Death of a 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 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
Marking the border of the Lomami National Park could only happen because of the ceremonies requested by the Chief Ulimwengu.

This is what we remember:

3. Coronation of chefitaine
All 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 male 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
She addressed her people with sympathy but firmness.

4. making arrests for illegal pigeon capture
She did not hesitate to arrest people for environmental infractions.

This was the exceptional effort she made: In 2009 she listened to us explain the exceptional 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 over-using the forest. 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 Parks’ director helps the chief cross a plank bridge.

But then she told us that all this outreach was not enough to make the park. “The ancestors must agree.”

2. Olangate_receiving ritual marking after ceremony
The chief receives traditional markings during an Ngengele tambiko.

She led the conservation effort towards the traditional “TAMBIKO” . In the end villages throughout the park organized five of these traditional ceremonies to consult the ancestors. The park gained deep-rooted local acceptance.

tambiko meals
She was not above helping other women in the kitchen as they prepared to feed the many village authorities gathered for a tambiko.

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
Her house was attacked in the night by another ethnic group.

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 silent.

1. Cheftaine at Balanga tambiko
Your example is still before us.

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