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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compressed into a narrow and consequently deep bed,
before widening out into the Stanleypool, just above
the last falls. The voyage was very attractive, the
ever-changing hilly scenery forming a picturesque
background to the landscape.

The steamer made her way steadily up-stream, from
sunrise till evening, halting for the night only when
the approaching darkness rendered further progress
impossible. A village is usually chosen as a landing
place, and the whole of the black crew, with the excep-
tion of the engineers, is sent ashore, so that they may
not be exposed to the temptation of stealing, which
would otherwise prove too strong for them. In spite
of an assumed piety, the Bangalas are a dishonest
tribe, but they bear a high reputation as river pilots
and sailors.

On the third day of the voyage our steam steering


gear was out of order, and we stopped for repairs at
Berghe-Ste. Marie.

The Kassai is one of the few tributaries of the
great African river. Its mouth might be com-
pared to that of the Mosel near Coblentz, but it is of
course much larger than the Rhine. On the left
bank of the Kassai, near its mouth, is the important
town of Kwamouth, and on the right bank the Belgian
mission station of Berghe-Ste. Marie. The population
of the latter has fallen owing to the ravages of the
sleeping-sickness, although it is still marked in heavy
type on the map as if it were a large city. It often
happens that towns that have played an important
part in the history of Africa have their names in large
print on the map, even after they have ceased to

Our repairs did not take long, for the captain, like
most commanders of the Congo steamers, was a certifi-
cated engineer. Soon after midday we were once more
forced to heave to, this time on account of a violent
storm which came up from the South with great
rapidity. We hugged the shore until we came to a
suitable place where we could make fast and await
better weather. This precaution was not unnecessary,
for owing to her shallow draught the steamer might
easily have been capsized by a violent gust of wind.
It is one of the most important duties of a Congo
navigator to guard against surprise by one of these
tornadoes, which come up with great rapidity.

So far we had encountered very few other vessels,
one of them being a large Congo steamer carrying no
passengers, but serving exclusively for the transport
of building materials for the new Upper Congo railway.
Early the following day we passed M'ponya, and left


the " chenal " behind us ; the latter is certainly the
most picturesque part of the Congo, and we were
never tired of watching the changing landscapes flitting
by on each bank.

The river here attains a width of about three miles,
but immediately below the large Belgian station of
Bolobo we entered a labyrinth of islands which rendered
any further estimation of its width impossible. The
Congo breaks up into a network of canals, which
can be distinguished only by experienced river pilots.
At noon on the 27th of October we passed the mouth
of the Alima, which to us seemed exactly like the
numerous deep, silent canals on both sides of the

The vegetation is peculiar and quite tropical in
character, the greater part of the islands being covered
with dense, well-nigh impenetrable jungle. The grey-
green parinarium bushes, and the monotonous alcorneae
with their dull poplar-like leaves bear a certain resem-
blance to European shrubs ; but the dark copal trees
and the tough rotang lianas enveloping everything
with their whip-like strands and graceful fronds as
they crawl along the ground or climb to the highest
tree-tops, soon dispel the illusion.

Among this maze of islands there are occasional
wide, green patches formed of deceptive, floating
weeds, set in motion by the waves of passing
steamers. These patches give rise to the floating
papyrus islands which may be seen throughout the
Lower Congo, together with the bright green clumps of
Pistia stratiotes.

There was hardly a sign of life in all this district,
but we were told that during the dry season wild
animals are plentiful. In a small village below

95. Basanga women in canoe.

96. Basanga women with leg-rings.





Mokutimpoko, where we spent the night of the 27th
of October, we were shown a large mound composed
of elephant skulls, a dumb but eloquent protest against
the brutal extermination of these animals by man.

The traveller's attention is drawn to the colour of
the Congo, which is deeper than that of any other
African river. The peculiar brown tint of the water
which may be observed at the mouth of this huge
river, and even for several hundred miles out to sea,
is caused by vegetable decomposition in the primeval
forests at the origin of the numerous branches which
unite to form the Congo. Here and there it happens
that for some distance the water is thick and resembles
" cafe au lait " owing to earthy ingredients brought by
some tributary. Soon, however, the mud is filtered off
by the floating islands or by the stony bed, and the water
becomes quite clear, of a dark tea colour : red-brown
where it is shallow, dark brown where it is deeper,
and almost black in the deepest parts. The foam
thrown up by the steamer's paddle-wheels was of a
golden topaz tint.

The tea-coloured water of the rivers and streams
of the Congo basin does not seem to suit the mosquitoes,
and since leaving Brazzaville we had not once suffered
from their attacks. The evil tsetse flies, however, are
not apparently affected by this peculiarity of the
water ; they are indestructible and are found almost

We landed three of our passengers at Kunda,
above the mouth of the Alima, and a little further
on we came to the delta at the mouths of the Likuala-
Mossaka, Ssanga, and Green Likuala rivers. The
next morning we reached Bonga, and here some of the
French passengers were able to give vent to their


long suppressed hunting ardour. They stalked rhino-
ceroses and sand-pipers, and corroborated the excellent
descriptions of their fellow-countryman, Daudet.

It was pouring with rain as the "Commandant Lamy "
turned aside into one of the river channels which alter
the direction of the current according as to whether
the water is higher in the Likuala-Mossaka or in the

We were not yet accustomed to the many surprises
which lay in store for us as we steamed up the Ssanga.
First of all, towards noon, we passed through what
may best be described as a primeval forest region,
in which the copal appeared to be the commonest of
the huge trees. Then followed rotang jungles of
unparalleled luxuriance, alternating with dark green
grass islands. But what astonished us most was the
profusion of Borassus palms, for these trees prefer as
a rule the dry soil of the prairies. Yet here they
were growing in the midst of the forest, or standing
in isolated clumps in the damp fields, and imparting
a peculiar charm to the landscape. Mildbraed and I
were accustomed to see these trees waving their fan-
like branches in the desert, and it amazed us to find
them here under such entirely different conditions,
and at the same time in so flourishing a state.

During the dry season these prairies must form an
ideal hunting ground ; at present there was only a
solitary buffalo to be seen, and after eyeing the steamer
from a safe distance, he made off through the long
grass at a heavy gallop.

The scenery on the banks of the Ssanga was very
beautiful, and Mildbraed and I watched with silent
enjoyment this incomparable picture unrolling itself
before us. Towards evening the vast prairies with


their ever-changing scenes were so singularly picturesque
that I can scarcely find words to describe them.
The grandest natural park that I have ever seen
occupied both banks of the Ssanga, about ten miles
wide on the left bank, and about half this width on
the right bank. (Illus. 89.)

We came to a standstill in the gathering dusk, but
no dry spot could be found for the negroes to encamp,
so that they were obliged to spend the night on board.

The following morning Mildbraed stood leaning over
the side, gazing longingly through his telescope at the
flowers growing on the banks. Suddenly at a bend in
the river, the steamer seemed to anticipate his secret
wishes, for the stearing gear once more broke down,
and we were obliged to make our way through the
clinging weeds to the bank. Whilst the crew scurried
and scrambled and ran excitedly hither and thither,
Mildbraed and his specially trained " boys " tore
down some of the flowering branches which overhung
the deck and threatened to push overboard some of
the piled up wood fuel.

Mildbraed's face was wreathed in smiles as he secured
four new specimens and put them in his press. Our
position might, however, have been exceedingly un-
pleasant, supposing the bank had been composed of
rocks instead of soft swampy ground.

A few days' travelling made us realise how rapidly
one zone succeeds another, each with its different
weather season. On leaving Stanleypool, we had come
in for the first violent tornado of the rainy season,
and we were now in the middle of a wet zone. A
few days more would, however, bring us to the beginning
of a region showing the first signs of approaching


The weather was hot and sultry, and on our last
day in the Southern Hemisphere the steamer met one
thunderstorm after another, the northern horizon
being charged with black and threatening clouds.
It rained all night without ceasing, and early on the
30th of October we crossed the Equator, and entered
the region of the true primeval forest.

During the afternoon the sun at length broke through
the clouds, and made up for his long holiday by an
unbearably sultry heat. In the clear atmosphere we
could appreciate the imposing grandeur and aspect of
the forest. The great trees were a hundred and fifty
feet and more in height, and stood a foot deep in
water. We meant to take a canoe and go in search
of specimens, but when we discovered that the whole
forest lay under water as far as the eye could reach,
we reluctantly gave up the attempt.

We saw more and more native huts belonging to
the cannibal Mi-Ssangas. The appearance of a steamer
seemed to be an important event for these children of
Nature, for young and old lined up on the banks, staring
at us with open mouths. The women wore glittering
spiral anklets made of iron or brass, whilst their hair
was concealed by turban-like cloths. (Illus. 96, 107.)
The men wore their hair, and sometimes even their
beards, in plaits, which gave them a very droll

The animal world, too, is more plentifully represented
on this side of the Equator. Small communities of
monkeys, comprising three or four different varieties,
might be seen gambolling in the branches of the gigantic
trees that lined the banks. On the approach of the
steamer they sought safety in flight, leaping from
tree to tree, or disappearing in the jungle. Crocodiles


- n








were sunning themselves on dead trunks that protruded
from the water, and a snow-white silver heron sat
motionless on a branch, staring into the water.
A black rhinoceros-bird flapped noisily across the
vessel's path, flocks of grey parrots chattered and
screamed, whilst between the trees a large butterfly,
the splendid Papilio zalmoxis (illus. 122), displayed
his gorgeous sky-blue wings, which were reflected in
the mirror of the water.

But Nature showed us these cheerful pictures only
during the brief intervals between the storms, and
our first night in the Northern Hemisphere was the
reverse of pleasant. Every possible circumstance
combined to increase the humidity of the atmosphere.
There was no wind, and the rain poured down at inter-
vals in perpendicular streams. In addition the whole
neighbourhood was under water, and the atmosphere
was saturated with moisture. Everything felt damp,
and although it was not particularly hot, the skin
was covered with beads of perspiration. Under such
conditions it was impossible to dry anything that had
become wet, and we had great difficulty in preserving
our collections from mould.

We reached the wood station Likunda on the last
day of October, and remained here longer than usual
in order to allow of some necessary repairs to the
boiler. I met with a trifling adventure, which might
have had serious consequences.

The sun having succeeded in breaking through the
clouds, I went ashore, accompanied by one of my
Cameroon " boys " who, owing to his corpulence, had
earned the nickname of " Matabum " (meaning
" fatty "). We followed a winding path through the
forest. On the way back I went a few yards away


from the path, when suddenly the ground gave way
under my feet, and I fell headlong. I heard my " boy "
calling " Massa, Massa " in a terrified voice, and
realized to my horror that I had fallen into one of
the skilfully made pits which the Mi-Ssangas dig
in order to trap wild beasts. At first I saw no way
of extricating myself, for the pit was quite ten feet
deep, and wider at the bottom than at the top,
so that when I tried to scramble up the sides I merely
succeeded in dragging down the earth on the top of me.
But my companion threw himself flat on the ground,
and pulled me up with the help of a long stick, although
he was so frightened that the tears streamed down
his fat cheeks. I myself felt somewhat uncomfortable
at the thought of what might have happened supposing
I had been alone, and I inwardly congratulated myself
on my foresight in never going anywhere in the African
bush without a companion.

On the afternoon of the 1st of November we
reached the large station of Likilemba, as it is
named on the map, or Ikerimba, as it is called by
the Mi-Ssangas. It is built on a flat mound of red,
sandy mud, about twenty-five feet above the level
of the sea. Two Frenchmen, dressed all in white,
stood on the landing-stage, awaiting the arrival of the

The land has been reclaimed for some distance from
the forest, apparently for some considerable time. The
piety of the Mi-Ssangas towards their dead is a touching
trait which they share with many other cannibal tribes.
Mildbraed and I walked through the cemetery of Liki-
lemba, and noticed the carefully arranged flat graves
in round niches cut out of the herbaceous underwood.
On each grave were piled the favourite possessions


of the deceased : specimens of native handicraft,
such as skilfully plaited baskets, and also European
articles, such as a petroleum lamp, empty jam pots,
etc. The women's graves were adorned with their
heavy anklets, resembling the spiral springs of a spring
mattress. Much care had been bestowed on the chiefs'
graves, which were covered with large mounds several
yards high. Here and there seats were provided for
those visiting the cemetery.

The Europeans in Likilemba showed us an interesting
photograph of a gorilla that had been killed in the
neighbourhood a few days before ; and by the side
of which the tall Mi-Ssanga natives looked like

On the 2nd of November we reached Wesso, a large
French customs station at the mouth of the Djah
(N'goko), which was the destination of our steamer.
(Illus. 90.) Our captain kindly permitted us to remain
on board until the arrival of the vessel which was to
convey us to Molundu.

Wesso (illus. 92), owes its importance to its favour-
able situation ; it lies at the junction of two large
navigable rivers (illus. 93), it is well above the high
water level of the rainy season, and it has in its neigh-
bourhood productive, agricultural land, from which
it is not, like so many villages on the Ssanga and
the Djah, cut off by swamps. (Illus. 91.) Industry
reigns in these high-lying, fertile plains ; big-boned
Mi-Ssanga women, dripping with oil, clatter along
in then: bracelets and anklets, carrying on then- backs
heavy baskets loaded with bananas or evil-smelling
manioc roots. Opposite Wesso, on the left bank of
the Ssanga, stretches a vast, inhospitable swamp,
impassable during the rainy season excepting with


the help of a canoe, or by skilful leaps from one tree-
root to another. (Illus. 97.)

It was in just such a spot, at the edge of a
lagoon, that I secured a specimen of the largest of
all African butterflies, the gigantic Papilio anti-
machus. We had already noticed this prince of
butterflies from the steamer, below Likilemba ; it
flew like a bird over the huts of a village, and its
outstretched wings measured nearly a foot from one
tip to the other. Here, on the edge of the lagoon,
I had the unexpected good fortune to net a speci-
men of this coveted butterfly as it alighted to
quench its thirst. The enthusiastic zoologist will
sympathise with my elation as I took the gigantic
insect out of my net. The first known specimen
was for a hundred years the only one of its kind,
and the greatest treasure of an English collection,
until sixty years ago a second example was brought to
Europe. I had, moreover, the satisfaction of observing
other specimens at the same spot, and taking photo-
graphs of them, which are quite unique. (Illus. 98, 99.)

Meanwhile the flat-bottomed screw-steamer " de
Brazza," which was to convey to us Molundu, had
arrived from the French station N'goila on the Djah.
Its grand designation, " Vapeur a deux helices " in
the time-table of the French " Messageries fluviales "
had given us quite a wrong impression, and we were
somewhat disappointed when we went on board and
were introduced to the young Danish captain, to find
that it was by no means in its first youth, and that
almost all the conveniences of the " Commandant
Lamy " were wanting.

Early on the 7th of November the " de Brazza "
started up-stream, heavily laden with men and baggage,








and towing two ponderous lighters, one on each side.
We abandoned ourselves to various pessimistic cal-
culations as to the speed and duration of the voyage.
Opposite the mouth of the Djah the current was so
powerful that not only did the vessel not advance,
but she was actually driven back until the captain
decided to hug the bank, where the straining engine
was able to make headway.

There were no cabins on the " de Brazza," excepting
the captain's, and the only protection against the
weather was an awning on the upper deck. Consid-
ering our snail's pace, and the fact that all meteorical
tables notwithstanding, the rain continued to fall
in torrents, we did not anticipate a very agreeable
voyage. There were eight European passengers, and
we accommodated ourselves as best we could on the
upper deck, which was only about thirty yards square,
though it had to serve as sitting-room, dining-room,
and bedroom. Part of it was occupied by luggage,
and at night considerable ingenuity was required in
order to make up our beds under that part of the roof
which was still water-tight.

Our conversation was both interesting and varied,
for most of us had seen a good deal of the world. There
was a tall, weather-beaten looking gentleman who
had been an officer in Algiers, and was now going
out as india-rubber agent for a French company. I
had already met him in Brazzaville, where he was
diligently studying a small book which contained
instructions for distinguishing the india-rubber plant
from the cocoa and other nut trees. Another man
had hunted at Fontainebleau in his youth, so he
played merry fanfares on a hunting horn, awakening
the echoes of the green forest wall on the bank.


Two of the passengers got off at the French station
N'gali, which is situated in the midst of splendid
india-rubber plantations. This gave the rest of us a
little more breathing space and room to move about.

On the morning of the 9th of November we started
very early in order to reach Molundu the same evening.
In the afternoon we caught sight of the low leaf huts
of the first representatives of the Pygmies (illus. 100),
with whom we were to have so much to do during
the ensuing weeks.

It was dark by the time our siren announced our
arrival to the inhabitants of Molundu. (Illus. 94).
Standing on the half-submerged landing-stage we
saw the government physician, Dr Hauboldt, who
had been our fellow-passenger on the voyage from
Hamburg to Stanleypool.



A ROOMY " guest-house " was placed at our disposal
for the time that we proposed to spend in Molundu.
This house was made almost entirely of the gigantic
fronds of the raphia palm, and was the first of the new
buildings to be completed.

Molundu is a station built on a slightly undulating
plain, on which the trees have been cut down and
replaced by banana and cassada plantations, which
provide work for the numerous convicts brought
from all parts of the colony. In the clearances a
few isolated forest giants have been left standing,
also some india-rubber trees, KicJcxia elastica. Young
oil palms have been planted by the road-side, for
these trees do not grow wild in any part of the south-
east Cameroons forest. The Mi-Ssangas willingly pay
ten shillings per litre for the highly prized palm-oil,
so that a good-sized plantation of oil palms would
be a rich source of profit to the inhabitants of the

At the time of our visit the village was flooded,
and the adjoining native village was cut off from the
station by a deep stream, so that all communication
had to be carried on in canoes.

We proceeded by water to visit the various European
settlers, the oldest of whom was a gentleman called



de Cuvry, the founder of the South Cameroon Company.
In the early days of European colonization he had
lived amongst the cannibal tribes of this country,
and could tell us all about the ancient customs of
the Mi-Ssangas, the N'dzimus, the Kunabembes, and
the Bangandus, customs that were formerly practised
openly before Europeans, but nowadays only in secret.

Travelling by canoe we found the most agreeable
means of progression that had as yet fallen to our
lot in Africa. The long, slender craft, propelled by
six to eight sturdy Mi-Ssanga rowers, shot like an arrow
over the water, and we were astonished at the graceful
precision and endurance of these natives, who worked
standing. The women were particularly skilful, and
the manipulation of the long oars showed off their
supple brown bodies to perfection. (Illus. 95.) We
passed the bridge, resting on piles thirty feet high,
which spans the little Lupi River, as it flows into the
Djah, immediately below the Bumba. The river was
up to the planks of the bridge, and the European
cemetery close by lay under water, so that only the
tops of the tombstones were visible.

So far there seemed little prospect of any improve-
ment in the weather, and the available meteorological
tables proved that observations extending over many
years are required in order to give results that are in
any way reliable. During November very little rain
is supposed to fall, and yet here we were getting drenched
every time we set out to collect specimens, and the
rain-gauge indicated over eight inches for the month.
In December, although the month was ushered in
by thunderstorms, we seemed to be passing through
a transition period, and it was not until the end of
January that the dry season set in for good.

102. Interior of a Dasanga house.

103. Village street of Molunda with fowl-house.

104. Basanga women cooking.

105. Basanga women at their toilet.


These irregularities in the weather were not, however,
so surprising as those that we had experienced near
Tibundi, including numerous thunderstorms. They
manifested themselves generally in the early morning,
when the thermometer was comparatively low, and
a thick fog enveloped the landscape. Towards noon
the fog dispersed, but the sky remained overcast,
and the sun seldom succeeded in breaking through
the clouds.

In the early morning of the 8th of December one
of these curious " fog thunderstorms " overtook us

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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 7 of 20)