From this final overlook Sheyh Musara keeps eternal watch on the passing Lomami. He moved here, to Polepole, in 1990, after Jose le Maitre, elephant poacher and terrorist of Polepole, was killed. Sheyh learned mystic Mayimayi protection (gri-gri) and became the Mayimayi leader of the Balanga people. He eventually dominated both near-by Mbole and Arabisé peoples.
This period (end 1990s, beginning 21st century) was the final elephant slaughter in this southern part of what we call TL2. Elephants were killed not only with military rifles but also with spears and traditional pit-traps. They were wiped out.
Although considered a just leader, Sheyh was also leader when the elephants were silenced and shrubs grew over their trails in the forest. He had no idea where the ivory went after it left Congo– but eventually he understood the loss. His grand children have never seen elephants.
The laissez-faire elephant extermination of Sheyh’s dominion was a precursor of what is happening now throughout much of central Africa.
Sheyh Musara died on the 12th of April 2012. A month and a half later, 24th of May, there was a U.S. Senate hearing with testimony about the increase in ivory trade and the precipitous decline of elephants.
The price of ivory is at $400 dollars a kg . Prices have doubled in the last two years. The market in China is driving the mass-killing in Congo and all of central Africa. Last year, 2011, was a record year for ivory poaching; the ivory seized (25 tons) represents about 2500 African elephants.
Sheyh’s last wife (in mourning above) ran away in 2010 when her adulterous affair with a much younger man came out in the open (hard to hide in a tiny village). Nevertheless, she returned as Sheyh was failing – perhaps fearing the power of his gri-gri.
Just a day ago we got an SMS sent from a thuraya sat phone in the field: elephant sign found in the southern park! This is the first elephant that has been here in a decade. As the safety of the park area becomes known, will more elephants move down from the remnant population in the north? This would be a fitting tribute to Sheyh Musara. Perhaps his grand children will know elephants.
Sheyh Musara several years ago.