Who Knows What About Gorillas? Indigenous Knowledge, Global Justice, and Human-Gorilla Relations

Adam Pérou Hermans Amir


The gorillas of Africa are known around the world, but African stories ofgorillas are not. Indigenous knowledge of gorillas is almost entirely absent fromthe global canon. The absence of African accounts reflects a history of colonialexclusion, inadequate opportunity, and epistemic injustice. Discountingindigenous knowledge limits understanding of gorillas and creates challengesfor justifying gorilla conservation. To be just, conservation efforts must beendorsed by those most affected: the indigenous communities neighboringgorilla habitats. As indigenous ways of knowing are underrepresented in thevery knowledge from which conservationists rationalize their efforts, adequatejustification will require seeking out and amplifying African knowledge ofgorillas. In engaging indigenous knowledge, outsiders must reflect on their ownways of knowing and be open to a dramatically different understanding. In thecontext of gorillas, this means learning other ways to know the apes andindigenous knowledge in order to inform and guide modern relationshipsbetween humans and gorillas.


Conservation; Epistemic Justice; Ethnoprimatology; Gorilla; Local Knowledge; Taboos


Adams, William M., and Mark Infield. 2003. “Who Is on the Gorilla’s Payroll? Claims on Tourist Revenue from a Ugandan National Park.” World Development 31(1): 177–90.

Alesha, Matomah. 2004. Sako Ma: A Look at the Sacred Monkey Totem. Tucson: Matam Press.

Amir, Adam Pérou Hermans. 2019. “Folk Filmmaking: A Participatory Method for Engaging Indigenous Ethics and Improving Understanding. Conservation & Society. DOI:10.4103/cs.cs_17_123

Anderson, Elizabeth. 2012. “Epistemic Justice as a Virtue of Social Institutions.” Social Epistemology 26(2): 163-173.

Anonymous. [F.S. Collier]. 1934. “Notes on Gorilla.” Nigerian Field 3: 92–102.

Barume, A.K. 2000. Heading towards Extinction? Indigenous Rights in Africa: The Case of the Twa of the Kahuzi-Biega National Park, Democratic Republic of Congo (No. 101). IWGIA.

Beolens, B., M. Watkins, and M. Grayson. 2009. The Eponym Dictionary of Mammals. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

Bergl, R.A., and L. Vigilant. 2007. “Genetic Analysis Reveals Population Structure and Recent Migration within the Highly Fragmented Range of the Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli).” Molecular Ecology 16(3): 501-516.

Coolidge Jr, H. J. 1929. “A Revision of the Genus Gorilla.” Memoirs of the Museum of Comp. Zool., Harvard 50: 293-381.

Di Carlo, Pierpaolo. 2011. “Lower Fungom Linguistic Diversity and its Historical Development: Proposals from a Multidisciplinary Perspective.” Africana Linguistica 17: 53-100.

Dickenson, Jennifer. 2000. “Gorillas and the Gothic in Mid Nineteenth-Century Adventure Narrative.” Paper presented at the 116th annual meeting of the Modern Language Association, November 27–30. Washington, D.C..

Dowie, Mark. 2011. Conservation Refugees: The Hundred-year Conflict between Global Conservation and Native Peoples. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Du Chaillu, Paul. 1861. Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa: with Accounts of the Manners and Customs of the People, and of the Chace of the Gorilla, the Crocodile, Leopard,

Elephant, Hippopotamus and Other Animals. New York: Harper.

Dunn, Andrew, Richard Bergl, Dirck Byler, Samuel Eben-Ebai, Denis Ndeloh Etiendem, Roger Fotso, Romanus Ikfuingei, et al. 2014. “Revised Regional Action Plan for the Conservation of the Cross

River Gorilla (Gorilla Gorilla Diehli) 2014–2019.” IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group and Wildlife Conservation Society.

Ekpe, Inyang. 2015. The Forest: An African Traditional Definition. Bamenda: Langaa RPCIG.

Etiendem, Denis. 2008. “The Power of Local Stories in Lebialem, Cameroon.” Gorilla Journal 37: 14–17.

Etiendem, Denis, Luc Hens, and Zjef Pereboom. 2011. “Traditional Knowledge Systems and the Conservation of Cross River Gorillas: A Case Study of Bechati, Fossimondi, Besali, Cameroon.” Ecology and Society 16(3): 22.

Fricker, Miranda. 2007. Epistemic Injustice: Power and the Ethics of Knowing. Oxford: Oxford University.

Garland, Elizabeth. 2008. “The Elephant in the Room: Confronting the Colonial Character of Wildlife Conservation in Africa.” African Studies Review 51(03): 51-74.

Giles-Vernick, Tamara. 2002. Cutting the Vines of the Past: Environmental Histories of the Central African Rain Forest. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.

Giles-Vernick, Tamara, and Stephanie Rupp. 2006. “Visions of Apes, Reflections on Change: Telling Tales of Great Apes in Equatorial Africa.” African Studies Review 49(01): 51–73.

Goldman, Mara. 2007. “Tracking Wildebeest, Locating Knowledge: Maasai and Conservation Biology Understandings of Wildebeest Behaviors in Northern Tanzania.” Environment and Planning D:

Society and Space 25(2): 307-331.

Grimes, Barbara F., ed. 2000. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Dallas: Summer Institute of Linguistics, 14th edition.

Groves, C.P., 1970. “Population Systematics of the Gorilla.” Journal of Zoology 161(3): 287-300.

Groves, C.P., 2002. “A history of Gorilla Taxonomy.” Gorilla Biology: A Multidisciplinary Perspective, edited by A.B. Taylor and M.L.

Goldsmith, 15-34. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Haddow, A.J., and R.W Ross. 1951. “A Critical Review of Coolidge's Measurements of Gorilla Skulls.” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 121(1): 43-54.

Hodgkinson, Chloe, 2009. “Tourists, Gorillas and Guns: Integrating Conservation and Development in the Central African Republic.” PhD diss., University College London.

Igoe, Jim. 2017. The Nature of Spectacle: On Images, Money, and Conserving Capitalism. Tucson: University of Arizona Press.

Jackson, Dorothy. 2004. Implementation of International Commitments on Traditional Forest-related Knowledge: Indigenous Peoples’ Experiences in Central Africa. Paper commissioned by the

International Alliance of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples of the Tropical Forests for presentation at the Expert Meeting on Traditional Forest-Related Knowledge (TFRK) 6–10 December. San Jose, Costa Rica.

Jaggar, Alison M., and Theresa W. Tobin. 2013. “Situating Moral Justification: Rethinking the Mission of Moral Epistemology.” Metaphilosophy 44(4): 383–408.

Jenks, Albert. 1911. “Bulu Knowledge of the Gorilla and Chimpanzee.” American Anthropologist 13: 56-64.

Joiris, Daou Veronique. 1996. “A Comparative Approach to Hunting Rituals Among the Baka Pygmies.” In Cultural Diversity among 20th Century Foragers, edited by Susan Kent, 245-275. Cambridge:

Cambridge University Press.

Jost, Carolyn A. 2012. “Beyond Hunters and Hunted: An Integrative Anthropology of Human-wildlife Dynamics and Resources used in a Central African Forest.” PhD diss., Purdue University.

Kapoor, Ilan. 2002. “Deliberative Democracy or Agonistic Pluralism? The Relevance of the Habermas-Mouffe Debate for Third World Politics.” Alternatives 27(4): 459-487.

Kisliuk, M., 1998. Seize theDdance: Baaka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance. Oxford:Oxford University Press.

Köhler, Axel. 2005. “Of Apes and Men: Baka and Bantu Attitudes to Wildlife and the Making of Eco-Goodies and Baddies.” Conservation and Society 3(2): 407–435.

Laburthe-Tolra, Philippe. 1981. “Les Seigneurs de la foret: Essai sur le Passe Historique, I 'Organisation Sociale et les Normes Ethiques des Anciens B'eti du Cameroun.” Paris: Publications de la Sorbonne.

Laudati, Ann. 2010. “Ecotourism: The Modern Predator? Implications of Gorilla Tourism on Local Livelihoods in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda.” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 28(4): 726–43.

Lee, Phyllis. 2010. “Sharing Space: Can Ehnoprimatology Contribute to the Survival of Nonhuman Primates in Human-dominated Globalized Landscapes?” American Journal of Primatology 72(10):925-931.

Lewis, J. 2002. “Forest Hunter-gatherers and their World: A Study of the Mbendjele Yaka Pygmies of Congo-Brazzaville and their Secular and Religious Activities and Representations.” PhD diss.,

University of London.

Lopez, Barry. 1986. Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. New York: Charles Scribner & Sons.

Malone, Nicholas, Alison H. Wade, Agustín Fuentes, Erin P. Riley, Melissa Remis, and Carolyn Jost Robinson. 2014. “Ethnoprimatology: Critical Interdisciplinarity and Multispecies Approaches in Anthropology.” Critique of Anthropology 34(1): 8-29.

March, E.W. 1957. “Gorillas of Eastern Nigeria.” Oryx 4: 30-34.

Marschie, Paul. 1903. “Uber einen Gorilla aus Deutsch-Ostafrika.” Sitzngsberichte der Gellschaft Naturforschender Freunde Berlin: 253-59.

Martin, Adrian, Nicole Gross-Camp, and Anne Akol. 2015. “Towards an Explicit Justice Framing of the Social Impacts of Conservation.” Conservation and Society 13(2): 166.

Meder, Angela. 1999. “Gorillas in African Culture and Medicine.” Gorilla Journal 18, June: 1-7.

Meyer, Lysle E. 1992. The Farther Frontier: Six Case Studies of Americans and Africa, 1848–1936. Selinsgrove, PA.: Susquehanna University Press.

Montagu, M.F.A., 1940. “Knowledge of the Ape in Antiquity.” Isis 32(1): 87–102.

Nelson, John, and Messe Venant. 2008. Indigenous Peoples’ Participation in Mapping of Traditional Forest Resources for Sustainable Livelihoods and Great Ape Conservation. UNEP.

Newman, James. 2006. “Discovering Gorillas: The Journey from Mythic to Real.” Terrae Incognitae 38:36-54.

Newman, James. 2013. Encountering Gorillas: a Chronicle of Discovery, Exploitation, Understanding, and Survival. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield.

Nkembi, Louis and Regina Leke. 2013. “Cameroon Loses a Cross River Gorilla.” Gorilla Journal 46: 9-10.

Nicholas, A., Warren, Y., Bila, S., Ekinde, A., Ikfuingei, R. and Tampie, R., 2010. “Successes in Community-based Monitoring of Cross River Gorillas (Gorilla gorilla diehli) in Cameroon.” African

Primates 7 (1): 55-60.

Nkemnyi, Mbunya, Arend de Haas, Denis Etiendem, and Fualefeh Ndobegang. 2013. “Making Hard Choices: Balancing Indigenous Communities Livelihood and Cross River Gorilla Conservation in

the Lebialem–Mone Forest Landscape, Cameroon.” Environment, Development and Sustainability 15(3): 841-857.

Oishi, Takanori. 2013. “Human-Gorilla and Gorilla-Human: Dynamics of Human-animal Noundaries and Interethnic Relationships in the Central African Rainforest.” Revue de primatologie 5 (63).

Poole, Peter. 2003. Cultural Mapping and Indigenous Peoples. A report for UNESCO. http://www.iapad.org/wp content/uploads/2015/07/cultural_mapping1.pdf.

Powell, Bronwen, John Daniel Watts, Stella Asaha, Amandine Boucard, Laurène Feintrenie, Emmanuel Lyimo, Jacqui Sunderland-Groves, and Zora Lea Urech. 2010. “The Role of Wild Species in the

Governance of Tropical Forested Landscapes.” In Collaborative Governance of Tropical Landscapes, edited by Carol J. Pierce Colfer and Jean-Laurent Pfund, 157–84. Earthscan.

Reade, W. Winwood. 1864. Savage Africa: Being the Narrative of a Tour in Equatorial, Southwestern, and Northwestern Africa. New York: Harper and Brothers.

Remis, Melissa J., and Carolyn A. Jost-Robinson. 2017. “Nonhuman Primates and ‘Others’ in the Dzanga Sangha Reserve: The Role of Anthropology and Multispecies Approaches in Ethnoprimatology.” In

Ethnoprimatology, edited by Kerry M. Dore, Erin P. Riley, and Agustin Fuentes, 190–205. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Anthony, Penelope Fraser, and Rita Lysinge. 2003. “We Must Change People and Societies to Save Primates: Conservation Values Education in Urban and Rural Cameroon.” Proceedings of the 20th Congress of the International Primatological Society, Entebbe, Uganda.

Rothschild, W. 1904. “November. Notes on Anthropoid Apes.” Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London 74(4): 413-440.

Rothschild, W. 1908. “Note on Gorilla Gorilla Diehli.” Novitates Zoologicae 15: 391-392.

Sandbrook, Christopher Guy. 2006 Tourism, Conservation and Livelihoods: The Impacts of Gorilla Tracking at Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda. PhD diss., University of London.

Sanderson, Ivan. 1937. Animal Treasure. New York: Viking.

Sarmiento, E.E., and J.F. Oates. 2000. “The Cross River Gorillas: A Distinct Subspecies, Gorilla Gorilla Diehli Matschie 1904.” American Museum Novitates 3304: 1–55.

Schaller, George. 1964. The Year of the Gorilla. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Sicotte, Pascale, and Prosper Uwengeli. 2002. “Reflections on the Concept of Nature and Gorillas in Rwanda: Implications for Conservation.” In Primates Face to Face: The Conservation Implications of Human-Nonhuman Primate Interconnections, edited by Agustín Fuentes and Linda Wolfe, 163-186. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Siroto, Leon. 1969. Masks and Social Organization among the BaKwele People of Western Equatorial Africa. PhD diss., Columbia University.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai. 2012. Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Dunedin: Zed Books.

Sousa, Joana, Luís Vicente, Spartaco Gippoliti, Catarina Casanova, and Cláudia Sousa. 2014. “Local Knowledge and Perceptions of Chimpanzees in Cantanhez National Park, Guinea-Bissau: Local

Knowledge of Chimpanzees and Tourism.” American Journal of Primatology 76(2): 122–34.

Sunderland-Groves, J.L., Ekinde, A. and Mboh, H., 2009. “Nesting Behavior of Gorilla Gorilla Diehli at Kagwene Mountain, Cameroon: Implications for Assessing Group Size and Density.” International

Journal of Primatology 30 (2): 253-266.

Tocheri, Matthew W., Christyna R. Solhan, Caley M. Orr, John Femiani, Bruno Frohlich, Colin P. Groves, William E. Harcourt-Smith, Brian G. Richmond, Brett Shoelson, and William L. Jungers.

“Ecological Divergence and Medial Cuneiform Morphology in Gorilla.” Journal of Human Evolution 60(2): 171–84.

Tumusiime, David Mwesigye, and Hanne Svarstad. 2011. “A Local Counter-Narrative on the Conservation of Mountain Gorillas.” Forum for Development Studies 38(3): 239–65.

Viergever, Marcel. 1999. “Indigenous Knowledge: An Interpretation of Views from Indigenous Peoples.” In What Is Indigenous Knowledge?: Voices from the Academy, edited by Ladislaus Semali and Joe Kincheloe, 333-359. Taylor & Francis.

Vigilant, L., and B.J. Bradley. 2004. “Genetic Variation in Gorillas.” American Journal of Primatology 64(2): 161-172.

Vucetich, John, and Michael Nelson. 2013. “The Infirm Ethical Foundations of Conservation.” In Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, edited by Marc Bekoff, 9-25.

Chicago: University of Chicago.

Webber, W., and Vedder, A. 2001. In the Kingdom of Gorillas: Fragile species in a dangerous land. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Wittiger, L., and J.L. Sunderland-Groves. 2007. “Tool Use during Display Behavior in Wild Cross River Gorillas.” American Journal of Primatology 69(11): 1307–11.

Wright, Juliet H., and Nancy E. C. Priston. 2010. “Hunting and Trapping in Lebialem Division, Cameroon: Bushmeat Harvesting Practices and Human Reliance.” Endangered Species Research 11

(March): 1–12.

Full Text: PDF

Penn StateCreative Commons License