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Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Adolf Friedrich.

From the Congo to the Niger and the Nile; an account of the German Central African Expedition of 1910-1911 (Volume 2) online

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leaving us to find our way as best we could ; his defec-
tion struck me as being a bad advertisement for the
road that lay before us in this appalling forest, and
my surmise proved correct.

The path, which was scarcely worthy of the name,



144 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

turned out to be almost impassable, but we were re-
lieved to learn from two chance passers-by that we were
going in the right direction. We hurried on as fast
as possible, although we knew that the eagerly antici-
pated " lava-fields " could not be reached in less than
a day and a half. Mildbraed's tracks were visible
in two places, and in the evening we came to a place
where he had evidently encamped.

Although this part of the jungle was said to be in-
habited by gorillas, we did not see any ; several times,
however, large animals could be heard crashing through
the undergrowth, and on two separate occasions elephants
crossed our path, scattering the bearers right and left.
After a long march, which was rendered possible only
by cutting our way through the bush with hunting-
knives, we at length struck the main road.

It was a pleasant change to be once more treading
a beaten track, and we hurried along like horses whose
heads are turned towards home.

When at last we reached the famous " lava-fields,"
I felt that Herr Koch had by no means exaggerated
their beauty. A large stone-covered plain, partly
hidden by turf, resembling an English park or golf
course, conjured up a scene of peculiar charm. The
rock, which certainly bore some resemblance to certain
volcanic formations, was composed of the same fer-
ruginous laterite that I had seen in blocks of various
sizes in the neighbourhood of Molundu.

In the furthest corner of this open space I found
numerous spoors of both elephants and buffaloes. It
was very late, close upon sunset, before the last of the
carriers reached camp.

Our next day's march brought us to the country
inhabited by the Bidjuks, one of those tribes that




141. Meadowland near Yendi.




142. Plantation near Yukaduma.




143. Aged Bokari.




144. Dokari village, near the northern boundary of the forest.



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 145

formerly lived much further east, until one day, weary
of the constant opportunity of French rubber merchants,
they migrated with all their goods and chattels into
German territory. We spent a night in the village
of Bundji, before setting off towards the Yendi prairie.

The ground rose gradually, until after three hours'
marching the path became so steep that I felt sure
we must be nearing our destination. Suddenly we
saw the light shining through the branches, and leaving
the forest behind us, we stepped out on to a wide
expanse of grass. I drew a deep breath, feeling like
some one who has long been shut up in a dark place,
and for the first time sees once more the light of day.
(Illus. 141.)

The dark-green of the forest contrasted markedly
with the emerald hue of the young grass that covered
the ground with the fresh green of spring.

The short turf was interrupted by various herbs,
and by patches of white, silvery lichen, with here and
there a pool of rain water.

This ideal pasturage naturally offered great attractions
to wild animals, and one of the hunters shot two splendid
red buffaloes. Among smaller animals, flocks of sand-
pipers flew up from the vicinity of the pools, and
gaudy swallow-tailed butterflies fluttered hither and
thither amongst the fragrant anon a trees.

I pitched my tent on the edge of the prairie, in the
shade of the forest, thus enjoying an ideal camping
ground ; my bearers, however, being free from " foolish
sentiment," preferred to take up their abode in the
neighbouring village of Yendi. Shortly after the
second buffalo had been shot, the chief of Yendi,
dressed in the uniform of a French dragoon, came to
see me on a matter of business.



146 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

One of his suite, who spoke a little French, explained
the chief's wishes. It turned out that he wanted
to purchase one of the buffaloes, and as I had exhausted
my supply of ready money, we soon came to terms,
and the chief counted out on my table the sum of
one hundred marks, mostly in small coinage. I subse-
quently learned that he sold the meat to his subjects
at a much higher price, for meat is the most coveted
article in these parts, and the natives' craving for
meat probably explains their cannibalism.

The next day's march proved in every way interesting,
though it rained in torrents and the ground was very
slippery. We proceeded for some tune on a plateau,
which, according to my aneroid, was 2500 feet high.

In Bigondji, the next village, great excitement
reigned on account of the death of the chief Djaolo,
who, shortly before my arrival, had been accidentally
shot while gorilla hunting by one of his own villagers.
The official wailing, which on such occasions is carried
on by the women, had not yet begun, and the relatives
of the dead chief showed silent, but evidently genuine
grief. His brother had daubed his body in the most
extraordinary fashion with white paint, this being the
customary mourning colour. The grave had already
been dug in the village, and " lying-in-state " in his
hut was the poor fellow for whom everyone was
mourning, and who had shaken hands with Mildbraed
only two days before.

The " lying-in- state " was a strange ceremony. The
deceased was placed in a sitting posture on a low chair,
with his feet in two baskets, one inside the other.
His right hand was suspended from the roof, his body
was wrapped in a Haussa mantle, and a large European
hat covered his head and face. (Illus. 136.) His wives



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 147

sat round him weeping quietly, and keeping off the
flies with fans. The author of the disaster stood on
one side in deep dejection, apparently wondering how
he was to procure the two oxen which he had been
ordered to pay to atone for his carelessness.

I encamped for the night in the village of Difolo,
whence I could see through gaps in the forest far away
to the West, and backwards towards the plateau that
I had quitted early in the morning.

The bearers' present mode of carrying their loads
showed that we had reached the prairie country.
Whereas in marching through the jungle they carried
their loads on their backs, with bent heads, here in the
" grass land," the men carried everything on their heads
and consequently looked straight before them, while
their gait was freer and more erect.

The attire of the Baya women was most grotesque,
especially their wonderful feats of hairdressing, which
we had already noticed in Bigondji. Even more
striking than their coiffure was the only article of
clothing worn by these women. It consisted of a
heart-shaped bunch of leaves worn over the loins,
and suspended from the waist by a cord. For un-
married women it was surmounted by a rotang cane
over a yard in length, which protruded like a cock's
tail, swinging so comically when the wearer walked,
that it evoked a roar of laughter from my " boys."
(Illus. 137, 147.)

The prairie land in the neighbourhood of Lau consists
of nothing but large, free spaces, dotted about in the
forest, obviously ancient cultivated spots, and covered
with long grass. This long elephant-grass, fifteen to
twenty feet high, and disseminating a disagreeable
odour of burning, not only shut out the view, but



presented a more impenetrable wall than the worst
Phrynium undergrowth in the jungle. No breeze
reached the path, and the sun blazed down upon
the heads of my unfortunate bearers, accustomed
as they were to the shade of the forest. It is hard
to understand why this district should have been so
extolled in Molundu.

Not far from Lau we were met by the chief of this
village, an energetic man, who spoke a little English
and French. The clean and durable aspect of his
village seemed to confirm his statement that it was
a permanent settlement.

The chief of Lau paid me several visits in my camp
close to his village, and imparted to me some interesting
facts regarding the secret society called Labi, which
is disseminated far and wide throughout the country.

The most astonishing thing connected with this
society is its secret language, understood by all mem-
bers, and constituting a bond of union between natives
belonging to the most diverse and often hostile tribes.
A Labi member may not kill his antagonist in battle
after the latter has proclaimed his membersliip by
means of a few code words. Duku, a soldier who accom-
panied me, belonged to this society, and confirmed
the statements of the Lau chief, adding that its members
are found among the Yangheres, Bokaris, Bipalos,
and Kakas, as well as among the Makas and Yebekolles.

My impression that there is no sharp boundary
between jungle and prairie was confirmed by the aspect
of the country through which we marched in a northerly
direction, after leaving Lau on the 31st of March.
Soon after quitting this village we entered a beautiful
primary forest of tall trees. As a result of the fore-
going rain, there was a profusion of insect life such




145. Painted Yanghere house.




146. Round hut on the forest boundary.




147. Dokari woman with cock's-tail.




YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 149

as is seldom seen even in the depths of the jungle.
The air was alive with butterflies of the most brilliant
colours, mostly of the Cymothoe species, whilst on
the damp banks of the streams fluttered swarms of
glossy black swallow-tails (Papilio machaori), with
yellow, green, white, blue, and red markings. These
insects, together with many other smaller varieties,
eagerly sucked up the moisture, paying but scant
attention to passers-by. (Ulus. 120, 122.)

In an ideal spot in the shady underwood I came
upon the camp of a Frenchman who, as representative
of the " Haute-Sangha " Company, was constructing
a frontier road with a view to checking the migration
of natives into German territory. He was accompanied
by two armed natives in uniform, whom I at first mistook
for soldiers. A uniform makes a great impression on
the native mind, and a European accompanied by
men in uniform is sure of a much better reception
by the natives than a traveller who is without this moral
support.

I had now made the acquaintance of the three rival
parties in the india-rubber trade, namely the French
company officials, the English and German traders
with their black agents, outbidding one another in
their prices, and the crafty Haussas, who speculate
on the natives' insatiable craving for meat. I used
to be of opinion that the Kickxia might be pro-
tected from ultimate extermination by strict laws,
but I now realised that any effort in this direction
would be labour lost. The day will come when the
wild Kickxia is a thing of the past, and in the interests
of the natives and of the agricultural development
of the country, one can only say : the sooner the
better !



150 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

It is to be hoped that the authorities will make
themselves responsible for replacing the wild Kickxias
by permanent plantations.

From some high-lying houses in the village of Dalugene
I obtained for the first tune a comprehensive view
over the surrounding country. There was no marked
difference between the " grass fields " that lay before
me and other prairie land that I had seen elsewhere.
There was a dearth of mountains, and the time of
year was unfavourable for the growth of the various
herbs. I saw on all sides nothing but flat, monotonous
country, uniformly covered with elephant-grass,
interrupted in the neighbourhood of the water-courses
by dark-green belts of trees, with here and there a village
whose neutral tinted houses were scarcely distinguishable
from their surroundings.

After crossing the troubled waters of the Baturi
River, on its way to join the Kadei, I met Mildbraed,
who had pitched his tent in the long elephant grass
among the trees that bordered the river. He had
been suffering from fever, and complained of the in-
credible dearth of flowers in these prairies. We agreed
that we would not stay here long, especially as the
provisioning of our bearers was no easy matter.

Another inducement to hasten our departure lay
in the near neighbourhood of the large Kaka village
of Dalugene, whose inhabitants are the most notorious
cannibals of tropical Africa. However, the long, wide
village street, as we passed down it, was the picture
of peace and quiet. All the energies of the inhabitants
seemed to be devoted to adding to their earnings by means
of india-rubber. Two factories managed by European
traders stand on the sunny hill on which the village
is built, and which is totally devoid of the least particle



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 151

of shade. Haussas in richly embroidered robes went to
and fro with measured tread ; black traders belonging
to various European firms displayed invitingly in
their shops all kinds of European trifles likely to
attract the Kaka beauties : gaudy handkerchiefs, blue,
red, and yellow beads to adorn their complicated coiffure,
and pencils of coloured glass to wear in their pierced
noses. Men squatted in front of the houses, of whom
the older ones, mostly with long beards and wearing
Soudanese robes, were skilfully plaiting large, thick
raphia fibre mats to hang on the walls of the houses.
(Illus. 149.) Others were making beds of raphia
shreds, each couch being provided with a neck block
intended to protect the elaborately dressed hair of
the women, with more regard for vanity than comfort.
(Illus. 150.)

Even the women, with their children playing around
them, carried on their household tasks in the street ;
they cooked, made pots, and plaited strong wicker
baskets. (Illus. 151.) Here, too, I saw the erection of
one of their elaborate coiffures : thick coils of carefully
collected hair were first made (illus. 152), and fixed
on to the head with little plaits of natural hair, gaily
decorated with beads ; to protect the whole structure
it is usually wrapped in a tight, greased cloth, since
the coiffure combines use with beauty and serves as
a prop for heavy loads.

The following day Mildbraed and I decided to press
on into the prairies in two different directions. Mild-
braed set out in the direction of the Kadei River,
and I towards the N'gamdio mountain, near the
village of New-Molaye. The country through which I
passed corresponded on the whole to that which we
had traversed on our arrival in the prairie land,



152 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

although in places it offered more variety than I had
anticipated. The monotony of the long elephant
grass was interrupted at intervals by huge white ant
hills, a few wretched specimens of Borassus palms,
isolated thorny bushes, or the crimson umbels of a large
orchid (Lissochilus}. In one enclosed spot I came
across some Soudanese bushes, such as Anona senegal-
ensis, and Bauhinia reticulata, which recalled the fruit
gardens of Adamaua. Mildbraed also found these
plants while on his way to the Kadei.

The village of New-Molaye is built on an exposed
hill, not quite as high as the N'gamdio mountain,
which I ascended the same afternoon, in oppressively
sultry weather. It proved to be an uninteresting,
truncated cone, destitute of trees or shrubs, and covered
with scanty elephant grass. The view, however, com-
pensated for the fatigue of climbing, for it extended
as far as the hills on the left bank of the Kadei, where
not the smallest hamlet was discernible through my
powerful field-glasses. Some of the forest belts seemed
to me to be unusually wide, especially the one bordering
the Kadei. On my return, after walking through the
charred elephant grass, I must have looked as black as
a coal-heaver.

My camp was conveniently placed on the highest
part of the village hill, in that the breeze reached me
from every quarter and minimised the scorching heat.
The very next night, however, I realised how thought-
less I had been in chosing such an exposed camping
ground. About midnight a thunderstorm burst over
the village and discharged its full fury over my tent.
It was a most unpleasant experience, as my tent-pole
in its exposed position, and with its iron supports,
acted as a lightning conductor. By one o'clock the



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 153

violence of the storm was spent, and the atmosphere
so much cooler that I could breathe freely. But
a couple of hours later it was as sultry as ever, and
in an incredibly short time a second thunderstorm,
to which the first was but child's play, broke over us.
The noise of the thunder resembled an uninterrupted
cannonade, and it was surprising that my tent was
not struck by lightning. It was the worst thunder-
storm that I have ever experienced in the tropics,
and it was morning before I could snatch a few hours'
rest.

The same afternoon I rejoined Mildbraed, who had
enjoyed the thunderstorm of the previous night as
little as I had done. He had pitched his tent in the
forest belt near the Kadei, and the torrents of rain
had threatened to swamp the whole camp. He had
discovered nothing of any interest in the neighbourhood
of the river, so that he was quite willing to leave the
prairie country the following day.

Under the circumstances we were glad to plunge
once more into the jungle, turning our backs on the
grass land which had proved so uninteresting.

On the return journey to Yukaduma, for the first
stage of which we had taken the road with which
we were already familiar, an adventure befel Mildbraed
which might have had serious consequences.

On the morning of the 6th of April I had just left
a small village in the Bokari district when a messenger
came running to me bearing a hurriedly written letter
from a trader named Maak, informing me that my
comrade had been bitten by a poisonous snake and
was in danger of his life. Greatly agitated, I hurried
forward, and found Mildbraed in the village of M'bio,
surrounded by four European traders who happened



154 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

to be passing. His right arm was much swollen, and
he lay in a dazed state with every symptom of
poisoning.

It turned out that when about to break camp,
Mildbraed had noticed a reptile which he considered
worth catching, and had taken hold of it, firmly believ-
ing it to be a harmless ringed worm. Unfortunately it
was not a ringed worm, but a very poisonous snake
closely resembling it in appearance, Atractaspis cor-
pulenta, which promptly retaliated by biting him in
the finger. Mildbraed, still in ignorance of the poisonous
nature of the animal, paid little attention to the accident,
but half an hour later, just as he was passing Soltau's
factory, violent symptoms of poisoning set in. It was
much too late for any of the usual antidotes such as
strong doses of alcohol, or incisions round the wound,
to be effective, for the poison was evidently in his
system. Even the usually potent remedies of the
natives administered by the advice of the village
" medicine man " produced no result. When at last
the man carrying my drugs had arrived, hours had
elapsed since the bite, and I administered some of them
merely in order to feel that I had neglected no possible
antidote.

There was nothing to do but wait, in the hopes
that my comrade's vigorous constitution would be
able to withstand the effect of the poison. It was
late at night, after many anxious hours, that the first
signs of improvement were noticeable. The patient
was able to retain the first spoonful of cognac, and his
pulse became more regular. From this moment he
made rapid strides towards recovery, and by the next
morning he was so much better that he declared his
intention of starting on the following day. When




149. Kaka men weaving mats.




150. Kaka man mending a bed.



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 155

I gave the " witch-doctor " of M'bio a fee for his
" professional services " in the form of a new khaki
uniform, he seemed very proud, and he had evidently
risen considerably in the estimation of his countrymen.

Early on the 10th of April Mildbraed and I entered
upon the last stage of the return journey to Yukaduma,
this time due south-west from the village of Lamuk
through the " dead " jungle. Mildbraed was now
quite out of danger, and begged me to disregard the
slow pace necessitated by the results of his illness,
and to go on ahead. I was induced to hasten on,
chiefly by the knowledge that the additional bearers,
requisitioned from the station of Lomie in order to
accelerate our progress through the third and largest
" dead " jungle area, were awaiting us at Yukaduma.

Soon after passing through the village of Lamuk,
whose chief, a typical master of craft, had made excuses
for a scanty supply of provisions on the ground that
his village owned very few plantations, I accidently
learned that he had deceived me. Having gone a
little out of my way, I met a whole troop of Lamuk
women, heavily laden with provisions, marching in
the bed of a small stream, and obviously coming
from some concealed farm. My men smiled a knowing
smile, and expressed their astonishment at my not
being acquainted with this favourite trick of many
forest tribes, who, besides the " official " plantations,
possess others concealed in the bush.

In this connection my bearers informed me that it
is a matter of impossibility to find these places since
the roads leading to them are the beds of the streams,
which, of course, wash away every footprint ; they
also assured me that these hiding-places often contain
large stores of ammunition such as rifles and powder.



156 FROM THE CONGO TO THE NIGER

Negroes, however, always exaggerate to such an extent
that it is exceedingly difficult to know how much to
believe of their assertions. In any case, the conduct
of the Lamuk chieftain was certainly typical of his
countrymen, and illustrates the craftiness of the
natives.

The part of the jungle which we now entered was
but little different to that which I had already seen.
Animals were scarce, apart from the insect world,
which was abundantly represented. It was only
by their noise that the larger animals betrayed their
presence. During my first night in the jungle, I was
disturbed by the most fearsome sounds : a kind of
angry barking mingled with roaring, which my bearers
assured me must be caused by fighting gorillas. I
had my doubts as to the correctness of this explanation,
since it is well known that the anthropoid apes are
not nocturnal in their habits.

At the station of Plehn I learned that the Lomie
bearers had been waiting for some time in Yukaduma,
so I marched on without further delay, and reached
this station the same afternoon amid torrential rain.

Mildbraed arrived the next day, and as we had
too much to do in packing all the treasures that we
had collected to be able to start off again at once, we
despatched all the available men, with an escort of
two soldiers, to cut a path through the jungle. Our
previous experiences had taught us how much the
explorer is hindered from collecting specimens, when
he is continually engaged in removing or avoiding
obstacles upon the road.

During our week's stay in Yukaduma our zoological
collection was enriched by a very valuable specimen,
for one day one of our hunters brought in a huge chim-



YUKADUMA TO ASSOBAM 157

panzee. (Illus. 154.) It was an old male, with the
same evil expression as a gorilla, and when alive he
must have been almost as formidable an adversary
as his large cousin. The greyish white hair on his
back was a striking feature. The damp climate of
the jungle made the preservation of our zoological
specimens a matter of considerable difficulty, and it was
only after a great deal of trouble that we succeeded
in saving this precious trophy. The meat of the
chimpanzee provided a pleasant change in the menu
of our negroes, who consider it a great luxury, and
the N'dzimu bearers repeatedly assured me that the
taste is similar to that of human flesh.

We had to take with us enough food to carry us
over the uninhabited part of the jungle, and the greed
of the natives is liable to stultify the best-laid plans.
Unless they are carefully supervised, they are quite
ready to devour in one afternoon the provisions for
four days, confident that " massa " will somehow or
other provide them with " chop."

Mildbraed was the first to vanish in the foliage
of the " dead " Assobam jungle, setting off in a westerly
direction early on Easter Sunday, in glorious weather.
Each of his men carried four days' provisions, and
three other bearers were entrusted with supplies for


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