Death of a Great Conservationist

Lomami National Park would not exist without local champions. The most pivotal – one who both led and reprimanded – even foreign conservationists (us),– was the chief, Mama Jeanne Ulimwengu.

1. Cheifitaine in Lokandu
For nine years she was the supreme leader of the Bangengele.

She was buried last Sunday. There is contention over who shall replace her. She is irreplaceable.

We must not forget her. The park must not forget her. This was a great woman and a great leader.

DELIMITATION Chef de groupe Kori sur la limite Tchombelome
The Lomami National Park limits were first marked in the bark of trees. Thank you chief Ulimwengu, for showing us how to arrive here.

This is what we remember:

3. Coronation of chefitaine
The clans gathered for her coronation.

This was the woman who became a chief: Her grandfather died. After a period of contention and confusion among the Bangengele, the key elder of the chiefdom chose her over her older brother or cousins. She became the only woman chief among the 34 sectors of Maniema Province. Everyone knew she was calm, but the elder who chose her must also have sensed her dedication, commitment and vision. We only learned that slowly.

Speaking to her population
The Chief addressed her people with confidence and an unwavering sense of what was right.

4. making arrests for illegal pigeon capture
She did not hesitate to arrest people committing wildlife crimes – here the mass capture and sail of pigeons during closed hunting season.

This was the exceptional effort she made: In 2009 she listened to us explain the amazing biodiversity of the Lomami forest that included the western most part of her chiefdom. She understood the peril of not officially saving it – already non-Ngengele hunters were using it. She rode motorcycle, and crossed flooded streams to speak to her people about the park. She accompanied ministers, assemblymen and the ICCN (parks) director.

4. helping her cross a bridge copy
A National Parks (ICCN) director helping the chief across a plank bridge to reach villages where she would explain the importance of protecting their forest.

But then she told us that all this outreach was not enough to make the park. “The ancestors must agree.” She led the conservation effort towards the traditional “TAMBIKO” . In the end villages throughout the park organized five tambikos and the park gained deep-rooted local acceptance.

2. Olangate_receiving ritual marking after ceremony
The chief receives the marks of the Olangate tambiko.

tambiko meals
She was not above working with the other woman to assure all the assembled guests at the tambiko had enough to eat.

These were the storms she weathered: Jeanne Ulimwengu was chief during nine difficult years. Her house was bludgeoned and burned by Tetela, an outside ethnic group, that was angry at measures she took against their deforestation of Ngengele lands.

5. destruction Katako
At night men from the Tetela tribe attacked the chief’s house and burned the outbuildings.

Last time she stopped by our Kindu office, she was weary and angry. She came with two men from one of her villages west of Kindu. She needed a small sum of money to stay out of jail. Why would anyone put the chief in jail? She had opposed the sale of traditional lands to a political strongman. The men accompanying her were leaders of the clan whose lands were “lost”.

She fought for what was good for her people and good for posterity.

ALAS: What hurts is during the post-funeral, clanic meetings a ruling was passed denying henceforward all women access to the throne of the Bangengele. She was the first and the last and a stalwart voice gone quiet.

1. Cheftaine at Balanga tambiko
May your memory help guide us in the years ahead.

Rest in peace, mama Jeanne– Chief of the Bangengele.


  1. Daniel Alempijevic
    Posted 2018-12-04 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry for the loss of such an important woman who stood behind the formation of the LNP

  2. Posted 2018-12-16 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

    Mama, this is beautiful tribute… What a loss.

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