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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at Molundu. The previous day the atmosphere had
become more and more foggy, and though there were
no typical thunderclouds to be seen, yet the entire
sky was overcast, and thunder could be heard muttering
in the distance.

Towards sunset the clouds dispersed, but the electrical
tension had not been wholly discharged. Between
eight and nine o'clock the night was bright and starry,
but the air was still oppressively sultry. There was
not a cloud in the sky, for the stars on the horizon
were plainly visible, whilst those overhead shone
with unusual brilliance, as on a starry winter's night
at home. Towards morning the temperature dropped
so that I was able to slip into my pyjamas, and at
last it became so cold that I even drew up my blanket.
I was not mistaken in supposing that it was foggy
out-of-doors, and if the windows had been open the
mist would certainly have penetrated into my bedroom.
Instead of growing lighter the darkness increased,
and amid this strange semi-twilight the thunderstorm
broke. The fog did not disperse, and there was no
sign of a thunder- cloud. I can only explain this
phenomenon by supposing that we were in the very


centre of the thunder-cloud, though the low altitude
of Molundu renders this improbable.

Owing to the wet weather the country around
Molundu was almost impassable, and the field of
our labours was closely restricted. Half an hour's
walk in an easterly direction brought us to a swamp,
and the road leading from the station to a large factory
on the Bumba, which would have been the most
favourable spot for collecting, was blocked close to
the station owing to the fact that the second bridge
over the Lupi was up to the railings in water.

This prolonged inundation occasioned a marked
dearth of flowers as well as of animals, and our botanist
was bitterly disappointed. Nevertheless, everything
was unmistakably awakening to new life. Many of the
trees were in full flower, amongst them the beautiful
" African maple " with its charming purple and white
striped blossoms. The renewed activity of insect life
also bore witness to the fact that the quiescent
period was at an end. Iridescentbeetles crawled
about the bare branches of fallen trees, sparkling
like emeralds in the sunlight. Clouds of little brown-
black butterflies, Libythea labdaca, frequented the
banks of the rivers and other damp places, alighting
even on our persons, or forming dark patches on the
ground. Another butterfly, the white Cymothoe caenis,
presented a spectacle similar to that of the locust
swarms on the plains. A flight composed entirely
of male butterflies passed over the station during
the morning of the 12th of November coming from
the East, and disappearing over the river into the
forest. It resembled a snowstorm, and coming into
view at about nine o'clock, continued until noon, the
last straggler passing at about one o'clock.


Still more impressive was another insect invasion
which occurred one night, and which is included
among the experiences of anyone who has been for
any length of time in the African tropics. On the
evening in question I had got everything ready for
developing photographs in my tent, when I noticed
one of our " boys " wandering about with a torch.
I asked him what was the matter, and he replied :
" Ants, Massa, ants ! " When a negro raises the
cry of ants at night in the forest, he refers to " driver
ants," and the dreaded name will alarm the whole
village. I recalled all the horrors of an " ant night "
in the Cross River district, and with a foreboding of
evil I rushed into my room. I heard the sinister hum
of their wings, and by the light of the lamp I saw that
the walls, floor, and ceiling were black with ants. The
space between our house and that of the " boys "
was swarming with ants, the adjoining plantation
was swarming with ants ; everything was black and
seemed to move. They had evidently been attracted
to our dwelling by the numerous cockroaches, and
we attacked them with burning petroleum and

A scene of wild excitement ensued. All the spiders,
lizards, and above all, the cockroaches, sought safety
in flight, and the " boys " screamed whenever they
were bitten. Our combined efforts succeeded in
diverting the main attack in another direction. The
infuriated insects clung for some time to the roof,
hanging in bunches to the palm fronds of which it
was composed, and dropping one by one to the ground.
Woe betide the unwary individual who received an
ant in his neck ! The foggy weather eventually drove
away the ants, and ranging themselves in a column


three inches wide, the black host went on its way.
A few scattered divisions remained in our neighbour-
hood, which we proceeded to clear of weeds, in order
to deprive these unwelcome guests of their commissariat.

There was a curious sequel to this nocturnal visitation.
A few days later I noticed in my room a horrible smell,
which seemed to come from under the flooring. On
removing the boards, I found a large, living, poisonous
snake, and the dead bodies of three others, which
had apparently fallen victims to the driver ants.
Sooner or later these insects kill everything they come
across, even large animals that are unable to get
away. Fowls, goats, and sheep, shut up in a shed,
are doomed unless their owners succeed in diverting
the line of march of the ants.

Birds were very plentiful in the forest surrounding
Molundu. Five or six varieties of large rhinoceros-
birds fluttered from tree to tree ; many-hued parrots and
green doves plundered the wild fig-trees, and flights
of twittering bee-eaters circled like swallows in the
air. Variegated shrikes hopped about in the under-
wood, and the scarlet cups of the flowering spathodea
were surrounded by iridescent sun -birds, the most
charming of all African sun-birds. A kickxia grew in
front of our house, and its branches were covered with
weaver-birds' nests, in which we could sometimes
distinguish the golden plumage of the occupants.
There were hundreds of these birds, and they were so
noisy that it was often impossible to do any work ;
a gun fired out of the window silenced the twittering
for a few minutes, but it soon began again with renewed

Of the forest animals, mammals are the least often
seen. It is not that they are rare, but the forest


affords them so secure a hiding-place that even the
natives find it difficult to track them. Consequently
the most enthusiastic hunter very seldom gets any
reward for his pains, and must be prepared to spend
days and even weeks in the pursuit of big game.

There are, however, a few spots in the forest which
are frequented by wild beasts of all kinds. These
are the so-called " grass-fields " : open spaces in the
midst of the jungle. It was here that the native
hunters found the new specimens of ruminants which
they brought to us in Molundu, often after many
days' fruitless hunting. These were small tufted
antelopes, and on one occasion, a large red buffalo,
which had paid an early morning visit to the plantations
belonging to the station.

The most interesting varieties of animals can be
found only in the densest part of the jungle, for instance
the little musk-deer, and sleepy semi-apes that live
in the thickest branches of the trees, and come out
only by night, when their plaintive cry may be heard.
Here, too, is the abode of the rare flying squirrel.

But by far the most interesting inhabitant of this
district is the mighty gorilla, the sinister hermit of
these melancholy forest solitudes. In all the villages
there are stories of his strange habits, of fierce fights,
and of attacks on solitary travellers, truth and fable
being inextricably confused. But one can make
allowance for a good many inventions after examining
the skull of one of these creatures, with its power-
ful wild-beast jaw. The persistent assertion of the
Congo natives that the gorilla carries off women is
probably untrue, but many other narratives cannot
be set aside, since they are unanimously upheld by
all the South Cameroon tribes, and the details are so


realistic that it is difficult not to believe them. It
must also be admited that there is probably a foun-
dation of truth in the fantastic stories told by du

The natives all agree that the gorilla prefers to live
in an aframomum jungle, and that its red fruit con-
stitutes his chief food. I was further assured that
he remains on the ground almost entirely, and has
often been seen making use of roads and paths con-
structed by man.

The evidence as to whether he makes a nest is con-
flicting. I am inclined to think that this depends
on the individual inclination of the animal, as is the
case with the chimpanzee. I gathered from the
accounts of the natives that it is only the females
and young gorillas that live in a kind of shelter made
of branches and perched in the fork of a tree. The
males are said to sleep on the ground on a bed of leaves,
leaning against a thick tree-trunk. Judging by my
own observations later on, this version seems to me
to be probably the most correct.

All my black informants likewise agreed that solitary
male gorillas will attack a traveller unprovoked, but
they are generally intimidated if their adversary
brandishes some shining object, such as a hunting

On the whole, gorilla hunting was described to me
as a highly dangerous pastime, and the chief difficulty
seems to be to await the right moment for shooting.
When the gorilla catches sight of the hunter, he sways
from one foot to the other, at the same time roaring
and trying to frighten away his enemy by brandishing
his long arms. This is not the time to shoot, for his
movements are so rapid and violent that it is impossible


^ ^ X"

106. Basanga dancer after sketches by Dr. Sduiltze.














to take correct aim. The gorilla then rushes at the
hunter, and now is the best time to shoot him in the
chest. But I can hardly believe that the natives
have the courage to wait until the animal charges
them, for to my mind this must require nerves of

A native of Gaboon, named Undene, who was at one
time my orderly, related to me the following adventure
which befell him when he was in charge of the little
station N'gato, in the jungle north of Molundu. On
the main road he twice shot two large male gorillas,
and it was in connection with the first of these adventures
that he related to me the following story.

He found the animal, a powerful male, leaning against
a tree trunk, sound asleep, and shot it without killing
it. The gorilla charged his assailant with lightning
speed, and seizing his gun with one hand endeavoured
to carry it to its mouth in order to bite it up. With
the other hand it grasped its opponent's leg so as to
throw him down. With great difficulty Undene
managed to reload, but in his terror he missed the
ape, who was still holding on to the muzzle of the
gun. At last he succeeded in reloading once more,
and this time shot the animal in the breast and killed
it. During the struggle the animal kept up a mighty
roar. One thing is evident : gorilla hunting takes
place at close quarters, and calls for rapid action,
combined with the utmost coolness.

The smaller, long-tailed monkeys and the beautiful
black colobus, with its handsome white, silky frill and
tail, are much commoner than their large relative,
and are in fact more plentiful than any other mammal.
They leap wildly from tree to tree, and the rustling
of the branches attracts the traveller's attention,


though he can catch only a momentary glimpse of
the acrobat.

Soon after our arrival in Molundu we heard that
owing to the difficulty of obtaining bearers in this
district, the Buea authorities were sending us from
the Ebolowa country a caravan of a hundred and fifty
men. This would have been a great help if we had
intended to travel rapidly in the direction of the coast,
but as we proposed to proceed as slowly as possible
through thinly populated districts offering special facili-
ties for collecting zoological and botanical specimens,
we began to wonder how we could possibly feed such
an army of bearers.

On the 3rd of December a messenger arrived from
Lieutenant Edler von der Planitz, the leader of the cara-
van, begging us to send boats to fetch the men from
the Dongo rapids, about forty miles above Molundu.
This the energetic governor of the station at once
agreed to do, and the very same day he set off up stream
with a flotilla of canoes, manned by the best Mi-Ssanga
rowers, both men and women. Ten days later he
returned to Molundu, accompanied by the leader of
the caravan, who related that he and his men had
had a most fatiguing march via Missum-Missum and
Eta, and that by the time they reached the Dongo
rapids their provisions were exhausted, so that the
relief party under Herr Koch was most welcome.
They had not been able to bring all the bearers by
water, as the additional canoes which Herr Koch
had hoped to pick up at some of the villages on the
way, were absent from home. But he succeeded in
shooting a hippopotamus and a large crocodile, and
thus supplied the men with meat. Two days later
the rest of the bearers reached Molundu, and the


excellent condition of all the men bore witness to the
careful management of their leader.

Our doubts as to what we should do with all these
men were resolved by the lieutenant's account of
his experiences, which left us no hesitation as to the
best course to pursue. The provisioning of his caravan
had been accomplished only by loading most of the
men with supplies of rice and stock fish, so we made
up our minds to take only fifty-five of the strongest
of the bearers, and to send back the remainder before
Christmas in charge of Lieutenant von der Planitz.

There was a large party for our Christmas celebrations,
including several " rubber lions," this being an ironical
nickname for the South Cameroon traders. As is
always the case in the tropics, we missed the true
Christmas spirit, inseparable as it is from the odour
of fir-trees and wintry weather. But we made the
warm still night resound with Christmas carols as we
stood round our Christmas tree that glittered with
lighted tapers.

Just about Christmas time the weather was particu-
larly sultry, although the heat was relieved at intervals
by typical tropical tornadoes, that came up from the
East with marvellous rapidity, driving before them
a cloud of swirling leaves, and darkening the sky until
the tree trunks showed white against the background
of inky clouds. (Illus. 101.) In spite of the frequent
downpours, the flooded fields began to dry up, exhaling
foul miasmas. Before the end of the year the Djah
had fallen twelve feet, and both bridges over the Lupi
were passable once more ; the forest swamps and
morasses, however, took much longer to dry up.

Now that we were supplied with bearers, there was
no further obstacle to our journey north. We had


planned to travel by easy stages to Yukaduma, and
thence, after making a short digression into the grassy
plains, to proceed due west towards the coast. Further,
we had decided that one of us should always remain
two or three days' march behind the other, each travel-
ling with his own baggage. By this means, whilst
waiting for the bearers to return and take up the
baggage of the second man, we should both of us have
time to explore the neighbourhood of each camping
ground. This plan had, of course, the disadvantage
of obliging the bearers to traverse each stage three

Mildbraed set out on one of the last days of the old
year, and proceeded to N'ginda in the Bangandu
district, which he had already explored early in
November. He was disappointed on reaching the
mouth of the Boke River, this neighbourhood having
been described to him as a most promising field for
botanical research. He found nothing but a barren
swamp, infested with tsetse flies, which made it almost
impossible to do any work.

Mildbraed was able to prolong his first stage, as I
still had a great deal of ethnological work to do in
Molundu. I had a long list of about a thousand
questions to be answered, entrusted to me by the
Hamburg ethnological museum, and which involved
more work than I had anticipated. Several hours,
and sometimes even a whole day, were required to
obtain accurate answers to some of these questions,
especially those regarding abstract subjects, although
Herr Koch, with his wide knowledge of his subordinates,
was of great assistance to me.

I had consequently but little tune for any other
research work, and I was forced to be content with


the zoological specimens brought me by my " boys,"
many of which proved most interesting. I have a
vivid recollection of- the occasion when one of the
natives brought in a hooded snake six feet in length,
Naja melanokuca, one of the most venomous of African
reptiles. Its head was held in a forked branch, and
there were some highly exciting moments while we
endeavoured to get it into a large jar of alcohol. At
length my Togo cook, with the most disconcerting
coolness, succeeded in killing the dangerous creature
in spite of its struggles.

My ethnological studies necessitated considerable
physical exertion, including long walks to the native
villages, and visits to distant farms and forest clearances,
where the large trunks destined for canoe building
were being hollowed out. Perhaps the most exhausting
work took place in the hot, stuffy bark houses (illus. 102),
long and low, and which were certainly not violet-scented.
Here I spent many hours sketching, or endeavouring,
often unsuccessfully, to extract from an old " medicine
man " his jealously guarded secrets. Meanwhile the
rain rattled on the roof, and the thick, stinging smoke,
for which there was no outlet, brought the tears to
my eyes and choked my lungs. And yet I have many
pleasant recollections of the hours spent in these
cannibal villages, sketch-book in hand, watching the
natives, busy at their various employments, or listening
to their narratives which betrayed a strange mixture
of truth and naive superstition.

Many of the latter recalled similar beliefs that I
had come across at home, for instance, that the hooting
of an owl is an omen of death. Other superstitions,
no less remarkable, explain the occasionally mysterious
behaviour of the natives. Their deeply-rooted terror


of Europeans may be attributed mainly to the belief
that the white men are ghosts, souls of departed
Mi-Ssangas, returned to life in a new guise. Many
supernatural powers are ascribed to us, and this idea
is nearly related to the belief that albinos are omniscient
" medicine men."

It is very difficult to obtain accurate information
regarding cannibalism, which is still occasionally
practised in secret, but upon which severe penalties
are imposed by the European authorities. Many
customs are so deeply rooted that they resist for
a long time the influence of civilization. Herr
Koch's small " boy," who bore the proud name of
" Commandant," had so far lapsed from the traditions
of his race that he looked down upon the people
of his own village with the utmost contempt, and
showed no compunction in addressing the old men as
" You nigger ! " Yet he was not to be dissuaded
from the disfiguring custom of sharpening the teeth,
and one day he had his splendid teeth filed to a point.
A Mi-Ssanga's idea of beauty will not permit him to
leave his teeth in their natural condition.

Like all negroes, the Mi-Ssangas displayed their
emotions principally in dancing, and I received the
best impression of their feelings and thoughts on the
occasion of a dancing festival held in honour of a
deceased woman.

These festivities took place in the broad street of
the village of Molundu, and began soon after sunset. We
had scarcely taken our places on our camp stools,
when by the dim light of a wood fire, the audience,
comprising almost all the villagers, arranged themselves
in a large semi-circle, leaving a space free for dancing.
The orchestra consisted of two drums, and a few notched


sticks which were drawn like violin bows across another
piece of wood ; in addition there was the hand-clapping
of the audience, and the jingling of the women's anklets.
The dancing displayed marvellous activity and grace,
and was executed mostly by women, alone or in
pairs. Frenzied movements from the hips, showing
wonderful elasticity and suppleness, were the most
striking part of all the dances. The children also
joined in the dancing, and displayed the same grace
and suppleness as their elders.

After a time the semi-circle of spectators and musicians
opened to admit a startling apparition, which was
greeted with enthusiastic applause. A woman stepped
into the circle of light formed by the flickering fire ;
she was slim, and perhaps somewhat withered, but her
body was whitened with kaolin, and her coquettish
dress made her look younger than she really was.
(Illus. 108.) She was clothed in a short skirt composed
of a number of raphia fibres, bunched out, and looking
something like the dress of a ballet dancer. On her
head she wore an erection of feathers, and round her
legs strings of fruit stones rattled as she moved. A
number of bracelets and anklets completed her attire,
which was most attractive, harmonizing perfectly
with her surroundings. Then began a dance, or rather
a series of dance figures, which in grace and frenzied
rapidity of movements far surpassed anything that
we had yet witnessed. (Illus. 106.) The Mi-Ssangas,
men and women alike, watched the performance with
glowing eyes, applauding enthusiastically after each
dance. The dancer was soon bathed in perspiration,
but she danced on indefatigably, introducing new
figures, whilst the applause grew ever louder, and
the drums kept up a deafening din. It was midnight


when we retired, after rewarding the chief performers,
but all night long the noise continued, ceasing only
with the approach of dawn.

The Pygmies were the most interesting people whose
acquaintance I made in Molundu ; we had noticed
them in a dark corner of the jungle on the banks of
the Djah, as we passed in the steamer. Ebayeggas,
or Bayeas, they call themselves, whilst the Congo
natives call them Bomanyoks, or elephant hunters.
It was a long time before I came into closer
contact with these dwarfs, for they spend their
time following elephant tracks up and down the

I paid a visit one day to the abandoned dwellings
of these jungle gipsies, not far from Molundu. It
had been occupied by the tribe which was in the habit
of supplying the villagers of Molundu with elephant
meat. There exists a kind of mutual compact between
the Bantus on the one hand, and the Pygmies on the
other, whereby the latter are supplied by the former
with fruit, hunting weapons, and various indispensable
trifles, in return for which they give up some of the
coveted elephant meat and ivory. There is no question
of the dwarfs being in subjection to the other tribes,
as some travellers have asserted. The Pygmies are
fully aware of their importance as providers of meat,
and it matters little to them which villages they supply,
since they are never in danger of cannibal attacks by
the inhabitants. There is such mutual confidence
between the Pygmies and the other native tribes, that
the former readily believe the horrors that are related
to them in connection with Europeans. This explains
the timidity of the Bomanyoks towards white men,
which is fostered by the cunning Bantus in their

109. Pygmy settlement near Molundu.

110. Pygmy playing on the Xylophone.

111. Pygmies from the neighbourhord of Molundu.

112. Pygmy women.


anxiety to keep the ivory and india-rubber trade in
their own hands.

In the abandoned Pygmy settlement I could examine
at my leisure the peculiar construction of these primitive
semi-circular huts, hidden away in the dark recesses
of the forest. (Illus. 109, 110.) Their shape reminded
me of the " pontoks " of the South African tribes :

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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 8 of 20)