Monkeys and their Bird Friends
Return to the Ovenga river.—The monkeys and their friends the birds.—They live together.—Watch by moonlight for game.—Kill an oshengui.
After wandering through the forest for many days, we reached once more the banks of the River Rembo Ovenga, the waters of which had fallen twelve or fifteen feet, for we are in the dry season. The numerous aquatic birds and waders which come with the dry weather give the river a lively, pleasant appearance. The white sand which lines many parts of the shore is beautiful. The mornings are cool, and sometimes foggy. The dark green of the well-wooded banks had something grand about it. I, poor and lonely traveler, had a charming scene before me. The stream is still yellow, but far less so than in the rainy season. Then the rains were driving down a turbulent tide laden with mud washed down from the mountains and valleys; now the waters roll on placidly, as though all was peace and civilization on their borders.
New birds had come. The otters were plentiful, and fed on the fish that were thick in the stream.
In that great jungle beasts had been scarce for some time, and we had a hard time to get food.
But what a glorious time we had by ourselves in that forest! Oh how I enjoyed rambling in that jungle, though toiling hard, and often hungry and sick! How glad I always was when I returned to the banks of the Rembo Ovenga! I loved that river, for I knew that its waters, as they glided down, would disappear in that very ocean whose waves bathed the shores of both the Old and the New World. At times, when seated on its banks, I could not help it, I would think of friends absent, but dear to me. I remembered those I loved—I remembered the boys and girls who were slowly but surely growing men and women, but who were still young folks in my memory, though years were flying fast. The lad of the jungle had become a man also; his mustache had made its appearance, and had grown a good deal; his face had become older—probably he found it so when perchance he gazed in the looking-glass he carried with him. Disease, anxiety, sleepless nights, and traveling under the burning sun had begun to do their work; but, in despite of all, my heart was still young, and I loved more than ever those friends I had left behind.
I had come back to Obindji to see if I could get some plantains or smoked cassada, and then intended to return to the woods in search of new animals and new insects. King Obindji welcomed me, and was delighted to see Malaouen, Querlaouen, and Gambo once more, and his wives got food ready for us. Then we started again for the forest. I took with me lots of small shot of different sizes for birds, and once more we would get lost in the jungle, but from time to time we would come back to the uninhabited banks of the wild Ovenga to look at our river.
One day, wandering in the forest, I spied a queer-looking bird I had not seen before, and I immediately got ready to chase it. This bird was called by the natives the monkey-bird (Buceros albocrystatus).
As I was looking at that queer bird I spied a monkey, two monkeys, three monkeys, four, five, six, ten monkeys. These monkeys looked very small, and were called oshengui by the natives. Then I saw more of the queer birds, and lo! I perceived they were all playing with these little monkeys—yes, playing with these oshenguis.
Strange indeed they looked, with their long-feathered tail, queer-looking body, and strange big beak. They followed those little monkeys as they leaped from branch to branch; sometimes I thought they would rest on the backs of the monkeys, but no, they would perch close to them, and then the monkey and the bird would look at each other. I never heard a note from the birds—they were as silent as the trees themselves. The oshengui would look at them and utter a kind of kee, kee, kee, and then they would move on, and the birds would follow.
Day after day I would meet those birds, and then I would look for the monkeys, and was sure to see them. No wonder they are called the monkey-bird. But then I never saw them follow any monkeys but the oshengui. I wondered why they followed them; I could not imagine the reason. I never saw them resting on the birds, but I noticed that these birds were fond of the fruits and berries the oshneguis feed upon. Then the question arose, Did the birds follow the monkeys, or the monkeys the birds? I came to the conclusion that the birds followed the monkeys, whom they could hear telling them, as it were, where they could get food without searching for it.
I tried to discover where these birds made their nests, but never found one in the country of the Rembo.
Now let us come to their companions, the monkeys. How small are these oshenguis! They are the smallest monkeys of that part of Africa. Their color was of a yellowish tinge; they had long, but not prehensile tails, for the monkeys with prehensile tails are found in America. It is a frolicsome and innocent little animal. Strange to say, the common people, who eat all kinds of monkeys, would not eat that one—why, I could not tell. His cry is very plaintive and sad, and is not heard far off, like the cry of other monkeys. As sure as you live, when you meet them hopping about the branches overhead, you may say that water is not far off. They always sleep on trees whose branches overhang a water-course. They all sleep on the same tree. How queer they look, with their tails hanging down! To see the mother carrying her young, and the young clinging to the mother, is a sight worth seeing, for these baby monkeys do not look bigger than rats, and, when quite young, not much bigger than large mice. Strange to say, though very young monkeys can not walk, from the very day they are born they seem to be able to cling with their hands to the breast of their mother; for young monkeys must help themselves, or they would drop to the ground.
So we may say that the oshengui and the monkey-bird are almost inseparable friends, and we must let them wander in the great jungle in search of their food while we look for other birds and animals.
There were also in the forest several varieties of tiger cat, the name of which is very similar to that of the little monkeys, the oshengui, I have just spoken to you about.
There are several species of these cats, but I am going to speak to you of the Genetta Fieldianza. You will say, "What a queer name!" Not at all. I have told you that I often remembered him in Africa, and I named this animal after my friend, Mr. Cyrus W. Field. I described this animal in the proceedings of the Boston Natural History Society.
These oshenguis are perfect little plagues. They are very sly; they never sleep at night; they are then wandering in search of prey—of something to kill. They see better at night than in broad daylight. During the day they hide in some hollow tree, or in the midst of a cluster of thick, dead branches, which are so close together that you can not see what is inside. They will crawl in there and remain till night comes. The darker the night, the bolder their deeds; for on a dark night they will come into the villages, knowing that every body is generally asleep between two or three o'clock in the morning, manage to get into some poultry-house—I do not know how—and then pounce upon the poor chickens and strangle them. They will destroy the whole lot of them, suck their blood, and if they can, they will drag one away. If you have a parrot they will try to get at it. Sometimes they will climb trees and get their prey among the birds. The green wild pigeons, the partridges, the wild ducks and cranes, sleeping on the banks of rivers, are good food for them, for they are very fond of the feathered tribe.
One morning, on the banks of a creek not far from our camp, I saw the footprints of an oshengui on the sands. It had been there, I could see, the night before.
I had two or three chickens, which I kept carefully. I wanted to see if I could not get a few eggs, for I had not for a long time tasted any, and I wondered if the oshengui would come and eat my chickens. Poor chickens! they have to look sharp in that country, for they have many enemies among the snakes and the species of wild-cats of the forest, besides the hawks.
The moon was declining, and rose about one o'clock in the morning, and shone just bright enough to enable me to see. So, towards one o'clock, I took one of my chickens and tied it to a stick on the bank of the little creek near our camp, and hid myself, not far off, on the edge of the forest. I took with me two guns, one loaded with bullets in case I should meet larger game I did not bargain for, and the other loaded with shot, which I intended for the oshengui, if it came.
The light from the moon was dim, as I have said, but just enough for me to see. I hoped that the oshengui would come from the direction opposite to where I was. The poor fowl began to cackle, frightened at being in a strange place, and no doubt having an instinctive knowledge of insecurity. It cackled and cackled from time to time, and then would try to go to sleep, but could not; it seemed to comprehend impending danger.
At last I saw something coming along the shore whose eyes were like two bright charcoal fires. It seemed so close to the ground that, if it had not been for the two fiery eyes, I should have thought it was a big snake. The legs were so short and so bent that the body touched the ground. I raised my gun very carefully, and waited. At last I could see the long muzzle of the oshengui. How sly the animal was! He came on like a thief, and so carefully looking right and left as he advanced, but never losing sight of the fowl. The nearer he came, the flatter his body lay on the ground, until it arrived near the fowl; then there was a pause; then a sudden spring upon the fowl—there was just one cry; the fowl was dead. Having aimed carefully, I pulled the trigger—bang! and down rolled the oshengui on his back, with the fowl in his jaws. A tremendous shout rose from our camp. Gambo, Querlaouen, and Malaouen came rushing toward me, and they all cried, "You will kill no more of our fowls now, Oshengui!" With my prize hung above my head, I went to sleep, and the next day we made preparations to go up the river.