Papa Benoît was about eighty years old when I met him in Eboundja, the fishermen’s village in south Cameroon where he lives. As a photographer, I visited the village for over eight years and developed warm relationships with all its inhabitants.

Papa Benoît in his living room. © Reinout van den Bergh

Papa Benoît is the central character in this story about a tiny village under threat. In 2009, construction started on a deep-sea harbour less than ten kilometres away from the village boundaries. The plans were made by corrupt government officials, and funded by Chinese investment agencies that are attracted by the iron ore hidden deep in the jungle. Villagers don’t have much to gain from all this, as construction workers are brought in from China. They don’t have much to say either, and are in the dark about what will happen to them. All entry to the area is strictly forbidden. In fact, I was immediately arrested when I moved in closer to take pictures.

Yet, the lives of the villagers have already changed fundamentally. Eboundja is an in-depth project that uses a combination of photographs and video material to show the experiences of villagers like Papa Benoît. They see the forest being cleared away to make way for roads and a railway that has thus far not been built. The social fabric of the village is being turned upside down, and a new road diverts potential visitors away from the village. Slowly but steadily, Eboundja fades away.

—Reinout van den Bergh