Musings, Thoughts & Commentaries
Blood Ivory rightly holds an evil connotation.
An infamous act of cruelty and sin today, when I was in Africa in the late ‘70s, ivory was just another valuable harvest of the hunt. Like hunting rabbits for meat and fur during Autumn in Ohio.
At the time, I was Marketing Manager- Europe, Africa, and Middle East for Firestone International, based in London. On occasion, I would travel with the Southern Africa Area Sales Rep, Gerry M., to call on our distributors. I liked to visit Cameroon, and flew in to the port city of Doula, which I found more interesting and modern than the capital, Yaounde. The locals we met with spoke several local dialects, fluent French and good English. Even some radio stations broadcast in English, sometimes with a bit too literal translation from the dialects—in one report I remember an announcer speaking perfectly in Her Majesty’s English “…a city official was arrested after having been observed vigorously fucking his personal assistant.”
The Firestone Distributor there, Mr. O., was also the leader of his tribe north of Douala on the border with Nigeria. Mr. O. was brilliant, funny and a man of his people. We were driven around Douala with him in his chauffeured limousine. His business was located in Douala rather than in the capital because here he was close to the port and the road north took him back to his tribe. He took us up there to show us around. On the way, we stopped for lunch on the black sand beaches at Limbe with Mont Cameroon visible in the near distance.
After lunch, we drove north to Kumba, then off the highway and into his village. Along a narrow dirt road toward the Nigerian border we passed waist-high stacks of elephant tusks along the road, recently ‘harvested” and waiting to be picked up. Some of them were literally bloody. Mr. O. and his people were proud of the harvest and explained the hunt and the value of different tusks.
Gerry and I had little to say. It was not our culture and none of our business. People today feel differently and things have changed. I see on today’s map the region is now labeled “Protected Area”.
We returned to Doula and the next day and I flew on to Senegal for my next business call on a distributor.
Later in the year, Gerry called on me at our headquarters in London and presented me with a hand-carved ivory lion. He said, “Tom, this is not a gift, I paid US $50 dollars for it, but I think you should have it.” I reimbursed him. Gerry gave me an official receipt for it in the amount of 125,000 Cameroon Franc, the equivalent of US$ 350-- its true value “for insurance purposes.” All this was legal and rather common practice, then.
I still have the ivory lion—can’t bring back the elephant slaughtered for it, but I hope this story will teach the value of endangered species by showing how callously we thought then, unknowingly.
Tom Anthony is a West Point Graduate and combat veteran who spent his professional civilian career in global business all over the world. He has lived and worked in Austria, Italy, Spain, England, Iraq, Israel, and throughout Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Anthony also lived in Mindanao for seven years.
Copyright 2017 Tom Anthony.