30 March 2017

Visit to Mangroves and Ebikoro

Leaving Youpwe behind.

Fishermen off Youpwe.
As part of advance scouting for a school field trip, we got together a group of friends to visit the mangroves south of Douala off Youpwe. While we've checked out the Youpwe fish market, watched ship-breaking, and seen the (fish and lumber) catches coming in, this was our first boating excursion to learn about the mangroves and fishing villages.

Mangroves creeping down to take root.
The trip was organized through Doual'Art, an organization based in the Bonanjo neighbourhood which hosts art exhibitions. We were ably guided by Caroline, our pilot Oscar, Yves (who works for Doual'Art), and a first mate whose duties included bailing water out of the pirogue periodically.

More mangroves!
Caroline informed us that there were in fact several villages on islands in the mangroves, generally populated by non-Cameroonians – principally Nigerians and Ghanaians. While habitat destruction wasa problem, with people cutting down portions of the mangroves for firewood, there are also initiatives aimed at replanting mangroves – and some experts on this may be joining Blair's 3rd grade class for their field trip!

After a few minutes we were far removed from the hustle and bustle of Douala, and even spotted a few monkeys (including Putty-Nosed Mangabeys) and saw a snake swimming through the water.

Approaching Ebikoro village.
Since mangroves provide sanctuary to fish, as well as protect the shoreline from erosion, there was certainly a lot of fishing happening. We visited the village of Ebikoro, another area where Nigerians have put down roots (see Batete in Equatorial Guinea). Ebikoro is solely populated by Nigerians. We had an audience with the chief, Mr. Frank, who came to Cameroon as a child in 1957.

Church and blackboard in Ebikoro.

The chief's pirogue.
Despite their long-standing residency, the villagers exist in a kind of purgatory – subject to Cameroonian law and the whims of officials, but without the right to appeal for services from the state. Children born in Cameroon are not considered citizens of the country if their parents are born outside Cameroon, and many villagers pay for renewals of residence permits in perpetuity. The chief explained that Cameroonian bureaucrats frequently come to Ebikoro to solicit fees.

Mangrove reflections!
Meanwhile the village provides all its infrastructure. This includes wooden walkways along the main path of the village (to account for high tide) and an electric generator. All food and drink, including water, is brought by motorized pirogues from Youpwe. While there seemed to be a nursery school in the church, older students travel to Douala for school, and many of the older ones board with friends or family. Given their uncertain status, many “return” to Nigeria for schooling. Indeed many members of Mr. Frank's family are based in Nigeria. Ebikoro is fully specialized – they sell fresh and smoked fish in exchange for all their material needs.

Meeting with Mr. Frank (right). The pirogue pilot Oscar is seated to his right.
Local ordinances of Ebikoro.
On our way away from the village, we stopped so the first mate could buy some fish (sole and bar) from a fisherwoman and her daughter. According to Caroline and Oscar, the women of Ebikoro do the vast majority of the fishing, while their (generally polygamous) husbands take 10% of the proceeds. This represented a novel approach to me because, while it is often women who do the bulk of the work, paid work or jobs with cash crops generally are men's remit (thanks to colonial attitudes that made men the interlocutors with Europeans interested in paying, trading or otherwise filching goods and services).

Fisherwoman bargaining over some of her catch as we departed Ebikoro.

The excursion was thoroughly enjoyable and eye-opening. It was interesting to learn about how the people in Ebikoro lived in a somewhat isolated area with no government services. It was thought-provoking in that the mangroves sustain and support a few different villages, not to mention fisherman from Douala proper, but the environment is under strain. If the Cameroonian government had a more enlightened relationship with these (somewhat) far-flung people, perhaps they could create a more sustainable living arrangement for them and their environment.

We passed sections of the port as we made our way back to Youpwe.

As we reached the dock in Youpwe, we encountered a large pirogue/pinasse headed for a more substantial village in the mangroves, in what's called Douala's 6ieme arrondisement. The boat was filled up with rice, drinks, families, electronics, and sundry other merchandise for supporting a community off the shore of Douala.

Hopefully there will be a follow-up post with more information on the mangroves, as the field trip should also feature a university researcher who works on mangrove preservation in Cameroon!

No comments: