Letters from Claudine André 2: Negotiating for Ekolo ya Bonobo
FROM THE ARCHIVES - 2008: In Claudine André's last entry, she described her excitement as her flight took off for Basankusu and her anticipation of working with the people of the Ilonga Mpôo tribe to provide long-term protection for bonobos who would soon be returned to the wild at Ekolo ya Bonobo.
In this slightly edited post, she describes their negotiations.
Photo courtesy of Zanna Clay
It was barely 6 o’clock and dawn had left a grey cloak of mist hovering over the Lulonga
River. The color of the sky left little to hope for! Shame! We had planned to accompany
the pirogues of the Mpôo who were to return home after our important meeting the
previous day. In joyful spirit, together we had signed an agreement which is fundamental to the
establishment of Ekolo ya Bonobo.
My choice of the forest of the Ilonga Mpôo population had been made for over a year.
I know just how a tradition whereby people belong to the land they live on is deeply rooted in the minds of the native populations. For this reason we had to step lightly.
The piece of land I was asking for, limited to the north by the Molambi River, is considered mythical in their traditions and so remained a topic of discussion. All of the representatives of the Mpôo community were willing... but far from the Molambi River! This would reduce the terrain for Ekolo ya Bonobo -- too narrow and much too small for my liking.
After a week of endless discussions -- in which we believed we were making headway but
with just one unexpected or indirect question, we would find ourselves right back where we had started -- we finally managed to come to an agreement! Ekolo ya Bonobo will be
established exactly where I have dreamed it!
The Ilonga-Mpôo fully understood that they would still be able to live the joys of gathering fruit, fishing, and collecting caterpillars so rich in precious proteins. The only forbidden activity will be to hunt with traps, poisoned arrows, and firearms. The Mpôo still are able to enjoy the forest of their ancestors, which is 20 times larger than Ekolo ya Bonobo! Not to forget that the latter is flooded during the rainy season and has been void of game for years. In exchange we will help them, and they will have a dependable spokesperson in the capital.
Following all this, we returned to the village. Many friends of Lola supported us by bringing useful gifts for the Mpôo. The Nkumu (local chief) proudly wore what he calls “his 32 teeth” – 32 leopard canines which, following tradition, were passed down to him from his ancestors.
I enjoyed the calm dark waters of the Lopori River, its string of islands and its luxurious forest. The sun was unveiled and in the searing heat I had to take out my indispensable parasol. My men laughed even though they too have picked up the habit of bringing an umbrella to protect them from the sun!
As we passed by, Pierrot hailed a man perched at the top of a raffia palm tree. He had fresh palm wine, barely alcoholized, a real treat! The calabash he shared with us was passed among the passengers of the pirogue. "It’s really delicious!” stated Pierrot, filling my cup as he wiped his mouth. And believe me, if the city dweller inside me loves a nice French white wine, this light and fresh raffia wine on the river was also a moment of sheer pleasure! Every now and then we greeted the fishermen, busily seeking the fish that we would cook on the glowing embers that very evening as we sat around the fire in a camp somewhere along the Lopori.
At that very moment I thanked the bonobos from the bottom of my heart for having brought me on this adventure that allowed me to rediscover the depths of the Congo, the hospitable people, the beautiful scenery and the primary rainforest of the Congo Basin. Yes, here in the midst of this black mirror of water, sliced by our pirogue, I was experiencing a part of my paradise.