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

. (page 12 of 20)
Online LibraryDuke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Adolf FriedrichFrom the Congo to the Niger and the Nile; an account of the German Central African Expedition of 1910-1911 (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

one day more.

The Assobam jungle is the larger of the two " con-
cession districts " belonging to the South Cameroon
Company. Throughout both these districts are
scattered collecting stations managed by Europeans
who supervise the gradual collection of the rubber,
so that the supply obtained is of the highest quality.
These are the loneliest and most remote dwellings
for white men that it is possible to imagine, for it


is only on rare occasions that another European
penetrates so far into the jungle. It is not everyone
who would care for such a post, yet there are men
who can live here quite contentedly. They belong
to that small community of the elect who never tire
of reading in the book of Nature her inexhaustible
and ever-changing daily lessons.

On Easter Monday I, too, was swallowed up by the
dark leafy glades of the vast, deserted jungle. The
bearers carried, besides their loads, provisions for five
days, which I had distributed to them in the early
morning. In addition the kindly Yukaduma natives
had given them many farewell gifts of food, so that
in this respect they appeared to be well provided for.
Herr Graf accompanied me as far as the outskirts of
the village, and when he took leave of me the weather
was warm and sunny. The fine weather lasted a few
days longer, and then the lesser rainy season set in with
redoubled violence, and during the succeeding weeks
there were well - nigh daily showers more or less
violent, or else tornadoes, thundering in the near

It was not until we had reached our first camping
ground that I found leisure to muster my new N'dzimu
bearers, who differed in every respect from my old Bule
men. There was an unmistakable note of cannibal greed
in their repulsive, half sullen, half cunning countenances,
surmounted by a ponderous coiffure, and armed with
sharp teeth filed to a point, resembling those of a tiger.
How much more sociable and accommodating were
my old bearers belonging to the warlike Bule tribe !
The Bule women especially, who, according to the
almost universal custom of the South Cameroons,
accompanied the men and took their share of the

152. Kaka women remaking hair-pad.

153. Strangling fig in the forest.

154. Old Tschego. (Chimpanzee.)


work of carrying, displayed remarkable courage and
endurance, never grumbling even under the greatest
hardships. A few of the Bule " boys " subsequently
proved first-rate assistants in collecting and preserv-
ing specimens ; Mildbraed's " botanical assistant,"
the admirable Ekomeno, was familiar with a great
many plants, and was particularly clever in dis-
covering those that were new to his masters. But
his powers of observation were at least equalled by
those of my " boy " Stepke, whose practised eyesight
never missed any rare zoological specimen.

One advantage of having men of different tribes
lay in the fact that if anyone stole or committed any
other irregularity, one tribe would invariably " tell
tales " of the other to " Massa." This was particularly
useful during our long march through the jungle, as
it facilitated the watch I was obliged to keep on the
supply of provisions.

On the second day's march we came to an end of
the path that had been cleared for us by the men sent
on from Yukaduma. We had to force our way through
the dense undergrowth, clambering over fallen tree-
trunks, and stumbling over roots hidden from view
by the herbaceous growth. We noticed a most destruc-
tive blight of caterpillars that spared neither shrubs
nor tree-tops, and denuded every plant of its foliage.
This phenomenon is generally present only to a limited
extent, but here everything was swarming with these
devastating insects : black Ophiuside caterpillars with
crimson and grey markings. Day and night we were
surrounded by these crawling horrors ; it was impossible
to sit or lie anywhere without crushing hundreds of
them, and they haunted us at table and in bed. This
plague of caterpillars was at its worst at our second


camping-ground, which we reached at dusk. Every
garment had to be shaken before being donned in the
morning, and we were thankful that these creatures
possessed no stinging hairs, like some varieties of
European caterpillars.

The following day was ushered in by a thunderstorm,
which turned into a typical jungle tornado. I had
been expecting it for some hours, the night being
unusually sultry, but it did not reach us until 4 a.m.
The characteristic premonitory signs were noticeable,
especially the rustling of the leaves, which gives warning
of the approach of a thunderstorm, and sounds like
the mighty roar of a waterfall. Dead branches rained
down upon my tent. As soon as the thunder became
audible the roar of the forest subsided, and before
reaching our camp, the force of the tornado was spent,
owing to the elastic resilience of the tree- tops. It is
well known that a tornado never attains in the jungle
the same raging, devastating violence as in the plains,
where the restraining influence of the trees is absent.
At dawn the thunder gave place to a solid downpour
of rain, and it was not until late in the morning that
we were able to break camp.

On both sides of the Bonda River we had to cross
a wide strip of submerged country, which resembled
the swamps of Molundu. I was thankful to find that
the rain had not yet made any appreciable difference
to the level of the river, for I learned from my bearers
that during the rainy season caravans have often been
stopped by the inundations of the Bonda River, and
have sometimes been actually forced to retrace their
steps. The high-water marks visible on the tree trunks,
far above the present level of the river, proved that
this was no exaggeration.

155. Phoenix palms.

156. Meadow land.

157. Station in the forest.

158. Raffia thicket.


A very graceful palm tree, Phoenix spinosa, grew in
clumps in and around the first clearance that we en-
countered in the forest. (Illus. 155, 156.) It attained a
height of about fifty feet, and seemed to indicate that
the ground in these clearances is not after all so very

In the afternoon the bearers laid down their loads
in one of the most picturesque spots in the whole forest,
half-way up a hill, not far from the comfortable abode
of Herr Fuuck, who leads a hermit's life as overseer
of one of the rubber collecting stations. (Illus. 157.)
Here I came upon Mildbraed, who had been fortunate
enough to shoot two fine red buffaloes in a neighbouring
clearance. The natives were so excited at the prospect
of this unexpected addition to our larder, that all else
was forgotten, and I had the greatest difficulty in
inducing anyone to pitch my tent.

A dense fog enveloped both river and forest, and a
ghostly moon pierced this greyish white curtain. A
fearsome roaring sounded from the opposite bank
of the Bumba River, which the natives assured me
could be produced only by a gorilla.

The next day I went for a walk with Herr Funck,
who proved to be a most observant naturalist, and a
very interesting companion. The scenery was beautiful,
and the profusion of Phcenix palms of all sizes presented
a unique tropical picture. A large clearance formed
an ideal pasturage, crossed and recrossed by innumer-
able tracks of wild hogs, hippopotami, elephants, and
other animals.

On the 21st of April one of our hunters enriched
our collection with a splendid male specimen of a rare
monkey, Colobus satanas, and on the same day I took
leave of my kind host, and followed in Mildbraed's


footsteps towards our next stopping-place : the second
collecting station lying in our path.

For the last part of the journey the road rose
gradually, until we had reached a height of nearly
three thousand feet. This, according to the map,
was the N'dem mountain, and my " boy " Musa informed
me that this was the site of a former Kunabembe
and Bumbum village, which had been vacated after
strenuous fighting with the N'dzimus. So here was
another instance of two not very distant tribes placing
the widest possible belt of uninhabited country between
their respective villages.

I found Mildbraed in Herr Passehl's house in the
recently established collecting station. He had just
returned from an excursion to a most interesting
prairie, where he had found some wonderful tree-
orchids. Soon after my arrival he set off again with
his caravan.

I was unable to walk owing to a wound in my foot,
and I was obliged to delay starting until the 25th
of April. Fortunately only two days' march separated
me from the nearest village, so that I had no difficulty
in providing for my men. Herr Passehl was a most
entertaining companion, and like Herr Funck, seemed
to possess all the requisite qualities for living in such
a remote spot. Shortly before our arrival he had
an adventure with a leopard, which had penetrated
into his kitchen, and being driven into a corner by the
natives, had broken all the crockery.

The lesser rainy season had now thoroughly set in,
and the intervals of fine weather became shorter and
shorter. I was anxious to reach Lomie as soon as
possible, for I hoped at last to receive letters from
home ; so far an inexplicable chain of mishaps had


prevented me from obtaining them, except on one

Two fatiguing days' march, however, still lay before
us, and the men soon became utterly exhausted owing
to the constant stooping, stumbling, and climbing
along the rough and slippery path. A monotonous
undergrowth of Aframomum bushes shut out the view,
and drenched us with water, even when the rain had
momentarily ceased.

At length, about noon on the second day, the
scene changed. At a camping-place recently vacated
by Mildbraed, I reached what was evidently an impor-
tant floral boundary.

A small, clear stream, bordered by a beautiful raphia
jungle (illus. 158), separated two forest regions so
entirely different in appearance that one could almost
fancy that the whim of some giant gardener had taken
up two plots of jungle from different parts of Africa
and placed them here side by side. In marked contrast
to the previous dearth of flowers, the forest on the
further side of the stream displayed such a marvellous
wealth of vegetation that it could not have escaped
the notice even of the most casual observer. Shortly
afterwards I came upon Mildbraed, who confirmed my
observations, and expressed his delight at having at
last found so promising a field for botanical research.

It is certainly remarkable that such an insignificant
stream should form so definite a floral boundary, which
might more reasonably have been expected to coincide
with the flooded banks of the Bumba River. (Illus. 159.)

It took a whole hour to cross this river, owing to
the small capacity of the two available canoes, which
had to be handled with caution on account of the
rapidity of the current. Soon afterwards we came


to numerous scattered houses which are all included
under the name of Assobam, and the presence of
European factories proved that we were in the centre
of an important rubber district. A little later I found
Mildbraed, who had taken up his abode in one of the
houses of the station of Assobam. A considerable
portion of the journey through the jungle now lay
behind us.



IN spite of the fertility of the soil, the wilderness
through which we had recently travelled, as well as
many rich tracts of forest land farther east, are almost
devoid of culture, and afford a striking contrast, such
as are so frequently encountered in Africa, with the
country round Assobam. Here, as far as the eye can
see, the land is cultivated in every direction, and is
crowded with villages belonging to the North- West
N'dzimus. Here and there, in the hollows, small
portions of the primeval forest remain intact, but the
rising ground is entirely covered with plantations.

There is always a wealth of bird life wherever the
original vegetation has disappeared, and flocks of black
storks have made their homes in the few, isolated
trees which, after the rest of the ground was cleared,
remained as witnesses to the former existence of a
primeval forest.

We had to turn our attention in the first place to
the preservation of the treasures that we had already
collected, for the air was very damp owing to the
almost incessant rain. Mildbraed had great difficulty
in drying his " hay," and I spent a good deal of time
in ethnological research, for which Assobam offers a
highly interesting field.

The difficulties under which the Constabulary in
years gone by fought the cannibal N'dzimus, N'yems

M 2 166


and Makas in this weather-trap, must have been con-
siderable. I learned from the vivid narratives of the
negroes, who had witnessed the fight with the Makas
on the banks of the Longmapfog, how admirably the
natives were protected by the hydrographical situation
of their villages. My curiosity was stimulated by
what I heard from eye-witnesses, though their story
was probably supplemented from their imagination.
They spoke of a high-lying marsh, a land full of swamps,
accessible only by means of narrow canoes, small
enough to navigate the deep channels that are bordered
by green, treacherous bogs ready to engulf the unwary.
Overshadowing everything is the inhospitable jungle.
It must indeed have been a wearisome and thankless
task to pursue the fierce Makas, familiar as they were
with the labyrinth of channels, along which they shot
their tiny canoes at the speed of a galloping horse.

I was eager to explore this district, but was obliged
to relinquish the idea for two reasons. In the first
place we were already overdue, according to the time
allotted to our journey, and in the second place there
were all kinds of rumours current which were credited
by Europeans as well as negroes, and which made it
quite clear that an expedition into the heart of the
Maka district was not to be thought of. Later on I
came to the conclusion that some of the districts through
which we waded on the plateau, in the bend of the
Djah, supplied a sufficiently correct impression of
this country which was closed to us for political reasons.
At any rate, neither Mildbraed nor I had the least
desire to make the acquaintance of any more swamps.

The above-mentioned rumours referred to a European
agent of an English factory who was said to have been
murdered and eaten five days before my arrival in









Assobam. He had paid no attention to a warning
in the shape of a human finger that was placed
on his washhand- stand one morning. Opinions were
divided as to the exact spot where these events had
taken place. Some people asserted that the N'yems
were the murderers, others insisted that the Maka
district was the scene of action, while others again
accused the Kakas. It was impossible for me to
test the truth of these rumours, although personally
I inclined to the belief that the Kakas were responsible,
as I had already heard in Dalugene the story of the
amputated finger.

When one remembers the authenticated occurrences
of the past year, one is bound to admit that these
rumours did not sound altogether improbable. The
cannibal orgies of the Makas were well known, in which
hundreds of people were sacrificed, and which provoked
relentless fighting. Then there was the murder of a
European merchant, which occurred only a few months
before our arrival in the country. The last doubt
as to the truth of the rumours disappeared when we
learned that the governor of Lomie and the government
physician, as well as Dr Schuhmacher, the district
magistrate, were on their way, accompanied by an
escort of soldiers, to investigate the cause of all these
wild reports.

I recalled the warning of the amputated finger,
expressing as it did the mystical tendency of the natives,
when I was told in Assobam that in a neighbour-
ing village N'gi festivities were in progress. In this
mystical ceremonial human legs and skulls play an
important part, an instance of crass ignorance only
equalled by the belief in witchcraft of the Middle Ages.
I heard of this N'gi first from a trader named Pilz,


from Besam, who met me in the Kunabembe district,
and showed me an extraordinary photograph which
corroborated part of his narrative. N'gi is the name
for a gorilla among the hunting tribes, so there is
probably an intimate connection between this word
and the ideal of a devil. The N'gi superstition has
travelled a long way. It originated in the country
inhabited by the Pangwe tribes on the upper N'tem
(Campo), and, according to one of my men, Samba,
the N'tum, it spread through the Bules to the N'yems
and N'dzimus. The original ceremonies have gradually
changed, and the only element essential to the whole
thing lies in the speculation of the crafty " medicine
men " and chiefs on the stupidity and superstition
of the other natives. A participant in the N'gi cere-
monial is safeguarded from attacks on his life, and
the fidelity of his wives is guaranteed. Any N'gi
misconduct, when detected, is severely punished by
the Government, and rightly so, for it is obvious that
every sort of extortion, blackmail, and even murder
goes hand in hand with this superstition. An English
trader assured Mildbraed that under no circumstances
would he spend the night in a village where N'gi magic
was in progress, since he could do so only at the
imminent risk of his life.

We were unable to anticipate the vagaries of the
weather, for the prognostications by which we regulated
our march were seldom justified. The very day that
Mildbraed set his caravan in motion in the direction
of Lomie a storm came on soon after he had started,
from which I too suffered in the old station house at
Assobam, the roof being by no means water-tight.

After the rain had ceased I received a visit from a
Pygmy, the first I had seen for a long time, and the


most extraordinary looking member of this race that
I have ever come across, his features resembling those
of a native of Malay.

My short stay in Assobam had afforded me much
interesting ethnological information, and it was with
considerable satisfaction at the results of my visit
that I set off towards Lomie. We marched for several
hours through beautiful forest country until we arrived
at the village of Malen, where my men were to take
up their quarters for the night.

On the way I had an unexpected pleasure. A
messenger from Lomie met me in the forest and gave
me the packet of letters that I had been eagerly await-
ing for many months. At first I thought of waiting to
open them until I reached Malen, but the longing
for home news prevailed. I set up my deck chair
in the midst of the jungle and, deaf to all around me,
buried myself in the contents of my letters and cards,
which had been accumulating for so long that they
formed a perfect mountain. My " boys " watched
me impatiently as I read on for nearly two hours,
whilst clouds of gay butterflies settled unnoticed on
my letters, hands and coat.

Among my letters was one from von Wiese, with
the astonishing news that the Duke, with Professors
Haberer and Heims, had given up their original plan,
and having explored Lake Tchad, were on their way
to the coast. From von Wiese's letter I learned also
of the tragic fate that had befallen our gallant dogs,
who had been such entertaining comrades on the journey
out. When, late in the afternoon, I reached my tent
at Malen, I felt in the mood to answer all my letters
on the spot, but I had so much work to do in sorting
and labelling specimens that I was obliged to forego


this pleasure. The following morning I met a police
officer on his way to Assobam, accompanied by eight
soldiers, and he informed me that he was deputed
to investigate the rumours of murder that I had already
heard in Assobam.

The village of Man, where I intended to camp that
night, was described by my ." Bules " as " Minnega-
town," that is to say, a woman's village, because a
woman here filled the office of chief. As I approached
the wretched hamlet, an old woman came out to meet
me. She endeavoured to maintain a military carriage,
and took off her slouch hat to me. The latter being
the emblem of office of a chief, I could no longer doubt
that the principle of women's emancipation had
triumphed in this cannibal village. There are, how-
ever, several chieftainesses, and later on I came across
a young woman who held this post, and did the honours
in the most dignified manner possible. Moreover, it
was always good policy to give presents to the wives
of the chiefs, the result being the smoothing away of
all difficulties.

The provisions supplied to my men by the chieftainess
of Man were scanty, and even at a high price there was
little to be found in the neighbourhood, so that I was
inclined to credit the assertions of my bearers that
here, as so often happens in the forest districts, the
natives had some other plantation hidden away some-
where in the jungle.

Strips of virgin forest alternating with newly estab-
lished or forsaken farms, recently built villages,
and abandoned village sites, new factories, and old
ones falling into ruin, with here and there the cross
denoting the grave of a European, symbolised the
restless change brought about by the frenzied search


for rubber. A wide, shadeless road, on which the
scorching tropical sun blazed down, traversed this
ever-changing landscape. In the neighbourhood of
Loraie especially, where the road is about thirty feet
wide, I was struck by the contrast between this broad
street and the jungle path from Yukaduma to Asso-
bam, the discomforts of which were still fresh in my

I reached Lomie on the 1st of May, and was received
by the secretary, Lutz, who, in the absence of the District-
Governor, was in charge of the station, and who enter-
tained Mildbraed and me most hospitably for a whole
week. Before we left we made the acquaintance of
the District Magistrate, Dr Schuhmacher, and of the
station physician, Dr Rautenberg, who told us that
the rumours of a native rising had proved to be
imaginary. The European said to have been murdered
was alive and well, and in all the alarmist reports that
had caused such excitement throughout the whole
district, there proved to be not a particle of truth !

Accustomed as we were to the modest station build-
ings of Molundu, and to bark factories which we looked
upon as the height of luxury, we were amazed at the
solidity of the Lomie houses. The new fortress of
Lomie stands in a commanding position in the midst
of a clearance about half a mile square. Solidly built
of brick, it is impregnable as far as native weapons
are concerned. The District-Governor's residence is a
large square building, the lower part of which is used
as an office. Various comfortable bark and palm-leaf
buildings stand outside the fortress, also the attractive
two-storied brick house belonging to the District
Magistrate, all of them surrounded by luxuriant gardens
and plantations. In the gardens are all kinds of vege-


tables, and between the houses avenues of mangoes,
oranges, lemons and guavas; there is, moreover, one
small coffee plantation.

We were very glad to be living in solid brick houses
instead of under canvas, for day after day violent
thunderstorms broke over the station. Mildbraed kept
his bed owing to an attack of fever, which, however,
speedily yielded to treatment.

Thanks to Dr Schuhmacher's kind assistance, I made
the acquaintance of some more " Ebayeggas," who were
of a quite different type to the Pygmies of Molundu
and Momos. They were somewhat nervous on entering
the fortress, but as soon as I welcomed them in their
own tongue, they recovered from their nervousness,
and readily answered my questions. These were the
last dwarfs that I came across who understood their
ancient language ; the next members of a pygmy
tribe with whom I came in contact, not far from the
coast, had entirely forgotten it.

During the few sunny hours with which we were
favoured, I had a very interesting ornithological
experience. On three separate occasions, namely, the

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryDuke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin Adolf FriedrichFrom the Congo to the Niger and the Nile; an account of the German Central African Expedition of 1910-1911 (Volume 2) → online text (page 12 of 20)