Treasure Hunters Splitting Amani Forest into ‘Pieces of Eight!’
Amani means ‘Peace’ but the forest bearing the name, may soon be split into pieces, following the invasion of Treasure Hunters
Gold has been discovered within the lush, Amani Nature Reserve Forest in Muheza District of Tanga.
At least, gangs of people who have been invading the protected forest, claim to have struck the rare treasures in there.
But at the expense of the important reserve, a lush green natural forest which is now experiencing massive environmental degradation from the treasure-hungry trespassers.
Chief Conservator of Amani Nature Forest Reserve, Fikiri David Maiba, admitted that, gangs of illegal treasure hunters who keep invading the forest looking for (and actually digging) gold, started with local youth from nearby villages.
Fifteen Men …
“However, as time went by, aliens from other districts and regions started flocking to Muheza in their quest for the gilded underground trophies,” explains the Forest conservator. Maiba points out that gold diggers are rather young, most being young men aged between 15 years and 20.
Spawning both Muheza and Korogwe Districts, Amani Nature Forest Reserve is mapped within 8,380 hectares.
The Nature Reserve is a forest of special ecological importance, being home to over 1000 natural plant species including the astonishing African violet flowers ( Saintpaulia ), believed to have a spiritual aspects such as the power of forgiveness as well as cultural significance.
It is also a haven for bird watchers with over 500 foreign visitors touring Amani for such excursions and nature walks.
Indeed. As one walks through the forest peace and tranquility reigns, the only sound is that of birds and flowing water from nearby rivers, a reminder of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. You can almost hear John Silver’s naughty Parrot, the one known as Captain Flint, reciting “Pieces of Eight! Pieces of Eight!”Tanzania Times.
Managed under the Tanzania Forest Services (TFS), the Amani Nature Reserve Forest is also the main water catchment area for Tanga, Muheza and Korogwe.
In fact all the fruits, including the trademark Oranges, Mangoes, Peaches, Pineapples and others grown in Muheza, Handeni, Korogwe and Tanga, are fully dependent of the protected ecosystem.
Now as people scramble to scoop gold from the grounds in the Amani Nature Forest, the important ecological Reserve mapped within Muheza and Korogwe Districts of Tanga, according now faces serious environmental destruction according to observers.
“It used to be an on-and-off affair, depending on the particular season, but now gangs of young people frequently encroach the forest, looking for Gold.”
The Conservator adds that in the past the trespassers destroyed more than 20 hectares of the forest as they fell trees, set bushes on fire and dug deep trenches, in their extensive searches for gold.
But also, more often than not, many manage to find the valuable mineral.
…On the Dead Man’s Chest …
But who exactly told the trespassers that there is gold in Amani Forest?
“It is a long existed belief, since colonial times. Our great grandfathers held the secret to their chests but later passed the information from generation to generation. Even the Germans who ruled Tanganyika, knew about it. Now the young men from local villages have decided to delver into the forest in search of the treasures!”Hamza Salim Maghembe – Chairperson of Antakae Village
Which means the ancient residents of villages surrounding the forest did not die with the secret in their chests. They told their grandsons who now want to make them a reality.
There are those who believe that Gold does occur naturally in Amani Forest, but others are ready to swear that the Germans who established the reserves, could have hidden the treasures in the woodland. Possibly intending to come back for it later.
At least 20 villages surround the Amani Nature Forest Reserve located in the East Usambara Mountain Ranges, but according to local residents, people who actually infiltrate the woodland looking for gold were those coming from Sakale Village.
…And a Bottle of Rum!
Gold hunters are also causing a series of conflicts, some of them becoming lethal as they get confronted by Forest Wardens and other villagers during their illegal treasure trove missions.
The fights and conflicts could even be the result of the alcohol intoxicated youth, who simply dig gold to satisfy a certain lifestyle.
Hamza Salim Maghembe, the Chairperson of Antakae Village, told Journalists that most villagers are actively taking part in conserving the newly hatched Derema Protected Natural Corridor reserve into which a number of their farms were annexed for its formation.
“We don’t dig for gold ourselves, the issue is an isolated case among the young people aged between 16 and 20 in the Sakale area,” said Maghembe, adding that, it has been a long belief since colonial days, that the Amani Forest Reserve had gold reserves.
Both Amani and Nilo Nature Forests contribute to the Derema Protected Corridor which also encompasses, among other reserves, the Derema Forest, Kambali, Semdoe, Kwa-Marimba, Kizingata and Handei. The Corridor measures more than 900 hectares.
The writers were members of the Journalist’ Environmental Association of Tanzania (JET), who visited the area, covering issues surrounding the Derema Corridor, precisely learning how communities living adjacent to protected reserves are involved in conservation efforts.
The media environmental mission in the Muheza section of East Usambara Mountains, of Tanga Region, was supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).