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Dibango was born on 12 December 1933 in Douala, Cameroon. His father, Michel Manfred N'Djoké Dibango[2] was a civil servant. The
son of a farmer, he met his wife travelling by pirogue to her residence, Douala.[3] A literate woman, she was a fashion designer,
running her own small business.[4] Both her ethnicity, the Duala, and his, the Yabassi, viewed this union of different ethnic groups with
some disdain.[3] Emmanuel had no siblings, although he had a stepbrother from his father's previous marriage[5] who was four years
older than him.[6] In Cameroon, one's ethnicity is dictated by their fathers, though he wrote in his autobiography, Three Kilos of
Coffee, that he has "never been able to identify completely with either of [his] parents."[5]

Dibango's uncle was the leader of his extended family. Upon his death, Dibango's father refused to take over, as he never fully
initiated his son into the Yabassi's customs. Throughout his childhood, Dibango slowly forgot the Yabassi language in favor of the
Duala. However, his family did live in the Yabassi encampment on the Bassa plateau, close to the Wouri River in central Douala.[5]
While a child, Dibango attended Protestant church every night for religious education, or nkouaida. He enjoyed studying music there,
and reportedly was a fast learner.