It has been called the last place on Earth
this equatorial wonderland,
land of roaring rivers and majestic mountains
beautiful, but so fragile – as a spider’s web.
Here elusive species gather together
on beaches, in forest depths and glades
as if they have something to say to each other –
and to us – about the risk of ecological ruin.
In Langoue Bai a hidden world is revealed –
glimpses of forest elephants and buffalo,
of tufty red river hogs resembling gremlins,
lowland gorillas, duikers cooling in marshy waters.
In Loango lumbering hippos have learned
to surf an easy passage around headlands
between river mouths – no doubt
amusing the whales that glide and blow offshore.
And inquisitive chimpanzees in ones and twos
coming down from their haunts
stare in astonishment at the sight
of a rare invading primate – man.
For centuries people have carved lives
from forests and rivers – a respectful undertaking
of a dynamic and spiritual relationship
to outlast the nefarious invasions of the past.
Libreville setting a marker for freedoms sits
glitzy and glamorous in parts, dripping cement
asphalt and glass trying to assert itself
on modernity, but also ramshackle, anarchic.
In villages life proceeds on a simple course
wealth measured in chickens and goats,
a change of clothes, kitchen pots and pans
or a dish of poultry nyembwe to share.
The wilderness may provide abundance
of ingredients for industry, minerals and gems
but to the Fang, Mpongwe and Kota
it is a tribal thing, a self – sustaining world,
a question of belonging and bonding
through demonstrations of art and ceremony,
dance and ritual, untainted
by the glitter of profit and commercialism.
White masks, facial features outlined in black
honour those who have passed,
bieri adorned to house their skulls and bones
and invite their vigilance and protection;
mbulu-ngulu figures covered
in sheets of brass and beaten copper,
reliquaries that bind the present to the past
and supplication for the future.
When government is benign and stable
a place may emerge that could be
its own paradise, marking an end, a reconciliation
or perhaps a new beginning.