Every November, the sea turtles swim ashore to Ebodje in the South Region of Cameroon to lay their eggs in the golden sands of this seaside village of over 500 fishermen.
The tourists from Europe and America too start streaming into this community straining the resources and environment to partake of the same warmth the sea turtles cherish to lay their eggs in an abandon to Mother Nature.
Beautiful and welcoming, the people of Ebodje put up their best attire, clean the over 14 available rooms in the community and the KUDU project office prepares to give orientation to the hundreds of visitors.
Lots of fresh fish and turtle will constitute the prized meal of visitors. Freshly caught from the sea, the fish will be spiced with dozens of aromatic nuts, seeds, leafs, roots and tree backs. The whole village will wear a fresh aroma and new faces will troupe in from the towns to welcome those ready for delicate romance hands and a taste of exotic cuisine.
As these eco-tourists bask in the Ebodje warmth, they are charmed by the hundreds of kilometers of sandy beaches. Most of these visitors come back to invest in these rare sunshine beaches. The whole coastline stretching for hundreds of kilometers has been bought by speculators.
After the beaches are gone, multinationals go inland and buy dozens of hectares of pristine rainforest, they intend to transform into plantations and residences for the population they will displace from the seashore in Ebodje.
The new Ebodje sits in waiting.
Interestingly, the local communities have evolved a partnership scheme with the foreign investors and the rich elite from Yaounde and Douala. Those interested in a bite of the new Ebodje layout have to pass through the local community.
The natives are encouraged and financed to carve out hectares of forests. A percentage is then allocated to the partner while the local people keep the land title.
Ebodje seems to be gaining much from these waves of visitors. There is a rural electrification project which supplies electricity power to all homes and the street. Ebodje Electricity is managed and maintained by the community.
Though the power dynamo is currently bad, another one is coming soon, supplied by one of the timber exploitation companies taking trees from the surrounding forests.
Even as they take the trees, there is a community forest reserved for the community. Equally, 15 percent of proceeds from the Ebodje KUDU project is allocated for the development of the community.
According to Gnamaloba Denis, local coordinator of the Kudu project, the community is able to balance conservation with development. “It would have been horrible to stop the people from eating the sea turtle as they have done for generations. We are against poaching, but we allow them to catch and eat some of the turtle. Locals do it in a sustainable manner.”
The future is bright in Ebodje in the words of Shery, a fisherman and community leader. “Ebodje is developing and in the next ten years, visitors will no longer recognize place.”
Will this rapid development not take away the livelihoods of the people of Ebodje. Mama Hermine says no way, as they the leaders will make sure their customs are not completely eroded. “We welcome people and remind them of the sacredness of our ways.”
How sacred will be the ways of Ebodje when the human turtles come?
On the way to Ebodje, you maneuver your way through the huge machinery clearing the road to the Kribi deep seaport project. The local communities are getting ready to be resettled in camps to be built by Razel. Their old homes and ancestral graves have all been cleared.
The Baka (a pygmy tribe) who had lived here among the Batanga and Yassa people feel even more threatened. “The Chinese have cleared all my farms. So when you come here next time, bring some rice for my children.” Requested Jeannette, wife of Mabe Alain, one of the Bakas displaced from the deep seaport area.
When next I visit Ebodje, maybe I will meet a Long Beach, Carlifornia type of settlement, but where will Alain Mabe, Gnamaloba Denis, Hermine and Shery be? Maybe they would have swum along with the sea turtle to another shore. After all the SAWA people here believe they emerged from the sea.