Paul Belloni Du Chaillu.

Stories of the gorilla country online

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We lay down under shelter of a bush and watched.
As yet, none of the animals had corne out of the water.
We could hear them in the distance splashing about in
the water, their subdued snort -like roars breaking in
upon the stillness of the night in a very odd way. It
was the only noise we heard no, I can not say the only
noise, for the musquitoes were busily buzzing around
and feeding upon us, taking advantage apparently of
our anxiety to keep perfectly quiet.

The moon was nearly down, and the watch was get-
ting tedious, when I was startled by a sudden groan.
Peering into the distance, I saw dimly a huge animal
looking doubly monstrous in the uncertain light. It
was quietly eating grass, which it seemed to nibble off
quite close to the ground.

There was another bush between us and our prey, and
we crawled up to this in dead silence. Arrived there,
we were but about eight yards from the great beast.
How terrible he looked ! The negroes who hunt the
hippopotami are sometimes killed ; I thought that one
of us might be killed also. The animal, if only wound-
ed, turns savagely upon his assailants, and experience
has taught the negro hunters that the only safe way to
approach him is from behind. He can not turn quick-
ly, and thus the hunter has a chance to make good his
escape. This time we could not get into a very favora-
ble position ; but I dtermined to have my shot neverthe-
less, eight yards being a safe killing distance, even with
so poor a light as we had at this time.

We watched the hippopotamus intently, looking at
each other as if to say, " Are you ready ?" We then
raised our guns slowly. Igala and I both took aim.


He fired, and, without waiting to see the result, ran
away as swiftly as a good pair of legs could carry him.
I was not quite ready, but fired the moment after him,
and before I could get ready for running (in which I
had not Igala's practice) I saw there was no need for it.
The beast tottered for a moment, and fell over with a
booming sound dead.

This closed our night sport, as none of the herd would
come this way while their companion lay there. So we
returned home. Poor Igala remonstrated with me for
not running as he did. It appears that running was
considered one of the chief accomplishments of the hip-
popotamus hunter. Our good luck created great joy in
the village where meat was scarce. The men went out
at daylight and brought the flesh home. Basket after
basket came in, and as each one arrived all shouted
except those who did not eat the hippopotamus. It is
roonda for them. Some of their ancestry had a long
time ago given birth to a hippopotamus, and if they were
to eat any, more births of hippopotami would come to
them, or they would die. These shouted, " I wish he had
killed a bullock instead of a hippopotamus."

The meat does not taste unlike beef, but was not so
red. It is rather coarse-grained, and in the case of this
animal it was not fat. It makes a welcome and whole-
some dish. I tried to have some steaks ; I must say they
were rather tough, and did not go down easily. The
broth was better, and I enjoyed it very much. There
was something novel in having hippopotamus soup.

I have killed a good many hippopotami. It is a very
clumsily built, unwieldy animal, remarkable chiefly for
its enormous head, whose upper jaw seemed to be mova-


ble, like the crocodile's, and for its disproportionately
short legs. The male is much larger than the female ;
indeed, a full-grown male sometimes attains the bulk,
though not the height, of the elephant. In the larger
specimens the belly almost sweeps the ground as they

The feet are curiously constructed to facilitate walk-
ing among the reeds and mud of the river bottom, and
swimming with ease. The hoof is divided into four
short, apparently clumsy and unconnected toes ; and
they are able, by this breadth of foot, to walk rapidly
even through the mud. I have seen them make quick
progress, when alarmed, in water so deep that their backs
were just at the surface.

The color of the skin is a clayey yellow, assuming a
roseate hue under the belty. In the grown animal the
color is a little darker. The skin of an adult hippopota-
mus is from one and a half to two inches thick on the
middle of the back. It is devoid of hair, with the ex-
ception of a few short bristly hairs in the tail, and a
few scattered tufts, of four or five hairs each, near the
muzzle. .

All along the Fernand-Yaz there were scattered herds
of hippopotami, and I used to watch them from my
house. I could see them at any time during the day.
After they have chosen a spot, they like to remain there
day after day, and month after month, unless they are
disturbed, or their food becomes scarce. These animals
consort together in herds of from two to thirty. They
choose shallows in the rivers, where the depth of the
water allows them to have their whole body submerged
when standing. There they remain all day, swimming


off into the deep places, diving for their grassy food, or
gamboling in the waves. From time to time they throw
up a stream of water two or three feet high. This is
done with a noise like blowing, and it is doubtless an
effort to get breath. It is pleasant to watch a herd peace-
fully enjoying themselves, particularly when they have
two or three young ones among them. Some of the lit-
tle fellows look very small, and are comically awkward.
They chase each other about the shoals or play about
their dams ; and I have often seen them seated on the
back of their mother in the water. How careful their
mothers seemed to be when they were swimming about,
and carrying their young in the way I have described.
It is a sight worth seeing ; sometimes the whole herd of
liippopotami will disappear for a long time under the

They prefer parts of the rivers where the current is
not very swift, and are therefore to be found in all the
lakes of the interior. They prefer to be near grass-fields.
They are very fond of a particular kind of coarse grass
which grows on these prairies, and will travel considera-
ble distances to find it. They always return, however,
before daylight. Their path overland is very direct.
Neither rocks, nor swamps, nor bushes can prove formi-
dable obstacles to a water beast of such bulk. I have
seen their path lie through the thickest woods. Unless
much pursued and harassed, they are not much afraid of
man. If troubled by hunters they move their encamp-
ment, or go into countries where they can be more quiet.

Some of their favorite grass was growing on a h'ttle
plain at the back of my house, and several times I found
liippopotami tracks not more than fifty yards from the


house. They had not feared to come as near as this ;
though probably, if the wind had been blowing toward
them, they would have avoided the place.

They always choose a convenient landing-place, where
the bank has a long and easy incline. This landing-place
they use till they have eaten up all the provender which
can be found in that vicinity. Before going ashore, they
watch for an hour, and sometimes for two hours, near the
landing, remaining very quiet themselves, and listening
for danger. The slightest token of the hunter's presence,
or any other suspicious appearances on such occasions,
will send them away for that night. If no danger ap-
pears they begin to wander ashore in twos or 'threes. I
never saw more than three of a herd grazing together ;
and, during their stay ashore, they place more depend-
ence on their ears than on their eyes. I have watched
them closely in many hunts, and I am sure that the beast
walks along with his eyes nearly shut.

When playing in the water, this animal makes a noise
very much resembling the grunt of a pig. This grunt
it utters also when alarmed by the approach of man.
When enraged, or suddenly disturbed, it utters a kind of
groan a hoarse sound which can be heard at a con-
siderable distance. They are quite combative among
themselves, as you have seen in the case of the fight I
have described.






ONE fine day, as I was quietly seated in my bam-
boo house, reading over, for the fiftieth time, the letters
of the dear friends who had not forgotten me, and were
so kind as to remember me in my wandering life in Af-
rica, my attention was suddenly drawn away by the
singing of numerous voices coming down the river.
Soon afterward there stood before me, accompanied by
Ranpano, a tall, venerable-looking, and slender negro of
noble but savage bearing ; he was evidently, I thought,
a chief; there was something commanding about his
countenance. He was not very dark. The people who
came with him showed him great respect. This tall
negro was Quengueza, the great king of the Rembo, and
the sovereign of the whole up-river country of the Rem-
bo and Ovenga, the head waters of the Fernand-Vaz.

He came down in considerable state in three canoes,
with three of his favorite wives, and about one hundred
and thirty men.

My little black boy, Macondai, brought him a chair,
and after he had seated himself I saluted him, according
to the usual custom, by saying "Mbolo." After a few


seconds he said " Ai." Then he paused a little while,
and said " Mbolo," to which I replied " Ai." This is
the usual mode of salutation in the Commi country, the
host beginning first.

He looked at me and seemed very much astonished.
He said he expected to see a tall and stout man. He
had heard of me as a great hunter. He was now con-
vinced, he said, that I must have a brave heart to hunt
as I did.

Fortunately, Quengueza and I could talk together, the
Commi being his native language.

He told me there were plenty of gorillas and nshiegos
in his country, and that, if I would come, I should have
liberty and protection to hunt and do what I pleased.
No one would hurt my people, or Ranpano's people, or
myself, or any body, added he, with emphasis, that should
come with me.

I liked the old king at first sight, but I little guessed
then that he would afterward become so fond of me, and
that I should love him so much. Yes, I shall remember
my good friend Quengueza as long as I live. Though he
is a poor heathen, his heart was full of love for me, and
he possessed many manly and noble qualities.

I was so much pleased with King Quengueza's visit
that I sent the kind-hearted old fellow off with his ca-
noes full of presents of iron bars, brass rods, chests, etc. ;
and I gave him goods on trust with which to buy me
ebony. He promised me great sport, and an introduc-
tion to some tribes of whom these Commi men of the
sea-shore knew nothing.

To do him greater honor, my people fired a salute as
he started off, with which he was highly delighted, as an


African is sure to be with noise. He did not go before
making me promise to come and see him as soon as the
rainy season arrived.

The dry season was now setting in. It was the first I
had spent in the Commi country, and I devoted the whole
month of July to exploring the country along the sea-
shore, between the Fernand-Vaz and the sea.

There was quite a change. The birds, which were so
abundant during the rainy season, had taken their leave ;
and other birds, in immense numbers, flocked in to feed
on the fish, which now leave the sea-shore an(J the bare
of the river's mouth, and ascend the river to spawn.
Fish, particularly mullet, were so abundant in the river
that two or three times, when I took my evening airing
on the water in a flat upper-river canoe, enough mullet
would leap into the boat to furnish me a breakfast the
next day. The quantity of fish in the shallow water was

The breakers on the shore, never very light, were now
frightful to see. The coast was rendered inaccessible by
them even to the natives, and the surf increased to such
a degree, even at the mouth of the river, that it was
difficult, and often impossible, to enter with a canoe.
Strong winds from the south prevailed, and, though the
sky was constantly overcast, not a drop of rain fell. The
thermometer fell sometimes early in the morning to 64
of Fahrenheit, and I suffered from cold, as did also the
poor natives. The grass on the prairie was dried up or
burnt over; the ponds were dried up; only the woods
kept their resplendent green.

I was often left alone "in that great prairie with my
cook and my little boy Macondai, and a dear little boy


he was. I felt perfectly safe among the good Commi. I
always had tried to do right with them, and I had reap-
ed my reward. They loved me, and any one who should
have tried to injure me would have no doubt been put
to death or exiled from the country. I shall always re-
member my little village of Washington and the good
Gommi people. When perchance I got a chill, the
whole village was in distress. No one was allowed to
talk loud, and every one would call during the day, and
sit by me with a sad face for hours without saying a
word, and, when they went away, they all expressed their
sorrow to see me ill. The kind women would bring me
wild fruits, or cold water from the spring, in which to
bathe my burning and aching head ; and sometimes tears
would drop from their eyes and run down their kind
black faces.

At this season the negroes leave their villages and
work on their plantations. The women gathered the
crop of ground-nuts which had been planted the preced-
ing rainy season, while the men cut down the trees for
the plantations of the coming year, or built canoes, or
idled about, or went fishing. Some of their farms are
necessarily at some distance off. The sandy prairie is
not fit to cultivate, being, in fact, only a deposit of the
sea, which must have taken an incalculable period of
time to form.

Birds flocked in immense numbers on the prairies,
whither they come to hatch their young ; especially later
in the season, when the ugly marabouts, from whose
tails our ladies get the splendid feathers for their bon-
nets, were there in thousands ; and I can assure you they
were not very easy to approach. I believe the marabout



is the ugliest bird I ever saw, and one would never dream
that their beautiful feathers are found only under the
tail, and can hardly be seen when the bird is alive.

Pelicans waded on the river banks all day in prodig-
ious swarms, and gulped down the luckless fish which
came in their way. I loved to see them swimming about
in grave silence, and every now and then grabbing up a
poor fish with their enormous long and powerful bills.
If not hungry, they left the fish in their huge pouches,
till sometimes three or four pounds of reserved food
awaited the coming of their appetite. This pouch, you
see, performed the office of a pocket, where boys, when
not hungry, keep their apples in reserve.

On the sandy islands were seen now and then flocks
of the Ibis religiosa, the sacred Ibis of the Egyptians.
They looked exactly like those that are found mummi-
fied, and which have been preserved several thousand
years. They are very curious-looking birds; the head
and neck have no feathers. I have tried to find their
nests, but never succeeded.

Ducks of various kinds built their nests in every creek
and on every new islet that appeared with the receding
waters. Some of them were of beautiful plumage.

Cranes, too, and numerous other water-fowls flocked in,
and every day brought with it new birds. They came,
by some strange instinct, from far-distant lands, to feed
upon the vast shoals of fish which literally filled the river.
I wondered if many of these birds had come from the
Nile, the Niger, the Zambesi from the interior of Africa
where no one had ever penetrated, and from the vast
plains of South Africa. What great travelers some of
these birds must be ! I envied them, and often wished


I could fly away, supported by their wings. What coun-
tries I should have seen ! what curious people I should
have looked at ! and how many novel things I should
have found to recount to you.

Along the trees bordering the river, sometimes perched
on their highest branches, sometimes hidden in the midst
of them, I could see that most beautiful eagle, the Gy-
pohierax angolensis, called coungou by the natives.
This eagle is of a white and black color. He often
watches over the water. How quickly his keen eyes can
see through it ! and with what rapidity he darts at his
prey ! Then, seizing it in his powerful talons, which sink
deep into it, he rises into the air, and goes where he can
devour it undisturbed. These eagles attack large fish.
They generally make them blind, and then gradually suc-
ceed in getting them ashore, though it is hard work for
them. They have a luxurious time on the Fernand-Vaz
River during the dry season, and are very numerous.
They build their nests on the tops of the highest trees,
and come back to them every year. These nests are ex-
actly like those you have seen, only larger. They keep
very busy when their young begin to eat. The male and
female are then continually fishing. Strange to say,
they are very fond of the palm-oil nuts. In the season
when these are ripe, they are continually seen among the

No wonder these eagles grab fish so easily, they have
such claws ! One day, as one passed over my head, I
shot him, and, thinking that he was quite dead, I took him
up, when suddenly, in the last struggle for life, his talons
got into my hands. I could have dropped down from
pain. Nothing could have taken the claws away ; one


of them went clear through my hand, and I shall proba-
bly keep the mark of it all my life.

On the sea-shore I sometimes caught a bird called the
Sula ca/pensis, which had been driven ashore by the
treacherous waves to which it had trusted itself, and
could not, for some mysterious reason, get away again.

Finally, every sand-bar was covered with gulls, whose
shrill screams were heard from morning till night, as
they flew about greedily after their tinny prey.

It was a splendid opportunity for sportsmen, and I
thought of some of my friends. As for myself, I took
more delight in studying the habits of the birds than in
killing them, and I assure you I had a very delightful
time. I love dearly the dry season in Africa. I am sure
you would have enjoyed it quite as much as I did. if you
had been there with me.





ONE fine morning there was a great bustle on the banks
of the river at "Washington, where two canoes were load-
ing. I was about to start on another expedition. I called
King Rampano and his people together, and gave them
charge of my property; I declared that if any thing
was stolen during my absence I should surely punish the

They all protested that I need not even lock the doors
of my house ; and I believed them. The Biagano people
loved me, and did not steal from me.

Then I counted my ten goats in their presence, and
said that I wanted no leopard stories told me when I


came back. At this they shouted and laughed. They
declared that neither they nor the leopards should touch
my goats.

I counted the fowls, and told them I wanted no snake
stories about them. Another hearty laugh, and they all
shouted that no snakes should gobble up my fowls. These
matters having been satisfactorily arranged, I started with
my canoes and a well-armed crew.

I was bound again for Lake Anengue, where I had been
a few months before. It was now the dry season. We
had armed ourselves well, for fear we might be interrupt-
ed, as some people came up this way to make plantations
during the dry season, and might dispute our advance ; I
determined to let no man bar the road to me.

The dry season was at its height, and I found the
Npoulounay shallower than before. There was about
fifteen feet less depth of water in the Ogobai during the
dry season than there was in the rainy season. At this
time the river was covered with muddy or sandy islands,
many of which were left dry. The muddy islands were
covered with reeds, among which sported the flamingo, a
bird not seen here in the rainy season.

We pulled hard all day, and slept the first night on a
sandy island of the Ogobai River, under our musquito-
nets, of which I had laid in a store. These nets, which
the natives also use, are made of grass cloth, which comes
from the far interior, and does very well outdoors, where
it keeps out the dew as well as the musquitoes, and pro-
tects the sleeper against the cold winds which prevail.

The next morning when I awoke, I saw, for the first
time, a fog in this part of Africa ; it was very thick, but
the sun drove it off. I sent out my fishing-net, and in a


few minutes the men caught fish enough for supper and

After our breakfast of fish and plantain, we paddled
on up the stream. Though we had seen a few villages,
we had not met a single canoe on the water, and nothing
human except a corpse that came down the river, and
ran against our canoe. It was probably the body of some
poor wretch who had been drowned on account of witch-
craft. The hands and feet were tied, so that when they
threw him into the water he could not swim.

Finally we entered the Anengue ; but this river, we
found, was entirely changed since May. Then it was a
deep, swift stream. Now its surface was dotted with
numberless black mud islands, on which swarmed in-
credible numbers of crocodiles. We actually saw many
hundreds of these disgusting monsters sunning them-
selves on the black mud, and slipping off into the water
to feed. I never saw such a horrible sight. Many were
at least twenty feet long ; and when they opened their
frightful mouths they seemed capable of swallowing our
little canoes without trouble. I wondered what would
become of us all if, perchance, our canoe should capsize.

I determined to have a shot at these crocodiles, which
seemed nowise frightened at our approach. Making my
men paddle the boat quite near to them, I singled out the
biggest, and lodged a ball in his body, aiming at the joints
of his fore legs, where the thick armor is defective. He
tumbled over, and after struggling in the water for a mo-
ment, sank into the mud. His companions turned their
hideous snaky eyes down at liim in momentary surprise,
but did not know what to make of it, and dropped back
to their sluggish comfort. I shot another, but he sank


also, and as my men did not like to venture into the
black rnud after them, we got neither.

As we ascended the stream it branched off in several
places, and became gradually narrower. Crocodiles were
seen every where. At length we found ourselves push-
ing laboriously along through a deep crooked ditch, not
more than two yards wide, and overhung with tall reeds,
on which a great number of birds balanced themselves,
as though enjoying our dilemma. We found this time,
to my surprise, a tremendous current running. In May,
the water of the lake had overflowed its shores, and its
regular outlets had therefore no great pressure upon
them. Now this outlet was choked with water, which
rushed through at such a rate that, at some of the turns
in the crooked channel, we were actually swept back sev-
eral times before we could make our way ahead. At one
point, where the true outlets joined, we could not pass till
I made the men smoke their condouquai, a long reed
pipe, which seems to give them new vigor ; I also gave
them a sup of my brandy. This done, they gave a great
shout, and pushed through, and in an hour after we
emerged into the lake, but not without tremendous ex-

We now lay on our paddles and gazed about us. On
one side the lake is bounded by hills which come close
down to the shore ; on the other side the lulls recede,
and between them and the water lies a dreary extent of
low marsh, covered with reeds. Several towns were in

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Online LibraryPaul Belloni Du ChailluStories of the gorilla country → online text (page 13 of 18)