As the sun rises behind Mount Yuhan, a leopard, a hornbill, a civet and a tortoise ascend a ladder into the clouds. A fly picks a fight with an elephant. A monkey pits his wits against a crocodile. And that’s all before breakfast.
Armoured pangolins, blue-bottomed drill monkeys, red-legged francolins and red river hogs are just some of the fascinating creatures you will discover in this collection of folk tales from the Korup region of Cameroon, tales that are just as extraordinary as the animals that inspired them…
About A Wisp of Wisdom: Outreach Project
A Wisp of Wisdom had an unusual birth. It began when a conservation research team in central Africa collected folk tales from their local chiefs and elders. It ended with eleven children’s authors, an artist and a publisher joining the project to help retell stories from the Korup region in Cameroon.
Why? Good question. The answer is that Korup has rich stories, full of the animals that live in their precious forests. But the oral tradition that hands these stories down is being lost. And people in Korup have no books. (We mean this. No books. None.) And so the stories are being lost.
The original idea was to collect the tales and photocopy them, so the children would have something to read.
The original idea…grew.
Wouldn’t it be good, we thought, to make a proper book. And to have lots of authors. And to illustrate it beautifully. And to raise the funds to print at least 2,000 copies of that book in Cameroon. And for the conservation team to then give the book back, for free, to the children of Korup.
A Wisp of Wisdom is that book. We hope you enjoy it.
Watch the campaign video by clicking on ‘View the trailer’ below!
You can find out more about the Korup region, its villages and schools by clicking on the ‘Learn more’ link below.
A Wisp of Wisdom: Outreach Project
Written by Cameroon Stories Authors and illustrated by Emmie van Biervliet
Cameroon Stories Authors
Tom Moorhouse is a strange hybrid being, half children’s author and half research ecologist (an entity probably not called an “authologist”). His books to date are all animal fiction, including the award-winning The River Singers, its sequel The Rising and Trickster, which is the world’s only “ratrospective”.
Bush Pig is a hoary, sore-headed old bore of a boar. He’s a grouch and a grump and always has the hump – because once, long ago, Tortoise took him for a chump. We all know someone like Bush Pig. This is the story of why we should pity them.
Photo credit: A. L. Harrington Photography
Ifeoma’s first child inspired her to start writing for children – there were very few books about Africans at the time. She has written 23 books and one e-story. She has won several awards in America, including the CABA (Children Africana Book Award) twice, and has been nominated for a Kate Greenaway Award. She is also a photographer and has exhibited at the British Museum, the Afrika Center in Norway, and other places.
I like Ma Buffalo. She speaks her mind, is a great friend to Tortoise, has time for him, champions his cause – and boy does he need it! – and in so doing redeems herself.
Beverley Naidoo was born in South Africa where she came to love animal tales as a child. However humans rather than animals pose the greatest dangers in early novels like Journey to Jo’burg and No Turning Back. Yet after a feisty Tortoise crept into her Carnegie-winning The Other Side of Truth, she has regularly returned to the tales of her youth.
Photo credit: Linda Brownlee
Abi Elphinstone grew up in Scotland where she spent her childhood hiding in tree houses and running wild across highland glens. After being coaxed out of her tree house, she studied English at university then became a teacher. Now she writes books (The Dreamsnatcher, The Shadow Keeper) and travels the world looking for stories.
On a recent adventure, I lived with Kazakh Eagle Hunters in Mongolia and saw golden eagles soar over mountains and lakes. I remember marvelling at their magnificence so it was a treat to find myself writing about another kind of eagle, the Crowned Eagle, shortly afterwards.
Elizabeth Laird is the multi award winning author of many successful young fiction & YA novels. She has lived all over the world: Malaysia, India, Iraq, Iran, Austria, Ethiopia, Gaza, Russia and New Zealand. Her travels have undeniably influenced her style of writing and choice of topics, and she is well known for tackling a wide range of global issues through her work.
Photo credit: Anne Mortensen
Geraldine has written 170 books and been published in 50 countries. She even won the chance to write a sequel to Peter Pan for Great Ormond Street Hospital. Picture books, adult novels and everything in between. It beats working! And people even give her prizes for it, like the Carnegie Medal.
Flies are a bane. They get in everywhere, want to share everything, from your fruit juice to your nose. But I suppose they must have their uses – everything does. So I chose a story where Ma Fly triumphs in valiant battle with the biggest and most unlikely adversary – Elephant.
Photo credit: Brett Williams
Piers Torday is the author of the Last Wild trilogy, which has sold around the world and won the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He recently completed his late father Paul Torday’s final book, The Death of an Owl. Unfortunately, he is still not as clever as a certain monkey.
Photo credit: James Betts
Adèle Geras has published more than 100 books, mostly for children and young adults. She lives in Cambridge but lived in West Africa for a time when very young.
The drill monkey is my favourite character in the story. I like his wildness. It’s always fun to write about naughty humans and animals because they do unexpected things. Stories where nothing unusual happens would be a bit dull.
Gill Lewis writes stories for children inspired by her love of the natural world and from her work as a vet. Her books have been translated into many languages and have won international awards for environmental literature.
In my story for the Cameroon Stories project, the forest buffalo plays an important role as a gardener of the forest, dispersing seeds for new life to grow.
As a child, Sarah wanted to be a writer and dictated stories to her mother, until she bought a laptop of her own several years ago and decided to type them herself. Her fascination with animals began when she was aged eight and a stray cat decided to adopt her.
I was intrigued by the cute guenon monkeys with their beards and ear fluff that look as if they’ve been groomed by barbers, and I wanted to write about the naughtiest looking of them all. A nimble little white-nosed monkey will cause havoc for a clumsy fluff-headed hornbill.
Lucy Christopher is the best-selling and international award-winning author of Stolen, Flyaway and The Killing Woods. She works as Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, where she has a PhD in Creative Writing. Lucy has co-written the screen adaptation of Stolen, and is finishing her fourth novel.
My favourite animal in my story is the tree squirrel because she reminds me of my own best friend. Active and curious, my best friend would also help and support me at a difficult time. Plus, my best friend has fluffy wild flyaway hair also, just like a cute and cuddly tree squirrel! Does your best friend remind you of a certain animal too?
Emmie van Biervliet
Emmie van Biervliet
Emmie is a mixed media artist whose inspiration comes from journeys, mystical stories and the bizarre sights she has encountered on her travels. Her work has a dreamlike quality and magical realism is an integral part of the work. When possible she works in situe on art residencies from say an abandoned building in Havana, to a cave in Cappadocia or a car crossing the Atacama Desert. The pieces are built up layering a variety of materials found on route, including things like old maps, newspaper, spices and circuit boards, as well as paint which is flicked on, scrapped away and then details added to them. She works with a number of galleries and exhibits regularly in the UK and internationally. For more info please visit http://emmievb.com.
About the Korup region and the people there
The Korup region of Cameroon is essentially a rainforest national park dotted with villages, surrounded by peripheral forests and villages. The Korup National Park (KNP) itself covers 1,260 km². There are five villages inside the park, perhaps containing about 1,000 people overall, and about 20 or so in the periphery (within 2-3 km of the park’s border), which may contain 3-4,000 people. In addition, there is a small town (Mundemba) where the Korup National Park headquarters is located, five or six plantation working camps, and an increasing number of villages as you move further away from the park boundaries. There could be 40-50 villages in the broader region.
There are three main ethnic groups in the Korup region: the Korup people (in five villages only, and one or two across the border in Nigeria), the Oroko people (in five or six clans), and the Ejagham in the north. The common languages used for communication shared between all these peoples are pidgin English and English. French is the language of the the francophone central government, and sometimes used by the local police. French is often less popular with the locals in the Korup, and only well-educated Cameroonians in large cities will truly receive a bilingual education and will be comfortable with both English and French.
What are the villages and schools like?
Many villages in the Korup region are remote and accessible only by foot. These villages typically have mud huts, thatched or tin roofs, with no electricity and no running water. They rely on streams nearby for water to drink and for washing and bathing. Most of these villages will have primary schools, but the teachers assigned to those schools are usually young, inexperienced and looking to move on to a larger village.
The “next size up” of villages are similar to those described above, but close to a dirt road, which makes them reachable by bush taxis or motorbikes. These villages have more cash-crop farming surrounding them, and tend to be a larger in size. Sometimes these villages have a nurse visiting or even based there, and will have a slightly better standard of schooling: schools with one or two classrooms, a principal and a teacher. Such schools will, however, have lots of children, and nothing more in terms of supplies than wooden desks, blackboards and chalk for the teacher to write with. The school children will probably have a notebook and a pencil that they bring to school.
Larger again are the head villages and small towns. These are are still remote and close to the bush, many hours by car from large cities. Such places, though, will have electricity in many houses, some houses with running water, and provide bases for the police, gendarmes, a local hospital, government administration, and primary and secondary schools. The schools here will be more significant in size, comprising a classroom for each grade and a teacher for each grade. The education in such schools will more closely follow the national curriculum, which may not be the case in more remote villages. Even in these schools, however, children will not have school textbooks.
In all cases primary school education is mandatory, but children are required to pay money to keep the school running. Without paying this fee, children cannot sit exams, and therefore cannot progress with their education – a situation which results in many children being stuck, waiting for money that their parents (who may be elsewhere, living in more remote villages) cannot pay.
How available are books in the Korup?
Essentially nobody has books in the Korup region. A typical house in a remote and “on a dirt road” villages will contain absolutely nothing to read other than, perhaps, a religious pamphlet, a set of medicine instructions, or a rotten poster on the wall (often an advertisement of an anti-cholera drug with unpleasant accompanying photographs). Some houses will at best have a Nigerian poster with multiplication tables and the alphabet. To illustrate the dearth of books, there have been cases where Christos’ project has placed conservation education posters in public areas at villages only for these to be removed and rehoused in the chief’s living room!
None of the children in the remote villages, the on-the-road villages and in the larger villages and towns have textbooks for school. Schooling, therefore, requires the teacher to have the only copy of the textbook and then write the lesson from this onto the blackboard. The children will copy this down, and then study it.
The net effect on the children’s education is that some children “finish primary school” still barely literate. Others that have learned some mathematics or English may go on to high school. However, those parents with children from remote villages will then need to find a way for their child to stay with some relative in the town. Often children abandon their high school education and become farmers, hunters or fishermen.
Beyond the Korup region, the larger cities have relatively good schools.
What are the Korup’s forests like? Are there any landmarks?
The forest is very wet, thick rainforest. It is dense jungle in which visibility is restricted to a few meters in any direction. Crown trees can be 20-30m high or larger, with canopy trees just below, then medium and low understory trees and a lot of rattan /lians /treelets /seedlings filling in the low understory.
In terms of flora and fauna there are many ironwood trees, a characteristic “strong wood tree” prized for their wood, but which also form an important food source (leaves) for the critically endangered Preuss’s red colobus monkey – found almost exclusively in the Korup forest. Another typical tree, found in openings in the forest, is the umbrella tree, which has characteristic leaves and the fruit of which eaten avidly by birds and monkeys. There are also many ebony trees and cola trees (many producing fruits that are eaten by wildlife and locals – including red cola, bitter cola and monkey cola). There are probably 12-15 species of cola species in the forest. Lastly of note are the infamous strangles figs which kill the trees they climb up. The trees eventually rot, leaving a hollow core surrounded by a mesh of “hugging figs”. This core eventually closes as the fig grows.
The forest has very rich animal life. In terms of primates there are drill monkeys, Nigerian Cameroon chimpanzees, and lots of guenons. Of other mammals, leopards, sadly, were hunted to extinction in the last 30 years but there are pangolins, duikers, civets and genets, red river hogs (bushpigs), forest buffalo and forest elephant. In addition there are many squirrels, anomalures (flying squirrels), and mongooses. There are also many snakes and crocodiles, including the dwarf crocodile, the Nile crocodile and the cataphract (slender-snouted) crocodile – the latter critically endangered. Notable birds include the African grey parrot, crowned eagles and hornbills, but there is a huge diversity of bird species.
Of landmarks within the forest, Mt Yuhan is the tallest mountain (~1,040 m), with trees to the very top. The main river forming the eastern boundary of the park is the Mana river, and there is a waterfall within the park. The entrance to the park is via an iconic, very long, hanging bridge, constructed from metal cables and wood, with rapids below.
The forest is littered with smaller hills and “caves” – these “caves” are in fact gigantic granite boulders that naturally form a sheltering hollow at their base. When two such rocks touch, more cave-like features form, a few meters deep. These are sometimes used as makeshift hunting camps by locals.
What are the conservation issues that face the Korup forest?
The Korup forest itself is a national park, but the Korup region as a whole also contains forests, some in forest reserves, but some unprotected.
Within the national park the conservation threats primarily stem from from primarily illegal hunting (poaching) for bushmeat (wild game). Historically this meat was for local consumption. However, with the advent of more advanced weapons (shotguns) in the last decades, the forest is being emptied for commercial hunting as hunters sell meat for cash.
The hunters are typically local, but can have very significant impacts. The meat is mostly smoked then carried across the border in Nigeria where it is sold in bushmeat markets for higher price than it would sell in Cameroon. These prices are high because the Nigerian population is larger, their forest is shrinking and their remaining forest has been emptied of wildlife. Essentially this market for Cameroon’s bushmeat is responsible for siphoning species from the Korup forest.
Everything that could fetch more money than the cost of a $1 US shotgun cartridge is shot but typically the bushmeat consists of 40% small deer (duikers – red and blue duikers specifically), 40% rodents (porcupine and giant pouched rat), 10% primates (eight or nine different species, many of which are endemic to the area and globally endangered), 5% pangolins, and 5% others (birds, reptiles etc.). There is also significant snare hunting which can lead to animals being maimed, and many simply die in the snare and rot before being collected.
Outside of the national park the situation is similar, but worse: bushmeat hunting is just as prevalent but the actual forest is also in danger, both from small scale local clearing for farms (cash crops or food crops), and huge swathes being converted to plantations by international agribusinesses – typically for the development of large African palm oil plantations. A 700 km² plantation has been fought hard by local, national and international activists. Illegal selective, small scale logging is also a problem, as is larger scale commercial logging.
Finally, the forest within the park is also under some level of encroachment from villages in its periphery, who try to clear area for farms.
Will the Korup region benefit from this project in other ways?
Yes. Like many places with a wealth of natural resources, but a relatively poor population, the Korup’s forest is under threat. The main threats are rampant hunting of animals for bushmeat and massive conversions to oilpalm plantations. Our book is full of tales of the forest and the animals that live there – and while they may just be stories, they are a connection to the forest, educating children about animals and habitats, and inspiring literacy. Of course one book can’t solve all the problems facing the Korup’s forests, but it can help: education is vital to empower people to protect their resources and way of life.
‘Each story stands on its own, but there is a wonderful sense of the diverse environment and the rich tradition of storytelling which they stem from. This is a fabulous collection for home and for school, for independent reading and for sharing! – North Somerset Teacher’s Book Awards blog
Author: Cameroon Stories Authors
Illustrator: Emmie van Biervliet
Release date: 30/11/16
Page number: 160
Age range: 8-12
Product dimensions: 15.6cm x 23.4cm
A WISP OF WISDOM...
Who is involved?
The storytellers are Abi Elphinstone, Adele Geras, Beverley Naidoo, Elizabeth Laird, Geraldine McCaughrean, Gill Lewis, Ifeoma Onyefulu, Lucy Christopher, Piers Torday, Sarah Lean and Tom Moorhouse. (Fun game: spot the award-winners and best-sellers. Hint: there are lots!)
And helping out, providing vital logistical support, is the conservation research charity WildCRU, part of Oxford University.
Wall of Thanks
A huge and heartfelt thank you to everyone who has contributed to the Cameroon Stories project. Your generous donation will mean that our beautiful book, A Wisp of Wisdom, can be enjoyed by children from Cameroon who would otherwise have no reading material … at all. You are all brilliant and the least we can do to say thanks is to record your name in lights here!
Aimee Layton•Amanda Grenville-Jones•Amanda Lloyd•Amanda Long•Amy Dickman•Amy Hinks•Amy-Jane Beer•Andrew Allen•Anne Langdji•Anne Wilkinson•April Beckerleg•Arabella Warner•Ariella Binik•Ayse Mergenci•Barbara Taylor•Becky Dean•Berny G-Jones•Bev Watts•Beverley Cook•Britt Kilian•Caitlin Kryss•Carina Laudemann•Caroline Wentzel•Cath Heinemeyer•Catherine Atkins•Catherine Donald•Cathy Fisher•Charlotte Whitham•Chloe Montes•Chris White•Christa Henrichs•Christopher Sandom•Christos Ampatzis•Christos Astaras•Claire Nathwani•Claire Salisbury•Clarissa Hofmann•Corine Timmer•Cristina Ariani•Darima Fotheringham•David Brazier•David Macdonald•Denis Kupsch•Despina Migli•Dora Antonakaki•Ellen Leffler•Elleni Vendras•Emily Beale•Emily Cohen•Emily Dunn•Emily Farren•Erik Krueger•Esther Horn•Finlay MacDougall-Mitchell•Gary Cleaverly•Geoff Heatherington•Hannah Penny•Hannah Sheppard•Helen Barker•Helen Perry•Henry Simms•Hilary Grime•Holly Smith•Howard Charlesworth•Ivan Beraha•James Clarke•James Noel•Jane Torday•Jane van Biervliet•Janina Schäfer•Jeanne Musgrove•Jen Meredith•Jen Spencer•Jennifer Seale•Jo Boyles•Jo Pearson•Joanna Bagniewska•Joanna Hughes•Joe Holdsworth•Joe Moorhouse•John Fulton•Jorgelina Marino•Judy Curry•Julia Apperley•Julian Anderson•K.M. Lockwood•Kara de los Reyes•Kate Kilpatrick•Kate Nowak•Kate Poels•Katherine Player•Katherine Rundell•Kerstin Eppert•Kirsty Stanley•Kun Shi•Laura A Gardner•Laura Sheldon•Lauren Harrington•Leonore Lovis•Linda van Soest•Linn Kämereit•Lisa Heathfield•Liz Cross•Liz Porter•Liza Gadsby•Louisa Daubney•Louise•Louise Apperley Granville•Louise Fletcher•Lucinda Tolhurst•Lucy Christopher•Lucy Tallents•Lydia Jenderek•M. G. Leonard•Mango Bubbles Books•Maria Michalopoulou•Marilyn Sloet•Mark Stanley Price•Mary Foulkes•Mary Hays•Matthew Good Foundation•Maureen Kelley•Melanie Barker•Merryl Parle-Gelling•Miriam Craig•Mirjam Bauer•Mrs Jill Harris•Mrs. J. Still•Muhammad Akram•Muriel Reichmann•Natasha Whitelock•Neal Bailey•Neil D’Cruze•Nick Lean•Nicola Worsnop•Norma Clarke•Oliver Van Biervliet•Orume Robinson•Paul Barnes•Paul Johnson•Pauline Pinkney•Pauline Thresh•Penny Boardman•Peter Bunzl•Polina Feldmann•Rachel Crowther•Rachel Giacomantonio•Rachel Goddard•Rachel Saunders•Rebecca Ward•Rosie Salazar•Ross Montgomery•Ruth Horn•Ryan Samaroo•Sabine Little•Sacha Viquerat•Sally Croft•Sam Barnes•Sandra Baker•Sarah Laird•Sean Denny•Sean Edwards•Sebastian Gutierrez•SF Said•Sharanya Manivannan•Sheila Rance•Sian Reid•Sibeal Pounder•Simon Pooley•Sofi Croft•Sonia Kmec•Sophie Adjalley•Stuart Everall•Su Ashe•Sue Gregory•Susan Brownrigg•Susan Idreos•Susanna Repo•Suzanne Dore•Tania Rittmann•Tania Tay•Theodore Astaras•Thomas Calvocoressi•Thomas Prey•Tom Downie•Torie Walton•Vasileios Antonopoulos•Vikki Cornelius•Victoria Lochhead•Victoria Williamson•Wendy Erb•Xaroula Kerasidou•Yü Chow