A. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) Dugmore.

Camera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life online

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 10 of 18)
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to make an early start. These night rains are hard on the porters,
as the tents become water soaked, and consequently very heavy,
and the ground, until the sun comes out, is unpleasantly slippery.
It was with a feeling of regret that we left our delightful camp, but
the beauty of the country before us was such that we soon forgot
everything else. For miles the sloping hillside was like a lawn of
short green grass, such as one sees in fine sheep pasture. Here and
there small clusters of olive-like trees dotted the landscape. On our
right Mount Kenia towered above us, its snow-clad peak sparkling
in the clear morning light. To the west was the beautiful Aberdare
Range, standing guard over the valley of the Guaso Nyiro, which
stretched far to the north and east, and everywhere, as far as the
eye could reach, endless mountains raised their cloud-topped heads
above the misty valleys. The ground on which we walked was
carpeted with millions of exquisite flowers, which looked like very
small gloxinias, their colors ranging from blue to violet and purple-
tinged pink. Strange to say, game was very scarce in this seemingly
perfect pasture land. A few Thomson's gazelle and zebra were all
we saw, and these were extremely wild.

We stopped near a stream to give the men a rest, and while there
a party of Wa-Kikuyu came along. They were carrying produce to










Nyeri, and were driving a few sheep with them. The chief came to
us and begged for some salt a much-prized commodity in this
country. We told him that we needed all we had, and regretted
not being able to oblige him. Thereupon a consultation was held,
and soon the women of the party about thirty in all proceeded
to give us a dance to the chanting of a rather tuneful song. The
motions were not particularly interesting, being, like most of the
women's dances, composed chiefly of clapping the hands and sway-
ing the bodies. Of course we had to give them the salt, and it was
amusing to see how the wily chief tried to coax more from us. He
arranged all the dancers in a row, and taking the gourd of salt, dealt
out a handful to each woman. He managed it so that the supply
ran out before the end of the line was reached. This left about
eight without salt, and these were the younger and better-looking
girls, who immediately began pleading for their share. The trick was
so transparent that we refused point blank to give any more, where-
upon the chief made a new division, so that each one had her share.
We were fortunate during the day in missing the many showers
which could be seen scudding across the country, but just as we
reached camp it set in for a steady night's rain. The next morning
we started in a somewhat damp condition. It had evidently snowed
during the night on the mountains, and as the clouds broke away
we enjoyed the unusual sight of Kenia with its upper part covered
with new snow, which melted as the sun rose, leaving the peak alone
clothed in its perpetual white mantle. We found the rivers greatly
swollen by the heavy rains, and the first one we came to was barely
fordable. It was only with the greatest difficulty that we managed
to cross, and, though the water was icy, it was surprising to see how


little the men minded their cold bath. The next river was about nine
feet deep, and so swift that we were forced to build a rough bridge
before we could effect a crossing. This was a tedious job, as the
men had not the slightest idea of handling an axe; in fact, most
of the chopping was done with blunt machetes (heavy cutlass-like
weapons). Our next camp was at about seven thousand five hundred
feet elevation, and the country near the streams bore a strong resem-
blance to parts of Maine and Eastern Canada, on account of the
gaunt cedars or junipers, which waved from their straggling branches
long festoons of gray-green moss. It seemed a strange place for
parrots, yet we saw a great many of them. Apparently they spend
the nights in the belt of forest which clothes the slopes of Kenia at
about ten thousand feet elevation, for each morning they passed us
on their way to the lower country. Game was very scarce until
we reached the immense clear woodless slopes of the north side moun-
tain. There we found zebra, Thomson's gazelle, and a few hartebeest
and oryx (beisa).

Owing to a slight mistake in our map we had to make a very long
march on the fourth day. A stream which we had counted on as
a camping ground proved waterless and woodless, so the porters
became surly and mutinous. They threw down their loads and
refused to move, so I told them they could camp where they were if
they wished, but it meant carrying both fuel and water from the
next possible camping ground, which was two miles farther on.
The high altitude necessitated large fires, as the air was really cold.
When they found I would not oppose them they changed their tone,
and came along meekly enough, not even grumbling when on reach-
ing the next stream we found it as bleak and cold as any one could

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wish. Wood was very scarce, so that we had difficulty in rinding
enough for the very necessary fires. We were about ten thousand
feet above sea level, and only a few miles from the snow line. To
add to our discomfort a cold foggy rain set in, and the raw
wind as it swept down the gully kept us all in a very shivery con-
dition, making me recall certain chilly autumn evenings spent in

The morning broke clear and keen, and so invigorating that we
felt as though we could march almost any distance. The view from
this high elevation was wonderful beyond words. The country to
the north and east, scarcely known to the white man, was literally
covered with high mountains, many of them as yet nameless and
unexplored. In the distance we could barely distinguish the course
of the Guaso Nyiro, the river on which we hoped to camp before
long. Near us the nature of the country had completely changed,
the almost lawn-like grass having given way to higher grass, which,
being wet from the night's rain, soaked us to the skin as we walked
along. New flowers appeared with the change of conditions. A
beautiful variety of scarlet gladiolus was fairly common, and occasion-
ally a spike of pale blue larkspur eight or nine feet in height reared
its delicate flowers above the surrounding vegetation. Other familiar
flowers, such as both common mullein and moth mullein, forget-
me-nots, violets, evening primroses, white clover, sunflowers of
several varieties, coreopsis, wild carrot and many others were there
as surprises. There were also many flowers which were quite
strange to us, the most conspicuous being a very large bright yellow
pea-like flower that grew on bushes from four to twelve feet high,
looking in the distance like broom.

On the morning of the sixth day, after several miles of bad walking
over rough volcanic rock, we entered the great Meru forest. It was
our first sight of an African forest, and though it was disappointing,
inasmuch as there was but little which was conspicuously tropical,
it was none the less very impressive. The trees were of great height,
and in many instances were curiously enveloped by immense woody
creepers, which hung in strange and weird festoons even from the
highest branches. The underbrush was dense and everything was
cool and damp. The path which had been cut through the forest
was somewhat slippery and in places quite dark from the heavy
masses of foliage. Here and there in sunlit clearings flocks of guinea-
fowl might be seen and pigeons of several varieties darted from the
tree-tops as we came along. Beside these and the large plantain
eaters and one or two glossy ibis we saw no other large birds, and no
animals at all, though colobus monkeys and elephants are to be found
in the forest. The elephants, however, are difficult to find, and it
is dangerous work going after them. One young Englishman had
a very narrow escape in this forest, having been caught between
two cow elephants while tracking a bull, and he had to shoot them
both at unpleasantly close range. Soon after emerging from the
forest we came to the first signs of cultivation since leaving Nyeri,
and in less than an hour we were within sight of Meru. This post
is one of the newest in the Protectorate, being but a little over a year
old at the time of our visit. Though situated within a few miles
of the equator it enjoys a perfect climate, and is delightfully cool,
healthy and invigorating. The site is well chosen on a small level
plateau overlooking vast stretches of plains and mountains to the
north and east, while to the southwest Kenia, but a few miles away

rears its snow-clad peak. The country around Meru is mostly
under close cultivation, and is fairly densely populated by a branch
of the Kikuyu tribe known as the Meru Kikuyu. We were most
cordially received by the District Commissioner and his assistant.
They, with the Chief of Police, are the only white residents. Not
having either telegraph or telephone, and only an occasional post
service by native runners, these three men feel pretty much out of
the civilized world. But, as they say, they so thoroughly enjoy
the place and the people, and have so much to do, they seldom feel
lonely. I was surprised to see that the buildings were all of the
log-cabin type until the District Commissioner told me he had spent
many years in America, and while there had learned the art of log
construction. I was very anxious to obtain photographs of the
native dances, and was delighted when he promised to get up one
within the next few days.



As WE had four days to wait before the people would be brought
together for the big dance, we had an opportunity for seeing some
of the country around Meru. Elephants we were particularly anxious
to find, but from what we could hear about their habits the possibili-
ties of obtaining photographs of them seemed very slight. According
to reports they only left the dense forest quite late in the afternoon,
and returned soon after dawn, and while out in the open they gener-
ally kept to the very high grass, where shooting was difficult and
photographing quite out of the question. There was one place,
however, where they might occasionally be seen, and that was near
a lake in an extinct volcano crater. As it was only a couple of hours'
walk from Meru we decided to take a trip there, and engaged a
so-called guide to show us the trail. On our way we saw a few
zebra, three rhinoceros and some fairly fresh buffalo tracks. Our
guide, who did not know the trail at all, took us many miles out of
the way, through dense thickets, along disused elephant paths, but
did not lead us to the crater. Along these trails were innumerable
pitfalls, made by the native hunters to catch elephants and, as these
were usually most carefully concealed, it required the greatest of
care to avoid falling into them. We were going along through a
particularly thick place, and were hurrying so as to keep our guide




in sight, my companion leading, when suddenly he completely
disappeared. He had dropped into an elephant pitfall, the bottom
of which contained six sharpened spikes, varying in length from two
to five feet. How he escaped being impaled was a mystery, but by
good luck he had landed in an upright position, closely wedged
between two of the deadly stakes. We had difficulty in getting him
out, as he was down fully twelve feet. The lesson made us very
careful, but it was not long before one of my porters had a similar
experience, except that the hole into which he fell contained no spikes,
and beyond breaking a tripod no harm came of the mishap. Later
on we found a hyena in one of these holes. The wretched creature
had evidently been there for many days. Its attempts to dig its
way out had failed through exhaustion, and we put the poor beast
out of its misery.

Instead of reaching the lake at nine or ten o'clock in the morn-
ing we did not arrive till after two o'clock. It was nearly round,
about one-third of a mile across, and surrounded by high shelving
hills, which were densely wooded. Elephant tracks were very numer-
ous, but from their appearance it seemed as if they had been very
seldom used of late. Formerly elephants were abundant in the
vicinity, and this used to be their regular drinking and bathing place,
but through the lust for ivory they had been mostly killed or driven
away, so that now but a very few remain in the vicinity. The only
signs of life that we saw in the lake were some ducks and a few white
herons, and even on the shore there was no indication of any animals
having come to drink.

For a couple of days we stayed about camp, as I had a lot of devel-
oping and printing to do. During that time we were much interested


in the constant stream of visitors. From morning till sunset the
natives would come to look at us and our belongings, and we amused
ourselves by buying spears, shields and other weapons and ornaments
of the country from them. A better-natured, more polite, and finer-
looking lot of people would indeed be difficult to find, different in
every way from the YVa-Kikuyu of the west and south of Kenia.
The Meru Kikuyu are fairly tall and extremely well built: instead
of being black they are more usually of a deep copper color. Their
features vary greatly, a very small percentage approaching the true
Negro type, while others showed strong nilotic features. The race
is evidently a mixture of many tribes, Masai, Kikuyu and Somali
being probably the most strongly represented. The men sometimes
wore blankets, but more often a few well-chosen ornaments con-
stituted their entire "dress." Some wore a neat triangular piece
of goatskin hung from the waist at the back, while the usual indi-
viduality was displayed in their selection of necklaces, bracelets and
anklets. The morans. or warriors, frequently dress in a son of
square-cut cape of goatskin, embroidered with beads, and hung
from one shoulder down to a little below the waist. Ankle decora-
tions made of the skin of colobus monkeys are also worn with great
effect. The women are quite the best-looking of the natives I have
seen. They are seldom rail, ranging in height, with noticeable
regularity, from about 5 feet i inch to 5 feet 2 inches. Their figures
are remarkably fine, lacking the coarseness of the west coast Negro.
Like the men, they are generally copper-colored rather than black.
Their well-formed breasts are usually uncovered, as their dress is
simply the brown leather skirt hanging from the waist, leaving the
legs exposed in front. They show remarkable taste in decorating

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these skirts, using just a suggestion of beaded pattern, in design
much like that found among some of the North American Indians.
Beads and wire are their only ornaments, and they are used with
exquisite taste, blue being the favorite color. It is rarely that any
of these people, men or women, overdo the amount of bead and
wire decorations. The women, more often than not, carry long
walking sticks, while the men, except the very old ones, seldom go
without spears, which are made by the Masai, and long sword-like
knives and knobsticks. The shield, which is made of buffalo hide,
is seldom carried except in dances and war.

So far these people are in their primitive state, untouched by the
slightest suggestion of Europeanism. Some of the men had never
seen a white man until the Meru post was opened, and even now
scarcely one in a hundred knows anything about money. In buying
spears and other articles, we had the greatest difficulty in arranging
not only the price but the form of payment. The rupee, after careful
examination, was usually regarded as a safe proposition, but lo-cent
pieces, or 100 cents (the rupee is divided into 100 cents) would on
no account be accepted for a rupee. Nearly everything we possessed
was new to these unspoilt people, and their childlike pleasure in
seeing novelties was positively refreshing. The favorite objects
were a small mirror and the reflex camera. Of these they never
tired. It was interesting to see how well they behaved. No matter
how anxious they were to see anything, they never crowded or pushed;
each one would take his turn. Then again we were greatly surprised
at their intelligence in looking at pictures. Even a negative they
would understand far better than most white people do, recognizing
immediately each member of a group. When taking a print into


their hands they would handle it with the greatest delicacy, never
smearing their ringers over it as one might have expected. We
might be inclined to inquire into the morals of such an interesting
people, and would probably be shocked at hearing what their customs
are, but as their point of view differs so entirely from ours it is
not fair for us to judge. They at least live up to their code, which
is frequently more than we can say of ourselves. We are apt, too,
to call the natives lazy, but if we stop to consider for a moment that
they have never had to work, why thould we expect them suddenly
to adopt our ideas on the subject ? Beyond attending to the crops,
which give them their supply of food, what other need have they to
work ? As already stated, wives are almost the only purchasable
commodity, and they are procured in exchange for cattle. Money
they have not known. Everything they use except spears and knives
they make themselves. So why should they have acquired the habit
of exerting themselves ? Where there is no competition in any way
there is no necessity for a man exerting himself, and so when we
condemn people for being lazy we should take conditions into con-
sideration, and not jump to conclusions too hastily.

On the day appointed for the dance the whole neighborhood was
in a state of excitement. People were coming in from every direction,
all in gala attire, the men with their well-decorated shields and
gleaming spears, the women with their best skirts and finest beads.
Before reaching the dancing ground the men of each village were gath-
ered together, and instructed as to the day's programme. They would
then rehearse some dances and work themselves up to a proper degree
of excitement, before running or marching in a solid body to the




There were in all about four thousand people, including per-
formers and spectators. A large circle about one hundred and fifty
yards in diameter was made. At first the ring was irregular, but a
few warriors armed with shields and spears, and singing loudly,
ran round as fast as they could, clearing the field, and driving the
spectators into a well-defined circle. Any one who got in the way
was quickly upset, and had difficulty in scrambling into the lines
before being run into by another warrior. I had great difficulty in
escaping with my camera. As I wished to keep in front of
the great crowds I soon found my position too precarious, and
had to go to the middle of the field, where several chiefs sat by
me, and kept off the excitable performers. The dance began by
all the warriors entering the arena in double column, trotting with
long, slow strides, and chanting in perfect rhythm a most stirring
song. A finer or more impressive sight it has never been my
good fortune to witness. Six or seven hundred of these well-built,
naked men carrying their large shields raised in one hand, their
long shining spears in the other, while from their waists, placed
horizontally, was the long, sword-like knife in its red sheath.
Few beads were worn. Some had big head dresses of ostrich plumes
or colobus monkey hair. Many had their bodies painted red,
white and black in fantastic designs, while white or yellow patches
of paint round the eye were a common form of decoration. As the
main body would run slowly round the circle detachments of five
or six would rush across the field shouting and jumping with
wonderful agility. For nearly an hour this continued, yet I could
willingly have watched it the whole day. I have never seen men
keep such perfect time, and their song was positively inspir-


ing. I tried to take some bioscope pictures, but the day

was so dark and overcast that I could scarcely hope to get good


One part of the performance, and quite the most spectacular, was
the cattle-raid dance. In this the men formed a solid body, some
kneeling, others standing, while others again rushed round brand-
ishing spears and shields, and shouting loudly. The whole lot would
then come forward with a wild whoop, and after going thirty or forty
yards would drop again. In this way they came straight toward
where I stood with the bioscope camera, and I could not help wonder-
ing what would happen if in their excitement they lost their heads,
and failed to break the ranks as they reached me! As a matter of
fact several men went into fits from nervous excitement, and had to
be carried off the field, while one couple got into a real fight, which
was extremely interesting to watch. Their method of using the
shield was particularly effective. The man receiving the attack
would drop to a kneeling position and catch the spear on his shield,
and with a turn of the wrist send it glancing off. One man lost his
spear, and resorted to the long knife, which he threw with great
force at his antagonist, as he was seized by those in favor of peace.

Later in the day there was a mixed dance, which was both monoto-
nous and uninteresting. The men and women each formed a line.
The men having put on their blankets, or some sort of cloth, advanced,
and placing their hands on each other's hips or shoulders, swayed
their bodies backward and forward, chanting a rather tuneful song.
For hours they continued this without variation. Still another dance
was that of the women alone. This was not particularly interesting.
The girls formed a circle with two or three leaders in the centre,




















moving their bodies up and down while they clapped their hands
and sang. This singing was by no means beautiful, as their voices
were very strident. Each age of women had its own individual
dance, from the girls of six and seven even to very old women, but
I could discover little that was interesting in any of them. The
themes of nearly all of these would scarcely be considered proper
according to our ideas of morality.

A native brought word on the day after the dance that he knew
where we could find elephants, so the following day we started with
him and half a dozen assistants whom he picked up on the way. We
walked for several miles through thickly populated country, where
the natives build their small thatched huts in the banana groves.
Everywhere we found the ground well cultivated, and generally
very tidy. The overhanging bananas shaded the road so thoroughly
that it was still wet from the night's rain, and so slippery that it was
all we could do to keep our footing. The porters found the walking
very difficult, and the progress was aggravatingly slow. On the
way we saw some of the people collecting the winged ants or termites.
These they eat raw, as well as prepared in some way. As we came
to the open country, where cultivation was more scattered, we were
anxious to learn from our guide where he had seen the elephants.
For some reason or other he could not tell us, and we began to suspect
that he was simply trusting to luck, and news gathered from people
he met, that he might see some. Leaving the men to make camp,

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Online LibraryA. Radclyffe (Arthur Radclyffe) DugmoreCamera adventures in the African wilds; being an account of a four months' expedition in British East Africa, for the purpose of securing photographs of the game from life → online text (page 10 of 18)