The discovery of gold—in the Klondike, in Australia, in California—usually disrupts whole territories, debauches the virgin countryside and turns the hearts of good men black with greed. Last week a primitive corner of West Africa's French Cameroons was enjoying a gold strike that seemed to be bringing nothing but happiness to everyone involved—everyone, that is, except the man who found the gold.

David Ambo had not been looking for gold at all but for a cooling drink to wash down his dinner. In the creek sand that came up in his scooped hands, the thirsty Kaka tribesman saw the glint...

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