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Cameroon's chiefs invoke spirits to protect Kupe forests

Posted on April, 19 2005

The hall went silent as chief Nsume-Ngeh’s voice cut across the spacious community hall of Nyasoso village. Even to those of us from WWF who did not understand the local Bakossi language, it was an awe-inspiring moment as the chief, joined by three others, invoked the spirits of the land.
Find out more about WWF's work in Cameroon's Mt Kupe forest.
For those who are not familiar with the traditions of the tribes around the great Kupe Mountain in the midwest part of Cameroon, the invocation of ancestral spirits is performed only by the chiefs on special occasions. In this case there were some twenty chiefs (representing the entire area) answering to the chorus and waving enchanted broom sticks as chief Nsume-Ngeh held tight to a jug of palm wine and blurted out the names of the ancestors. 
This was the reaction of the community leaders when WWF officials informed them on 29 March that the government of Cameroon had granted their wishes to have an integrated forest reserve for Kupe.

“We have come to inform you that your request to have an integrated forest reserve status for Kupe forest has been granted by government. The next steps of consultations for the gazettement process can now begin,” said Dr Atanga Ekobo, Programme Manager for WWF's Coastal Forest Programme (CFP). 
The chiefs took turns to show their rich understanding of having the status of their forest changed and solicited support from WWF to push ahead the gazettement process. The traditional rulers regretted that despite the demarcation process that had been carried out in 2002, encroachment into the forest was still rife from certain villages. 
Mount Kupe (2064m) is perched between the Southwest and Littoral provinces of Cameroon and covers an area of approximately 42km². It is made up largely of evergreen forest (800-2000m), with some montane forest species above 1800m and below 1200m. The forest is surrounded by about 20 villages and towns with an estimated population of 140,000 inhabitants. 
The forest has a wide range of endemic and endangered flora and fauna species, like the elusive Mount Kupe Bush Shrike.There are seven bird species in the area, a unique chameleon species, eight primate species like the preuss monkey, red-eared monkey, drill, chimpanzee, red-capped mangabey, and a wild coffee plant (Coffea montekupeensis) which is believed to be of more value than the robusta and arabica coffees common in Cameroon. 
However, this rich biodiversity have been facing severe human pressure as the population look upon the Kupe forest for their livelihood. Unsustainable methods of exploitation and trespassing on traditional sacred sites were going to jeopardize the future of this rain forest. Consequently, the local communities through their chiefs and with assistance from conservation organizations, such as WWF, and other community-based organizations began sensitization campaigns which led to the establishment of a farm-forest boundary to stop further encroachment. 
In 2002 the local communities led by their chiefs and with support from WWF, requested government to transform the Kupe forest in to an integral ecological reserve within which further human activities were prohibited. 

* By Peter Ngea, Communications Manager, WWF Central Africa Regional Programme Office (CARPO)
Partial view of Mount Kupe.
Dr Atanga stoops to « pick up » blessings from ancestors at chiefs’ bidding.
Mount Kupe, shrouded here by clouds, has local religious and spiritual significance. Mount Kupe, Cameroon.
Group picture of Kupe chiefs.