Oliver Howard] [Wolfe.

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the death of a native by ripping up his stomach with a
blow from one of his sharp-pointed toes.

One very often finds ostrich feathers on the ground,
which have fallen off the wild birds. These the natives
pick up and use in their caps and in a good many orna-
ments of war. The meat of one of the ostriches I shot on
my first trip in 1906, when each sportsman was allowed
to kill two of these birds, was too tough to be palatable,
but it may be that the bird was a very old one. The legend
that the ostrich never sits upon its nest, or broods over its
eggs, is not true in the case of the East African ostrich at
least, for I have twice seen female ostriches on their nests,



each running away as soon as she became aware of me.
One ostrich nest in the upper Rift Valley contained not
less than eighteen huge eggs, nine of which were gathered
in one heap, over which the bird was brooding. The other
eggs, which evidently the mother bird could not cover,
had been kicked away from the nest proper and were lying
all around the same. The ostrich egg is not an unpalat-
able dish. Mr. Lang and I once had three hearty meals,
consisting chiefly of the contents of one single ostrich eggy
which is said to contain almost as much substance as two
dozen ordinary hen's eggs.

Another and still more common game bird in East
Africa is the guinea fowl, or " kanga," as the natives call
it. This bird represents here the pheasant family, and
seems to be spread all over the continent. Contrary to the
habits of the bustard, the guinea fowls always are together
in large flocks. I have repeatedly seen anywhere from
twenty to one hundred birds at one time on the north-
western plains of the Laikipia Plateau, and I once saw at
least two hundred to two hundred and fifty together. One
Saturday morning, after having discovered this enormous
flock of guinea fowl close to our camp the previous night,
I started out with a shotgun in hand just a little before
daybreak. Anxious to secure some of the birds for food
over Sunday, when I generally rested in camp, and closely
followed by only one man, I started in the direction
where we had seen the birds the evening before. We
had only gone a few hundred yards from camp when we
heard the whirring noise of the guinea fowl as they flew
up all around us. Just as I got the gun ready to fire I saw


A Pair of Fi.amingoks.

They became so tame that the author could walk up to them within a few

yards before they would stroll away, as seen in this picture.

Photographing a Charging Animal.


a regular cloud of the birds against the sky, into which
flock I fired twice at random, for it was not light enough
to take an accurate aim. Detailing two men to remain on
the place until after the sun had risen, and then to pick up
the birds that had been killed, we continued our trip for
the day. Imagine my surprise when, on returning to the
camp in the late afternoon, I found that the boys had
picked up not less than twelve birds, which formed a very
welcome and appetizing addition to our menu for Satur-
day night and Sunday.

There are several species of the guinea fowl in Africa,
most of them distinguished by quite a high and bony
helmet on top of the head and by stiff wattles, which stand
out at an angle of about forty-five degrees from the begin-
ning of the gap. The plumage of the common East Afri-
can guinea fowl is blackish blue with small, almost round,
white spots, while certain varieties have a couple of white
feathers in each wing. There also exists a species of
crested guinea fowl, although I was not fortunate enough
to secure any of them during my trips.

Among other very common game birds are the de-
licious wild geese and ducks of different kinds, abundant
in most of the rivers. Then the tiny snipe, and an in-
numerable number of quail, which sometimes succeed in
frightening the men as they go buzzing up like skyrockets
at their very feet. I never saw the men more surprised
than when I succeeded in shooting down these swift quail
before they had gotten more than a few yards away from
where they rose out of the grass. There are certainly
enough game birds in Africa to make this country a



veritable paradise for any man fond of bird hunting, and
when the great variety of beautiful winged creatures, like
the flamingo, the crested crane, the hornbill, and other
smaller birds, are taken into consideration. East Africa
constitutes a very interesting field for the ornithologist,
who, perhaps, does not care to hunt big game.



British East Africa is one of the most thinly popu-
lated districts of the Dark Continent, owing to the fact that
great stretches of the country consist of barren, arid lands,
and hundreds of square miles are nothing but deserts. On
the other hand, the country comprises many high plateaus
where there are hardly any people at all at the present
time, although in these regions, lying at an altitude of from
five thousand to eight thousand feet, there is plenty of
water, good grazing lands, and fine forests. These parts
of the country are particularly suitable for white settlers,
as they have a splendid climate all the year round.

The coast is quite densely populated by the Swahili
people, who for hundreds of years have been slaves of
Arab and Portuguese masters. This tribe belongs to the
great Bantu race of Negroes, which comprises most of the
peoples of the whole of Central, East, and West Africa.
The Swahili resembles greatly the common type of Negroes
that live in the United States. They have, as a rule, very
prominent cheek bones, heavy, thick, projecting lips, low
foreheads, and curly hair, which the men generally wear
short, sometimes shaving it into strange-looking figures.
The women have their hair made into exceedingly small
braids, which run like ridges along their heads, and some-



times end with a short " pigtail." Other women of the
same race do not braid their hair at all, but let it stand
out in big bunches all around the head.

These people have probably been taught by their early
masters to build better houses than the inland tribes. They
first put into the ground poles in a square or rectangle,
then fasten crossbeams on to these with ropes made from
creepers and tree bark, and, after having filled in with
smaller twigs and branches, so that the whole resembles
open basket work, they plaster the walls with clay or
mud, which makes the houses fairly rain and wind proof.
The roofs, sloping down at an angle of about forty-five
degrees, are thatched with coarse, long grass, and not
seldom covered on top with palm and banana leaves,
which often are put on fresh before the rainy season

When a Swahili couple go to housekeeping they cer-
tainly do not need a great many things, for the furniture
of the house generally consists of a roughly made bed
covered with boards, or with a network of bark ropes on
which is laid grass and banana leaves ; but " well-to-do "
Swahili people have begun to use the more comfortable
Hindoo bedsteads. One thing is sure : neither shoemakers,
tailors, nor dressmakers would be able to make a living
among these people, as they use very little covering, ex-
cept, perhaps, the " better class." The common Swahili
women only wear a little loin cloth and a cheap, brightly
colored piece of calico, which they throw over their
shoulders in much the same way as the East Indian
women. The children, both boys and girls, run around
naked during the first six or eight years, except in the



cities, where they are now compelled to wear some kind
of covering.

The men out in the country districts wear hardly any-
thing at all except a little loin cloth, but in the cities they
have adopted the Indian fashion of wearing muslin trou-
sers, looking much like pointed pyjamas, or else long night-
shirts, buttoned tightly around the neck and running down
as far as the ankles. If they can afford it they have these
shirts most beautifully embroidered. It is a strange-look-
ing scene to watch a couple of hundred men in these long
" nightshirts " coming out of a Mohammedan mosque, for
instance, but I have heard the men say — and I believe it —
that it is a most comfortable kind of clothing in a hot

\ On my way out to British East Africa the first time,
several of our fellow-passengers had described the Swahili
to me as such a bad people that, at the time, I could hardly
believe it possible. One of them, who had spent many
years in East Africa, said : " You will find the Swahili a
people composed mostly of lazy, lying thieves." I thought
this statement terrible, but now, after many months' ex-
perience among them, I regret to say that it is not very
much exaggerated, if at all. In the first place, as Moham-
medans, they do not consider it at all wrong to lie to all not
Mohammedans ; and in the second place they do not seem to
care even if they lie to their " own brethren." As to steal-
ing, they seem to think, like the Greeks of old, that it is " all
right " to do so as long as they are not caught. According
to my experience, they are by far the most corrupt as well
as the laziest of all the lazy inhabitants of British East
Africa; for if the Swahili has his own way he will do



nothing but eat and sleep, and, besides that, get his " fill "
of " tembo," the Swahili name for the native palm wine,
which is very intoxicating.

This palm wine is extracted in a most ingenious man-
ner from the flower stalks of the cocoanut tree in the fol-
lowing way: As soon as a cocoanut tree is about to burst
out with blossoms, they cut off the top of the flower stalk,
and, with the help of the fibers, gourds are tied over the
stalk and so fixed that the juice, which otherwise would
produce the cocoanut, is forced to run into the gourds.
These are then emptied as soon as they are full. A strong
tree with several flower stalks will probably produce about
two or three quarts a day. The contents of the gourds,
when filled with this delicious, sweet sap, are then put
away to ferment in the heat, and thus a very strong in-
toxicant is prepared. The beverage is exceedingly cheap,
and, alas ! only too much used by the natives.

The Swahilis are agriculturists, fishermen, common
laborers, and caravan porters; they also raise poultry,
partly for their own use and partly for trading purposes;
but very few of them have energy and pluck enough to
become merchants of any importance, like the Arabs and

When the young man wants to marry he has to buy
his bride from her parents for sums ranging from five to
one hundred dollars, according to her beauty and " station
in life." A man is allowed to keep several wives, if he can
afford to do so, for the government does not interfere in
this respect, as the Mohammedan religion allows its fol-
lowers to live in polygamy. It must be said, however, that
plural marriages among the Swahili are not as common


Typical Swahili House on the Coast.

Hut of the Njamus-Nasai near Bakingo.


to-day as they used to be, and where missionary influence
is predominant they are disappearing altogether.

The Swahili young man can, if he has not all the ready
cash necessary for buying his bride, do so on the " install-
ment plan," if her father thinks that he is reliable enough
to pay his debts. One of the gun bearers I employed had
thus bought his wife, still owing his father-in-law seventy-
five rupees, or twenty-five dollars. As he had not paid this
at the stated time, the father-in-law went to Nairobi and
took his daughter away in spite of her tears and protests,
but he was honest enough to deposit the money, already
paid for her, with the firm which had secured the gun
bearer for me.

Farther back from the coast lives the Wanika tribe,
which cultivates the ground to a certain extent, keeps
herds of sheep and goats, and has a great many chickens.
These people are also very fond of hunting, and they are
said to be quite successful in killing even big game with
bows and arrows. They live in grass huts in small com-
munities, only two or three families building together, and
when they are tired of one place, they simply pull up their
stakes and move to another. Most of the men of this
race go entirely naked, and the women wear nothing but
a small, shirtlike loin cloth of either muslin, or skin,
whereas the children run around in their ** Adamitic "

Higher up the Uganda Railroad, after the great unin-
habited Taru Desert has been crossed, live, on both sides
of the line, the Wateita people, who are both herdsmen
and agriculturists. In former days these people were quite
wealthy; but, partly owing to the raids of the warlike



Masai, and perhaps chiefly as a result of the terrible rind-
erpest, which took away thousands upon thousands of
their cattle, and caused almost whole villages to die from
starvation, they have now been reduced to comparative
poverty. The Wateita people resemble very much the
Wanika, but all their houses or huts are perfectly round,
built of sticks and grass, and always clustered picturesquely
together on the hilltops, where, in warlike times, it was
more easy for them to defend themselves against their
enemies. They belong to the great Bantu race, and live,
very much like the inhabitants of the rest of the country,
in polygamy, and in gross ignorance and superstition.

Northeast of the railroad, and farther inland, the trav-
eler meets the industrious and courageous Wakamba
people, who often successfully withstood the savage at-
tacks of the Masai. The men of this tribe frequently used
to file their teeth into sharp points, to appeal better to the
weaker sex, but this makes them look very ugly and wild.
Their chief weapon is a long swordlike knife, and bows
and arrows, which latter they understand how to dip in a
skillfully prepared and most deadly vegetable poison. Any
man or beast even slightly scratched by one of these
arrows will die in a very short time, as there is said to
exist no means as yet discovered to neutralize the fatal
effect of this poison.

The women are very lightly dressed, and they do not
seem to wear any cloth at all, this being replaced by pieces
of goat skin, which they understand how to make as
soft as kid gloves. Of these skins they wear only two
pieces ; the one serves as a loin cloth, and the other is tied
over the shoulder. The Wakamba are agriculturists, and



have a good many cattle and fowls. They make good
workmen, and some of the best caravan porters we had
belonged to this tribe.

Following the railroad northwest of Nairobi the Ki-
kuju territory begins, and, according to the statement
of a gentleman who had been in this country many years,
the splendid Kikuju race is probably destined to become
predominating in the interior of British East Africa; for
they are a great deal more industrious, clever and enter-
prising than any of the tribes of which I have spoken.

The Kikujus also live in round houses with thatched
roofs, but the under part of these are made of solid boards
of wood, generally cut from the cedar, which here grows
in great abundance. The roof projects away out from the
walls, and so far down that a tall man has hard work to
crawl into his hut, the sides of which, in this way, are well
protected against both rain and sun. The roof is sup-
ported by wooden poles, which run in double rows, cross-
ing each other in such a way as to form a square in the
middle, under which is the open fireplace. On each side of
the entrance these poles divide the hut into three parts;
the middle, and larger one, is taken up by the rude bed
made of a big, slanting board, supported by poles about
three feet from the ground ; the room nearest the entrance
is used as a storeroom for cooking pots, milk gourds, and
so forth, whereas the other compartments contain the
small, or sick, sheep and goats at night.

The Kikujus also live in polygamy. We heard of one
man, a great chief, who had over one hundred wives.
Each wife has her own house, but the first wife is the
" boss " of the others. The male children are, as a rule,



kept in the father's hut; but the girls Hve with their re-
spective mothers. It is a strange thing that if a " well-to-
do " man has only one wife, she will give him no rest until
he has taken at least one more. This for the selfish reason
that as long as she is the only wife she has to do all the
work alone, as her husband could not keep any female
servants. But if the man has two or more wives the work
is divided among them, and the old " mamma " has the
upper hand over the rest. The men themselves do not, as
a rule, care to work in gardens or to carry wood and
water, or milk the cows, but they herd the cattle, work as
porters, and like to fight.

The chief arms of the Kikuju are a splendid knifelike
sword called " panga," his knob stick, long spear, and his
bow with poisoned arrows. The knob stick is one single
piece of hard wood, cut thin at one end and then gradually
increasing in size until it measures from ten to fifteen
inches in circumference at the club end. These heavy
weapons are most powerful, and men have told me that
they have killed both human enemies and dangerous ani-
mals, such as leopards and even lions, with a single blow
of the deadly knob stick. They are also experts in using
their long, heavy spears, and are very clever with their
bows. They secure the poison for the arrows by boiling
the leaves and young shoots of a certain tree for a long
time and then dip the arrows in the thick sediment. The
fruit of this tree is perfectly delicious, and, strange to say,
absolutely harmless to eat, being enjoyed greatly by both
men and elephants. It resembles a small plum and is,
when ripe, very juicy and of a rich purple color.

From time immemorial the Kikuju race, which in-



habits the highlands in the center of the Protectorate, has
had frequent wars with the Masai tribe of the plains.
Sometimes the Masai would be victorious, and carry away
a great many cattle, sheep, and women from the Kikuju,
but at other times they would be beaten, and the Kikujus
would make up their former loss from the large Masai
possessions. But of late these race wars and raids have,
through the influence of the British government, fortu-
nately entirely stopped.

The Kikuju people, both men and women, are very
fond of wearing all sorts of ornaments in their ears. They
cut the lobe of the ear, when the child is young, and insert
heavy rings, or even stones, for the purpose of extending
the lobe, until it finally widens so much that some of them
succeed in putting in rings of wood or ivory the diameter
of which is anywhere from six to eight inches. Besides
this they make holes in the upper part of the ear and insert
there pieces of wood or bamboo in such a way that these
sticks very much resemble the ribs of an open fan. Both
men and women wear bracelets of brass or iron wire, as
well as necklaces of the same kind of material, and strings
of glass beads. Anything may serve as a necklace for the
Kikuju. Some, for instance, make them by putting on
a string, or sinew of an animal, alternately the round
roots of a little tree, and the hollow bones of birds, cut
into equal lengths. Other ornaments are made of nuts
and fruit pits, which are strung together in the same

As loin ornaments the men wear a heavy brass wire
from which numerous little iron or brass chains, varying
from three to six inches in length, hang down. The
18. 253


women of " society " wear as similar decorations wide
bead girdles, generally finished off by a string of shells.
A stylish Kikuju girl is not even satisfied with all these
things, for she wears, besides the just-mentioned orna-
ments, a number of diadems of beads around her head,
heavy brass wire wound around the legs just below the
knees, and, as long as she is unmarried, ankle rings of
either brass or iron, on which again are strung numbers
of heavy smaller rings, so that a "smart " Kikuju
" society " woman — for such these are — wears ornaments
of a total weight of from five to eight pounds, if not more.

The Kikuju houses are just about as " well furnished "
as those of the previously mentioned tribes, the only addi-
tion being small wooden stools on three legs, cut out in
one piece from the trunk of a cedar tree. A young Kikuju
man has to buy his bride for the price of so many oxen,
sheep and goats, ranging in value from five to one hun-
dred and fifty dollars, according to her "beauty," strength,
and grade of " society." The girl herself is generally not
even asked whether or not she likes the man to whom she
is going to be married. There have been many examples
of liberty-loving Kikuju women killing themselves rather
than become the wives of men they disliked.

Not very long ago a young Kikuju girl was sold by
her father to a horrible old chief who already had over
forty wives. She objected to this marriage, being already
in love with a young but poor man, who for some time
served in our caravan, but her objection was of no avail.
Finally, when she heard that the old chief had already
paid her price in live stock and was now coming to take
her home by force, she ran away to the mission station in



Kijabe and implored the aid of the missionaries to save
her from the brutal chief.

One day the parents succeeded in kidnaping their
daughter from the mission station. Suddenly heartrend-
ing cries were heard from the bushes not far away, and
running there one of the lady missionaries saw how the
girl was being mercilessly beaten by her cruel parents and
others, who tried to take her away by force. Instantly this
courageous young American girl rushed at the assailants,
grabbed the victim, and, tearing her away from the kid-
napers, brought her back to the mission house, where she
then was closely guarded.

The rascally old chief had, however, made up his mind
to get the girl at any cost. He therefore applied to Nairobi
for aid, and, strangely enough, the government supported
him, and ordered the girl to be delivered to the chief, as he
had already paid for her according to the law of his tribe.
The missionaries now interviewed both the father of the
girl and the old chief, and through their influence it was
arranged that the father should return the cattle to the
chief, who promised to leave the girl alone. In the mean-
time the young lover had been working hard so as to be
able to buy his bride, and he succeeded finally with the
help of others in bringing the required number of cattle
and sheep to her father, after which the happy couple were
married according to Kikuju rites.

Farther up along the line, in the Rift Valley, and on
the Laikipia Plateau, live the Masai, who are perhaps the
most intelligent and courageous people of East Africa,
although extremely lazy and insolent. There has been a
great deal of speculation as to the origin of this tribe,



which a great many people have held to be a mixture of
Negro and Ethiopian, but recent discoveries, however,
have led to the almost certain conclusion that they belong
to the Semitic race. Captain Merker, who has studied the
Masai as has no one else, is of the opinion that they have
the same origin as the Hebrew race of herdsmen, from
whom the Masai have inherited a great many customs and
ceremonies still in vogue. Some of the Masai men we met
really made us think of the old patriarchs; especially a
couple of chiefs, who had such pronounced Hebraic fea-
tures that it was not difficult to believe that the Masai and
the Israelites had sprung from a common ancestry.
Among other things that seem to prove this, is the fact
that the Masai, although having lived for centuries among
idolatrous and polytheistic peoples, still adhere strictly to
the monotheistic belief ; further, they make a kind of aton-
ing sacrifice, and all of their men above a certain age are
circumcised in the same manner as the Jews.

^ The Masai tribe appear to be the most independent and
liberty-loving of all African peoples. A young warrior
would rather be killed than work as a slave, or even be

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Online LibraryOliver Howard] [WolfeBack log and pine knot; a chronicle of the Minnisink hunting and fishing club → online text (page 18 of 26)