3.2. Adapting Local Land Use to the Park Regime
Here, we use the word ‘informal’ to refer to ‘unnoticed forms’ of land use and access into the park by the local people despite State prohibitions. An example of such incursions into the park is seen during the practices of traditional camping and the gathering of forest products in parts of the sub-montane forest, close to the park boundary. These practices, among others, differed from what occurred in remote parts of the park, where people use the land rather for rituals and tourism activities. In the paragraphs below, we describe these forms of land use at localities indicated on the map (Figure 2
) as GPS points (P).
Our results indicated evidence of forest products which had been gathered and the setting up of traditional camps in the park. The area between P5 and P9 on the map (Figure 2
), are sites of such camps which have been constructed in the sub-montane rain forest close to the park boundary. Here, we see the remains of plants of traditional importance which are used for medicinal and household needs. According to Mola Njie, many medicinal plants in this territory rarely grow in the local communities, which in effect explains the reason why people in need of such plants are obliged to trespass and collect them specifically for use in rituals and village cleansings. To name just a few of such plants in Mokpwe
(Bakweri language), we have: the Wulule
, which is used during family ceremonies called Yoya’a etumba
and the elephant dance festival by the Maale sacred society
, the Ewula vaco
, which is a grass used for the treatment of wounds, and the Monda dwani
, which is a sugarcane consumed as an alternative source of body strength during exhausting farm work. Mola Njie also talked about the Ewula-maija,
which is a plant he consumes as tea, and as a source of blood supply. Furthermore, people also use a peace plant picked from this area to mark land boundaries and to prevent conflicts between landowners. These examples are part of the flexibility, which the hunter describes as an informal way of using the land, even when the State does not formally approve such activities in protected areas.
Walking through the forest, Mola Njie remembered his youthful days when he visited the mountain to harvest a leaf (rau-rau)
. When asked about this leaf, he noted that technological development and the introduction of plastic papers in grocery stores were gradually replacing the habit of using the leaf for storing doughnuts (puff-puff
), as he put it:
“When we close after school, we go to the bush and get leaves to sell puff-puff and akra. All those things when they tie it on this leaf, you enjoy it. It gives the food a different taste.”
To Mola Njie, although State conservation laws prohibit the unauthorized entry of people to the park, one reason for acts of trespassing was due to the closeness of ‘village land’ to the boundary of the park. These are farmlands which are used by the local population who live in nearby communities. For this reason, the authorities of the park carry out periodic arrests for unauthorized incursions into the park.
There are habitats of trees such as the Mahogany, the Iroko, and the Whitewood close to P8 (Figure 2
). While holding a leaf from one of these trees, Mola Njie explained that periods before the advent of the MCNP, these habitats were a source of firewood and materials used for house construction. Nowadays, State forestry laws prohibit the extraction of wood on this site. To Mola Njie, the management regime assists him with ‘user-rights’ under conservation agreements. These rights allow individuals to cultivate tree species in villages, similar to the ones found at P8, to reduce logging in the protected areas. The regime’s provision of user-rights enables him to have alternatives for cultivating and harvesting various tree species away from the park. The flexibility, in this case, consists of local acceptance of alternatives provided by the State, while at the same time, they continue accessing areas inside of the park.
Portions of the sub-montane rain forest consist of land for cultivating Prunus Africana (a plant for cancer treatment). To Mola Njie, the collection of Prunus Africana on Mount Cameroon goes back to the 1970s, when no restrictions existed, and this tree was used for the treatment of many other illnesses. The park regime, using what Mola Njie called a ‘Prunus Africana bark trade’, collaborates with a partner agency, Mount Cameroon Prunus Management Company (MOCAP), through which locals gain employment as a harvester of the Prunus Africana bark. According to Mola Njie, this initiative offers a flexible choice for him to become a village member of harvesters’ unions through which he obtains basic needs. Under this system, union members plan income-generating activities from which he acquires a drinkable water supply and healthcare services. This shows that the State was able to accommodate flexible access regimes to the areas inside the park.
On entry into a traditional camp at P30, Mola Njie pulled out a bottle of water from his bag and while staring up at the sky, as if to say the night is near, he recounts how he worked as a contracted harvester of Prunus Africana
bark in the year 2006 for a pharmaceutical company, Plantecam. The traditional camp consisted of sticks from the forest, positioned into the ground with piles of wood for resting, and a fireplace in the middle of the camp (Figure 2
). He narrated how he spent days on the mountain during harvesting activity and stated that he and his colleagues used the camp for shelter after lengthy periods of trekking and transporting Prunus Africana
barks down the slopes of the mountain.
We also identified accounts of human activity in the wildlife forest of the park, as well as rituals and stories about hunting. The wildlife forest is located on the West Coast of the MCNP between P25 and P28 (Figure 2
). This area represents a habitat for forest elephants, monkeys, and chimpanzees. According to Mola Njie, elephants are of spiritual importance to the Bakweri. They symbolize mid-way communication between ‘the living’ and ‘the dead’. Mola Njie actually abides by this belief in elephant spirituality and explained that this spiritual relationship enabled him to avoid hostilities with elephants when visiting the wildlife forest. Since this area is a few kilometers from the boundary of the park and the village settlements, the elephants come to feed on crops grown on nearby farms. When they do, they leave behind dung, which, to Mola Njie, is a useful form of traditional medicine which is used for the treatment of stomach aches if taken after boiling it in water. This explains why there is a tendency for the local population to collect dung under situations which are unnoticed by the authorities of the park.
To Mola Njie, the appearance and state of the dung gives an idea of the size and location of an elephant in the park. Such knowledge is important for it enables one to avoid any confrontations with elephants while in the wildlife forest. We see a further indication of this knowledge in the hunter’s ability to determine an elephant’s location based on the number of insects on the dung. A greater number of insects gives the idea that an elephant is nearby. The hunter also associates larger sizes of dung to adult elephants. In Mola Njie’s view, the use of such knowledge helps him avoid any confrontations with the elephants and enables him to move about the forest without disturbing these animals. Consequently, while the park authority prohibits the free entry of the local population into the park, we see that there are other means of using the land to satisfy livelihood needs. The fact that this means of engaging with the land takes place in ways that protect elephants while acquiring the dung for medicinal needs, is indicative of the aspects of flexibility in using protected areas.
Ritual needs are one of the evident explanations for the traditional use of the park. As [50
] puts it, religious systems are ultimately a study of the people themselves and are the strongest elements which influence the lives of Africans. As such, we cannot understand the concerns of the Bakweri without knowing the traditional beliefs, attitudes, and practices that underpin their religions. The results of the interviews showed that rituals are connected to beliefs in a spiritual being and to the protector of Mount Cameroon, known as Efassa moto
. To the hunter, this spiritual being is a source of strength and protection to the Bakweri. Consequently, he maintains the necessity of using the land on the mountain for rituals. An example of practicing a ritual was at P11 (Figure 2
), where a huge rock known as the ‘dancing stone’ (Lyen la ngomo’o
) was located. Mola Njie perceived this stone to symbolize a spiritual figure which has been worshipped by past generations of the Bakweri. He equally stated that the officials of the park actually support this form of worship because it ensures the safety of visitors to the park.
At the site of the rock, Mola Njie requested that we harvest a fern plant and perform a dance to invite Efassa moto to protect us on the mountain. The ritual entailed dancing to the tune of music sung by the hunter with the phrase: Lyen la ngomo’o Iye Iye. This song praises the Bakweri ancestors and spiritual beings on the land while also requesting them to protect visitors to the park from danger. To the hunter, there are beliefs that in past years, people who failed to perform the dancing stone ritual went missing on the mountain and were never found. In this manner, the authorities of the park cooperate with local land users to maintain this form of flexibility in order to ensure the safety of visitors in the park.
We also visited an ancestral cave which was located a few kilometers from P18 and here, Mola Njie explained that he and his forefathers used the cave for shelter during the hunting seasons and the ancestral worships (Figure 2
). Nowadays, this site is maintained as a tourist attraction. Another reason for maintaining ritual beliefs in the park is related to the volcanic eruptions of this mountain, which recently erupted in 1959, 1982, 1999, and 2000, leading to the destruction of biodiversity. To Mola Njie, volcanic eruptions are a sign of Efassa moto’s
resentment against the people’s failure to perform rituals on the mountain. As such, when the lava flows damage crops on the land, the Bakweri perform rituals using animal sacrifices as a request for Efassa moto
to restore environmental stability. These examples are indicative of how local land users are flexible in pursuing their traditional use of the land.
On the issue of hunting, areas close to the P8 site were a hunting attraction before the creation of the MCNP. Here, Mola Njie recalls his youthful encounter with a tree that represents a camping spot for bush rabbits (he called the spot postman-poto
), as he explained:
“When I used to come here to hunt, the rabbit slept on this tree all day. At six o’clock in the evening, the rabbit would come down from the tree in search of food. Upon returning in the morning, the rabbit would make a screaming sound aimed at deceiving any predator that it was descending from the tree, whereas it was climbing up the tree to sleep. The predator would then arrive later beneath the tree, just to realize that the rabbit had returned to its nest.”
Another hunting site is located in the montane grassland section of the park. Here, Mola Njie took us closer to a patch of grass where he explained the practice of hunting and trapping of an antelope at site P18, stating that:
“There was a bush with two exit holes in the middle of two footpaths. In this bush, there was an enclosure where antelopes sheltered during cold weather. Two men had to stand on both sides of the exit holes to get an antelope trapped using sharp sticks.”
In trapping the antelope, to him, the process was difficult because success was based on how careful and silently the hunter approached the animal. Due to this difficulty, Mola Njie sold a mature antelope at about 65,000 francs (99,44 euros) a few years before the creation of the MCNP. We should note, however, that nowadays, the park authority does not approve of such means of land use in this protected area.
The remote parts of the park consist of lands used for tourism development (Figure 2
). Thus, although the regime prohibits hunting on the land, it promotes tourism by cooperating with some members of the local communities in activities that generate income. We observed footpaths that had been created on the land and newly constructed huts to be used by tourists. According to the hunter, a few years before 2009, the local people used these footpaths during bee farming, as he recounted:
“Back in the days before the MCNP, we trekked for long distances to the Savannah grasslands where we lit fires to get the bees out of their holes in order to collect the honey.”
In perspective, Mola Njie referred to footpaths as ‘shortcuts’ that were crucial before the creation of the park. Footpaths were shorter connections between villages which were located around Mount Cameroon. In recent years, mainly tourists and village inhabitants employed to perform in income-generating activities for the regime make use of these footpaths.
At the montane grassland, a road developed for tourism activity linked the points P23 and P25 (Figure 2
) to one of the adjacent villages, i.e., from Bonakanda village in Buea through P25 to a place at P29 known as Mann-Spring lodge. Constructed in 2015, this road facilitated the transportation of equipment to furnish the tourist lodge at Mann-Spring. Mola Njie maintained that Mann-Spring lodge was a former camping spot used by Bakweri hunters before the arrival of a German Botanist, Gustav Mann, who, in 1862, found a spring in the area while collecting plants. Tourism is an example of flexibility where the hunter can cooperate with park authorities in using protected areas for his benefit. Mola Njie names a few friends of his, who were employed by the regime as tour operators, guides, and porters, adding that although they earn some money from tourism in the park, most of the finances from tourism go to the State treasury. Mola Njie expressed the need for initiatives that can be sponsored with funds from such finances in order to achieve the basic needs of the local people.