial center), Yaoundé (the capital), Nkongsamba (the end point of the railroad through the southern plantations of the colonial period), Maroua and Garoua, Bafoussam and Bamenda (the provincial capitals of the West and Northwest provinces), Kumba, and Limbe. Yaoundé has several monuments to national unity.
Most villages and small towns in rural areas have a marketplace in a central location that may house a weekly, biweekly, or daily market, depending on their size. Most markets have separate areas for women's products (produce and palm oil), and men's products (livestock and bush meat). Official buildings are often located near these markets or along the central axis leading through smaller towns.
Architecture varies by region. In the rain forest and the Grassfields, poto-poto (earthen plaster on a wooden frame) and mud brick rectangular buildings roofed in palm thatch or corrugated iron are common. Traditional Grassfields architecture was constructed of "bamboo" (the spines of raffia palm fronds); square or rectangular buildings with sliding doors were topped by conical thatched roofs. The doorposts of royalty had elaborate carvings. Traditional architecture in the north includes round mud buildings crowned in thatch. Walled compounds usually include a separate granary. Throughout the nation, structures built of concrete bricks, corrugated iron roofs, and iron grillwork have replaced other forms of housing.
Much of daily life occurs in public areas such as the courtyards of polygynous compounds. Privacy is often suspect, especially among peoples with a strong belief in malevolent and occult powers.
Food in Daily Life. The sharing of cooked food is one of the major ways to cement social relationships and express the high value placed on human company. Sharing food and drink demonstrates hospitality and trust. Social support networks among kin and friends, particularly between country folk and their urban relatives, are held together symbolically with gifts of cooked and uncooked
Meals consist of a cooked cereal or root staple accompanied by a sauce or stew. In the southern areas, the major staples are root crops such as cassava and cocoyams, and plantains; in the moist savanna and Grassfields, maize and plantains; and in the arid north, sorghum and millet. Rice and pasta have become popular. Staples may be boiled, pounded, or fried; most commonly they are made into a thick porridge shaped into oblong balls. Sauces usually have a base of palm oil and ground peanuts. Vegetables such as greens, okra, and squashes are common. Hot peppers, onions, ginger, and tomatoes are popular condiments. Dried or fresh fish or meat may be included in the sauce. Uncooked fruits such as bananas, mangoes, papayas, oranges, and avocados are popular snacks and desserts; they are not considered part of meals.
In many regions, men and guests eat before women and children. Hand washing is part of the etiquette of meals. Whether from a separate dish or a common pot, a small ball of porridge is formed by three fingers of the right hand and then dipped in sauce. Westernization has led families to eat together around a common table, using separate place settings and cutlery.
Food taboos vary by ethnic group. The Bassa of the Littoral province serve a gourmet dish of viper steaks in black sauce, but only the oldest males among the Ewondo (Beti) of the Center province may eat viper. Totems of specific clans, healers, or royal dynasties are taboo to certain members of some ethnic groups.
Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. At the visit of an honored guest, a wedding, or a funeral, a chicken, goat, sheep, or steer is served to guests. Special drinks, such as palm wine and millet beer as well as bottled carbonated drinks, beer, and wine are served at these occasions. Among the Bamiléké, as part of coronation festivities, the newly installed paramount chief ceremoniously serves each subject a handful of beans mixed with palm oil to symbolize the chief's ability to ensure food and fertility in his realm.
Basic Economy. The country is basically self-sufficient in food, although the distribution of food is variable. Seasonal famines occur in the arid north. Per capita gross national product (GNP) was $610 in 1996. From 1990 to 1996, the GNP declined and it has shown slight increases since that time. Cameroon has a trade surplus but is burdened by debt. Agriculture, including the production of food and cash crops such as coffee, cocoa, and cotton, employs almost two-thirds of the labor force. Many people produce mainly for themselves, selling the "surplus" at local markets.
Land Tenure and Property. Among the Fulani, land is inherited patrilineally. In the Grassfields, land is held by fons, with use rights devolving to specific patrilineages and matrilineages. Throughout the country, the privatization of land tenure is increasing. Access to private land titles depends on money, understanding of the bureaucracy, and connections. Women, the main producers of food crops, are often at a disadvantage when land is privatized.
Commercial Activities. In the towns, there are grocery and dry goods stores. Restaurants and bars, taxis, and domestic labor involve an increasing proportion of the labor force.
Major Industries. Major industries include mining and aluminum processing, forestry, and the manufacture of beverages. Petroleum is a significant source of national income.
Trade. Wood, coffee, cocoa, cotton, and palm oil are the principal exports. The trading partners are France, Nigeria, the United States, and Germany. Principle imports include consumption goods; semifinished goods; minerals; industrial and transportation equipment; and food, beverages, and tobacco.
Division of Labor. The division of labor is determined largely by formal education (for civil servants) and gender. There is some specialization by ethnic group such as herding by Fulani, the butchering and meat trade by Hausa, and transportation by Bamiléké.
Classes and Castes. There is a high degree of social inequality. Among the Fulani, Grassfielders, Bamiléké, and Bamoun the traditional social organization included hierarchical relations between members of groups with different status (royalty, nobility, commoners, and slaves). Other ethnic groups have a more egalitarian social organization in which age and gender are the major factors in social stratification. New forms of social inequality based on access to political power and level of formal education coexist with indigenous forms of stratification. Although a cosmopolitan lifestyle has developed among the wealthy and the intelligentsia, markers of cultural distinctiveness and obligation to kin and ethnic compatriots remain. Regional differences in wealth also exist: the far northern and eastern areas have less access to wealth and infrastructure.
Symbols of Social Stratification. Housing styles differ by class, in both urban and rural areas. The wealthiest people have concrete houses painted in bright colors and surrounded by high walls. Those houses have flower gardens and interior furnishings such as upholstered furniture and armoires. The poorest people live in mud houses with thatched or corrugated iron roofs, sparsely furnished with beds and stools made of local materials. Styles of dress also vary by class; the wealthiest can afford Italian leather shoes to accompany the latest European and African wardrobes, while poorer people wear cloth wrappers and secondhand European-style clothing. The wealthiest tend to speak French or English even at home, while the poorest speak local languages and Pidgin English.
Government. Since the 1992 amendment of the constitution, Cameroon has been a multiparty state. Executive power is held by the president, who serves for seven years and, since 1992, for a maximum of two terms.
Leadership and Political Officials. The twenty-seven-year period of single party rule left a legacy of an authoritarian political culture. At the national level, government leadership resides in the president and his cabinet. On the local level, the prefet (district officer) and sous-prefet are the most powerful administrative officials. Positions in government are determined through a combination of know-how, party loyalty, and ethnic and regional background. In many areas, local and national forms of leadership coexist. For example, the chiefdoms of the Northwest and West provinces form states within a state, with fons sharing power with government officials. Some chiefs served as rallying points for opposition groups during the political crises of the 1990s.
Social Problems and Control. There are several police forces, including internal security police, gendarmes, and military police. The legal system combines the case law system of the British with the statutory law system of the French. Theft is a common
Customary law combined forms of dispute resolution ranging from rituals of reconciliation to banning and capital punishment. A combination of discussion and the use of oracles still is used in most cultures. Since the colonial era, the jurisdiction of local chiefs and councils has eroded. Informal social control mechanisms include gossip, ostracism, and fear of occult, ancestral, or divine retribution for wrongdoings.
Military Activity. Cameroon has a bilateral defense agreement with France. In the 1980s and
The government sponsors many social welfare programs, largely through the community development and extension services of the Ministry of Agriculture. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have become increasingly involved in social welfare and the development of civil society. Their importance has increased as government functions have been cut back during a period of economic and political crisis.
Most NGOs fall into one of two types: those with a focus on social problems such as AIDS awareness, condom distribution, and street children; and ethnic development associations that link urban migrants with their home villages, build hospitals, schools, and bridges "back home," and organize urban ethnic festivals. Ethnic associations often are organized as rotating credit associations, building on a long tradition of mutual aid in both rural and urban areas. They reflect the increasing importance of ethnicity in national and local politics.
Division of Labor by Gender. In most areas, women are responsible for feeding their families. They grow staple food crops, while men clear the land and provide meat, oil, and salt. Men grow the cash crops. Among the pastoral populations, men herd the livestock and women process dairy products.
The Relative Status of Women and Men. In general, men have higher social status than women. They have more rights with regard to marriage, divorce, and land tenure within most local systems of social organization and more access to government bureaucracy and the courts. However, women may have informal power within households, enforced through their control of subsistence activities and their role as conduits to female ancestors. Many women are prominent in higher education and government ministries.
Marriage. Among many ethnic groups, first marriages historically were arranged with varying degrees of veto power by the potential bride and groom, but individual choice stressing companionship is becoming more common. Most southern groups prefer exogamous marriage, while the Fulani tend to be endogamous. Polygyny is a goal within many groups but is not always financially attainable. Some women prefer small-scale polygyny for the company and mutual aid a co-wife might provide.
Domestic Unit. Domestic organization varies widely throughout Cameroon. Rural polygynous compounds are composed of a male head of a household surrounded by his wives and their children. Wives and children usually sleep in separate dwellings within the compound. In both urban and rural areas, child-rearing by a close relative (a kind of foster arrangement) is common.
Inheritance. The organization of kinship varies widely, as do local rules of inheritance. The inheritance of land is often separated from that of movable property. The inheritance of wives may serve as a form of old-age insurance for women without grown children, since marriage provides access to land. Among many groups, traditional titles and honors may be inherited.
Kin Groups. Most northern groups, such as the Fulani, are patrilineal. The kinship organization of most Grassfielders, Bamiléké, and Bamoun is variously described as patrilineal or dual descent. The Kom of the Grassfields are a notable matrilineal exception. Most forest peoples are patrilineal.
Infant Care. Child bearing is highly valued, and infants are given a great deal of daily and ritual attention. Generally, infants are kept close to the mother and breast fed on demand. Once they can hold the head upright, they are carried by siblings. Infants generally sleep with their mothers. The arrival of a baby is the occasion for visits during which the newborn is cuddled, bounced, bathed, and spoken to.
Child Rearing and Education. Beliefs and practices concerning child rearing vary by ethnic group. Commonalities include the importance of learning by example and through play and imitation of the tasks of adults. Children are taught to observe astutely but remain reserved and prudent in what they report. Remembering one's ancestors, elders, and origins is an increasing concern of parents whose children spend long hours in public schools and often leave their homelands to find work in urban centers and on industrial plantations.
Since independence, the country has achieved a high level of school attendance. Primary enrollment in 1994 included 88 percent of children. Secondary education is much less common (27 percent), with boys attending secondary school more frequently than girls. Instruction is in French and English, although the second national language usually is introduced only in secondary school. Primary education lasts for six years in Francophone areas and seven years in Anglophone areas. Secondary education lasts for an additional seven years. School attendance is highest in the cities, especially Yaoundé and Douala, and lowest in rural areas. Despite the relatively high level of school attendance, 21 percent of men and 35 percent of women had no formal education in 1998.
Higher Education. While less than 3 percent of men and 1 percent of women attend institutions of higher learning, advanced study is widely regarded as a route to upward mobility. Originally, the University of Yaoundé was the only comprehensive university, while regional universities specialized in particular subject areas. Yaoundé also housed the University Centre for Health Sciences, a medical school servicing several African countries. In the 1990s, the University of Yaoundé was broken up into several campuses, each devoted to a different field of study. The regional universities became more comprehensive, leading to some decentralization in higher education. Many people pursue a doctoral degree overseas.
Greetings, use of proper names, and use of praise names are important parts of daily etiquette in many regions of Cameroon. At meetings, each person should be greeted by name or with a handshake. Serving and graciously receiving food is an important symbol of hospitality and trust throughout the country. Respect is accorded to elders throughout Cameroon. Protocol regarding speaking and seating during an audience with a chief is highly developed in regions with hierarchically organized cultures (Fulani, Bamiléké, Banoun, and Grassfields).
Religious Beliefs. Cameroonians have a variety of religious beliefs, and many individuals combine beliefs and practices of world religions with those of their own culture groups. Approximately 53 percent of the population are members of Christian denominations, about 25 percent practice mainly "traditional" religions, and approximately 22 percent are Muslim. Most Christians live in the southern areas, and most Muslims in the north. Christian missions constituted an informal second layer of colonialism.
Traditional religions are systems of practices and beliefs that adapt to changing social conditions. Most involve the veneration of ancestors and the belief that people, animals, and natural objects are invested with spiritual power.
Religious Practitioners. In addition to Christian and Muslim clerics, religious practitioners include the ritual specialists of cultural groups. These specialists may be political leaders, spirit mediums, or healers. Their spiritual power may be inherited, learned, or acquired through their own affliction and healing. Generally, they combine their religious activities with other forms of livelihood.
Rituals and Holy Places. For Muslims, a pilgrimage to Mecca is a source of honor. Among animists, holy places often include sacred trees or groves, unusual rock formations, and the burial places of ancestors. These places are often sites of propitiatory
Death and the Afterlife. Several cultures, including the Bamiléké in the west and the Maka in the east, practice divination and/or perform public autopsies to determine the cause of death. These peoples are particularly concerned with death caused by witchcraft. In many cultures, a death is announced through public wailing by women. Grassfields peoples bury their dead quickly but observe a week of public mourning called cry-die. Close relatives shave their heads. Approximately a year later, lavish death celebrations honor the deceased, who has become an ancestor. Death provides the occasion for the most important ceremonies of the forest forager groups (Baka, Kola, and Medzan). The forest spirit is believed to participate in death ceremonies by dancing under a raffia mask. The honoring and veneration of ancestors are common to nearly all
Health care consists of biomedical treatment, traditional practices (often closely bound to traditional religion), and Islamic medicine in various combinations that depend on belief, cost, proximity, and the advice of kin and neighbors.
Biomedical health care facilities are provided through the national government and Christian missions as well as by private physicians. There are health centers, maternal child health centers (offering prenatal, childbirth, well-baby, and under-five care), and private, general, and central hospitals. In rural health centers, nurses often play a direct role in diagnosis and treatment, and perform surgical operations. Pharmacists are an important source of biomedical advice. Vendors of prescription medicines also give advice to patients and their families, although their understanding of disease may differ from that of physicians and pharmacists.
Traditional practitioners include herbalists, bone setters, diviners, and ritual specialists who may supplicate spirits or ancestors. These practitioners adapt to changing conditions by incorporating new ideas and medicines into their practices. There has been a tendency toward the predominance of herbalists and individual treatment and away from the use of ritual specialists and community-wide treatments. Many practitioners specialize in the treatment of particular afflictions. Patients readily consult practitioners from different cultural groups.
The Islamic medical system is derived from Arabic and Greco-Roman sources. These medical practitioners not only are important sources of treatment for northern Muslims but also are popular among other peoples. Many non-Muslims seek protection from evil by displaying symbols of Islamic blessings in their houses.
Secular celebrations such as New Year (1 January), Youth Day (11 February), Labor Day (1 May), and National Day (20 May) include public parades involving public officials, party loyalists dressed in commemorative cloth with party insignia, and schoolchildren as well as dance troupes.
Support for the Arts. Artists are mostly self-supporting, although 7 percent of the national budget was devoted to recreational and cultural activities in 1996 and 1997.
Literature. The Fulani are known for their oral literature, including poetry, history, stories, legends, proverbs, magic formulas, and riddles. Since the colonial period, written literature has had a strong history in the southern areas. Ewondo and Douala authors have contributed classics to modern African literature.
Graphic Arts. Many groups produce pottery, textiles, and sculptures that are used as everyday household objects. Grassfielders (including the Bamiléké and Bamoun) are noted for blue and white royal display cloth, elaborately beaded calabashes, and sculptures that include royal reliquaries. The Bamoun are known for lost-wax bronze sculptures. The graphic arts of pastoral groups such as Fulani and Hausa are largely related to cattle herding.
Performance Arts. Music and dance styles are essential to the celebration of funerals, weddings, and succession to high office.
In addition to the university system, there are a number of institutions of applied and basic research in the physical and social sciences. Many are run and funded in coordination with the research institutions of donor countries, the United Nations, or NGOs. Social sciences are popular among university students. Because of insufficient library resources, students have formed their own organizations to create subject-specific libraries that are completely student-run.
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—P AMELA F ELDMAN -S AVELSBERG