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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chief fighting weapon of the warriors ; in battle half a
dozen or so are held in the left hand, and thrown rapidly
one after the other with the right hand. (Illus. 27.)
Meanwhile the combatants cover themselves skilfully
with large, square shields, made of a light kind of wood.
These shields are quite smooth, except for an irregular
boss in the centre.

Bows and arrows are little used in warfare by the
Mangbettus, who regard them as the weapons of the
lower classes. There are a great many different
varieties of arrow-heads (illus. 73), each of which is a
masterpiece of iron work, with symmetrically arranged
spikes, and barbs. The heads are fixed on to the shafts
by means of bast, and close to the junction there is
always a knob in order to facilitate the snapping of the
shaft, and to render more difficult the extraction of the
head from the wound. The bows are about three feet
in length, with strings made of rotang.

The pottery, wood-carving, and basket-work of the
Mangbettus far surpasses those of any other negro
tribe. (Illus. 29-71.) The ornamentation of the oil
and water flasks shows exceptional talent and origin-
ality. The wood used for carving is taken from huge
Rubiacice trees, and is soft and smooth, resembling
our poplar wood. The trunks of these trees are fifty
feet high before the first branch is reached, and their
diameter is over six feet. The Mangbettus make their
boats, shields, bowls, and stools of this wood.

Iron- work, pottery, and wood-carving are exclusively
the men's work, but the women give evidence of their
skill in all kinds of basket-work (illus. 74), including the
skirts or legbes which hang from their waists by a cord,
and are made of boiled banana leaves. The decoration


is cut out from the blackened leaves of the same plant,
and is sewn on by means of primitive needles. Of
the fifty legbes that I collected there are no two
absolutely alike, but they all show a highly developed
sense of proportion, and wonderfully good taste. (Illus.

The men's straw hats also afford scope for the display
of individual taste. They are almost all square in shape,
on a round base, but in their ornamentation wonder-
fully artistic patterns are employed which would do
credit to a European workman. (Illus. 58-68.) If these
examples of a primitive art are compared with those
of our modern straw hat industry, it becomes evident
that in some things, at any rate, our workmanship is
surpassed by that of the negroes. The hats are always
dyed black, white, or red, these being the only available
colours. White is the natural colour of the straw
when it has been bleached in the sun ; red is obtained
from powdered cam- wood, and black from the juice
of the gardenia fruit.

The Mangbettus are past masters in the art of building,
and their huts are the prettiest, and at the same time
the most solid of all the negro dwellings that I have
ever seen. The huts are for the most part round,
with a diameter of about twenty feet. The walls
are of mud, and the roofs of palm-leaves, covered
in with a water-tight layer of grass. Each hut is
surrounded by a wooden stockade, the interstices
of which are filled up with mud. The floor is made
of mud, well beaten in, and raised about a foot above
the ground so as to keep out the damp. The furniture
comprises a bed at one side, and a hearth in the middle
of the floor. The bed rests on four stout posts driven
into the earth, which in the huts of the chief's wives


are often decorated with carving. The mattress con-
sists of a thick layer of dried leaves. The Mangbettu
huts are kept scrupulously clean, and there is a space
of about a foot between the roof and the wall which
admits fresh air and light, and allows the smoke to

The architectural genius of the Mangbettus shows
itself particularly in the building of the large halls
known as bassos. Okando's bassa is a large rectangular
building three hundred and twenty feet long, and a
hundred and sixty feet wide. (Illus. 74.) The floor is
forty feet high in the middle, and slopes down to a
height of six feet at each side. These vast halls are
used as sheltered assembly rooms on festal occasions.

It is one of the traditions of the Mangbettus that
each of their kings should possess a bassa of his own.

They are a light-hearted race, and enjoy a greater
number of festivities than any other negro tribe.
They celebrate every occasion, whether of joy or
sorrow, with dancing, and on moonlight nights the
noise of their drums and trumpets often makes sleep

The day before my departure Okondo organised
special dancing festivities in my honour. Led by the
king and his numerous wives, the natives executed
a kind of polonaise, in which the dancers moved in
circles, one behind the other. Men and women, old
and young alike, took part in this dance for hours at
a stretch, until at last I begged the king to let me see
some other dances.

He accordingly executed a wonderful solo dance, which
was the most striking that I have ever witnessed. His
wives, a hundred and fifty in number, sat on their stools in
a wide semi-circle. They bowed backwards and forwards

27. Mangbatu warriors.

28. Sultan Okondo with his four chief wives in gala costume. x

2971. Examples of ,
2933. Sickles. 3440. Bottles. 41, 42. Pottery. 4346. Carved wood stools. 4749. Wooden dishes

batu handicraft.

57. Women's Aprons. 58-68. Men's Straw hats. 69. Kettle-drum. 70. Axe. 71. Ivory trumpet.








from their waists, at the same time rocking their heads
from one shoulder to the other, and waving their arms
in peculiar serpentine movements in time to the music.
They sang sweetly to the accompaniment of kettle-
drums, trumpets, drums, and rattling instruments,
which made an ear-splitting din, whilst the king danced
like a madman in the centre of the semi-circle. He
whirled his arms and swung his legs after the cossack
fashion, now waving them horizontally above the
ground, now throwing them high into the air. He
bounded and pranced for several hours without a rest,
until at last he sank exhausted at the feet of one of his
wives. The sun had set before the crowd dispersed,
and even then some of the women continued dancing
with untiring energy.

It is surprising to find that these cannibals, who
but a generation ago were accustomed to kill children,
and who if left to their own devices would probably
not hesitate to return to their inhuman practices,
display on the other hand kindly qualities such as
devotion to their parents, children, and wives, and
politeness to Europeans. I have often seen the Mang-
bettu women stroking their children, and watching
their games with interest and amusement. I have
even seen them touch their babies' hands with their
lips, which is all the more noteworthy because kissing
is unknown among negroes.

With regard to their religion, I can only say that they
believe in the existence of a superior and invisible
being, whose dwelling is supposed to be in the sky.
They are very respectful towards their dead, whom
they bury near their huts, and they bring offerings
of food to the shades of the departed.

They also possess legends and songs, which they


sing to the accompaniment of their mandolines. Some
of these songs contain beautiful thoughts, and the
following verse, which was taken down at the dictation
of an old Mangbettu bard, may serve as an example
of the poetry of these primitive people :

" After I have passed away,
Do not lay me near your dwelling,
You'll forget me day by day.
Lay me near the flowing river,
That the frogs and water birds
May bewail me there for ever."



MY visit to the Mangbettu tribe was the most interesting
of all my African experiences. I felt quite at home
among these negroes, who in spite of their cannibal
tendencies, are a highly cultivated people, and scarcely
a day passed that did not afford some interesting episode.
As I packed up my ethnological treasures, and left
Okondo's village to return to Niangara, it saddened
me to think that the time is not far distant when
European civilisation will have swept away the last
traces of romantic originality from among this proud
and primitive people.

I spent several days in Niangara packing my Mang-
bettu collection in readiness for the twenty-five days'
journey to the Nile. As soon as all my preparations
were complete, I set off with fifteen additional bearers,
and four days later I reached Dungu, where I was
cordially welcomed by my old friend the "Chef de
zone " Bareau.

Dungu is a very large station. Originally, like all the
stations of the Uelle district, it was built on a narrow
site, the houses being crowded together, and surrounded
with a wall and moat as a defence against the attacks
of the Asandes. But now that this bitter strife is
at an end, and peace reigns, the inhabitants are no
longer restricted to such a narrow space, and there
are a great many houses outside the fortifications.



Dungu is situated in the middle of the richest elephant
district of the whole Northern Congo colony, and is,
consequently, a centre of attraction for numerous
Greek and Arab traders, who come from Khartoum
and Entebbe, and carry on a brisk trade in ivory.
The days are past when a tusk weighing sixty pounds
could be bought for a trumpet or a hussar's uniform,
but even at the present time a mule is eagerly accepted
in exchange for one large, or two medium sized tusks.

Seven days' march along an excellent road brought
me to Farad je. The country is thinly populated, but
contains many varieties of big game, including elands,
saiga-, grass-, and equine-antelopes, elephants, buffaloes,
giraffes, elks (Taurotragus derbianus gigas), and the
so-called white rhinoceros (Rhinoceros simus). This
animal's skin is not white, but possibly when first seen
by European travellers, it may have been bathing in a
chalky pool, and consequently have appeared white in
the sunlight. The chief point of distinction between
this almost extinct animal and the common Rhinoceros
bicornis is its much broader mouth, the upper lip of
which is not prolonged into a snout. It is, moreover,
larger, and has longer tusks than its cousin. Next
to the elephant it is the largest known land mammal,
and its anterior tusk exceeds five feet in length. Fifty
years ago it was quite common in South Africa, but
English sportsmen and Dutch settlers have hunted it
until it is practically extinct. It is now to be found
only in Lado and the surrounding districts, and in
the immediate neighbourhood of Faradje it is still
fairly common. The game laws of the Anglo-Egyptian
and Belgian governments will, I hope, safeguard the
existence of this gigantic relic of a bygone age.

Abba is the eastern frontier station of the Belgian

74. Plaiting.

75. Okondo and his wives dancing.












Uelle district, and its high situation affords a fine
view of the chain of hills which forms the watershed
between the two largest river systems of Africa, and
also the boundary between the Anglo-Egyptian and
Belgian territories.

It was here that I received the first news of the Morocco
crisis. I was on the point of setting out through
British territory on my way home to Germany, and
I could imagine nothing more inconvenient for me
than an Anglo-German war. I heard now for the
first time of the stirring events in Agadir, and I must
confess that I dreaded the result more for my own
sake than for patriotic reasons.

I heard that Inspector Dove-Bey, the English
Governor of Lado-Enclave, residing at Yei, was a
very friendly gentleman, and I came to the conclusion
that even if he knew of my connection with the army,
he was unlikely to make me a prisoner of war on the
spot. So I made up my mind to push on to Yei with
all possible dispatch, remaining in Abba only long
enough to comply with the customs regulations, and
to change my Belgian money into English currency.

Scarcely three hours' journey from Abba I came to
a small station high up among the hills, where half a
dozen soldiers of the Soudanese Constabulary guard
the frontier.

I was favourably impressed by the appearance of
these troops, whose deportment, equipment, and
uniform leave nothing to be desired. Instead of the
blue blouses of the French and Belgian colonial troops,
which soon become unsightly, they wear khaki- coloured
sweaters and breeches, laced shoes with blue puttees,
and grey slouch hats. They are armed with modern
double-barrel Lee-Metford rifles, and carry their cart-


ridge belts slung over their left shoulders. The Sou-
danese Constabulary is composed of former " regulars,"
and the latter are recruited from the warlike tribes
of the Upper Nile : the Shilluks, Dinkas, etc.

Yei, the first Anglo-Egyptian station, came into
sight on the fourth day. From the flag-staff in
front of the Inspector's residence the Union Jack
and the Egyptian Crescent fluttered together, as a
sign of the confederate government. The kaimakam
Dove-Bey, a tall, splendid-looking Englishman re-
ceived me with the words, " I congratulate you on
your long journey; I have been expecting you for
some time."

In the person of Inspector Dove-Bey I became
acquainted with a typical English Soudan officer : a
very friendly gentleman, with whom I spent many
pleasant hours.

The Anglo-Egyptian Soudan possesses a military
government. All the high officials are officers of the
British army, who on entering the Anglo-Egyptian
contingent, are promoted to a superior rank, and are
paid by the Egyptian government. Only the lower
ranks from that of a captain downwards are occupied
by Egyptians, and below the rank of a lieutenant
there are negro officers. The army doctors are mostly
Syrians, and the head physicians Englishmen. The
relations between the English, Egyptian, and Syrian
officers are invariably those of superiors towards
inferiors, for there is no intercourse between the different
nationalities when they are off duty. The Egyptian
officers are consequently somewhat embittered against
the Englishmen ; but the position of the latter is in
no way endangered, since the bulk of the Soudanese
privates is on their side. These admirable soldiers






79. Mangbatu kettle-drum of wood.

80. Wooded plain between Dangu and Faradje.


regard with contempt their unreliable and incompetent
Egyptian officers.

The English officers in the Soudan receive six
months' leave at the close of every year of service,
and as they are obliged to make use of it, it has
a very beneficial effect on their health. All these
advantages the long and frequent leave, higher rank,
and excellent pay, render the Egyptian service very

Dove-Bey, a Captain in the British army, here
enjoys the rank and pay of an Egyptian Lieutenant-
Colonel. He lives in a large house, furnished in a
luxurious style unknown in the French and Belgian

I spent three days in Yei, as the next Nile steamer
was not expected to reach Redjaf for another week or
two. I had many lively arguments with my amiable
host regarding European politics in general, and Anglo-
German relations in particular. I was relieved to
find that the crisis was over, and that the war scare
was a thing of the past.

Soon after crossing the Anglo-Egyptian frontier,
I noticed that round all the river bridges and fords
the trees had been cleared away for a distance of
several hundred yards. My supposition that this
was a precautionary measure against sleeping-sickness
proved to be correct. A Scotch doctor devised this
admirable expedient, which has also been adopted
in the German colonies. This doctor was in charge
of the large sleeping-sickness hospital camp in Yei,
with beds for several hundred patients. A visit con-
vinced me that the latter are very well cared for, and
that, unlike those in the French and Belgian sleeping-
sickness hospitals, they have no wish to run away.


Kind treatment and skilful nursing brought about
this astonishing result.

Dove-Bey overwhelmed me with kind attentions.
He was himself an enthusiastic sportsman, and when
he learned that I had not yet succeeded in shoot-
ing an elephant, he advised me to try my luck
on the road to Redjaf. He gave me his own trusted
hunter, the soldier Abderahman, as guide, lent me his
mule in place of the one that had to be sent back to
Dungu, and even entrusted to me his precious double-
barrelled express rifle, as being more effective than
my own Mauser. I was thus equipped in the best
possible manner, and it was with deep feelings of
gratitude for all his kindness that I took leave of Dove-
Bey. During the two days' journey to the small
station of Loka I noticed innumerable fresh elephant
spoors, but the very long grass, which entirely con-
cealed both me and the mule, offered a serious obstacle
to following them up. However, my guide Abderahman
assured me that beyond Loka the country was more
favourable for hunting, and that there were plenty
of elephants in that neighbourhood.

Loka is the next station to Redjaf on the Nile road.
It is small and prettily situated, but since the annexa-
tion of the Enclave by Britain, it has lost its former
importance. The most attractive feature of the country
round Loka is the range of granite hills, of which the
Loka Mountain is the highest. (Illus. 81.)

As I approached the Nile, I found the country
becoming more and more hilly, and I traversed forests
of bamboo, about thirty feet in height, which were
the favourite shelter for elephants during the heat
of the day. ( Vide coloured Illus.).

Two days' march from Loka we heard elephants




a u
.5 -



trumpeting near the main road. I knew by experi-
ence that it is only young bulls travelling in a herd
that trumpet, and not the old, solitary elephants that
are sought after by hunters. Nevertheless I made up
my mind to follow the herd, in order once more to enjoy
the excitement of watching these gigantic beasts. The
grass was very long, and I was obliged to remain in
the saddle so that I might see even a little way ahead.
The elephants had trampled a path eight or nine feet
broad, so that we could follow them without difficulty
through the long grass. Abderahman was leading the
way when all at once he stopped, and after listening
for a moment he whispered to me that there were
elephants close at hand. I stood up in my stirrups,
and peered in every direction, but could see nothing.
About a hundred yards ahead there was a bamboo
thicket in which something could be heard rustling.

I dismounted quickly, and seizing my heavy rifle
crept along behind the guide. As we entered the thicket
he touched my arm, and pointed to a grey mass scarcely
fifteen paces away. He shook his head, for his practised
eye had distinguished a cow elephant, whilst I was still
vainly endeavouring to make out which was its head
and which its tail. So we crept back the way we had
come, and followed another track which brought us
to a second bamboo thicket, which was so dense that
riding was impossible. The trail led up and down hill,
and we could see only a few yards ahead. Abderah-
man reconnoitred, and finally pointed out a clearance
a little way off, towards which we directed our steps.

The clearance was about a hundred yards long by
fifty broad, and was enclosed on all sides by a dense
forest of bamboo, in which we could hear the animals
trampling and rustling in every direction. Every


now and then I caught sight of a square yard of greyish
brown hide, a huge ear, or a trunk. But the tusks
were short and thin, for we were in the midst of a herd
of cows and calves. It was not a very safe position,
for some of the animals ran in our direction, and might
have accidentally trampled on us.

Even the cold-blooded Abderahman, who subse-
quently gave proof of unusual courage and endurance,
was growing uneasy, and advised me to fire. As I
did not wish to kill either a cow or a calf, but only a
large bull, I fired into the air.

As the shot reverberated in the hills there was a
regular stampede, and the herd crashed through the
bamboos. An old elephant mother who was scarcely
ten yards away, lifted her trunk high in the air, spun
round on her hind legs like a circus horse, and trotted
off. Abderahman and I returned to camp, deeply
disappointed at not having had better sport.

The following morning, accompanied only by Abderah-
man and one " boy," I set out before sunrise on a five
hours' march to a village in the neighbourhood of which
I hoped to find some old, solitary bull elephants. Huge
acacia trees grew at intervals on the prairie, which
was covered with comparatively short grass. We
reached the tiny village about noon, and the chief
sent out some of his men in search of elephants. Two
hours later one of them returned with the welcome
news that he had seen two large elephants within a
short distance of the village, and that their tusks were
as thick as a man's thigh.

I shouldered my rifle, and accompanied only by
Abderahman, followed the guide. In half an hour's
time we had reached the spot where the native had
seen the elephants, but unfortunately they had not


waited for us to arrive. Abderahman nosed about
like a blood-hound, investigating the trampled grass.
Presently he pointed out one of the tracks, along which
we crept cautiously in single file. He was not mistaken,
for in a few minutes we came upon a huge bull scarcely
twenty paces away. He seemed to be asleep, for he did
not even move his ears. I raised my rifle, and aimed
at the base of his trunk ; but my heart was beating so
violently that the sight danced about, and when I
fired the animal did not fall as I expected, but
flapped his big ears, lifted his trunk, swung round, and
trotted off.

It was the largest elephant that I have ever seen,
and I was grievously disappointed at losing him. It
is, however, exceedingly difficult to shoot an elephant
from the front, and His Royal Highness the Crown
Prince had a similar experience, which he ably describes
in his hunting diary.

We followed the elephant until sunset, but I had
little hope of seeing him again, for I felt sure that a
bullet arrested by the big bony plates of his skull
would do him but little harm. The equanimity of
my black guide was in no way disturbed. " It was
Allah's will," he remarked placidly. " Perhaps you
will have better luck to-morrow ! " He was right
as it turned out, though it might easily have been

Early the next morning I was informed that two
more large elephants had been seen in the neighbour-
hood of the village. We soon found their spoor, and
tracked them through the bamboo forest and open
plains. After a two hours' march we caught sight of
two huge bulls, about a hundred yards apart, and
about the same distance from us. It was impossible


to ascertain from behind which of the two had the
better tusks, so I sent Abderahman on in front to

He had not gone far when he pointed to the elephant
in whose tracks I had been following, so I pushed
on to the left, so as to get the animal broadside on.
Abderahman was carrying my Mauser and all my
cartridges, and I had in my hand the aforementioned
double-barrelled rifle. I had decided to fire both
barrels of the latter, and then to take my Mauser
from my companion, who was meanwhile to reload
the elephant rifle.

The elephant suddenly stood stock still and then
turned in our direction, pricking his ears and raising his
trunk. " Now or never," I said to myself, and slowly
raising the sight, I fired both barrels almost simultane-
ously at a point immediately above the left shoulder.
The minutes that ensued will remain fixed in my
memory for ever. The elephant charged on the instant,
without a moment's pause. My rifle was empty, and
Abderahman was thirty paces away between me and
the infuriated elephant, holding all my cartridges.
I did not wait for him to give me my Mauser, but took
to my heels, and ran like a hare.

I have never run so fast in my life, and my gymnastic
teacher would have admired my agility. After running

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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 5 of 20)